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Old English Libraries, The Making, Collection, and Use of Books During the Middle Ages by Ernest A. Savage

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wage was to be four marks ten shillings of good English
money. The lymner in person was to fetch the materials
from his master's house, and to bring back the work when
finished. He was to take care not to use the colours
wastefully. The work was to be done well and faithfully,
without fraud or deception. For the purpose of superintending
the work the stationer could visit the place
where the lymner wrought, at any convenient time.[1]
The yearly wage for this lymner was nearly fifty pounds
of our money.

[1] Mun. Acad., 550.

An inscription in one codex tells us it was pawned
to a bookseller in 1480 for thirty-eight shillings. Pawnbroking
was an important part of a bookseller's business.
Lending books on hire was usual among both booksellers
and tutors, for it was the exception, rather than the rule,
for university students to own books, while in the college
libraries there were sometimes not enough books to go
round. For example, the statutes of St. Mary's College,
founded in 1446, forbade a scholar to occupy a book in
the library above an hour, or at most two hours, so that
others should not be hindered from the use of them.[1]

[1] Bodl. MS. Rawlinson, 34, fo. 21, Stat. Coll. 5. Mariae pro
Oseney: De Libraria.

At Cambridge the trade was not less flourishing. From
time to time it was found necessary to determine whether
the booksellers and the allied craftsmen were within the
University's jurisdiction or not. In 1276 it was desired
to settle their position as between the regents and scholars
of the University and the Archdeacon of Ely. Hugh de
Balsham, Bishop of Ely, when called in as arbiter, decided
that writers, illuminators, and stationers, who exercise offices
peculiarly for the behoof of the scholars, were answerable to
the Chancellor; but their wives to the Archdeacon. Nearly
a century later, in 1353-54, we find Edward III issuing a
writ commanding justices of the peace of the county of
Cambridge to allow the Chancellor of the University the
conusance and punishment of all trespasses and excesses,
except mayheim and felony, committed by stationers,
writers, bookbinders, and illuminators, as had been the
custom. But the question was again in debate in 1393-94,
when the Chancellor and scholars petitioned Parliament to
declare and adjudge stationers and bookbinders scholars'
servants, as had been done in the case of Oxford. This
petition does not seem to have been answered. But by
the Barnwell Process of 1430, it was decided that
"transcribers, illuminators, bookbinders, and stationers have
been, and are wont and ought to be--as well by ancient
usage from time immemorial undisturbedly exercised, as
by concession of the Apostolic See--the persons belong
and are subject to the ecclesiastical and spiritual jurisdiction
of the Chancellor of the University for the time
being." Again in 1503 was it agreed, this time between
the University and the Mayor and burgesses of Cambridge,
that "stacioners, lymners, schryveners, parchment-makers,
boke-bynders," were common ministers and servants of the
University and were to enjoy its privileges.[1]

[1] Cooper, i. 57, 104, 141, 262; cf. Biblio. Soc. Monogr. 13, p.

Fairs were so important a means of bringing together
buyers and sellers that we should expect books to be sold
at them. And in fact they were. The preamble of an
Act of Parliament reads as follows: "Ther be meny feyers
for the comen welle of your seid lege people as at
Salusbury, Brystowe, Oxenforth, Cambrigge, Notyugham,
Ely, Coventre, and at many other places, where lordes
spirituall and temporall, abbotes, Prioures, Knyghtes,
Squerys, Gentilmen, and your seid Comens of every Countrey,
hath their comen resorte to by and purvey many thinges
that be gode and profytable, as ornaments of holy church
chalets, bokes, vestmentes [etc.] . . . also for howsold, as
vytell for the tyme of Lent, and other Stuff, as Lynen Cloth,
wolen Cloth, brasse, pewter, beddyng, osmonde, Iren, Flax and Wax
and many other necessary thinges."[1] The chief fairs for
the sale of books were those of St. Giles at Oxford, at
Stourbridge, Cambridge, and St. Bartholomew's Fair in

[1] 3 H. vii., Cap. 9, 10, Stat. of the Realm, ii. 518.

London, however, speedily asserted its right to be
regarded as England's publishing centre. The booksellers
with illuminators and other allied craftsmen established
themselves in a small colony in "Paternoster Rewe,"
and they attended St. Bartholomew's Fair to sell books.
By 1403 the Stationers' Company, which had long been
in existence, was chartered; its headquarters were in
London, at a hall in Milk Street. This guild did not
confine its attention to the book-trade; nor did the booksellers
sell only books. Often, indeed, this was but a small
part of general mercantile operations. For example.
William Praat, a London mercer, obtained manuscripts
for Caxton. Grocers also sold manuscripts, parchment,
paper and ink. King John of France, while a prisoner in
England in 1360, bought from three grocers of Lincoln
four "quaires" of paper, a main of paper and a skin of
parchment, and three "quaires" of paper. From a scribe
of Lincoln named John he also bought books, some of
which are now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.[1]

[1] Donnee des comptes des Roys de France, au 14e siecle
(1852), 227; Putnam, i. 312; Library, v. 3-4.

We have a record of an interesting transaction which
took place at the end of the manuscript period (1469).
One William Ebesham wrote to his most worshipful and
special master, Sir John Paston, asking, in a hesitating,
cringing sort of way, for the payment of his little bill,
which seems to have been a good deal overdue, as is the
way with bills. All this service most lowly he recommends
unto his good mastership, beseeching him most tenderly
to see the writer somewhat rewarded for his labour in the
"Grete Boke" which he wrote unto his said good mastership.
And he winds up his letter with a request for alms
in the shape of one of Sir John's own gowns; and beseeches
God to preserve his patron from all adversity, with which
the writer declares himself to be somewhat acquainted.
He heads his bill: Following appeareth, parcelly, divers
and sundry manner of writings, which I William Ebesham
have written for my good and worshipful master, Sir John
Paston, and what money I have received, and what is
unpaid. For writing a "litill booke of Pheesyk" he was
paid twenty pence. Other writing he did for twopence
a leaf. Hoccleve's de Regimine Principum he wrote
for one penny a leaf, "which is right wele worth."
Evidently Ebesham did not find scrivening a too profitable

[1] Gairdner, Paston letters, v. 1-4, where the whole bill is


"Some ther be that do defye
All that is newe, and ever do crye
The olde is better, away with the new
Because it is false, and the olde is true.
Let them this booke reade and beholde
For it preferreth the learning most olde."

A Comparison betwene the old learrynge and the newe (1537).[1]

[1] Cited in Gasyuet 2, 17.

Section I

After a storm a fringe of weed and driftwood
stretches a serried line along the sands, and now
and then--too often on the flat shores of one of
our northern estuaries, whence can be seen the white teeth
of the sea biting at the shoals flanking the fairway--are
mingled with the flotsam sodden relics of life aboard ship
and driftwood of tell-tale shape, which silently point to a
tragedy of the sea. Usually the daily paper completes
the tale; but on some rare occasion these poor bits of
drift remain the only evidence of the vain struggle, and
from them we must piece together the narrative as best
we can. And as the sea does not give up everything, nor
all at once, some wreckage sinking, or perishing, or floating
upon the water a long time before finding a well-
concealed hiding-place upon some unfrequented shore, so
the past yields but a fraction of its records, and that
fraction slowly and grudgingly. So far this book has
been a gathering of the flotsam of a past age: odd relics
and scattered records, a sign here and a hint there; often
unrelated, sometimes contradictory. In more skilful hands
possibly a coherent story might be wrought out of these
pieces justificatives; but the author is too well aware of
the difficulty of arranging and selecting from the mass of
material, remembers too well the tale of mistakes thankfully
avoided, and is too apprehensive that other errors
lurk undiscovered, to be confident that he has succeeded
in his aim. Whether the story is worth telling is another
matter. Surely it is. To be able to follow the history
of the Middle Ages, to become acquainted with the people,
their mode of life and customs and manners, is of profound
interest and great utility; and it is by no means the least
important part of such study to discover what books they
had, how extensively the books were read, and what
section of the people read them.

