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Charlemagne and Alcuin (AD 747-804)

by Augusta Theodosia Drane, O.P. (1910)

Image of Sr. Augusta Theodosia Drane.
Sr. Augusta Theodosia Drane, O.P. (1823-1894)

At the moment when the nascent civilisation of Saxon England was being doomed to extinction, and the Danish hordes were everywhere making havoc of those religious houses which for 160 years had been the chief nurseries of learning in the West, light was beginning once more to dawn over the schools of France, where under the barbarism of the Merovingian kings liberal studies had all but entirely decayed. At an earlier period indeed, as we have seen, the Church of Gaul, far from deserving the charge of barbarism, had produced a crowd of illustrious writers, by whom the Christian dogmas were clothed in a classic dress. Down to the end of the sixth century remains of the old Roman municipal schools continued to exist, wherein Christian students disdained not “to hold the harp with Orpheus, or the rule with Archimedes; to perceive with Pythagoras, to explain with Plato, to imply with Aristotle, to rage with Demosthenes, or to persuade with Tully”–in other words, they followed the ordinary course of studies provided in the Roman schools. Even when these disappeared, the episcopal and monastic schools continued to preserve some knowledge of letters. The multiplication of monasteries, even before the arrival of the Benedictines in 543, had progressed with extraordinary rapidity. We read of one bishop establishing forty communities in his own diocese; and during the century that succeeded the first foundation made by St. Maurus, as many as 238 Benedictine monasteries are known to have arisen in different provinces of Gaul. It is probable that most of these monasteries, to whatever rule they belonged, possessed a school. The monastic rules which sprung up previous to the arrival of St. Maurus–such as those established by St. Martin, St. Eugendus, St. Yrieix, and St. Columbanus–all enjoined study and the transcription of books, as well as manual labour. Nor can it be doubted that secular as well as religious pupils were received in the monastic schools, and that the education given was not exclusively ecclesiastical. It even appears as though the Gallo-Roman nobility of this period were more solicitous to give their sons a liberal education than their chivalric descendants of six centuries’ later date. I will give but two examples. At the monastery of Condat it is expressly stated that noble secular youths were educated in all the learning of the times; and what this term implies is explained in the life of St. Eugendus, who received his entire training there, and never once left the monastery from his seventh to his sixtieth year. He was as familiar with the Greek as with the Latin orators, says his biographer, and was besides a great promoter of sacred studies. The other example is even more to the point, as showing up to what age secular youths were then expected to continue students. St. Aicard received his education in the monastic school of Soissons, about the middle of the seventh century, and remained there until his seventeenth year, when he was summoned home by his father to be introduced at court and to commence his military career–a career, be it remembered, into which the aspirant to chivalry in the twelfth century would have been initiated at seven. He afterwards embraced the religious state, and did much to improve the studies in his monastery of Jumièges. Then there were the episcopal schools, in which the learning given was far from being superficial. St. Gregory of Tours tells us that when King Guntram entered Orleans in 540 he was met by a band of scholars from the bishop’s school, who welcomed him in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac verses of their own composition. St. Gregory had himself received his education in the episcopal schools of Clermont and Vienne, and informs us that even ecclesiastical students, before entering on their sacred studies, went through a course of the seven liberal arts, together with one of poetry and the Cantus. M. Guizot gives a list of the principal monastic and episcopal schools of which a distant notice is to be found in the histories of the seventh century. Twenty of them are in Neustria alone, and their multiplication forms the subject of repeated decrees of provincial councils.

We need not, however, dwell on their history more particularly, for whatever may have been their number or their excellence, it is certain that before the accession of Charlemagne, the Gallican schools had fallen into general decay. The decline was progressive, but it ended in something like total extinction. “At the end of the fourth century,” says M. Guizot, “profane and sacred literature flourished side by side: pagan letters were indeed dying, but they were not entirely dead. They soon, however, disappeared, and sacred literature alone was cultivated. But if we go on a little further, we find that the cultivation of Christian literature has itself vanished,”–the decay had, in fact, become universal.

Tennemann, in his history of philosophy, does not hesitate to attribute this deplorable state of things to the tyranny of the Church, and the triumph of the principle of faith and authority over that of liberty and reason. But from the sixth to the eighth century, the ecclesiastical powers in Gaul had not the strength to exercise tyranny, even had they possessed the will. The slightest acquaintance with the history of those centuries and their horrible social disorders will suffice to show that submission to the principle of Church authority had not at that time assumed any very alarming proportions north of the Alps. The Church of Gaul was torn with petty schisms, and disgraced by scandals arising mainly from the absence of any authority at all strong enough to repress them, and the supremacy of the Holy See had to be firmly re-asserted by St. Boniface before any adequate remedy of these disorders could be applied. The intellectual sterility of this epoch may rather be traced to the want of that principle, than to its excess; it was in fact an unavoidable result of the anarchy and dissolution of all social ties which followed on the fall of the Roman Empire. Had ecclesiastical discipline been preserved, we might yet at least have found the theological studies flourishing; but what could be expected from bishops who had either simoniacally obtained their dignities, or had been appointed by barbarian rulers from the ranks of their own soldiers or courtiers? Destitute themselves of all knowledge of sacred letters, they were not likely to cherish them in others; and in many cases they held their sees as baronies might be held by lay proprietors. The incessant civil commotions that prevailed perpetuated the reign of darkness, for, as the writer just quoted remarks, when the state of society becomes rude and difficult, studies necessarily languish. “The taste for truth and the appreciation of the beautiful are delicate plants, needing a pure sky and a kindly atmosphere:–in the midst of storms they droop their heads and perish.” So far from the Church being held answerable for the decay of literature, it was she alone that provided it any asylum in those dismal times, and it was in her monastic houses that learning, “proscribed and beaten down by the tempest that raged around, took refuge under the shelter of the altar, till happier times should suffer it to reappear in the world.”

