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F. Somner Merryweather

with an Introduction by Charles Orr



An Anglo-Saxon Abbot : Ælfric of Eynsham

Monasticon hibernicum: V 1or, A history of the abbeys, priories, and other religious houses in Ireland; interspersed with memoirs of their several founders and benefactors, and of their abbots and other superiors, to the time of their final suppression. Volume 1

Ecclesiastical Chronicle for






A history of St. Augustine's Monastery, Canterbury :

Monasticon Anglicanum:

a history of the abbies and other monasteries, hospitals, frieries, and cathedral and collegiate churches, with their dependencies, in England and Wales



I .-Duties of the monkish librarian. Rules of the library. Lending books. Books allowed the monks for private reading. Ridiculous signs for books. How the libraries were supported. A monkish blessing on books, etc. Scriptoria and the Scribes. Care in copying. Bible reading among the monks. Booksellers in the middle ages. Circulating libraries. Calligraphic art, etc.

II .-Canterbury Monastery. Theodore of Tarsus. Tatwine. Nothelm. St. Dunstan. Ælfric. Lanfranc. Anselm. St. Augustine's books. Henry de Estria and his Catalogue. Chiclely. Sellinge. Rochester. Gundulph, a Bible Student. Radulphus. Ascelin of Dover. Glanvill

III-Lindesfarne. St. Cuthbert's Gospels. Destruction of the Monastery. Alcuin's Letter on the occasion. Removal to Durham. Carelepho. Catalogue of Durham Library. Hugh de Pusar. Anthony Bek. Richard de Bury and his Philobiblon, etc.

IV.-Croyland Monastery. Its Library increased by Egebric. Destroyed by Fire. Peterborough. Destroyed by the Danes. Benedict and his books. Anecdotes of Collectors. Catalogue of the Library of the Abbey of Peterborough. Leicester Library, etc.

V.-King Alfred an "amator librorum" and an author.-Benedict Biscop and his book tours. Bede. Ceolfrid. Wilfrid. Boniface the Saxon Missionary: His love of books. Egbert of York. Alcuin. Whitby Abbey. Cædmon. Classics in the Library of Withby. Rievall Library. Coventry. Worcester. Evesham. Thomas of Marleberg, etc.

VI.-Old Glastonbury Abbey. Its Library. John of Taunton. Richard Whiting. Malmsbury. Bookish Monks of Gloucester Abbey. Leofric of Exeter and his private library. Peter of Blois. Extracts from his letters.

VII.Winchester famous for its Scribes. Ethelwold and Godemann. Anecdotes. Library of the Monastery of Reading. The Bible. Library of Depying Priory. Effects of Gospel Reading. Catalogue of Ramsey Library. Hebrew MSS. Fine Classics, etc. St. Edmund's Bury.Church of Ely. Canute, etc.

VIII.-St. Alban's. Willigod. Bones of St. Alban. Eadmer. Norman Conquest. Paul and the Scriptorium. Geoffry de Gorham. Brekspere the "Poor Clerk". Abbot Simon and his "multis voluminibus". Raymond the Prior. Wentmore. Whethamstede. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Lydgate. Guy, Earl of Warwick.

IX.-The Dominicans. The Franciscans and the Carmelites. Scholastic Studies. Robert Grostest. Libraries in London. Miracle Plays. Introduction of Printing into England. Barkley's Description of a Bibliomaniac. -Conclusion.



In every century for more than two thousand years, many men have owed their chief enjoyment of life to books. The bibliomaniac of today had his prototype in ancient Rome, where book collecting was fashionable as early as the first century of the Christian era. Four centuries earlier there was an active trade in books at Athens, then the center of the book production of the world. This center of literary activity shifted to Alexandria during the third century BC through the patronage of Ptolemy Soter, the founder of the Alexandrian Museum, and of his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus; and later to Rome, where it remained for many centuries, and where bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs were gradually evolved, and from whence in time other countries were invaded.