Let us here sum up the information given in detail in
the foregoing pages; adding thereto some other facts of
interest. And first, what of the character of the medieval

During the earlier centuries monastic libraries contained
books which were deemed necessary for grammatical
study in the claustral schools, and other books,
chiefly the Fathers, as we have seen, which were regarded
as proper literature for the monk. The books used in the
cathedral schools were similar. Such schools and such
libraries were for the glory of God and the increase of
clergy and religious. At first, especially, the ideal of the
monks was high, if narrow. It is epitomised in the
untranslatable epigram--Claustrum sine armario (est)
quasi castrum sine armamentario.[1] "The library is the
monastery's true treasure," writes Thomas a Kempis;[2]
"without which the monastery is like . . . a well without
water . . . an unwatched tower." Again: "Let not the
toil and fatigue pain you. They who read the books
formerly written beautifully by you will pray for you
when you are dead. And if he who gives a cup of cold
water shall not lack his guerdon, still less shall he who
gives the living water of wisdom lose his reward in
heaven."[3] St. Bernard wrote in like terms. Books were
their tools, "the silent preachers of the divine word," or
the weapons of their armoury. "Thence it is," writes a
sub-prior to his friend, "that we bring forth the sentences
of the divine law, like sharp arrows, to attack the enemy.
Thence we take the armour of righteousness, the helmet
of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the
Spirit which is the Word of God."[4] With such an end
in view Reculfus of Soissons required his clergy to have
a missal, a lectionary, the Gospels, a martyrology, an
antiphonary, a psalter, a book of forty homilies of Gregory,
and as many Christian books as they could get (879).

[1] Martene, Thesaurus, i. 511.

[2] Opera, fo. 1523. Fo. xlvii. 7, Doctrinale juvenum, c. v.

[3] Ibid., c. iv.

[4] Maitland, 200.

With this end in view were chosen for reading in the
Refectory at Durham (1395) such books as the Bible,
homilies, Legends of the Saints, lives of Gregory, Martin,
Nicholas, Dunstan, Augustine, Cuthbert, King Oswald, Aidan,
Thomas of Canterbury, and other saints.[1] With this end
in view the monastic libraries contained a very large
proportion of Bibles, books of the Bible, and commentaries
--a proportion suggesting the Scriptures were studied with
a closeness and assiduity for which the monks have not
always received due credit.[2] A great deal of room was
given up to the works of the Fathers--their confessions,
retractations, and letters, their polemics against heresies,
their dogmatic and doctrinal treatises, and their sermons
and ethical discourses. Of all these writings those of
Hilary, Basil, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, and the great
Augustine were most popular. John Cassian, Leo, Prosper,
Cassiodorus, Gregory the Great, Aldhelm, Bede, Anselm,
and Bernard, and the two encyclopaedists, Martianus Capella
and Isidore of Seville, were the church's great teachers, and
their works and the sacred poetry and hymns of Juvencus
the Spanish priest, of Prudentius, of Sedulius, the author
of a widely-read and influential poem on the life of Christ,
and of Fortunatus, were nearly always well represented in
the monastic catalogues, as may be seen on a cursory
examination of those of Christ Church and St. Augustine's,
Canterbury, of Durham, of Glastonbury in 1248, of Peterborough
in 1400, and of Syon in the sixteenth century.
In the earlier libraries the greater part of the books were
Scriptural and theological; to these were added later a
mass of books on canon and civil law; so that the
monastic collection may be characterised as almost entirely
special and fit for Christian service, as this service was
conceived by the religious.

[1] Surtees Soc., vii. 80.

[2] V. Catalogues in Becker; James (M. R.); Bateson; Surtees
Soc., vii.; etc.

And classical literature was received into the fold for a
like purpose. From the earliest days of Christendom
prejudice against the classics was widespread among
Christians. Such books, it was urged, had no connexion
with the Church or the Gospel; Ciceronianism was not the
road to God; Plato and Aristotle could not show the way
to happiness; Ovid, above all, was to be avoided.[1] In
dreams the poets took the form of demons; they must be
exorcised, for the soul did not profit by them. The precepts
--and for these the Christian sought--in the poems were
like serpents, born of the evil one; the characters, devils.
Some Christians sighed as they thrust the tempting books
away. Jerome frankly confesses he cared little for the
homely Latin of the Psalms, and much for Plautus and
Cicero. For a time he renounced them with other vanities
of the world; yet when going through the catacombs at
Rome, where the Apostles and Martyrs had their graves, a
fine line of Virgil thrills him; and later he instructed boys
at Bethlehem in Plautus, Terence, and Virgil, much to the
horror of Rufinus. Even in the eleventh century this feeling
existed. Lanfranc wrote to Dumnoaldus to say it was unbefitting
he should study such books, but he confessed
that although he now renounced them, he had read them
a good deal in his youth. Somewhat later Herbert
"Losinga," abbot of Ramsey, had a dream which led him
to cease reading and imitating Virgil and Ovid; but elsewhere
he recommends his pupils to accept Ovid as a model
in Latin verse, while he quotes the Tristia.[2] The rules of
some orders, as those of Isidore, St. Francis, and St.
Dominic, forbade the reading of the classics, save by permission.
For their value in teaching grammar and as
models of literary style, however, certain classic authors--
especially Virgil, Ovid, Cicero, Horace, Juvenal, and Statius
--were regarded as supplementary to the grammatical
works of Donatus, Victorinus, Macroblus, and Priscian, and
were studied by the religious throughout the Middle Ages.
They were grammatical text-books, as indeed they are still;
but then they were very little else. A man would call
himself Virgil, not from inordinate vanity, but from a naive
pride in his profession of grammarian: to his way of thinking
the great poet was no more.[3] "As decade followed decade,"
writes Mr. H. O. Taylor, "and century followed century,
there was no falling off in the study of the Aeneid. Virgil's
fame towered, his authority became absolute. But how?
In what respect? As a supreme master of grammatical
correctness and rhetorical excellence and of all learning.
With increasing emptiness of soul, the grammarians--the
Virgils'--of the succeeding centuries put the great poet to
ever baser uses."[4]

[1] Sandys, i. 638; and see Jerome, Ep. xxii., ed. 1734, i. 114.

[2] Sandys i. 618.

[3] Comparetti, Vergil in the M. A., 77.

[4] Taylor, Classical Heritage, 37.

From time to time the use of the classics even for
grammatical purposes was condemned, though unavailingly.
They were necessary in the schools; evils, doubtless, but
unavoidable. Then, again, some of the classics were looked
upon as allegorical: from the sixth century to the Renascence
the Aeneid was often interpreted in this way; and Virgil's
Fourth Eclogue was thought to be a prophecy of Christ's
coming. Ovid allegorised contained profound truths; his
Art of Love, so treated, was not unfit for nuns.[1] Other
writers, as Lucan, were appreciated for their didacticism;
Juvenal, Cato and Seneca the younger as moralists. And
some of the religious fell a prey to these evils, inasmuch as
they assessed them at their true value as literature.