The dawn of a better state of things began to show itself under the rule of Pepin. That monarch appears to have contemplated something of the same plan of reform afterwards carried out by the vaster genius of his son. His first step was to renew those close relations with the Holy See, the interruption of which had so largely contributed to disorganise the Church of France. In 747, being then mayor of the palace, he despatched an embassy to Pope Zachary, imploring his assistance and advice in the reformation of the episcopal order. It has been shown in the foregoing chapter, that a similar reformation had been set on foot in Austrasia by his brother Carloman, where, by the assistance of St. Boniface acting as apostolic vicar, the bishops and secular clergy had solemnly engaged to observe the ecclesiastical canons, and the abbots, to receive the rule of St. Benedict. The subsequent change of dynasty was affected by the will, it is true, of the Frankish people, but not until it had received the sanction of the Pope, who decided that he who held the power of king should likewise assume the royal title. This appeal of the Franks to the authority of the Holy See in the election of their sovereign is a fact of immense political importance, and from that hour the tide of barbarism began to ebb. The councils held under Pepin ceased not to labour at the correction of abuses; and the journey of Pope Stephen III. into France in 748, if it exhibits him on one hand as a fugitive from the Lombards, displays him to us no less as receiving from kings and people the homage due to him as Father of the Christian Church.

Together with the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline and the legitimate authority of the Holy See, appear the first indications of an approaching revival of learning. One of the ambassadors despatched by Pepin to conduct the Pope into France was Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz, a German by birth, and learned for the times in which he lived. In 762 he had done his best to restore discipline and letters in his own diocese, by establishing canonical life among his cathedral clergy, and giving them a rule in which provision was made for the maintenance of the episcopal seminary. Previously to this he had founded several monasteries, with the view of promoting sacred studies, among others the great abbey of Gorze, the school of which became afterwards so famous. At the same time Pepin was directing his attention to the correction of the liturgical books. He obtained from Pope Stephen an Antiphonary and Responsory, together with copies of the works of St. Denys, the dialectics of Aristotle, some treatises on geometry and orthography, and a grammar. The movement was inaugurated by an attempted reform in the ecclesiastical chant. During the stay of Pope Stephen at the Frankish court, Pepin was struck by the majesty of the Roman tones, and entreated that some of the Papal singers might instruct the choristers of his own chapel. Simeon, the Pope’s chapel-master, therefore remained in France, and gave lessons there for some years; but the reform thus effected was only partial, and was not finally established in Charlemagne’s time without a struggle.

Pepin’s further plans were cut short by his death, which took place in 768, and was followed in 771 by that of his son Carloman, Charlemagne, the surviving son of Pepin, being thus left master of all the Frankish territories. We need not follow the course of his conquests, which gradually extended the boundaries of his empire, from the shores of the Baltic to the banks of the Ebro, and from the Danube to the Atlantic Ocean. During the forty-six years that he ruled the destinies of Europe, he was engaged in incessant wars, which seemed to leave little leisure for literary pursuits, and was organising a vast political system which, even in peaceable times, would have demanded the undivided attention of any ordinary sovereign. But if there ever was a man who by his mere natural endowments soared above other men, it was Charlemagne. His life, like his stature, was colossal. Time never seemed wanting to him for anything that he willed to accomplish, and during his ten years campaign against the Saxons and Lombards, he contrived to get leisure enough to study grammar, and render himself tolerably proficient as a Latin writer in prose and verse. He found his tutors in the cities that he conquered. When he became master of Pisa, he gained the services of Peter of Pisa, whom he set over the Palatine school, which had existed even under the Merovingian kings, though as yet it was far from enjoying the fame to which it was afterwards raised by the teaching of Alcuin. He possessed the art of turning enemies into friends, and thus drew to his court the famous historian, Paul Warnefrid, deacon of the Church of Rome, who had previously acted as secretary to Didier, king of the Lombards. When Charlemagne set the crown of Lombardy on his own head, in 744, Paul resisted the new order of things, and made three attempts to restore his country’s independence. The Frankish judges condemned him to lose his eyes and his hands, but Charlemagne interfered. “We shall not easily find another hand that can write history,” he said, and Paul, conquered by his generosity, went back with him to France, and accepted the charge of teaching Greek to the young princess Richtrude, who had been affianced to the Greek emperor, Constantine. The Lombard scholar appeared nothing less than a prodigy in the eyes of the Frankish courtiers, and Peter of Pisa poured out his admiration in a poetical epistle, in which he calls him, “in Greek, a Homer; in Latin, a Virgil; in Hebrew, another Philo.” It speaks well for the real scholarship of Paul that he declined swallowing all the flattery conveyed in this pompous address, and plainly stated in his reply that though he could read Greek, he could not speak it, and that he knew no more of Hebrew than a few words he had picked up at school. As to his being a second Homer or Virgil, he seems to have considered the insinuation anything but a compliment, and declared rather bluntly that he wished to have nothing in common with two heathens. He was afterwards employed in establishing the schools of Metz, and finally became a monk at Monte Cassino, where he wrote his life of St. Gregory the Great, and the well-known hymn “Ut queant laxis.

Another Italian scholar, St. Paulinus, of Aquileja, was coaxed into the service of the Frankish sovereign after his conquest of Friuli; I will not say that he was _bought_, but he was certainly paid for by a large grant of confiscated territory made over by diploma to “the Venerable Paulinus, master of the art of grammar.” But none of these learned personages were destined to take so large a part in that revival of learning which made the glory of Charlemagne’s reign, as our own countryman Alcuin. It was in 781, on occasion of the king’s second visit to Italy, that the meeting took place at Parma, the result of which was to fix the English scholar at the Frankish court. Having obtained the consent of his own bishop and sovereign to this arrangement, Alcuin came over to France in 782, bringing with him several of the best scholars of York, among whom were Wizo, Fredegis, and Sigulf. Charlemagne received him with joy, and assigned him three abbeys for the maintenance of himself and his disciples, those namely, of Ferrières, St. Lupus of Troyes, and St. Josse in Ponthieu. From this time Alcuin held the first place in the literary society that surrounded the Frankish sovereign, and filled an office the duties of which were as vast as they were various. Three great works at once claimed his attention, the correction of the liturgical books, the direction of the court academy, and the establishment of other public schools throughout the empire. Alcuin began with the task first on the list, for until the books at his command were themselves rendered readable, it was of small avail to talk of opening schools. In the hands of ignorant copyists the text of Scripture had become so corrupt as to be hardly intelligible. The Book of Gospels and Epistles for Sundays and festivals was first corrected, and such a system of punctuation and accentuation adopted as might enable even the unlearned to read them without making any gross error. The more arduous undertaking of correcting the whole Bible was not completed till the year 800, when on the occasion of Charlemagne’s coronation at Rome as Emperor of the West, Alcuin forwarded to him, as the best present he could offer, a copy of the sacred volume, carefully freed from error.

