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Boëthius, and the talent of Cassiodorus and Symmachus; but after this time, for a long period, literature consisted almost exclusively of sermons and lives of saints, which were composed in the monasteries. Gregory of Tours was succeeded as an annalist by the still feebler Fredegarius, and there was then a long and absolute blank. A few outlying countries showed some faint animation. Leander and St. Isidore planted at Seville a school, which flourished in the seventh century, and the distant monasteries of Ireland continued somewhat later to be the receptacles of learning ; but the rest of Europe sank into an almost absolute torpor, till the rationalism of Abelard, and the events that followed the crusades, began the revival of learning. The principal service which Catholicism rendered during this period to Pagan literature was probably the perpetuation of Latin as a sacred language. The complete absence of all curiosity about that literature is shown by the fact that Greek was suffered to become almost absolutely extinct, though there was no time when the Western nations had not some relations with the Greek empire, or when pilgrimages to the Holy Land altogether ceased. The study of the Latin classics was for the most part positively discouraged. The writers, it was believed, were burning in hell; the monks were too inflated with their imaginary knowledge to regard with any respect a Pagan writer, and periodical panics about the approaching termination of the
? Probably the best account of England attained its lowest point the intellectual history of these somewhat later.
Of the great protimes is still to be found in the ad- tectors of learning Theodoric was mirable introductory chapters with unable to write (see Guinguené, which the Benedictines prefaced tome i. p. 31), and Charlemagne each century of their Hist. littéraire (Eginhard) only began to learn de la France. The Benedictines when advanced in life, and was think (with Hallam) that the never quite able to master the aceighth century was, on the whole, complishment. Alfred, however, the darkest on the continent, though was distinguished in literature.
world continually checked any desire for secular learning." It was the custom among some monks, when they were under the discipline of silence, and desired to ask for Virgil, Horace, or any other Gentile work, to indicate their wish by scratching their ears like a dog, to which animal it was thought the Pagans might be reasonably compared. The monasteries contained, it is said, during some time, the only libraries in Europe, and were therefore the sole receptacles of the Pagan manuscripts ; but we cannot infer from this that, if the monasteries had not existed, similar libraries would not have been called into being in their place. To the occasional industry of the monks, in copying the works of antiquity, we must oppose the industry they displayed, though chiefly at a somewhat later period, in scraping the ancient parchments, in order that, having obliterated the writing of the Pagans, they might cover them with their own legends.3
There are some aspects, however, in which the monastic period of literature appears eminently beautiful. The fret
1 The belief that the world was tury, speaks of it as very prevalent just about to end was, as is well (Prologue to the First Book); and known, very general among the St. Gregory the Great, about the early Christians, and greatly same time, constantly expresses it. affected their lives. It appears in The panic that filled Europe at the the New Testament, and very end of the tenth century has been clearly in the epistle ascribed to often described. Barnabas in the first century. The 2 Maitland's Dark Ages, p. 403. persecutions of the second and 3 This passion for scraping third centuries revived it, and both MSS. became common, according to Tertullian and Cyprian (in Deme- Montfaucon, after the twelfth centrianum) strongly assert it. With tury. (Maitland, p. 40.) According the triumph of Christianity the to Hallam, however (Middle Ages, apprehension for a time subsided; ch. ix. part i.), it must have begun but it reappeared with great force earlier, being chiefly caused by the when the dissolution of the Empire cessation or great diminution of was manifestly impending, when it the supply of Egyptian papyrus, was accomplished, and in the pro- in consequence of the capture of longed anarchy and suffering that Alexandria by the Saracens, early ensued. Gregory of Tours, writing in the seventh century. in the latter part of the sixth cen
fulness and impatience and extreme tension of modern literary life, the many anxieties that paralyse, and the feverish craving for applause that perverts, so many noble intellects, were then unknown. Severed from all the cares of active life, in the deep calm of the monastery, where the turmoil of the outer world could never come, the monkish scholar pursued his studies in a spirit which has now almost faded from the world. No doubt had ever disturbed his mind. To him the problem of the universe seemed solved. Expatiating for ever with unfaltering faith upon the unseen world, he had learnt to live for it alone. His hopes were not fixed upon
human greatness or fame, but upon the pardon of his sins, and the rewards of a happier world. A crowd of quaint and often beautiful legends illustrate the deep union that subsisted between literature and religion. It is related of Cædmon, the first great poet of the Anglo-Saxons, that he found in the secular life no vent for his hidden genius. When the warriors assembled at their banquets, sang in turn the praises of war or beauty, as the instrument passed to him,
and went out with a sad heart, for he alone was unable to weave his thoughts in verse. Wearied and desponding he lay down to rest, when a figure appeared to him in his dream and commanded him to sing the Creation of the World. A transport of religious fervour thrilled his brain, his imprisoned intellect was unlocked, and he soon became the foremost poet of his land.