[1] Sandys, i. 638-39; see what is said about use of Ovid at

The classics therefore were accepted. Anselm recommended
Virgil. Horace, in his most amorous moods, was
sung by the monks. Ovid, either adapted or in his natural
state, was a great favourite. In an appendix we have
scheduled the chief classics found in English monastic
catalogues to indicate roughly the extent to which they
were collected and used. A glance at Becker's sheaf of
catalogues will show us that Aristotle, Horace, Juvenal,
Lucan, Persius, Plato, Pliny the elder, Porphyry, Sallust,
Statius, Terence, and especially Cicero, Ovid, Seneca, and
Virgil are well represented. But it must not be supposed
that they were in monastic libraries in excessive numbers.
On the contrary. An inspection of almost any catalogue of
such a library will prove that only a small proportion of it
consisted of classical writings, especially in those catalogues
compiled prior to the time when Aristotle's works dominated
the whole of medieval scholarship. The monastic library
was throughout the Middle Ages the armoury of the
religious against evil, and the few slight changes of character
which it underwent at one time and another do not alter
the fact that on the whole it was a fit and proper collection
for its purpose.[1]

[1] On the use of classics in the Middle Ages see Sandys, i. 630
(Plautus and Terence), 631 (Lucretius), 633 (Catullus and
Virgil), 635 (Horace), 638 (Ovid), 641 (Lucan), 642 (Statius),
643 (Martial), 644 (Juvenal), 645 (Persius), 648 (Cicero), 653
(Seneca), 654 (Pliny), 655 (Quintilian), etc.

Section II

After the twelfth century broadening influences were at
work. The education given in the cathedral and monastic
schools was found to be too restricted; the monasteries,
moreover, now began to refuse assistance to secular students.[1]
To some extent the catechetic method of the theologians
was forced to give place to the dialectic method, equally
dogmatic, but more exciting and stimulating. Hence
was compiled such a book as Peter Lombard's Sentences
(1145-50), a cyclopaedia of disputation, wherein theological
questions were collected under heads, together with Scriptural
passages and statements of the Fathers bearing on these
questions. By the thirteenth century Lombard was the
standard text-book of the schools: a work of such reputation
that it was studied in preference to the Scriptures, as
Bacon complained.

[1] Rashdall, i. 42.

A demand also arose for instruction in civil and canon
law, which the existing schools did not supply. This
broader learning was provided in the early universities, at
first to the dislike of the Church, and sometimes to the
annoyance of royal heads. Particular objection was taken
to the study of law. An Italian named Vicario (Vacarius)
lectured on Justinian at Oxford in 1149. Then he abridged
the Code and Digest for his students there. King Stephen
forbade him to proceed with his lectures, and prohibited the
use of treatises on foreign law, many manuscripts of which
were consequently destroyed. But these measures were
not very effectual. Within a short time civil law became
recognised in the University as a proper subject of study.
By 1275, when another Italian jurist named Francesco
d'Accorso, a distinguished teacher at Bologna, came to
Oxford to lecture, the study of civil law was pursued with
the royal favour.[1]

[1] Lyte, 88-89; Einstein, 180.

The searcher among old wills cannot fail to be struck
with the number of law books in the small private libraries.
Sometimes the whole of one of these little collections consists
of law books; often there are more books of this
kind than of any other. For example, of eighty books
bequeathed by Prior Eastry to Christ Church, Canterbury,
forty-three were on canon and civil law: of eighty-four
books given to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, by the founder,
exactly one-half were juridical. A wealthy canon of York
left but half a dozen books, all on law. The books bequeathed
to Peterborough Abbey by successive abbots were
chiefly on law. Many other examples could be recited.
There was a reason for this. Friar Bacon,writing in 1271,
complained that jurists got all rewards and benefices, while
students of theology and philosophy lacked the means of
livelihood, could not obtain books, and were unable to pursue
their scientific studies. Canonists, even, were only rewarded
because of their previous knowledge of civil law: at Oxford
three years had to be devoted to the study of civil law
before a student could be admitted as bachelor of canon
law. Consequently a man of parts, with a leaning towards
theological and philosophical learning, took up the study of
civil law, with the hope of more easily winning preferment.[1]
"Compared with such [legal] lore," writes Mr. Mullinger,
"theological learning became but a sorry recommendation
to ecclesiastical preferment; most of the Popes at Avignon
had been distinguished by their attainments in a subject
which so nearly concerned the temporal interests of the
Church; and the civilian and the canonist alike looked down
with contempt on the theologian, even as Hagar, to use the
comparison of Holcot, despised her barren mistress."[2] The
most casual glance through some pages of monastic records
will show how frequent and endless was the litigation in
which the Church was engaged, and consequently how useful
a knowledge of civil law would be.

[1] Bacon, Op. ined., 84, 148.

[2] Mullinger, 211.

But these changes were trifling compared with the
stimulus given to medieval learning by the influx of Greek
books and of Arabic versions of them. In the second half
of the eleventh century the works of Galen and Hippocrates
were re-introduced into Italy from the Arabian empire by a
North African named Constantine, who translated them
at the famous monastery of Monte Cassino. These translations,
with the numerous Arabian commentaries, and
the conflict of the physicians of the new school with those
of the old and famous school of Salerno, constitute the
revival of medical studies which occurred at that time.[1]
It would seem that this revival was felt quickly in England,
as in the twelfth century four books by Galen and two by
Hippocrates, with some Arabian works, were to be found
in the monastic library of Durham; a number significant of
the liberal feeling of the monks of this house, inasmuch as
in all the catalogues transcribed by Becker appear only
ten books by Galen and nine by Hippocrates.[2] Before
1150 the whole of the Organon of Aristotle was known to
scholars;[3] but not till about that time did the other works
begin to be exported from Arabic Spain. Then Latin
versions of Arabic translations of the Physics and Metaphysics
were first made.

[1] Rashdall, i. 77-8.

[2] Becker, 244.

[3] Cf. Becker, index.

Daniel of Morley (fl. 1170-90) brought into this country
manuscripts of Aristotle, and commentaries upon him got
in the Arab schools of Toledo, then the centre of
Mohammedan learning. Michael the Scot (c. 1175-1234),
"wondrous wizard, of dreaded fame," was another agent
of the Arab influence. He received his education perhaps
at Oxford, certainly at Paris and Toledo. From manuscripts
obtained at the last place he translated two
abstracts of the Historia animalium, and some commentaries
of Averroes on Aristotle (1215-30).[1] A third
pilgrim from these islands, Alfred the Englishman, also
made use of Arabic versions; and most likely both he
and Michael brought home with them manuscripts from
Toledo and Paris. Of the renderings made by these men
and by some foreign workers in the same field, Friar Bacon
speaks with the utmost contempt. Their writings were
utterly false. They did not know the sciences they dealt
with. The Jews, the Arabs, and the Greeks, who had good
manuscripts, destroyed and corrupted them, rather than let
them fall into the hands of unlettered and ignorant
Christians.[2] Aristotle should be read in the original, he
also says; it would be better if all translations were burnt.
The criticism is acrid; but the men he contemns served
scholarship well by quickening the interest in Greek books,
and they succeeded so well because they gave to the
schoolmen not only versions of Aristotle's text, but
commentaries and elucidations written by Arabs and
Jews who had carefully studied the text, and could
explain the meaning of obscure passages in it.[3]

[1] On Michael, see Bacon, Op. maj., 36, 37; Dante, Inferno, xx.
116; Boccaccio, 8 day, 9 novel; Scott, Lay, II. xi.; Brown, Life
and Legend of M. S. (1897)

[2] Bacon, Op. ined, Comp. stud., 472 (Rolls Series).