But it was as head of the Palatine school that Alcuin’s influence was chiefly to be felt in the restoration of letters. Charlemagne presented himself as his first pupil, together with the three princes, Pepin, Charles, and Louis, his sister Gisla and his daughter Richtrude, his councillors Adalard and Angilbert, and Eginhard his secretary. Such illustrious scholars soon found plenty to imitate their example, and Alcuin saw himself called on to lecture daily to a goodly crowd of bishops, nobles, and courtiers. The king wished to transform his court into a new Athens preferable to that of ancient Greece, in so far as the doctrine of Christ is to be preferred to that of Plato. All the liberal arts were to be taught there, but in such a way as that each should bear reference to religion, for this was regarded as the final end of all learning. Grammar was studied in order better to understand the Holy Scriptures and to transcribe them more correctly; music, to which much attention was given, was chiefly confined to the ecclesiastical chant; and it was principally to explain the Fathers and refute errors contrary to the faith that rhetoric and dialectics were studied. “In short,” says Crevier, “the thought both of the king and of the scholar who laboured with him was to refer all things to religion, nothing being considered as truly useful which did not bear some relation to that end.”

At first Alcuin allowed the study of the classic poets, and in his boyhood, as we know, he had been a greater reader of Virgil than of the Scriptures. His writings evince a perfect familiarity with the ancient poets and philosophers, whom he continually quotes, and though in his old age he discouraged his monastic pupils from following this study, it is certain that he allowed and even advocated it while presiding over the Palatine school. This appears from one of his familiar epistles to Charlemagne, in which he gives a lively picture of the labours carried on there by the students and their masters. One he describes as teaching the lectors of the royal chapel to read without misplacing their accents; another is training the boys in sacred chant; Eginhard, who is pronounced “learned in prosody,” seems to have been idling his time, but Gisla had been contemplating the stars in the silent night. “But what crime,” he continues, “has harmonious Virgil committed? Is not the father of poets worthy of finding a master who shall teach the children of the palace to admire his verse?” And he concludes with the hope that two, whom he names Thyrsis and Menalcas, may long survive to keep the cooks in order, and supply the writer with large goblets of Greek wine, and smoking dishes.

In this little jeu-d’esprit we see, in the midst of its playful allusions to their familiar intercourse, what was the serious work of the Palatine scholars, and when Alcuin thus wrote he was certainly far from entertaining those severe views regarding classical studies which are generally attributed to him. It is true that at a later period he endeavoured to dissuade his disciple, Sigulf, from studying what he called, “the impure eloquence of Virgil,” telling him that the Sacred Scriptures should be enough for him. He also rebuked Rigbod, Archbishop of Mentz, for carrying Virgil in his bosom, and wished he would carry in its place the Book of the Gospels; but it is probable that most ecclesiastics would think with him that an archbishop might spend his time more profitably over the Gospels than over the Æneid. Sigulf did not certainly feel himself obliged literally to carry out the advice of his master, for in the school of Ferrières, which he afterwards governed, the Latin poets were very generally studied. He established such a classical taste among his scholars, that in the next reign we find Lupus of Ferrières correcting the works of Pliny, and sending to Rome copies of Suetonius and Quintus Curtius. It is clear, therefore, that the classics were not absolutely excluded from Alcuin’s system of education, though in the main Crevier’s account must be allowed to be correct, and gives a fair statement of the views that prevailed during the whole of the monastic period. The authors whose study Charlemagne and Alcuin desired to promote, were not so much Virgil and Cicero, as St. Jerome and St. Augustine; and Charlemagne, in his excessive admiration of those Fathers, gave utterance to the wish that he had a dozen such men at his court. The City of God was read at the royal table, and the questions addressed by the court students to their master turned rather on the obscurities of Holy Writ than the difficulties of prosody. In one thing, however, they betrayed a classic taste, and that was in their selection of names. The Royal Academicians all rejoiced in some literary soubriquet; Alcuin was Flaccus; Angilbert, Homer; but Charlemagne himself adopted the more scriptural appellation of David.

The eagerness with which this extraordinary man applied himself to acquire learning for himself, and to extend it throughout his dominions, is truly admirable, when we remember the enormous labours in which he was constantly engaged. Hincmar, Bishop of Rheims, has left us an interesting account of the business of all kinds which he every day personally investigated. Yet, while the “King of Europe,” as he was fitly called, was regulating with his own hands the affairs of a mighty empire, he was patiently pursuing a course of studies which might have befitted a university student. He spoke and wrote Latin with facility, and read Greek well, though he was not equally successful in speaking it. He had some knowledge of Syriac, and towards the end of his life corrected a Latin copy of the Gospels, after comparing it with the Greek and Syriac text. He studied all the liberal arts under Alcuin, and was a true German in his love of music. He completed the reform of the Church chant, which his father had attempted, an undertaking rendered somewhat difficult by the obstinacy of his own singers. It was during the Easter festival of 787, that Charlemagne, being then at Rome, was called on to decide a dispute which had broken out between the Gallican and Roman chanters. The Gallicans maintained that their tones were the most beautiful, whilst the Romans appealed to the teaching of St. Gregory, which had been jealously preserved in his school, but which, as they affirmed, the Gallicans had corrupted. The dispute grew warm, for whilst the fiery Franks, trusting in the king’s protection, loaded their opponents with abusive epithets, the more refined Romans took refuge in sarcasm, and affected to pity the rusticity of such ignorant barbarians. Charlemagne listened to what both parties had to say, and then addressed his own chanters. “Tell me,” he said, “where is the stream the purest, at its source or in its channel?” “In its source, of course,” was the reply. “Well, then,” said the king, “do you return to the source, for by your own showing, the corruption lies with you.” This was an argument ad hominem, and the crestfallen Franks were fain to own themselves vanquished. To set the question at rest for ever, Charlemagne requested Pope Adrian to give him two chanters from the Gregorian school, and an authentic copy of the Roman Antiphonary, which Adrian had himself noted according to the system then established at Rome. The two chanters, Theodore and Benedict, accordingly accompanied the king back to France, and were employed to teach the correct chant; and to purge the Gallican Antiphonaries of their corruptions, Charlemagne established two schools of music, one at Metz, for Austrasia, and the other at Soissons, for Neustria, which were each presided over by one of the Roman teachers; all choir masters were commanded to resort thither and study under their direction, and to send in their books for correction, which, up to that time, says the monk of Angoulême, every one had spoiled after his own fancy.