A Spanish boy, having long tried in vain to master his task, and driven to despair by the severity of his teacher, ran away from his father's home. Tired with wandering, and full of anxious thoughts, he sat down to rest by the margin of a well, when his eye was caught by the deep furrow in the stone. He asked a girl who was drawing water to explain it, and she told him that it had been worn by the constant attrition of the rope. The poor boy, who
Bede H. E. iv, 24.
was already full of remorse for what he had done, recognised in the reply a Divine intimation. •If,' he thought,' by daily use the soft rope could thus penetrate the hard stone, surely a long perseverance could overcome the dulness of my brain.' He returned to his father's house ; he laboured with redoubled earnestness, and he lived to be the great St. Isidore of Spain. A monk who had led a vicious life was saved, it is said, from bell, because it was found that his sins, though very numerous, were just outnumbered by the letters of a ponderous and devout book he had written.2 The Holy Spirit, in the shape of a dove, had been seen to inspire St. Gregory; and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, and of several other theologians, had been expressiy applauded by Christ or by his saints. When, twenty years after death, the tomb of a certain monkish writer was opened, it was found that, although the remainder of the body had crumbled into dust, the hand that had held the pen remained flexible and undecayed.3 A young and nameless scholar was once buried near a convent at Bonn. The night after his funeral, a nun whose cell overlooked the cemetery was awakened by a brilliant light that filled the room. She started up, imagining that the day had dawned, but on looking out she found that it was still night, though a dazzling splendour was around. A female form of matchless loveliness was bending over the
The effluence of her beauty filled the air with light, and she clasped to her heart & snow-white dove that rose to meet her from the tomb. It was the Mother of
| Mariana, De Rebus Hispanie, be adduced—a remarkable instance vi. 7. Mariana says the stone was of the advantages of a diffuse style. in his time preserved as a relic. 3 Digby, Mores Catholici, book
? Odericus Vitalis, quoted by X. p. 246. Matthew of WestminMaitland (Dark Ages, pp. 268-269). ster tells of a certain king who was The monk was restored to life that very charitable, and whose right ho might have an opportunity of hand (which had assuaged many reformation. The escape was a sorrows) remained underayed after narrow one, for there was only one death (A.D. 644). letter against which no sin could
God como to receive the soul of the martyred scholar;
for scholars too,' adds the old chronicler, are martyrs if they live in purity and labour with courage.'1
But legends of this kind, though not without a very real beauty, must not blind us to the fact that the period of Catholic ascendancy was on the whole one of the most deplorable in the history of the human mind. The energies of Christendom were diverted from all useful and progressive studies, and were wholly expended on theological disquisitions. A crowd of superstitions, attributed to infallible wisdom, barred the path of knowledge, and the charge of magic, or the charge of heresy, crushed every bold enquiry in the sphere of physical nature or of opinions. Above all, the conditions of true enquiry had been cursed by the Church. A blind unquestioning credulity was inculcated as the first of duties, and the habit of doubt, the impartiality of a suspended judgment, the desire to hear both sides of a disputed question, and to emancipate the judgment from unreasoning prejudice, were all in consequence condemned. The belief in the guilt of error and doubt became universal, and that belief may be confidently pronounced to be the most pernicious superstition that has ever been accredited among mankind. Mistaken facts are rectified by enquiry. Mistaken methods of research, though far more inveterate, are gradually altered; but the spirit that shrinks from enquiry as sinful, and deems a state of doubt a state of guilt, is the most enduring disease that can afflict the mind of man.
Not till the education of Europe passed from the monasteries to the universities, not till Mohammedan science, and classical freethought, and industrial independence broke the sceptre of the Church, did the intellectual revival of Europe begin.
I am aware that so strong a statement of the intellectual darkness of the middle ages is likely to encounter opposition
See Hauréau, Hist. de la Philosophie scolastique, tome i. pp. 24–25.