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The success of the chroniclers in achieving this familiar kind of description, is partly owing to a quaint, old-worldly humour, which, if occasionally puerile, is on the whole by no means feeble. Roger of Wendover, already quoted, in giving what we are sorry to say is a grossly prejudiced and false account of the prophet Mahomet, dryly observes :—" Moreover, he declared that pleasures and carnal delights are . the chief good; wherefore I believe that, were he living at this day, he would find many disciples.” (Giles's Wendover, i. 74.) Roger de Hoveden, a Yorkshireman, who was a clerk or secretary to Henry the Second, deals in the following style with Longchamp, the Bishop of ElyCeur de Lion's unpopular chancellor :
All the sons of the nobles acted as his servants, with downcast looks, nor dared they to look upwards towards the heavens, unless it so happened that they were addressing him; and if they attended to anything else they were pricked with a goad, which their lord held in his hand, fully mindful of his grandfather of pious memory, who, being of servile condition in the district of Beauvais, had, for his occupation, to guide the plough and whip up the oxen ; and who at length, to gain his liberty, fled to the Norman territory.*
The same Roger de Hoveden, referring elsewhere to the prevalent belief that the old dragon”—which he tells us " is the same as the Devil and Satan "—was to be let loose (A.D. 1201), observes :—"If he did so much harm to the world while he was bound, what will he do when he is set free ?-(Quod si Diabolus ligatus tot et tanta intulerit mala mundo, quot et quanta inferet solutus ?)”—There is a palpable undercurrent of sarcasm here, and nothing can be more natural than a little pleasantry on such subjects, as a rebound after the intense and indeed awful earnestness with which they were regarded in that era. But we do not require the rollicking fun even of the poems attributed to Walter Map, or Mapes, with their
Mihi est propositum in tabernâ mori, so cleverly translated by Leigh Hunt, to prove to us that as there were heroes before Agamemnon, so there were wits before Rabelais and Erasmus, and that the twelfth century, in spite of its superstitions and barbarisms, and all the rest of it, was not destitute of them. Let us take an anecdote from the well-known Giraldus Cambrensis of Henry the Second's time, Archdeacon of Brecknock, a member of the great Norman house of Barri, and nearly related to the conquerors of Ireland. Giraldus, in arguing with the Archbishop of Cashel, took occasion to remind him that no one in the kingdom of Ireland had ever obtained the crown of martyrdom. "Upon this,” he goes on, archbishop replied sarcastically, avoiding the point of my proposition and answering it by a home-thrust. “It is true,' he said, that although our nation may seem barbarous, uncivilized, and cruel, they have always
* Riley's Hoveden, 1i. 232.
shown great honour and reverence to their ecclesiastics, and never on any occasion raised their hands against God's saints. But there is now come into our land a poople who know how to make martyrs, and have frequently done it. Henceforth Ireland will have its martyrs as well as other countries.'"* The sting here is forked ; for the first part of the archbishop's reply obviously refers to the slaughter of Becket. As for the other part of it, few Englishmen will deny that the lapse of seven hundred years has only given polish to its sharpness. The frankness of Giraldus in putting this hit at himself on record, is quite in keeping with the general out-spoken honesty of the whole tribe of chroniclers. If we have a low opinion of them and their cpochs, it is not that they have provoked us by any attempts to paint themselves and their contemporaries in white and pink colours. They lay into both with hearty good-will. Do the Danes triumph over the Saxons, or the Normans over both ; do the Saracens turn our ancestors out of the Holy City, or carry them off as slaves into the heart of Asia ?-it is all due to the shameful sins, gluttony, incontinence, usury, simony, and a long string more,-of the population generally. The wicked baron, we can assure our readers, catches it from the chronicler, as sharply as ever his successor does for pursuing virtuous beauty through the penny numbers of a popular romance in our own more refined period. The feudal times have left us their photographs though they knew nothing of photography, and have painted themselves, as Cromwell in the old story desired to be painted, with the warts on. Mr. Thackeray was not harder on George the Fourth than Henry of Huntingdon on William Rufus, or Matthew Paris on Henry the Third. Huntingdon calls William an “impious king, hateful alike to God and the people ;” and Matthew Paris grumbles through page after page, a true frondeur of the thirteenth century, with a stolid JohnBullish hatred of tyranny, waste, and foreigners, showing that the head of Cobbett could be as much at home under the cowl of a monk of St. Alban's of the thirteenth century, as under the hat of a journalist of the nineteenth,
Hitherto we have dwelt chiefly on those qualities of our vencrablo friends which they possessed in common with their more recent successors: natural sagacity, an eye for the splendours and beauties of life and the world, mother-wit and native humour. It is now time to describe some of the peculiarities of their position in literary history; and to define and explain, as well as our limits permit, their point of view. We need hardly say that as regarded the ages before them (for abont their own period they were shrewd enough, as we have shown), they were very credulous and uncritical. Historical criticism is quite a modern science, if science it can yet be called. The nature of the Roman agrarian laws was not understood till about the time of the French Revolution; and it was after that event that Niebuhr changed the whole opinion of Europe about the sources of Ronian
* Wrigut's Giraldus Cambrensis, 145-6.