For the purposes of the present work the middle ages cover the period beginning with the seventh century and ending with the time of the invention of printing, or about seven hundred years, though they are more accurately bounded by the years AD 500 and 1500 AD. It matters little, however, since there is no attempt at chronological arrangement.

About the middle of the present century there began to be a disposition to grant to medieval times their proper place in the history of the preservation and dissemination of books, and Merryweather’s Bibliomania in the Middle Ages was one of the earliest works in English devoted to the subject. Previous to that time, those ten centuries lying between the fall of the Roman Empire and the revival of learning were generally referred to as the Dark Ages, and historians and other writers were wont to treat them as having been without learning or scholarship of any kind.

Even Mr. Hallam, with all that judicial temperament and patient research to which we owe so much, could find no good to say of the Church or its institutions, characterizing the early university as the abode of "indigent vagabonds withdrawn from usual labor," and all monks as positive enemies of learning.

The gloomy survey of Mr. Hallam, clouded no doubt by his antipathy to all things ecclesiastical, served, however, to arouse the interest of the period, which led to other studies with different results, and later writers were able to discern below the surface of religious fanaticism and superstition so characteristic of those centuries, much of interest in the history of literature; to show that every age produced learned and inquisitive men by whom books were highly prized and industriously collected for their own sakes; in short, to rescue the period from the stigma of absolute illiteracy.

If the reader cares to pursue the subject further, after going through the fervid defense of the love of books in the middle ages, of which this is the introduction, he will find outside of its chapters abundant evidence that the production and care of books was a matter of great concern. In the pages of Mores Catholici; or Ages of Faith, by Mr. Kenelm Digby, or of The Dark Ages, by Dr. S. R. Maitland, or of that great work of recent years, Books and their Makers during the Middle Ages, by Mr. George Haven Putnam, he will see vivid and interesting portraits of a great multitude of medieval worthies who were almost lifelong lovers of learning and books, and zealous laborers in preserving, increasing and transmitting them. And though little of the mass that has come down to us was worthy of preservation on its own account as literature, it is exceedingly interesting as a record of centuries of industry in the face of such difficulties that to workers of a later period might have seemed insurmountable.

A further fact worthy of mention is that book production was from the art point of view fully abreast of the other arts during the period, as must be apparent to anyone who examines the collections in some of the libraries of Europe. Much of this beauty was wrought for the love of the art itself. In the earlier centuries religious institutions absorbed nearly all the social intellectual movements as well as the possession of material riches and land. Kings and princes were occupied with distant wars which impoverished them and deprived literature and art of that patronage accorded to it in later times. There is occasional mention, however, of wealthy laymen, whose religious zeal induced them to give large sums of money for the copying and ornamentation of books; and there were in the abbeys and convents lay brothers whose fervent spirits, burning with poetical imagination, sought in these monastic retreats and the labor of writing, redemption from their past sins. These men of faith were happy to consecrate their whole existence to the ornamentation of a single sacred book, dedicated to the community, which gave them in exchange the necessaries of life.

The labor of transcribing was held, in the monasteries, to be a full equivalent of manual labor in the field. The rule of St. Ferreol, written in the sixth century, says that, "He who does not turn up the earth with the plough ought to write the parchment with his fingers."


Mention has been made of the difficulties under which books were produced; and this is a matter which we who enjoy the conveniences of modern writing and printing can little understand. The hardships of the scriptorium were greatest, of course, in winter. There were no fires in the often damp and ill-lighted cells, and the cold in some of the parts of Europe where books were produced must have been very severe. Parchment, the material generally used for writing upon after the seventh century, was at some periods so scarce that copyists were compelled to resort to the expedient of effacing the writing on old and less esteemed manuscripts. The form of writing was stiff and regular and therefore exceedingly slow and irksome.