[3] In Peterhouse Library, Cambridge, is a manuscript of
Aristotle's Metaphysica, with Latin translations from the Arabic
and the Greek in parallel columns: the one being called the old
translation, the other the new. The manuscript is of the
thirteenth or fourteenth century.--James 3, 43.

When these translations were coming to England,
travellers were bringing Greek books directly from the
East. A doctor of medicine named William returned to
Paris from Constantinople in 1167, carrying with him
"many precious Greek codices."[1] About 1209 a Latin
translation of Aristotle's Physics or Metaphysics was made from
a Greek manuscript brought straight from Constantinople.
Some of these few importations were certainly destroyed
at once, probably all were, for Aristotle was proscribed in
Paris in the following year, and again in 1215, at the
very time when Michael the Scot was procuring versions
in another direction, at Toledo.[2] Not until mid-thirteenth
century was the ban wholly removed.

[1] Gasquet 3, 143-44; see other instances, Camb. Med. Hist.,
i. 588.

[2] Jourdain, Recherches . . . traductions Latines d'A., 187;
Gasquet 3, 148.

For a time, owing to the capture of Constantinople by
the Crusaders, intercourse between East and West had
become far freer than it had been for centuries (1203-61).
Certain Greek philosophers of learned mien came to
England about 1202, but did not stay; and some
Armenians, among them a bishop, visited St. Albans.
Whether they or Nicholas the Greek, clerk to the abbot
of that monastery, brought books with them we do not
know; Nicholas, at any rate, seems to have assisted
Grosseteste in his Greek studies.[1] John of Basingstoke,
Grosseteste's archdeacon, carried Greek manuscripts--many
valuable manuscripts, we are told--from Athens, whither
Grosseteste had sent him. The bishop himself imported
books to this country, probably from Sicily and South
Italy.[2] He had a copy of Suidas' Lexicon, possibly the
earliest copy brought to the West. The Testaments of the
Twelve Patriarchs was also in Grosseteste's possession: the
manuscript was brought home by John of Basingstoke, and
still exists in the Cambridge University Library.[3] These
forged Testaments were translated by Nicholas the Greek,
and as no fewer than thirty-one copies of the Latin version
still remain they must have had a good circulation.[4]
Possibly the Greek Octateuch (Genesis to Ruth), now in
the Bodleian Library, was imported into this country by
Grosseteste or by somebody for him; at one time the
manuscript was in the library of Christ Church, Canterbury.[5]
Among other Greek books which Grosseteste used and
translated, or had translated under his direction, were the
Epistles of St. Ignatius, a Greek romance of Asenath, the
Egyptian wife of the patriarch Joseph, and some writings
of Dionysius the Areopagite. At Ramsey, where the
bishop's influence may be suspected, Prior Gregory (fl. 1290)
owned a Graeco-Latin psalter, still extant.[6] Possibly all the
importations were of similar character, and the number of
them cannot have been great or we should have heard more
of them.

[1] Paris, Chron. Maj., iv. 232-3; cp. Bacon, Op. ined., 91, 434.

[2] Stevenson, 224, 227; Camb. Mod. Hist., i. 586; James, lxxxvi.

[3] MS. Ff. i. 24; Paris, C.M. iv. 232; cf. v. 285.

[4] Sandys, i. 576.

[5] Now Canon. gr. 35 Bodleian; James, lxxxvi. This may be the
Liber grecorum in the list of books repaired in 1508.--James,
lxxxvi., 163.

[6] James 16, 10.

Friar Bacon, writing about 1270, complains that he could
not get all the books he wanted, nor were the versions of
the books he had satisfactory. Parts of the Scriptures were
untranslated, as, for example, two books of Maccabees,
which he knew existed in Greek, and books of the Prophets
referred to in the books of Kings and Chronicles; the
chronology of the Antiquities of Josephus was incorrectly
rendered, and biblical history could not be usefully studied
without a true version of this book. Books of the Hebrew
and Greek expositors were almost wanting to the Latins:
Origen, Basil, Gregory, Nazianzene, John of Damascus,
Dionysius, Chrysostom, and others, both in Hebrew and
Greek.[1] The scientific books of Aristotle, of Avicenna, of
Seneca, and other ancients could only be had at great cost.
Their principal works had not been translated into Latin.
"The admirable books of Cicero De Republica are not to
be found anywhere, as far as I can hear, although I have
made anxious inquiry for them in different parts of the
world and by various messengers."[2]

[1] Op. Maj, 46.

[2] Op. Tertium, p. 55, 56.

The period during which the intellectual life of the
Middle Ages was broadened by the introduction of new
knowledge and ideas originally from Greek sources, began,
as we have said, with the influx of translations from the
Arabic. The movement culminated with the work of
William of Moerbeke, Greek Secretary at the Council of
Lyons (1274), who, between 1270 and 1281, translated
several of Aristotle's works from the Greek, including the
Rhetorica and the Politica. Fortunately we have a record
belonging to this time of a collection of books which shows
admirably the character of the change. A certain John of
London (c. 1270-1330), believed to have been Bacon's
pupil, probably became a monk of St. Augustine's Abbey,
Canterbury, and in due course bequeathed a library of
books to his house. This collection amounted to nearly
eighty books, of which twenty-three were on mathematics
and astronomy, a like number on medicine, ten on
philosophy, six on logic, four historical, three on grammar,
one poetry, and the rest collections.[1] Such a collection is
remarkable not only for its character, but on account of its
size, which was very large for anybody to own privately in
that age.

[1] James (M. R.), lxxiv.

Section III

On one occasion, after spending much time in searching
wills and in examining catalogues without finding a
reference to an interesting book--to either an ancient or a
medieval classic the writer well remembers the little
shock of pleasure he felt when, in a single half-hour, he
noted Piers Plowman in one brief unpromising will, and
six English books among the relics of a mason. Nearly
all the libraries of private persons and of academies are
depressing in character. Rarely can be found a bright
human book gleaming like a diamond in the dust. Score
after score of decreta, decretales, Sextuses, and Clementines,
and chestsful of the dreariest theological disquisition impress
upon the weary searcher the fact that academic libraries
were usually even more dryasdust than monastic collections,
and he begins to understand how prosperous law
may be as a calling, and to have an inkling of what is
known, in classic phrase, as a good plain Scotch education.

Between an academic library and a monastic collection
there were differences of character and in the beauty and
value of the manuscripts. As a general rule a large proportion
of the monks' books were more or less richly
ornamented: they were the treasures as well as the tools
of the community. The books of the colleges were usually
for practical purposes: they were tools, treasured, doubtless,
for their contents, not for the beauty of the writing or
because they were decorated. The difference in character
of the collections as a whole was one of proportion in the
representation of the various classes of books. Generally
speaking, the monastic collection comprised proportionately
more theology and less canon and civil law than the
academic library. In the subjects of the trivium and
the quadrivium, and in philosophy, a college was more
strongly equipped than a monastery; on the other hand, a
monastery frequently had a larger proportion of classical
literature, and always more "light" or romance literature.