John the Deacon, who wrote in the following century, and who evidently exceedingly relished the defeat of the Gallicans, introduces the whole story of the dispute into his life of St. Gregory. He observes that the Frankish organs were unable to express certain tremblings and delicacies of the Italian chant. “The barbarous harshness of their cracked throats,” he says, “when, by inflections and reverberations, they endeavoured to emit a gentle psalmody, out of a certain natural hoarseness sent forth grating sounds like that of carts on a high road; and thus, instead of delighting the souls of their hearers, their singing, on the contrary, rather troubled them, by provoking distractions.” This is bad enough; but the Monk of Angoulême would have us know that it was not merely through their ears that the Frankish congregations had to suffer distractions. The sore distress which one inexperienced singer endured in his attempt to produce the required “tremblings” must certainly have severely tried the self-command of those who witnessed it. “It chanced,” says the historian, “that a certain clerk, ignorant of the accustomed rules, was called on to figure in the royal chapel, when, agitating his head in a circular manner, and opening an enormous mouth, he painfully endeavoured to imitate those around him.” The choir, of course, was in a suppressed titter, but Charlemagne, without betraying the slightest token of annoyance or ridicule, called the unfortunate performer to him after the office was over, and rewarded his good-will with a handsome present. This great king often assisted at matins, and indicated with his hand the clerk who was to sing the lessons, or responsory. It is also said that he used to mark the end of the motetts with a certain guttural sound (a grunt, his historian calls it), which became the diapason for the recommencement of the phrase. The use of organs began to be introduced during his reign, and Walafrid Strabo tells us of a woman who died of the ecstacy occasioned by first hearing one of these instruments.

It has been repeatedly asserted that Charlemagne, with all his learning, never knew how to write. The supposition rests on the words of his secretary, Eginhard, who says, “He tried to write, and constantly carried little tablets about him, that in his leisure moments he might accustom his hand to the drawing (effigiendis) of letters, but he succeeded badly, having applied himself to the art too late.” Even if this passage is to be understood of the use of pen and ink, it only informs us that the emperor wrote a schoolboy’s scrawl, a circumstance not altogether without a parallel in the history of great men. But the expression of drawing or delineating letters seems rather to apply to the art of illumination and ornamental writing, which properly forms the art of caligraphy: and this explanation derives additional support from the fact that Charlemagne was a passionate admirer of painting, and caused innumerable manuscripts to be adorned with miniatures and ornaments, many of which are still preserved, the portrait of the emperor being often introduced. His very camp oratory was painted, and one of the offices of the envoys, whom he sent at stated periods through his dominions, was to inspect and report on the state of the paintings in the churches. His warlike hand very probably wielded the sword with more address than the pen, and, it may easily be believed, made sad results with the paint-brush, but that he knew how to write is sufficiently proved by the copy of the Gospels corrected by his hand, after he had compared it with the Greek and Syriac text, which is still preserved at Vienna, and by the direct testimony of Hincmar.

This prelate, in his account of the Council of Nismes, remarks: “We have often heard the courtiers of King Charles say that this prince, who excelled all the other kings of France in knowledge of the Scriptures and of the civil and ecclesiastical law, always had at his bed’s head tablets and pens, to note down, whether by day or night, any thoughts that occurred to him that might be useful to Church or State.” He also presented to the Church of Strasburg a Psalter, in which his name was written with his own hand; and it is to be presumed that he himself transcribed his numerous letters to Alcuin. Among the works of that scholar we find thirty letters addressed to the king, containing answers to his questions on theological and scientific subjects. These letters show that Alcuin had no easy task in satistying the intellectual requirements of a man who thought of everything, and busied himself equally with history, chronology, morals, astronomy, grammar, theology, and law. He took a very special delight in the study of astronomy, and on serene nights was fond of observing the stars from the roof of his palace. In the year 798 considerable anxiety was felt both by the king and his academicians, in consequence of the erratic movements of the planet Mars, whose disappearance for a whole year it passed their powers to account for. Alcuin was written to, and entreated to explain the phenomenon, and his reply shows that he had tested the statements found in his books by careful astronomical observations. “What has now happened to Mars,” he says, “is frequently observed of all the other planets, viz., that they remain longer under the horizon than is stated in the books of the ancients. The rising and setting of the stars vary from the observations of those who live in the southern and eastern parts of the world, where the masters chiefly flourished who have set forth the laws of the universe.” From these words it may be gathered that Alcuin was acquainted with the globular form of the earth, and comprehended the phenomena depending on it. Charlemagne had some claims to the reputation of a poet, and nine pieces of Latin poetry from his pen are printed in his works, which are given in the collection of the Abbé Migne. One of these was an epitaph on his friend Pope Adrian I., which he desired to have placed over the tomb of that pontiff, and caused it therefore to be engraved in letters of gold on a marble tablet, and sent to Rome. These verses, thirty-eight in number, have attained a singular kind of immortality. The tablet has been preserved in the portico of St. Peter’s Basilica, where it may still be seen by the pious visitor, together with another inscription containing the ancient grant from Pope Gregory II. of a wood of olives to supply the oil for the lamps burning round the Apostle’s tomb. All ancient writers are unanimous in declaring these verses to have been the genuine composition of the emperor, and not of Alcuin, as some pretend. They bear the title, Epitaphium Adriani I., Papæ, quo Carolus Magnus sepulchrum ipsius decoravit.