In some of the monasteries the scriptorium was at least at a later period, conducted more as a matter of commerce, and making of books became in time very profitable. The Church continued to hold the keys of knowledge and to control the means of productions; but the cloistered cell, where the monk or the layman, who had a penance to work off for a grave sin, had worked in solitude, gave way to the apartment specially set aside, where many persons could work together, usually under the direction of a librarius or chief scribe. In the more carefully constructed monasteries this apartment was so placed as to adjoin the calefactory, which allowed the introduction of hot air, when needed.

The seriousness with which the business of copying was considered is well illustrated by the consecration of the scriptorium which was often done in words which may be thus translated: "Vouchsafe, O Lord, to bless this work-room of thy servants, that all which they write therein may be comprehended by their intelligence and realized in their work."

While the work of the scribes was largely that of copying the scriptures, gospels, and books of devotion required for the service of the church, there was a considerable trade in books of a more secular kind. Particularly was this so in England. The large measure of attention given to the production of books of legends and romances was a distinguishing feature of the literature of England at least three centuries previous to the invention of printing. At about the twelfth century and after, there was a very large production and sale of books under such headings as chronicles, satires, sermons, works of science and medicine, treatises on style, prose romances and epics in verse. Of course a large proportion of these were written in or translated from the Latin, the former indicating a pretty general knowledge of that language among those who could buy or read books at all. That this familiarity with the Latin tongue was not confined to any particular country is abundantly shown by various authorities.


Christopher Plantin, and the Plantin-Moretus museum at Antwerp

Mr. Merryweather, whose book, as has been intimated, is only a defense of bibliomania itself as it actually existed in the middle ages, gives the reader but scant information as to processes of book-making at that time. But thanks to the painstaking research of others, these details are now a part of the general knowledge of the development of the book. The following, taken from Mr. Theodore De Vinne's Invention of Printing, will, we think, be found interesting:

"The size most in fashion was that now known as the demy folio, of which the leaf is about ten inches wide and fifteen inches long, but smaller sizes were often made. The space to be occupied by the written text was mapped out with faint lines, so that the writer could keep his letters on a line, at even distance from each other and within the prescribed margin. Each letter was carefully drawn, and filled in or painted with repeated touches of the pen. With good taste, black ink was most frequently selected for the text; red ink was used only for the more prominent words, and the catch-letters, then known as the rubricated letters. Sometimes texts were written in blue, green, purple, gold or silver inks, but it was soon discovered that texts in bright color were not so readable as texts in black.

"When the copyist had finished his sheet he passed it to the designer, who sketched the border, pictures and initials. The sheet was then given to the illuminator, who painted it. The ornamentation of a mediæval book of the first class is beyond description by words or by wood cuts. Every inch of space was used. Its broad margins were filled with quaint ornaments, sometimes of high merit, admirably painted in vivid colors. Grotesque initials, which, with their flourishes, often spanned the full height of the page, or broad bands of floriated tracery that occupied its entire width, were the only indications of changes of chapter or subject. In printer's phrase the composition was "close-up and solid" to the extreme degree of compactness. The uncommonly free use of red ink for the smaller initials was not altogether a matter of taste; if the page had been written entirely in black ink it would have been unreadable through its blackness. This nicety in writing consumed much time, but the medieval copyist was seldom governed by considerations of time or expense. It was of little consequence whether the book he transcribed would be finished in one or in ten years. It was required only that he should keep at his work steadily and do his best. His skill is more to be commended than his taste. Many of his initials and borders were outrageously inappropriate for the text for which they were designed. The gravest truths were hedged in the most childish conceits. Angels, butterflies, goblins, clowns, birds, snails and monkeys, sometimes in artistic, but much oftener in grotesque and sometimes in highly offensive positions are to be found in the illuminated borders of copies of the gospels and writings of the fathers.