history. The siego of Troy was not considered more doubtful than we consider the siege of Sebastopol to be, during the greater part of last century. Up to Dr. Johnson's time, Scotsmen derived their royal family from Banquo, and believed stories about their leading houses which are not a whit more solid than tho incidents of the battle of the Lake Regillus. And yet it is astonishing how much the influence of the art of printing has altered historical perspective ;-how near it has brought us to ages which, if we had only oral and scanty MS. records of them, would appear to us involved in illimitable distance and impenetrablo haze. Under the last disadvantage, aggravated by difficulties of communication, social turbulence, imperfect culture, imperfect materials, all the old chroniclers laboured. Accordingly, grave archdeacons, men who were fair Latinists, and high theologians, did not scruple to repeat the most extraordinary statements about the early history of their native land. They tell us that the British nation is of Trojan origin, being descended from Æneas, through Ascanius, who had a son Silvius, who had a son Brute. It seems that a soothsayer had predicted of Brute, before his birth, that he would kill his father. The soothsayer was executed for his pains, but his
. prophecy came true for all that. Brute slew his father by accident with an arrow, and being banished from Italy went to Gaul. There he founded the city of Tours, and having afterwards conquered the Armoricans, passed over to Britain and subjugated it. So much for the origin of Britain, i.e. the land of Brute. The Scots had an equally veracious record of a dynasty of prodigious length, which took its place in real literature, thanks to the incomparable Latinity of Buchanan; and on the strength of which the town council of Edinburgh, many generations ago, hired a Dutch dauber to paint a series of fancy portraits of the whole line, still to be seen, with much other trash, at Holyrood. As for the Irish, Giraldus Cambrensis gives some highly curious accounts of the earliest settlers in their island, beginning with Cæsara, the granddaughter of Noah, who went there to Escape the Flood, “ with an ingenuity,” says Giraldus, in a somewhat patronising tone, “laudable in a woman." An ancestor of the Gaels, according to Professor Aytoun,
ncarly spoiled the Flood,
He could well achieve it,
Only half Glenlivat.
Bit Cæsara was overcome by the Deluge and lost. A critical qualm hero seizes Giraldus Cambrensis ; for be confesses that he does not see how, “ if nearly all perished in the Flood, the memory of these events and of their arrival could have been preserved." Ho comforts himself, however, with
, the reflection that “perhaps some record of these events was found inscribed on a stone or tile, as we read was the case with the art of music before the Flood." And he proceeds to relate the successive immigrations: that of Bartholanus, a descendant of Japhet, three hundred years after the Deluge; of Nemedus, the son of a Scythian; and so on to the Milesians, the tradition of whom, we need not say, is still alive and vigorous. All such queer fables point at once to the remote antiquity of the races from which we spring in Europe, and to the profound impression made on the European mind even in barbarous ages by biblical as well as profane history. Nor are they to be despised even now; they form still an appreciable part of that sentiment of nationality which, in Poles, Irish, Greeks, and other races, cuts out plenty of work for the best statesmen that Europe produces.