But one of the most interesting features in Charlemagne’s intellectual labours was the attempt he made to perfect his native language, and give it a grammatical form. He began the composition of a German grammar, which was afterwards continued by Raban Maur; the other Palatine scholars joined him in the task, and assigned to the months and days of the week the names which they still bear in German. In pursuance of the same design, the emperor made a collection of old Tudesque songs, some of which he took down from the lips of his soldiers; but after his death Louis the Debonnaire found the manuscript, and perceiving the names of Scandinavian deities, with little appreciation of the importance of the work on which his great father had been engaged, tossed it into the fire. There was nothing which Charlemagne had more at heart than the completion of this undertaking, and he was accustomed to say that he hoped to see the day when the laws should be written in the Frankish tongue, comparing the shutting them up in a language of which the common people were ignorant to the conduct of Caligula, who caused his edicts to be written in illegible characters, and placed out of sight, that the people might unconsciously break them and so incur sentence of death. Alcuin no doubt assisted in this work, which was one that ever found favour with the English monks. Even before leaving his native country he is said to have made an Anglo-Saxon version of the Pentateuch, which was preserved and used so late as the twelfth century; and he would naturally be disposed to enter into the king’s designs, and specially to provide for the religious instruction of the people in their own language. Something in this direction had already been done in Germany by the followers of St. Boniface; and early in the eighth century we find formulas of confession, brief confessions of faith, and portions of psalms and hymns translated for popular use into the rude Tudesque dialect. Some of the early German hymns appear to have been written by the monks of St. Gall, and were used as valuable means of instructing the people in the elements of religion. Specimens of these are given by Noth in his history of the German language, and among them is a fragment of the 138th Psalm. It will of course be borne in mind that the language spoken by the people of Germany was essentially the same as that of the English missionaries, who thus possessed peculiar facilities in preaching and instructing their converts. Thus the form of abjuration and the confession of faith drawn up by St. Boniface and his followers, for the use of their German catechumens, is equally akin to the Anglo-Saxon and to the Tudesque idioms:–“Forsachister Diabolæ? Ec forsachs Diabolæ. Gelobistu in Got Almehtigan, Fadaer? Ec Gelobo in Got, Almehtigan Fadaer. Gelobistu in Crist, Godes suno? Gelobistu in Halsgan Gast?” And when we speak of Charlemagne as cultivating the Tudesque or old German dialect, it will also be remembered that the Franks were a German race, and that what we now call _French_ is not formed from their language, but from the Romanesque, or corrupt Latin, which prevailed in the southern provinces of Gaul, as well as in Spain and the north of Italy. As in course of time the Gallo-Roman element prevailed in France, the Romance language became universally used, while the Tudesque remained, as before, the language of the Germans. Hence Verstigan was not dealing in paradox when he asserted that in old times the English people all talked French, the Frankish and Saxon dialects being substantially the same language.

The graver studies of the Palatine scholars were enlivened, after the fashion of the Anglo Saxon schools, by dialogues, in which enigmas and a play of words are introduced in tiresome profusion. A curious fragment exists bearing the title of a disputation between Alcuin and Pepin, wherein the wits of the pupil are stimulated by the questions of the master. These exercises, ad acuendos pueros, as they were called, were much used by the English teachers, and specimens of a similar description are to be found which appear to have been used so late as the fourteenth century. “What is writing?” asks Alcuin. “The keeper of history.” “What is speaking?” “The interpreter of the soul.” “What is the liberty of man?” “Innocence.” “What is the day?” “The call to labour.” “What is the sun?” “The splendour of the universe.” “What is winter?” “The exile of spring.” “What is spring?” “The painter of the earth.” Alcuin says, “I saw the other day a man standing, a dead man walking, a man walking who had never breathed.” Pepin. “How can that have been? explain yourself.” Alcuin. “It was my image reflected in the water.” Pepin. “How could I fail to understand you? I have often seen the same thing.”

In his letters to the young princes Alcuin freely points out their faults, and gives them excellent advice. “Seek,” he writes, “to adorn your noble rank with noble deeds; let humility be in your heart, and truth on your lips; and let your life be a pattern of integrity, that so God may be pleased to prosper your days.” The court school, however, was not intended exclusively for princes and nobles; children of an inferior rank were also admitted, in order to receive such an education as might hereafter fit them to fill various offices in church and state. Charlemagne took this charge on himself, and afterwards promoted his scholars according to their merits and ability. We learn this from the following charming narrative related by the Monk of St. Gall.

“The glorious King Charles,” he says, “returning into Gaul after a prolonged absence, ordered that all the children whom he caused to be educated should be brought before him, that they might present him their compositions in prose and verse. Those of an inferior and obscure rank had succeeded best, whereas the sons of the nobles brought nothing of any value. Then the wise prince, separating the good scholars from the negligent ones, and putting the first on his right hand, said to them, ‘My children, you may rely on my friendship and protection, since you have done your best to execute my orders, and have worked hard according to the best of your abilities. Try to do yet better, and depend upon it you will receive the most honourable offices I have to give, and that you will always be precious in my eyes.’ Then turning to those on his left hand; ‘As to you,’ he said, ‘born of noble blood, and children of the first houses in my kingdom, vainly confident in your birth and riches you have neglected to obey my orders, and have preferred play and idleness to study, which is the proper glory of your age. But I swear to you, your noble birth shall find no consideration from me; and if you do not make up for your indolence by earnest study, you will obtain no favour from Charles.’”

Some writers, and among them M. Ampère, have considered that after all that has been said and written about the Palatine school, there was in reality no school, but only a literary academy. The probability is that there was both a school and an academy, and that the two institutions, though not identical, were directed by the same masters. According to this view, the Palatine Academy was formed of the friends and courtiers of Charlemagne, while the School was for the education of youths, chiefly, if not exclusively, intended for the ecclesiastical state, and chosen from all ranks, noble and simple. The Monk of St. Gall is decisive on this last point, and mentions two scholars, the sons of millers, who, after leaving the emperor’s school, in which they do not seem greatly to have distinguished themselves, obtained admission into the monastery of Bobbio. The proofs of the actual existence of this school are in fact too overwhelming to admit of a doubt. M. Ampère appears to have been staggered at the notion of a crowd of schoolboys accompanying the emperor wherever he sojourned. However strange and inconvenient such a system appears to our notions, the historical evidence is very strong in proof that it really existed. In the life of St. Adalard, there are allusions to the turba clericorum palatii. Alcuin in his letters complains not a little of the fatigue occasioned by this constant journeying. And we know that Otho the Great, whose revival of a Palatine school was undertaken in avowed imitation of Charlemagne, always required his scholars to accompany him; and that his brother Bruno, who superintended their studies, followed the court, and carried his books with him.