"The book was bound by the forwarder, who sewed the leaves and put them in a cover of leather or velvet; by the finisher, who ornamented the cover with gilding and enamel. The illustration of book binding, published by Amman in his Book of Trades, puts before us many of the implements still in use. The forwarder, with his customary apron of leather, is in the foreground, making use of a plow-knife for trimming the edges of a book. The lying press, which rests obliquely against the block before him, contains a book that has received the operation of backing-up from a queer shaped hammer lying upon the floor. The workman at the end of the room is sewing together the sections of a book, for sewing was properly regarded as a man's work, and a scientific operation altogether beyond the capacity of the raw seamstress. The work of the finisher is not represented, but the brushes, the burnishers, the sprinklers and the wheel-shaped gilding tools hanging against the wall leave us no doubt as to their use. There is an air of antiquity about everything connected with this bookbindery which suggests the thought that its tools and usages are much older than those of printing. Chevillier says that seventeen professional bookbinders found regular employment in making up books for the University of Paris, as early as 1292. Wherever books were produced in quantities, bookbinding was set apart as a business distinct from that of copying.

"The poor students who copied books for their own use were also obliged to bind them, which they did in a simple but efficient manner by sewing together the folded sheets, attaching them to narrow parchment bands, the ends of which were made to pass through a cover of stout parchment at the joint near the back. The ends of the bands were then pasted down under the stiffening sheet of the cover, and the book was pressed. Sometimes the cover was made flexible by the omission of the stiffening sheet; sometimes the edges of the leaves were protected by flexible and overhanging flaps which were made to project over the covers; or by the insertion in the covers of stout leather strings with which the two covers were tied together. Ornamentation was entirely neglected, for a book of this character was made for use and not for show. These methods of binding were mostly applied to small books intended for the pocket; the workmanship was rough, but the binding was strong and serviceable."

The invention of printing : a collection of facts and opinions descriptive of early prints and playing cards, the block-books of the fifteenth century, the legend of Lourens Janszoon Coster, of Haarlem, and the work of John Gutenberg and his associates


The book of Mr. Merryweather, here reprinted, is thought worthy of preservation in a series designed for the library of the booklover. Its publication followed shortly after that of the works of Digby and Maitland, but shows much original research and familiarity with early authorities; and it is much more than either of these, or of any book with which we are acquainted, a plea in defense of bibliomania in the middle ages. Indeed the charm of the book may be said to rest largely upon the earnestness with which he takes up his self-imposed task. One may fancy that after all he found it not an easy one; in fact his "Conclusion" is a kind of apology for not having made out a better case. But this he believes he has proven, "that with all their superstition, with all their ignorance, their blindness to philosophic light—the monks of old were hearty lovers of books; that they encouraged learning, fostered it, and transcribed repeatedly the books which they had rescued from the destruction of war and time; and so kindly cherished and husbanded them as intellectual food for posterity. Such being the case, let our hearts look charitably upon them; and whilst we pity them for their superstition, or blame them for their pious frauds, love them as brother men and workers in the mines of literature."

Of the author himself little can be learned. A diligent search revealed little more than the entry in the London directory which, in various years from 1840 to 1850, gives his occupation as that of bookseller, at 14 King Street, Holborn. Indeed this is shown by the imprint of the title-page of Bibliomania, which was published in 1849. He published during the same year Dies Dominicæ, and in 1850 Glimmerings in the Dark, and Lives and Anecdotes of Misers. The latter has been immortalized by Charles Dickens as one of the books bought at the bookseller's shop by Boffin, the Golden Dustman, and which was read to him by the redoubtable Silas Wegg during Sunday evenings at "Boffin's Bower."


Introductory Remarks


In recent times, in spite of all those outcries which have been so repeatedly raised against the illiterate state of the dark ages, many and valuable efforts have been made towards a just elucidation of those monkish days. These labors have produced evidence of what few anticipated, and some even now deny, viz., that here and there great glimmerings of learning are perceivable; and although debased, and often barbarous too, they were not quite so bad as historians have usually proclaimed them.

It may surprise some, however, that an attempt should be made to prove that, in the olden time in merrie Englande, a passion which Dibdin has christened Bibliomania, existed then, and that there were many cloistered bibliophiles as warm and enthusiastic in book collecting as the Doctor himself. But I must here crave the patience of the reader, and ask him to refrain from denouncing what he may deem a rash and futile attempt, till he has perused the volume and thought well upon the many facts contained therein. I am aware that many of these facts are known to all, but some, I believe, are familiar only to the antiquary—the lover of musty parchments and the cobwebbed chronicles of a monastic age.