Early university studies were in two parts, the trivium
--grammar, rhetoric, and logic, and the quadrivium--
music, astronomy, geometry, and arithmetic. These were
the seven liberal arts. A fresco in a chapel in the Church
of S. Maria Novella at Florence illustrates these arts.
On the right of the cartoon is the figure of grammar;
beneath is Priscian. For the study of this subject John
Garland recommended Priscian and Donatus. Priscian
was a leading text-book on the subject, and it was supported
by a short manual compiled from Donatus. At Oxford
extracts from these authors were thrown into the form of
logical quaestiones to afford subjects of argument at the
disputations held once a week before the masters of
grammar.[1] To these books should be added a dictionary,
with some peculiar and quaint etymologies, by Papias
the Lombard; grammatical works by John Garland;
Bishop Hugutio's etymological dictionary (c. 1192);
a dreary hexameter poem by Alexander Gallus, the
Breton Friar (d. 1240)--"the olde Doctrinall, with his
diffuse and unperfite brevitie"; Eberhard's similar poem
(c. 1212), called Graecismus, because it includes a chapter
on derivations from the Greek; and a very large book, the
Catholicon (c. 1286), partly a grammar and partly a
dictionary, with copious quotations from Latin classics,
which had been compiled with some skill and care by John
Balbi, a Genoese Black Friar. Papias and Hugutio were
sharply condemned by Friar Bacon, but they remained
in use long after his time, and Balbi owed much to both
of them. Many copies of the Catholicon seem to have
been made, although the transcription of so large a book
was costly: even before it was printed (1460), copies for
reference were sometimes chained up in English churches,
and after it was printed this practice became more general,
at any rate in France. By the fourteenth century Priscian
was almost superseded by Alexander and Eberhard, whose
versified grammars came into common use; a jingle,
whether it be--

"Ne facias' dices oroque ne facias.'
Humane, dure, large, firmeque, benigne,
Ignaveque, probe vel avare sive severe,
Inde rove, plene, vel abunde sive prolerve,
Dicis in er vel'in e, quamvis sint illa secundae,"

in the fourteenth century, or

"Feminine is Linter, boat
Learn these neuters nine by rote,"

in the twentieth century, seems to help the harassed student
along the linguistic path. The reading of Virgil and
Statius and some other writers put flesh upon these
grammatical dry bones. But as the masters of grammar
at Oxford were expected to be guardians of morals as
well, they were expressly forbidden to read and expound
to their pupils Ovid's Ars amandi, the Elegies of Pamphilus,
and other indecent books.[2]

[1] Mun. Acad., 86, 430, 444; cf. Lyte, 235. Donatus came to be
regarded as a synonymous term for grammar. In Piers Plowman a
grammatical lesson or text book is called "Donet." A Greek
grammar was called a "Donatus Graecorum."

[2] Mun. Acad., 441.

Next to the figure of Grammar is Rhetoric, with Cicero
seated beneath. Cicero, with Aristotle, Quintilian and
Boethius were the chief exponents of rhetoric; with Virgil,
Ovid, Statius, and sometimes such a book as Guido delle
Colonne's epic of Troy, as examples of literary style.
John Garland (fl. 1230) recommended Cicero's De
Inventione (Rhetorica), De Oratore, the Ad Herennium
ascribed to Cicero, Quintilian's Institutes and the Declamationes
ascribed to him. The third figure is Logic, coupled
with the figure of Aristotle. The Categories and Porphyry's
Isagoge were the books of greatest service in the study of
this subject; with Boethius' translations and expositions of
Aristotle and Porphyry. All the foregoing and Cicero's
Topica are selected by John Garland. Later the
Summulae logicales of Peter the Spaniard (fl. 1276), William
of Heytesbury's Sophismata (c. 1340), the Summa logices
of the great English schoolman, William of Ockham
(d. c. 1349), and the Quaestiones of William Brito (d. 1356)
were the chief manuals of dialectic.

The first figure in the representation of the quadrivium
is Music, with Tubal Cain beneath. In this subject, for
which few books were necessary, Boethius was the guide.
With Astronomy is associated Ptolemy. The Cosmographia
and Almagest of Ptolemy, and the works of some
Arabian authors, with books of tables, were the student's
manuals. In our cartoon Geometry has Euclid for companion.
Arithmetic is associated with Pythagoras in the
picture: for this subject Boethius was the text-book.[1]

[1] In the right-hand doorway of the west front of Chartres
Cathedral are figures of the Seven Arts, Grammar being associated
with Priscian, Logic with Aristotle, Rhetoric with Cicero, Music
with Pythagoras, Arithmetic with Nicomachus, Geometry with
Euclid, and Astronomy with Ptolemy. Cf. Marriage, Sculp. of
Chartres Cath., 71-73 (1909).

Besides the seven liberal arts, natural, metaphysical, and
moral philosophy, or the three philosophies, were added in
the thirteenth century. For these studies Aristotle and his
commentators were the chief guides. The medical
authorities of the middle ages have been catalogued for us
by Chaucer in his description of a doctor of "phisyk"--

"Wel knew he the olde Esculapius
And Deiscoricles, and eek Rufus,
Old Ypocras, Haly and Galien;
Serapion, Razis and Avicen;
Averrois, Damascien and Constantyn;
Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn."

Of these names eight are included in Duke Humfrey's gifts
to Oxford in 1439 and 1443; and ten of them are
represented in the catalogue of Peterhouse Library in 1418.
Besides the writers mentioned by Chaucer, works on fevers
by Isaac the Arab, the Antidotarium of Nicholas, and the
Isagoge of Johannicius were in general use.

Next to theology--in which class the chief books were
the same as in the claustral library, although liturgical books
are more rarely found--the largest section of an academic
collection was that of civil and canon law. It comprised
the various digests, the works of Cinus of Pistoia and Azo;
texts of decrees, decretals, Liber Sextus Decretalium, Liber
Clementinae, with many commentaries, the Constitutions of
Ottobon and Otho, the book compiled by Henry of Susa,
Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, called Summa Ostiensis, the
Rosarium of Archdeacon Guido de Baysio, and Durand's
Speculum Judiciale. The last three books are frequently
met with, and were highly esteemed by medieval jurists.[1]

[1] On medieval studies see further Mun. Acad., 34, 242-43, 285,
412-13; Sandys, i 670.

In a previous chapter we have noted the somewhat
fresher character of the library given to Oxford University
by the Duke of Gloucester. We have two later records
which may be referred to now to indicate the change
wrought by the Renascence. A catalogue of William
Grocyn's books was drawn up soon after his death in 1519.
This collection proves its owner to have been conservative
in his tastes, as the medieval favourites are well represented.
Of Greek books there are only Aristotle, Plutarch in a
Latin translation, and a Greek and Latin Testament--a
curiously small collection in view of his interest in Greek,
and in view of the fact that many of the chief Greek
authors had been printed before his death. It seems likely
that his Greek books had been dispersed. But the change
is apparent in the excellent series of Latin classics, which
included Tacitus and Lucretius, and in the number of
books by Italian writers, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ficino, Filelfo,
Lorenzo della Valle, Aeneas Sylvius, and Perotti.