It was then, as we must believe, a real school over which Alcuin presided, and most French writers claim it as the germ of the university of Paris. The court of the Frankish monarch was indeed fixed, not at Paris, but at Aix-la-Chapelle, but it seems to have been removed to Paris in the reign of Charles the Bald, and there the Palatine school continued to flourish under a succession of famous masters, and possibly formed the nucleus of that great institution which fills so large a place in the history of education.

Meanwhile, his scholastic labours did not so occupy the time of Alcuin, as to hinder him from devoting himself to the correction of manuscripts, and the multiplication of books went on apace. A staff of skilful copyists was gradually formed, and so soon as any work had been revised by Alcuin and his fellow labourers, it was delivered over to the hands of the monastic scribes. Particular abbeys, as that of Fontanelles, acquired renown for the extraordinary accuracy of their transcribers, and the beauty of their writing. At Rheims and Corby, also, the monks greatly excelled, and laying aside the corrupt character which had till then been in use, they adopted the smaller Roman letters. Rules were made forbidding any man to be employed as a copyist who had not the knowledge of grammar requisite for enabling him to avoid errors; and treatises on orthography and punctuation were drawn up by Alcuin for the special use of his scribes. Libraries were gradually collected in all the principal monasteries, including the chief works of the Fathers and the Latin classics. In the library of St. Riquier, of which abbey Angilbert became superior, we find a few years later copies of Homer, Virgil, and Cicero; in that of Rheims, Cæsar, Livy, and Lucan; Dijon possessed a Horace, and at Montierendes there were the works of Cicero and Terence. The text of the last-named author was revised and corrected by Alcuin himself, a fact which confirms what has been before said of his toleration of the poets. From this time the transcription of books came to be regarded as one of the ordinary branches of monastic manual work, in a great degree taking the place of that agricultural labour on which, in earlier ages, the monks were so generally employed. The real hard work of head, eyes, and hand, which it involved, was pithily expressed in the well-known couplet:–

Tres digiti scribunt, totum corpusque laborat,
Scribere qui nesciunt, nullum putant esse laborem.

If the hope of gain stimulated those outside to follow it as a trade, more spiritual motives were laid before the children of the cloister. As a work of charity done for the love of God and man, it was promised an eternal reward, and the persevering toils of a long life were, it was thought, capable of being offered as an acceptable work of penance. Meanwhile, the spirit of improvement was diffusing itself from the court through the whole country. The Capitulars of Charlemagne–so called because arranged in heads, or chapters–included amongst various laws for the regulation of the civil government others which regarded the encouragement of learning. A circular letter addressed by Charlemagne on his return from Rome in 787 to all the bishops and abbots of the kingdom, after thanking them for their letters and pious prayers, proceeded to criticise the grammar in which these had been expressed. “They who endeavour to please God by a good life,” writes the king, “should not neglect to please Him by correct phraseology, and it is well that monasteries and episcopal seminaries should pay attention to literature as well as to the practices of religion. It is better indeed to lead a good life than to become learned; nevertheless knowledge precedes action. Each one, then, should understand what he is about, and the mind better comprehends its duty when the tongue in praising God is free from mistakes of language.” The writer then goes on to notice that the excellent sentiments of his clergy had been expressed in a rude and uncouth style; they had been inspired by true devotion, but the tongue had failed for want of culture. “But if errors in words are dangerous, much more so are errors in their signification. We exhort you therefore that you fail not to cultivate learning with the humble intention of pleasing God, so as more surely to penetrate the mysteries of the Holy Scriptures. We wish, in short, to see you what the soldiers of Christ ought to be–devout in heart, learned in intercourse with the world, chaste in life, and scholars in conversation–so that all who approach you may be as much enlightened by your wisdom as they are edified by your holy life.” This was not allowed to remain an empty recommendation; it was followed by ordinances for reviving the old monastic and cathedral schools, and for founding other public schools, the establishment of which forms the most important feature in Charlemagne’s revival of learning. In the Benedictine monasteries two kinds of schools had always existed, or been supposed to exist–the greater and the less. In the minor schools, according to Trithemius, were taught “the Catholic faith and prayers, grammar, church music, the psalter, and the _Computum_, or method of calculating Easter,” while in the major schools the liberal sciences were also taught. In the Capitular of Aix-la-Chapelle, published in 789, Charlemagne required that minor schools should be attached to all monasteries and cathedral churches without exception, and that children of all ranks, both noble and servile, should be received into them. At the same time the larger and more important monasteries were to open major schools, in which mathematics, astronomy, arithmetic, geography, music, rhetoric, and dialectics were taught; and these again were of two descriptions. Some were interior, or claustral, intended only for the junior monks, while others were exterior, or public, and intended for pupils as well secular as ecclesiastic. Some monk, qualified by his learning, was appointed scholasticus, and if none such were to be found in the community, it was not an uncommon practice to invite a monk from some other religious house to take charge of the school. A claustral and an exterior school often existed attached to the same monastery or cathedral, governed by separate masters, the scholars of the claustral school forming part of the community, while those of the exterior school, though subject to a certain claustral discipline, did not follow the same religious exercises. Lay students were received in these exterior schools, and that far more extensively than is commonly supposed, most popular writers having represented the monastic schools as exclusively intended for those in training for the religious life, thus confusing together the interior and exterior schools. Public schools of this kind were erected at Fulda, St. Gall’s, Tours, Hirsauge, Hirsfield, Gorze, Fleury, L’Isle Barbe, Fontanelles, and Ferrières, as well as at many other monasteries and cathedrals, a list of which is given by Mabillon. Bulæus, indeed, endeavours to show that Charlemagne limited the studies of the ecclesiastical schools to grammar and sacred learning, and only permitted the monasteries and episcopal churches to retain the minor schools, “from the clear view that a variety of sciences, sacred and profane, is inconsistent with the profession of ascetics.” He even ventures to put forth the notion that the higher schools were confined to certain central spots, such as Pavia, Bologna, and Paris. But Bulæus wrote with an object, which was to magnify his university at the expense of the monastic schools. We ask ourselves with surprise where he could have found evidence even for the existence of any schools at all at Paris and Bologna in the reign of Charlemagne? And as to limiting the monastics to minor schools, it may be safely affirmed that the idea of limitation of any kind was the very last that ever suggested itself to the mind of the emperor. As Theodulph of Orleans says, he did nothing all his life but urge forward his monks and bishops in the pursuit of learning. During the whole Carlovingian period the schools of most repute were certainly not those of Bologna, Paris, and Pavia. They were the episcopal and monastic schools of Tours, Fulda, Rheims, St. Gall, and Hirsfield, the teachers of which were all either monks or canons. The ordinance of 789 must be clearly understood, not as forbidding ecclesiastics to study anything but theology, grammar, and church music, but as rendering it obligatory on them to study at least so much; whilst, to use the words of Trithemius, “where temporal means were more abundant, and by reason of the number of the monks, more likelihood existed of finding one skilled in the teaching of sacred letters,” the other liberal arts were also required. The monks of those monasteries in which the higher studies were not taught travelled to other religious houses, and studied in their public schools; and we certainly find no trace, however faint, of the principle that the higher studies were considered unsuitable to ascetics, for, in point of fact, the ascetics were all but the only scholars of the age. If lay students were also to be met with–and even, as I think we shall see, more frequently than is ordinarily acknowledged by modern historians–yet they were still exceptional cases, and the vast majority of those who studied, as of those who taught, continued for centuries to be drawn from the monastic body.