I have endeavored to bring these facts together—to connect and string them into a continuous narrative, and to extract from them some light to guide us in forming an opinion on the state of literature in those ages of darkness and obscurity; and here let it be understood that I merely wish to give a fact as history records it. I will not commence by saying the Middle Ages were dark and miserably ignorant, and search for some poor isolated circumstance to prove it; I will not affirm that this was pre-eminently the age in which real piety flourished and literature was fondly cherished, and strive to find all those facts which show its learning, purposely neglecting those which display its unlettered ignorance: nor let it be deemed ostentation when I say that the literary anecdotes and bookish memoranda now submitted to the reader have been taken, where such a course was practicable, from the original sources, and the references to the authorities from whence they are derived have been personally consulted and compared.


That the learning of the Middle Ages has been carelessly represented there can be little doubt: our finest writers in the paths of history have employed their pens in denouncing it; some have allowed difference of opinion as regards ecclesiastical policy to influence their conclusions; and because the poor scribes were monks, the most licentious principles, the most dismal ignorance and the most repulsive crimes have been attributed to them. If the monks deserved such reproaches from posterity, they have received no quarter; if they possessed virtues as christians, and honorable sentiments as men, they have met with no reward in the praise or respect of this liberal age: they were monks! superstitious priests and followers of Rome! What good could come of them?

It cannot be denied that there were crimes perpetrated by men aspiring to a state of holy sanctity; there are instances to be met with of priests violating the rules of decorum and morality; of monks reveling in the dissipating pleasures of sensual enjoyments, and of nuns whose frail humanity could not maintain the purity of their virgin vows. But these instances are too rare to warrant the slanders and scurrility that historians have heaped upon them. And when we talk of the sensuality of the monks, of their gross indulgences and corporeal ease, we surely do so without discrimination; for when we speak of the middle ages thus, our thoughts are dwelling on the sixteenth century, its mocking piety and superstitious absurdity; but in the olden time of monastic rule, before monachism had burst its ancient boundaries, there was surely nothing physically attractive in the austere and dull monotony of a cloistered life.

Look at the monk; mark his hard, dry studies, and his midnight prayers, his painful fasting and mortifying of the flesh; what can we find in this to tempt the epicure or the lover of indolence and sloth? They were fanatics, blind and credulous—I grant it. They read gross legends, and put faith in traditionary lies—I grant it; but do not say, for history will not prove it, that in the middle ages the monks were wine bibbers and slothful gluttons. But let not the Protestant reader be too hastily shocked. I am not defending the monastic system, or the corruption of the cloister—far from it. I would see the usefulness of man made manifest to the world; but the measure of my faith teaches charity and forgiveness, and I can find in the functions of the monk much that must have been useful in those dark days of feudal tyranny and lordly despotism.

We much mistake the influence of the monks by mistaking their position; we regard them as a class, but forget from whence they sprang; there was nothing aristocratic about them, as their constituent parts sufficiently testify; they were, perhaps, the best representatives of the people that could be named, being derived from all classes of society. Thus Offa, the Saxon king, and Cædman, the rustic herdsman, were both monks. These are examples by no means rare, and could easily be multiplied. Such being the case, could not the monks more readily feel and sympathize with all, and more clearly discern the frailties of their brother man, and by kind admonition or stern reproof, mellow down the ferocity of a Saxon nature, or the proud heart of a Norman tyrant?

But our object is not to analyze the social influence of Monachism in the middle ages: much might be said against it, and many evils traced to the sad workings of its evil spirit, but still withal something may be said in favor of it, and those who regard its influence in those days alone may find more to admire and defend than they expected, or their Protestant prejudices like to own.