The credulity of the chronicler as to historical tradition was accompanied by an equal readiness to accept all wonders related of the material world and of distant lands. He has no difficulty in accepting such stories as that of Sir John Maundeville about those apples in the East which, cut them however you pleased, would always have inside the figure of the
He believed readily that a comet was the cause of a famine; or that the body of Pallas, the son of Evander, had been found uncorrupted at Rome, with a lamp at its head so constructed as to defy the power of wind or water to extinguish it. He never doubted that the true cross was still extant, and the crown of thorns, and some of the hair of Mary Magdalen. He was firmly persuaded of the importance of dreams, and of the constant interference of supernatural power in the affairs of the world—more especially in cases where the clergy had been ill-used. Some instances of the latter kind are singular enough. At a town in Saxony, in A.D. 1012, certain perverse people, men and women, would keep singing and dancing in the churchyard while a presbyter named Robert was saying mass. The good man remonstrated, but in vain. At last he lost patience, and exclaimed,—"May it please God and St. Magnus (the patron of the church) that you may go on singing for a whole year!" The imprecation took instant effect. They danced the entire twelvemonth, without suffering from heat, cold, hunger, or fatigue; without their clothes or shoes being worn out; till they beat holes in the earth up to their thighs. At length the Archbishop of Cologne made their peace for them with St. Magnus, and the spell was broken. Three of them expired immediately; the others slept three days and nights ; some, who died afterwards, were famous for miracles. The natural moral follows: let people learn obedience.* Take another case of severer punishment for injuries done to holy men. There flourished in the thirteenth century one Ralph Cheinduit, described by Matthew Paris as “the inexorable and unwearied persecutor of the church of St. Alban's and the impudent usurper of its liberties for the space of three years." " This, I say," Matthew adds, “ that all Christ's faithful followers may see the evidence of the miracle, and the just vengeance which Alban, the protomartyr of England, inflicted upon him." And he proceeds to show what the andacious gentleman's fate was. He had been three years lying under ecclesiastical censure, and yet one day at the palace of Westminster he said, tossing his head about in a haughty manner, “Ha! what do you say about the monks of St. Alban's ? Eh? what do you say of them? They hare excommunicated me so long a time, so often, and so effectually, that I am much the better for it— fat and well—and so stout that I can hardly get into my saddle when I ride on horseback.” He had scarcely spoken when he was seized with “ a lack of strength,” and carried home scarcely breathing. And he lived just long enough to make reparation and receive absolution,—through the mercy of St. Alban. It would, of course, be presumptuous to talk of apoplexy in such a case. Indeed, we are expressly assured by the chronicler that Ralph was far from being a solitary instance of such “ miraculous vengeance" being inflicted on the “
* Roger of Wendover, in ann. 1012.
usurpers and disturbers of the liberties of the said martyr's church.”
Not a few of these little miracle stories are distinguished by a vein of poetry, sometimes tender, sometimes tragic. To the former class belong Certain events said to have foreshadowed the glory of St. Dunstan. His nother was in church on the day of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, when all the tapers went suddenly out and left the sacred building dark. While everybody was astonished, the taper of Dunstan's mother took light of itself, and so became the means of relighting them all. As the Foungster grew up, too, a harp which hung on a peg played suddenly one day the melody of the antiphone Gaudent in Calis. Another legend, conceived in the same spirit of sacred poetry, grew up to explain how the epithet Venerable had been bestowed on Bede. The pious monk who wrote the inscription for his tomb sat late one night, striving, but in vain, to find the right word for the memorable man. He could not get beyond
Hac jacent in fossa
.. ossa; and he retired to rest, leaving the blank unfilled. But in the silent hours the pen of an angel supplied the want, and the good man found, on resuming his task in the morning, that Bede had received the honourable title which has ever since clung to his name. Of a similar stamp is the experience of two clerks, who, returning to their diocese, heard, while still a day or two's journey from home, the bell of the cathedral tolling with peculiar sweetness, and found on their arrival that the good bishop whom they all loved had at that very moment passed away to his rest. Sea as well as land was full of signs and wonders in the same ages of simple faith. The fleet which Cæur de Lion sent to the Mediterranean fell in with a terrible gale in the Bay of Biscay, when, just as the leading men in one of the chief ships were giving themselves up for lost, St. Thomas appeared, radiant in supernatural glory, amidst the tempest, and the wind gradually subsided. A similar experience befel William Longuepée, Earl of Salisbury, in the same generation, over whose storm-tossed vessel at midnight the Blessed Lady was pleased to hover, surrounded with