The establishment or revival of the ecclesiastical schools scattered the seeds of learning broadcast over the Frankish empire. All the great men whom Charlemagne gathered around him took part in one way or other in this work. Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans, a Goth by nation, and an Italian by birth, specially distinguished himself by his zeal in the establishment of schools throughout his diocese. He published a Capitular on the duties of priests, in which he permitted them to send their nephews or other relations to certain schools in the diocese which were not then regarded as public. He also enjoined that priests should open schools in villages and rural districts, “and if any of the faithful should wish to confide their little ones to him in order to study letters, let him not refuse to receive and instruct them, but charitably teach them.” This was to be done gratis, no remuneration being accepted save what might be willingly offered by the parents. One would gladly know more of the kind of teaching given in these parochial schools, and specially how far the children of the peasantry were admitted into them. That village rustics really went to school and learnt something in the days of Charlemagne seems, however, past dispute; and among the Capitulars of the King of Europe we find one which requires the peasants, as they drive their cattle to pasture and home again, to sing the canticles of the Church, that all men may recognise them as Christians. This command obviously implied that the Latin canticles were well known to the peasantry, and probably the conning of church hymns and antiphons formed a very large portion of their school instruction. Theodulph was one of the missi dominici, or envoys sent by Charlemagne through the provinces of his empire to inquire into and reform abuses. On his return from one of these expeditions he published a poem entitled, “An Exhortation to Judges,” in which he gives a very remarkable account of his progress through the Narbonnese provinces, and describes the difficulty he found in resisting the attempts that were made to bribe him. The proffered bribes were of all kinds–gold and precious stones, delicately chased vases–which, from the classic subjects they represented, were doubtless relics of ancient Grecian art–horses, mules, furs, woollen stuffs, and candles. He refused everything, however, except food for himself and hay for his horses, and advises all judges to do in like manner. This was the same Theodulph whose name is familiar to us as author of the Responsory, Gloria, laus et honor. Having incurred the displeasure of the Emperor Louis, he was imprisoned by order of that prince at Angers; but on Palm Sunday as the emperor passed in the solemn procession of the day by the bishop’s prison walls, Theodulph sang from the window the words which he had composed, and thereby so touched the heart of the Debonnaire monarch that he gave him his liberty, and caused the same anthem to be thenceforth introduced into the office of the day, of which it still forms a part.

The name of Theodulph is to be had in remembrance not only as a founder of schools, but also as a writer of school-books. He felt compassion for young and tender minds condemned to gather all their knowledge from the dry and unattractive treatises of Priscian, and Martian Capella, and hit on a plan of his own for rendering them a little more popular. He composed in easy Latin verse the description of a supposed tree of science, which he caused moreover to be drawn and painted, on the trunk and branches of which appeared the seven liberal arts. At the foot of the tree sat Grammar, the basis of all human knowledge holding in her hand a mighty rod; Philosophy was at the summit: Rhetoric stood on the right with outstretched hand, and on the left the grave and thoughtful form of Dialectics; and so of the rest. The whole was explained in the Carmina de septem artibus, wherein the good bishop endeavoured with all his might to scatter the thorny path of learning with the flowers of imagination. The attempt was at least commendable, and in so great a scholar it had the gracefulness of condescension, for Theodulph is reported to have pursued some rare branches of study, and to have had at least a tincture of Greek and Hebrew.

Other ministers of Charlemagne are also named as actively sharing in the labours of the Renaissance. Smaragdus, abbot of St. Michael’s, in the diocese of Verdun, and one of the emperor’s prime councillors, not only established schools in every part of the diocese, and specially in his own abbey, but wrote a large Latin grammar for the use of his scholars. The copy which Mabillon saw preserved in the abbey of Corby bore on the title-page the words: In Christi nomine incipit Grammatici Smaragdi Abbatis mirificus Tractatus. Then follows a prologue in which the abbot declares that having, according to his capacity, taught grammar to his monks, they had been accustomed to transfer the pith of his lectures to their tablets, that what they took in with their ears they might retain by dint of frequent reading. And from this they took occasion to conjure him to write this treatise, which he has done, adorning his little book with sentences not from Maro or Cicero, but from the Divine Scriptures, that his readers may at one and the same time be refreshed with the pleasant drink of the grammatical art and also of the Word of God. And his reason for doing so has been that many defend their ignorance by saying that in grammar God is not named, but only pagan names and examples, and that therefore it is an art rightly and justly neglected. But he is rather of opinion that we should do as the Israelites did when they spoiled the Egyptians, and offer to God the treasures taken from the heathen. He appears to have devoted some attention to the vulgar dialects, and gives lists of Frank and Gothic patronymics with their Latin interpretations.