But, leaving these things, I have only to deal with such remains as relate to the love of books in those times. I would show the means then in existence of acquiring knowledge, the scarcity or plentitude of books, the extent of their libraries, and the rules regulating them; and bring forward those facts which tend to display the general routine of a literary monk, or the prevalence of Bibliomania in those days.

Book Destroyers

It is well known that the great national and private libraries of Europe possess immense collections of manuscripts, which were produced and transcribed in the monasteries, during the middle ages, thousands there are in the rich alcoves of the Vatican at Rome, unknown save to a choice and favored few; thousands there are in the royal library of France, and thousands too reposing on the dusty shelves of the Bodleian and Cottonian libraries in England; and yet, these numbers are but a small portion—a mere relic—of the intellectual productions of a past and obscure age.

The barbarians, who so frequently convulsed the more civilized portions of Europe, found a morbid pleasure in destroying those works which bore evidence to the mental superiority of their enemies. In England, the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans were each successively the destroyers of literary productions. The Saxon Chronicle, that invaluable repository of the events of so many years, bears ample testimony to numerous instances of the loss of libraries and works of art, from fire, or by the malice of designing foes.

At some periods, so general was this destruction, so unquenchable the rapacity of those who caused it, that instead of feeling surprised at the manuscripts of those ages being so few and scanty, we have cause rather to wonder that so many have been preserved. For even the numbers which escaped the hands of the early and unlettered barbarians met with an equally ignominious fate from those for whom it would be impossible to hold up the darkness of their age as a plausible excuse for the commission of this egregious folly.

Effects of the Reformation on Monkish Learning, etc.

These men over whose sad deeds the bibliophile sighs with mournful regret, were those who carried out the Reformation, so glorious in its results; but the righteousness of the means by which those results were effected are very equivocal indeed. When men form themselves into a faction and strive for the accomplishment of one purpose, criminal deeds are perpetrated with impunity, which, individually they would blush and scorn to do; they feel no direct responsibility, no personal restraint; and, such as possess fierce passions, under the cloak of an organized body, give them vent and gratification; and those whose better feelings lead them to contemplate upon these things content themselves with the conclusion, that out of evil cometh good. (In France, in the year 1790, in full Age of Reason, God bless the Atheism, in the name of Science and Progress, God bless the Academy: 4 million 194 thousand volumes were burnt belonging to the suppressed monasteries, and about 25,000 of these were manuscripts).

The noble art of printing was unable, with all its rapid movements, to rescue from destruction the treasures of the monkish age; the advocates of the Reformation eagerly sought for and as eagerly destroyed those old popish volumes, doubtless there was much folly, much exaggerated superstition pervading them; but there was also some truth, a few facts worth knowing, and perhaps a little true piety also, and it would have been no difficult matter to have discriminated between the good and the bad. But the careless grants of a licentious monarch conferred a monastery on a court favorite or political partizan without one thought for the preservation of its contents.

It is true a few years after the dissolution of these houses, the industrious Leland was appointed to search and rummage over their libraries and to preserve any relic worthy of such an honor; but it was too late, less learned hands had rifled those parchment collections long ago, mutilated their finest volumes by cutting out with childish pleasure the illuminations with which they were adorned; tearing off the bindings for the gold claps which protected the treasures within, and chopping up huge folios as fuel for their blazing hearths, and immense collections were sold as waste paper. (In England: "About this time -Feb. 25, 1550- the Council book mentions the king's sending a letter for the purging his library at Westminster. The persons are not named, but the business was to cull out all superstitious books, as missals, legends, and such like, and to deliver the garniture of the books, being either gold or silver, to Sir Anthony Aucher. These books were many of them plated with gold and silver and curiously embossed. This, as far as we can collect, was the superstition that destroyed them. Here avarice had a very thin disguise, and the courtiers discovered of what spirit they were to a remarkable degree").