Still more significant of the change are the references
to the course of study in the statutes of Corpus Christi
College, Oxford (1517). The approved prose writers are
Cicero--an apology is offered for the use of barbarous
words not known to Cicero--Sallust, Valerius Maximus,
Suetonius, Pliny, Livy, and Quintilian. Virgil, Ovid
Lucan, Juvenal, Terence and Plautus are approved as poets.
Suitable books to study during the vacations are the
works of Lorenzo della Valle, Aulus Gellius, and Poliziano.
In Greek the writings--most of them quite new to the
age--of Isocrates, Lucian, Philostratus, Aristophanes,
Theocritus, Euripides, Sophocles, Pindar, Hesiod,
Demosthenes, Thucydides, Aristotle, and Plutarch are
recommended. Such a list bears few resemblances to the
academic library we have attempted to describe.[1]

[1] Oxford Stat., c. 21.

Section IV

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries romances
began to creep into all libraries, save the academic, in
which they are rarely found. As soon as romance
literature took a firm hold upon public favour the monks
added some of it to their collections. Probably romances
were first bought to be copied and sold to augment the
monastic income; and more perhaps were sold than
preserved. Ascham avers that "in our fathers tyme
nothing was red, but bookes of fayned cheualrie, wherein a
man by redinge, shuld be led to none other ende, but
onely to manslaughter and baudrye.... These bokes
(as I haue heard say) were made the moste parte in Abbayes
and Monasteries, a very lickely and fit fruite of suche an
ydle and blynde kinde of lyuyne."[1] Thomas Nashe, in his
story of The Unfortunate Traveller, describes romances as
"the fantasticall dreams of those exiled Abbie lubbers,"
that is, the monks.[2] These writers were but echoing such
charges as that in Piers Plowman, which declares that a
friar was much better acquainted with the Rimes of Robin
Hood and Randal Erle of Chester than with his Paternoster.
A number of romances are indeed found in monastic
catalogues. The library at Glastonbury included four
romances (1248); that at Christ Church, Canterbury,
contained a few in late thirteenth century. Guy de Beauchamp
bequeathed romances to Bordesley Abbey (1315),
In the first year of the fifteenth century Peterborough had
some romances. At the end of the same century St.
Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, had in its library of over
eighteen hundred books only a few romances; while in
Leicester Abbey, among a library of about three hundred
and fifty books, we find only the Troy book, Drian
and Madok, Beves of Hamtoun, all in French, Gesta
Alexandri Magni, and one or two others. Edward III
bought a book of romance from a nun of Amesbury
in 1331--a work of such interest that he kept it in his
room. There are plenty of other instances. But in no
case have we found an excessive number of romances
in monastic libraries, and the charges--if they can
worthily be called charges--so often made against monks
on this score fall to the ground.[3]

[1] Toxophilus, Arber's ed., p. 19.

[2] Camb. Eng. Lit., iii. 364.

[3] Cf Warton, ii. 95.

The romances oftenest appearing in monastic catalogues
and other records are the following: The Story of Troy,
especially Joseph of Exeter's Latin version, the great
Arthurian cycle, the beautiful story of Amis and Amiloun,
renowned all over Europe, Joseph of Arimathea, Charlemagne,
Alexander, which was of the best of romances,
Guy of Warwick, which was very popular, and the semi-
historical Richard Coeur de Lion. But many others were
in circulation. In Cursor mundi a number of the popular
stories of the day are mentioned--

"Men lykyn jestis for to here,
And romans rede in divers maneree,
Of Alexandre the conquerour,
Of Julius Caesar[1] the emperour,
Of Greece and Troy the strong stryf,
Ther many a man lost his lyfe:
Of Brut,[2] that baron bold of hond,
The first conquerour of Englond,
Of King Arthur that was so ryche;
Was non in hys tyme so ilyche [alike, equal]:
Of wonders that among his knyghts felle,
And auntyrs [adventures] dedyn as men her telle
As Gaweyn, and othir full abylle,
Which that kept the round tabyll,
How King Charles and Rowland fawght,
With Sarazins, nold thei be cawght;
Of Tristram and Ysoude the swete,
How thei with love first gall mete,
Of Kyng John, and of Isenbras,
Of Ydoine and Amadas."[3]

[1] By Jehan de Tuim, c. 1240.

[2] Wace or Layamon.

[3] Amadas et Idoine, an anonymous Norman French poem of the
twelfth century.

Again, many "speak of men who read romances--

Of Bevys,[1] Gy, and Gwayane,
Of Kyng Rychard, and Owayne,
Of Tristram and Percyvayle,
Of Rowland Ris,[2] and Aglavaule,
Of Archeroun, and of Octavian,
Of Charles, and of Cassibelan.
Of Keveloke,[3] Horne, and of Wade
In romances that ben of hem bimade,
That gestours dos of hem gestes,
At maungeres, and at great festes,
Her dedis ben in remembrance,
In many fair romance."

[1] Sir Beves of Hamtoun (Fr. 13 cent., Eng. 14 cent.).

[2] Character in romance of Tristrem, by Thomas the Rymer.

[3] Haveloke. For other metrical catalogues see first and second
prologues to Richard Coeur de Lion.--Ritson, Anc, Eng Metr.
Romances, i. 55.

Popular romances of this kind had a great influence
upon the lives of the people. The long lists of medieval
theology and sophistry usually laid before us, and the
great majority of the writings which have survived, sometimes
lead us to believe the culture of the Middle Ages
to have been of a more serious cast than it really was.
The oral circulation of romance literature must have been
enormous. The spun-out, dreary poems which now make
such difficult reading are infinitely more entertaining when
read aloud: the voice gives life and character to a humdrum
narrative, and the gestour would know how to make the
best of incidents which he knew from experience to be
specially interesting to an audience. Such yarns would
be most attractive to "lewd" or illiterate men--

"For lewde men y undyrtoke
On Englyssh tunge to make thys boke:
For many ben of swyche manere
That talys and rymys wyl blethly[1] here,
Ye gamys and festys, and at the ale."[2]

[1] Gladly, blithely.

[2] From beginning of Handlyng Synne, by Robert Mannying of

The need of multiplying manuscripts of these poems
would not be greatly felt. The reciter would be obliged
to learn them off by heart; he need not, and often did
not, possess written versions of the poems he recited. And
even literate men, as Bishop Grosseteste, preferred to
listen to these gestours, rather than to read the narrative
themselves. Therefore, any estimate we may form of the
number of manuscripts of romances in existence at any
time in the fourteenth century, for example, would give
not the smallest idea of the extent to which these tales
were known.

Section V

The medieval collector of books sometimes, and the
monastic librarian nearly always, took care that his library
was strong in hagiology and history. He felt the need of
books which would tell him of the past history of his church
and of the lives of her greatest teachers. When collected
these books were an incentive to the more cultivated of the
monks to begin the history of his country or his house,
or to write or re-write the lives of saints. The fruit is
preserved for us in a long line of monkish historians and
hagiographers. As a rule the histories they wrote were of
little value; but when they had brought the tale down to
their own times they continued it with the help of records
to their hand, narrated events within their own memory,
and maintained the narrative in the form of annals. The
method of annalising was simple. At the end of the incomplete
manuscript a loose or easily detachable sheet
was kept, whereon events of importance to the nation and
the monastery and locality of the annalist were written in
pencil from time to time during the year. At the end of
the year the historian welded these jottings into a narrative.
When this was done another leaf for notes was placed after
the manuscript. The value of the work so accomplished
is incalculable. Without these records it would now be
impossible for us to realise what the Middle Ages were like.
This service, added to the enormously greater service which
monachism did for us in preserving ancient literature, will
always breed kind thoughts of a system so repugnant to
our modern view of human endeavour.

Section VI

What was the extent of circulation of books during the
manuscript age? For the period before the Conquest we
can only offer the merest conjecture, which does not help
us materially. The rarity of the extant manuscripts of
this age is no guide to the extent of their production.
During the raids of the northmen the destruction and loss
must have been very great indeed. After the Conquest
the indifference and contempt with which the conquerors
regarded everything Saxon must have been responsible for
the destruction of nearly every manuscript written in the
vernacular. But, on the other hand, we find suggestions of
a greater production than is commonly credited to this
period. Religious fervour to make books was not wanting,
as some of our most beautiful relics--works exhibiting
much painstaking and skilful and even loving labour,
calligraphy, and decoration aflame with high endeavour--
belong to the Hiberno-Saxon period and the days of
Ethelwold. Nor after Alfred's day was regard lacking
for vernacular literature itself rather than for the glory of
a faith: how else are we to explain the precious fragments
of Anglo-Saxon manuscript which have been preserved for
us, especially the Exeter book and the Vercelli book? That
the production was considerable is suggested by the records
we have. Think of the Irish manuscripts now scattered
on the continent; of the library of York; of Bede's workshop
and the northern libraries; and of those in the south,
at Canterbury, Malmesbury, and elsewhere. But the use of
such manuscripts as were in existence was restricted to
monks, wealthy ecclesiastics, and a few of the wealthy

After the Conquest the state of affairs was the same.
The period of the greatest literary activity in the monasteries
now began, and large claustral libraries were soon formed.
The monks then had plenty of books; wealthy clergy also
had small collections. An ecclesiastic or a layman who
had done a monastery some service, or whose favour it was
politic to cultivate, could borrow books from the monastic
library, under certain strict conditions. Some people
availed themselves of this privilege; but not at any time
during the manuscript period to a great extent.[1]

[1] Bateson x.; Gasquet 4, 30-31; James (M. R.), 148.

Outside this small circle the people were almost bookless:
nearly the whole of the literary wealth of the Middle
Ages belonged to the monks and the church. Books were
extremely costly. The medieval book-buyer paid more for
his book on an average than does the modern collector of
first editions and editions de luxe, who pays in addition
several guineas a volume for handsome bindings. The prices
we have tabulated will fully bear out this statement. But
even more striking evidence of the high value set upon
books is the care taken in selling or bequeathing them.
To-day a line or two in a wealthy man's will disposes of
all his books. He commonly throws them in with the
"residue," unmentioned. In the manuscript age a testator
distributed his little hoard book by book. Often he not
only bequeaths a volume to a friend, but determines its fate
after his friend's death. For example, a daughter is to
have a copy of the Golden Legend, "and to occupye to hir
owne use and at hir owne liberte durynge hur lyfe, and after
hur decesse to remayne to the prioress and the convent of
Halywelle for evermore, they to pray for the said John
Burton and Johne his wife and alle crystene soyles (1460)."[1]
A manuscript now in Worcester Cathedral Library bears
an inscription telling us that, likewise, one Thomas Jolyffe left
it to Dr. Isack, a monk of Worcester, for his lifetime, and after
his death to Worcester Priory. A manuscript now in the British
Museum was bought in 1473 at Oxford by Clement of Canterbury,
monk and scholar, from a bookseller named Hunt for twenty
shillings, in the presence of Will. Westgate, monk.[2] In a
manuscript of the Sentences is a note telling us that it was
the property of Roger, archdeacon of Lincoln: he bought
it from Geoffrey the chaplain, the brother of Henry, vicar of
North Elkington, the witnesses being master Robert de Luda,
clerk, Richard the almoner, the said Henry the vicar, his
clerk, and others.[3] An instance of a different kind will
suffice. When, after a good deal of rioting at Oxford,
many of the more studious masters and scholars went to
Stamford, the king threatened that if they did not return
to Oxford they would lose their goods, and especially their
books. The warning was disregarded, but the threatened
forfeiture of their books was evidently thought to be a strong

[1] Written at the end of the manuscript, which is in the Douce
collection.-- Warton, i. 182-83.

[2] MS. gurney, II; James (M.R.), 515.

[3] B. M. MS. Reg., 9 B ix. I.

[4] Lyte, 135

In his poems Chaucer endows two poor clerks with
small libraries. His first portrait of an Oxford clerk is

"For him was lever have at his beddes heed [rather]
Twenty bokes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophye,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrye [fiddle, psaltery].
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but liter gold in cofre;
But al that he mighte of his freendes hente [get],
On bokes and on lerninge he it spente,
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of hem that yaf him wherewith to scoleye [gave, study].
Of studie took he most cure and most hede.
Noght o word spak he more than was nede,
And that was seyd in forme and reverence,
And short and quik, and ful of hy sentence [high].
Souninge in moral vertu was his speche [conducing to],
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche."

Almost equally pleasing is his picture of another who
lived with a rich churl--

"A chambre hadde he in that hostelrye
Allone, with-outer any companye,
. . . . . . . .
His Almageste and bokes grete and smale,
His astrelabie, longinge for his art,
His augrim-stones layen faire a-part
On shelves couched at his beddes heed."

Both descriptions have been used as evidence that books
were not so scarce as supposed; that poor people could
get books if they specially needed them. But are these
pictures quite true? Has not the poet taken advantage of
the licence allowed to his kind? The records preserved at
Oxford do not corroborate him. Some of the students were
very poor. It seems likely that a would-be clerk attached
himself to a master or scholar as a servant in return for
teaching in the "kunnyng of writyng" and perhaps other

"This endenture bereth witnesse that I, John Swanne, the sone
of John Swanne of Bridlington, in the counte of Yorke, have putte
me servante unto William Osbarne, forto serve him undir the
foorme of a servante for te terme of iiii. yere, and the seide
William Osbarne forto enfoorme the seide John Swann in the
kunnyng of writyng, and the seide John Swann forto have the first
yere of te seide William Osbarne iijs. iiijd. in money, and ij.
peter [pairs] of hosen, and ij. scherts [shirts] and iiij. peire
schoon [pairs of shoes], and a gowne, and in the secunde yeere
xiijs. iiijd., and in the iij. yere xxs. and a gowne, and in the
iiij. yeere xls. And in the witnesse hereof, etc." (1456).[1]

[1] Mun. Acad., 665. Cf. p. 661.