Bale, a strenuous opponent of the monks, thus deplores the loss of their books:

"Never had we been offended for the loss of our libraries being so many in number and in so desolate places for the most part, if the chief monuments and most notable works of our excellent writers had been reserved, if there had been in every shire of England but one solemn library to the preservation of those noble workers, and preferrement of good learnings in our posterity it had been yet somewhat. But to destroy all without consideration, is and will be unto England for ever a most horrible infamy among the grave seniours of other nation. A great number of them which purchased those superstitious mansions reserved of those library books, some to serve their jakes, some to scour their candelstickes, and some to rubbe their boots; some they sold to the grossers and sope sellers, and some they sent over see to the bokebinders, not in small number, but at times whole shippes full. I know a merchant man, which shall at this Time be nameless, that bought the contents of two noble libraries for 11 shillings price, a shame is it to be spoken. This stuff had he occupyed in the stide of grave paper for the space of more than these ten years, and yet had store enough for as many years to come. A prodigious example is this, and to be abhorred of all men who love their natyon as they should do."

However pernicious the Roman religion might have been in its practice, it argues little to the honor of the reformers to have used such means as this to effect its cure; had they merely destroyed those productions connected with the controversies of the day, we might perhaps have excused it, on the score of party feeling; but those who were commissioned to visit the public libraries of the kingdom were often men of prejudiced intellects and shortsighted wisdom, and it frequently happened that an ignorant and excited mob became the executioners of whole collections. (In the reign of Edward VI: "least their impiety and foolishness in this act should be further wanting, they brought it to pass that certain rude young men should carry this great spoil of books about the city on biers, which being so done, to set them down in the common market place, and then burn them, to the sorrow of many, as well as of the Protestants as of the other party. This was by them styled 'the funeral of Scotus the Scotists'. So that at this time and all this king's reign was seldom seen anything in the universities but books of poetry, grammar, idle songs, and frivolous stuff").

It would be impossible now to estimate the loss. Manuscripts of ancient and classic date would in their hands receive no more respect than some dry husky folio on ecclesiastical policy; indeed, they often destroyed the works of their own party through sheer ignorance. In a letter sent by Dr. Cox to William Paget, Secretary, he writes that the proclamation for burning books had been the occasion of much hurt. "For New Testaments and Bibles (not condemned by proclamation) have been burned, and that, out of parish churches and good men's houses. They have burned innumerable of the king's majesties books concerning our religion lately set forth." The ignorant thus delighted to destroy that which they did not understand, and the factional spirit of the more enlightened would not allow them to make one effort for the preservation of those valuable relics of early English literature, which crowded the shelves of the monastic libraries; the sign of the cross, the use of red letters on the title page, the illuminations representing saints, or the diagrams and circles of a mathematical nature, were at all times deemed sufficient evidence of their popish origin and fitness for the flames.

When we consider the immense number of MSS. thus destroyed, we cannot help suspecting that, if they had been carefully preserved and examined, many valuable and original records would have been discovered. The catalogues of old monastic establishments, although containing a great proportion of works on divine and ecclesiastical learning, testify that the monks did not confine their studies exclusively to legendary tales or superstitious missals, but that they also cultivated a taste for classical and general learning. Doubtless, in the ruin of the sixteenth century, many original works of monkish authors perished, and the splendor of the transcript rendered it still more liable to destruction; but I confess, as old Fuller quaintly says, that "there were many volumes full fraught with superstition which, notwithstanding, might be useful to learned men, except any will deny apothecaries the privilege of keeping poison in their shops, when they can make antidotes of them. But besides this, what beautiful bibles! Rare fathers! Subtle schoolmen! Useful historians! Ancient! Middle! Modern! What painful comments were here amongst them! What monuments of mathematics all massacred together!"

More than a cart load of manuscripts were taken away from Merton College and destroyed, and a vast number from the Baliol and New Colleges, Oxford; but these instances might be infinitely multiplied, so terrible were those intemperate outrages. All this tends to enforce upon us the necessity of using considerable caution in forming an opinion of the nature and extent of learning prevalent during those ages which preceded the discovery of the art of printing.


Edward VI of England, the Book Destroyer