Mr. Anstey points out that a very large number,
probably the majority of scholars, were not well provided
for. They eked out their precarious allowances by begging,
by learning handicrafts, and by "picking up the various
doles at funerals and commemoration masses, where such
needy miserables were always to be found."[1] Such students
would not be likely to have many or perhaps any books.
"The stock of books possessed by the YOUNGER scholars seems
to have been almost nil. The inventories of goods, which we
possess, in the case of non-graduates contain hardly any
books. The fact is that they mostly could not afford to
buy them.... The chief source of supplying books was by
purchase from the University sworn stationers, who had to
a great extent a monopoly, the object of which was to
prevent the sale and removal from Oxford of valuable
books. Of such books there were plainly very large
numbers constantly changing hands; they were the pledges
so continually deposited on borrowing from chests, and
seem, from scattered hints, to have been a very fruitful
source of litigation and dispute."[2] Most of these books
were in the hands of seniors. Truly enough many a
poor clerk would as lief have twenty "bokes" to his name
as anything else treble the value. But he would undergo
much sharp self-denial and receive much "wherewith to
scoleye" ere he got together so considerable a collection of
"bokes grete and smale," to say nothing of instruments.
As such a large proportion of the scholars were poor, and
unable to acquire books, nearly all the instruction given
was oral. Well-to-do scholars would not find, therefore,
books of very great service; and indeed they were as ill-
equipped in this respect as their poorer brethren. The
accounts of the La Fytes, two scholars whose expenses
were paid by Edward I himself, contain records of the
purchase of two copies of only the Institutions of Quintilian
(c. 1290).[3] Is not Chaucer describing his own room in
both passages--the room he loved to seek after his day's
work at the desk? Here at the bedhead are his books,
including the astronomical treatise of Ptolemy called
Almagest. Beside them is the astrolabe, an instrument
about which he wrote; and trimly arranged apart his
augrim-stones, or counters for making calculations. Such
an outfit we might expect him to have: just such a library,
neither smaller nor larger.

[1] Mun. Acad., ci.

[2] Mun. Acad., lxxvii.

[3] Lyte, 93.

This supposition calls to mind another argument sometimes
used to prove how easy it was to make a small
collection of books. Chaucer's poems display his acquaintance,
more or less thoroughly, with many authors. Surely,
it is urged, his library was a good one for the time: then
how was it possible for a man of his means to own such?
He was not wealthy. As a courtier and a public officer
the calls upon his purse must have been heavy: little indeed
could be left for books. The explanation is probably
simple. Books were freely lent, more freely than
nowadays; and Chaucer would be able to eke out his
library in this way. Another point is important. Professor
Lounsbury, who has spent years in an exhaustive
study of Chaucer, points out a curious circumstance. "It
must be confessed," he says--a shade of disparagement
lurks in the phrase--"it must be confessed that Chaucer's
quotations from writers exhibit a familiarity with prologues
and first books and early chapters which contrasts ominously
with the comparative infrequency with which he makes
citations from the middle and latter parts of most of the
works he mentions."[1] Surely the implication is unjust.
Stationers used to let out on hire parts of books or quires.
Manuscript volumes were also often made up of parts of
works by several authors. Books being scarce, it was
preferable to make some volumes select miscellanies, little
libraries in themselves. Hear Chaucer himself--

"And eek ther was som-tyme a clerk at Rome,
A cardinal, that highte Seinte Jerome,
That made a book agayn Jovinian;
In whiche book eek ther was Tertulan,
Crisippus, Trotula, and Helowys,
That was abbesse net fer fro Parys;
And eek the Parables of Salomon,
Ovydes Art, and bokes many on,
And alle thise were bounder in o volume."[2]

[1] Lounsbury, Studies in Chaucer, ii. 265.

[2] Wife of Bath's Prologue, ll. 673-81.

In composite volumes often only the earlier parts of
authors' works were included. If Chaucer owned a few
books of this kind, his familiarity with parts of authors--
and oftenest with the earlier parts--is accounted for
satisfactorily; so also is the range and variety of his
reading. Examine the Christ Church Canterbury catalogue
in Henry Eastry's time, and note what a remarkable
variety of subjects is comprised in what we nowadays
consider rather a paltry number of books. There is
another point worth bearing in mind. Speaking of Bishop
Shirwood's books, a writer in the English Historical Review
says: "Many of the books bear his mark, Nota, scattered
over the margins, or a hand with a long pointing finger.
These notes occur usually at the beginnings. In the days
when chapters and sections were unknown and division
into books rare, when headlines were not and pages sometimes
had no signatures even, not to speak of numbers, a
reader had to go solidly through a book, and could not
lightly turn up a passage he wished for, by the aid of a
referenre. But except in Cicero and in Plutarch--which is
read almost from beginning to end--the marks do not
often go far. Shirwood was doubtless too busy to find
much time for reading, and before he had made much way
with a book a new purchase had come to arouse his

[1] E. H. R., XXV. 453.

But to the general rule of scarcity of books some
exceptions are known. When a book won a reputation,
the cost of producing copies was not wholly restrictive of
circulation. Copies of some works of the Fathers were
produced in great numbers. The Bible, whole or in part,
was copied with such industry that it became the commonest
of manuscripts, as it now is the commonest of printed
books. Peter Lombard's Sentences became a famous book:
the standard of the schools; everywhere to be found side
by side with the Bible, everywhere discussed and commented upon.
A twelfth century author of quite different character had a good
hold upon the people; the number of copies of Geoffrey of
Monmouth must have been considerable, for the British Museum now
has thirty-five copies and Bodley's Library sixteen. "Possibly,
no work before the age of printed books attained such immediate
and astonishing popularity . . . translations, adaptations,
and continuations of it formed one of the staple exercises
of a host of medieval scribes."[1] A glance at the monastic
and academic library catalogues of later date than mid-
thirteenth century will prove more clearly than a shelf full
of books how enormous was the influence of Aristotle. If
such a collocation as the Bible and Shakspere sums up the
present-day Englishman's ideals of spiritual sustenance and
literary power, a similar collocation of the Bible and
Aristotle would sum up, with a greater approach to truth,
the ideals of the medieval schoolman. Popularity fell to
Piers Plowman. Apart from the large currency given to it
by ballad singers, many manuscripts were in existence, for
even now forty-five of them, more or less complete, remain.
As M. Jusserand aptly remarks: "This figure is the more
remarkable when we consider that, contrary to works written
in Latin or in French, Langland's book was not copied
and preserved outside his own country."[2] Again, but a
few years after the writing of the Canterbury Tales, a copy
of it was bequeathed, among other books, by a clerk named
Richard Sotheworth of East Hendred, Berks (1417).[3]
The impression is left upon one's mind that this work had
found its way quickly and in many copies into country

[1] Camb. Lit., i. 262.

[2] Piers Plowman, 186.

[3] "Quendam libru' meu' de Canterbury Tales."--N. & Q., II ser.
ii. 26.

But as only a few books had a comparatively large
circulation, these few had a disproportionately powerful
influence. The Bible was paramount. Aristotle dominated
the whole mental horizon of the schoolmen. Alfred of
Beverley tells us that Geoffrey of Monmouth's book "was so
universally talked of that to confess ignorance of its stories
was the mark of a clown."[1] So great was the influence of
Piers Plowman, that from it were taken watchwords at the
great rising of the peasants.[2] The power of such works
could not be wholly hemmed in by the barrier of manuscript:
like a spring torrent it would burst forth and carry
all before it. In the manuscript period a book of great
originality and power, or a work which reproduced the
thought of the time accurately and with spirit, ran no
great risk of being passed over and forgotten; too little
was produced for much that was good to be lost. It was
copied once and again; became very slowly but very
surely known to a few, then to many; and all the time
waxed more and more influential in its teaching. The
growth was slow, but then the lifetime was long. Now
the chance of a good book going astray is much greater
What watcher of the great procession of modern books
does not fear that something supremely fine and great has
passed unobserved in the huge, motley crowd?

[1] Camb. Lit., i. 262.

[2] Jusserand, Piers, 13.

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