St. Benedict of Anian, the cupbearer of Charlemagne, and afterwards the great reformer of the Benedictine order, was almost as zealous in restoring studies as in bringing back regular discipline. “Everywhere,” says his disciple St. Ardo, “he appointed cantors, taught readers, established grammar-masters, and those skilled in sacred letters; also he collected a great multitude of books.” Nor must we omit to notice the labours of Leidrade, the emperor’s librarian, and one of the “missi dominici,” who, being appointed Archbishop of Lyons, addressed a curious letter to his imperial master, in which he describes the result of his various labours. He has, by God’s grace, established regular psalmody in his church; he has schools of singers, and schools of readers, who cannot only read the Scriptures correctly, but who understand the spiritual sense of the gospels and the prophecies; some even have attained to the mystical signification of the books of Solomon and of Job. He has also done what in him lay to promote the copying of books, and has built, repaired, and decorated an incredible number of churches and monasteries. Besides these there was Angilbert, the favourite minister both of Pepin and Charlemagne, who retiring from court became abbot of St. Riquier and founder of a noble library; and Adalhard, the emperor’s cousin, created by him count of the royal palace, who, out of a holy fear of offending God, and losing His grace in the seductions of a court atmosphere, took refuge in the abbey of Corby, where he was eventually chosen abbot. In this capacity he greatly raised the reputation of the Corby schools. Paschasius, who wrote his life, says that Adalhard was a most elegant scholar, having been carefully educated in the Palatine school, and that he was equally eloquent in the Tudesque and Romanesque dialects as in Latin, and instructed the common people in their own barbarous tongues. His literary friends gave him the double surname of Antony Augustine–Antony from his love of that saint, and Augustine, because like him he studied to imitate the virtues of all those around him.

Meanwhile Alcuin, who had been master to most of these illustrious men, ceased not to cherish the hope that he might be suffered to return to his native land. “The searcher of hearts knows,” he writes, “that I neither came thither, nor do I continue here for the love of gold, but only for the necessities of the Church.” Like a true Englishman his heart clung to his old home, to the memory of his quiet cell at York, where he had studied Horace and Homer, undisturbed by other sound than the waving of the branches as they were shaken by the genial morning breeze, a sound which, he says, did but stir his mind the more to meditation. The flowery meadows and murmuring streams of England, the smiling garden of his monastery full of its May apple blossoms or its July roses, and the abundance of birds singing in the Yorkshire woods, all these find a place in the sweet verses in which the English exile paints the beloved scenes in the midst of which he had passed his childish days; and all the brilliancy of Charles’s court could not compensate to his mind for the loss of home. In 790 he was, therefore, permitted to revisit England, but two years later he was recalled by urgent messages from the emperor, who desired that he should attend the Council of Frankfort held to condemn the heresy of Elipandus. Alcuin felt himself obliged to obey the summons, but he did not bid farewell to York without testifying the regret with which he tore himself from its peaceful retirement. “I am yours in life and in death,” he writes to his brethren, “and it may be that God will have pity on me, and suffer that you should bury in his old age, him whom in his infancy you brought up and nourished.” Charlemagne, however, having regained possession of his favourite scholar, was not to be induced a second time to give him up; the utmost that poor Alcuin could obtain was permission to retire from the court to some monastery within the Frankish dominions. Fulda was too far distant from the royal residence, and the death of Ithier, abbot of St. Martin’s of Tours, in 796, enabled the emperor to appoint Alcuin as his successor.

Tours at that time held the first rank among the religious houses of France, and what with the task of reforming its discipline and establishing a first-rate school within its walls, Alcuin enjoyed little of the leisure after which he yearned. He found himself in fact in possession of a great abbatial lordship, to which were attached vast revenues and 20,000 serfs. The revenues were expended by him in foundations of charity, such as hospitals, which earned for him the gratitude of the people of Tours. He applied himself to his new duties with unabated energy, enriched his library with the precious manuscripts he had brought from York, and by his own teaching raised the school of Tours to a renown which was shared by none of its contemporaries. In the hall of studies a distinct place was set apart for the copyists, who were exhorted by certain verses of their master, set up in a conspicuous place, to mind their stops, and not to leave out letters. Here were trained most of those scholars whom we shall have to notice in the following reigns, such as Rabanus Maurus, the celebrated abbot of Fulda. A letter addressed by Alcuin to the emperor soon after his establishment at Tours gives a somewhat bombastical account of his labours, but the reader will pardon the pedantry of one who had spent all his life as a schoolmaster. “The employments of your Flaccus in his retreat,” he says, “are suited to his humble sphere, but they are neither inglorious nor unprofitable. I spend my time in the halls of St. Martin, teaching the noble youths under my care: to some I serve out the honey of the Holy Scriptures; others I essay to intoxicate with the wine of ancient literature: one class I nourish with the apples of grammatical studies, and to the eyes of others I display the order of the shining orbs that adorn the azure heavens. To others again I explain the mysteries contained in the Holy Scriptures, suiting my instructions to the capacity of my scholars, that I may train up many to be useful to the Church of God and to be an ornament to your kingdom. But I am constantly in want of those excellent books of erudition which I had collected around me in my own country, both by the devoted zeal of my master Albert and my own labour. I therefore entreat your majesty to permit me to send some of my people into Britain that they may bring thence flowers into France….” After some lengthy praises of the utility of learning, he proceeds: “Exhort then, my lord the king, the youth of your palace to learn with all diligence, that they may make such progress in the bloom of their youth as will bring honour on their old age. I also, according to my measure, will not cease to scatter in this soil the seed of wisdom among your servants, remembering the words, ‘In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand.’ To do this has been the most delightful employment of my whole life. In my youth I sowed the seeds of learning in the flourishing seminaries of my native soil. Now in the evening of my life, though my blood is less warm within me, I do not cease to do the same in France, praying to God that they may spring up and flourish in both countries.” In consequence of this suggestion, a commission was despatched to England for the purpose of transcribing some of the treasures of the York library. The French scribes made copies of the English service books, and that so exactly, that they took no heed of the geographical distinctions of the two countries, but copied the pontifical of Archbishop Egbert, and its form for the anointing and coronation of kings, exactly word for word. Hence in a Rheims pontifical of the ninth century, still preserved in Cologne cathedral, the emperor of the Franks is addressed as King of the Saxons, Mercians, and Northumbrians–a circumstance which has induced some modern critics to speculate as to the exact time when the North of England was subject to the Frankish sceptre. The copies procured through the industry of these scribes were multiplied at Tours, and thence dispersed throughout the kingdom. Alcuin’s own works were also in great demand, specially his elementary treatises on the different sciences. His other works, which are very numerous, consist chiefly of theological treatises and commentaries on the Scriptures, some metaphysical and philosophical writings, and a collection of poems, among which are the Eulogium on the Archbishops and the Church of York, and the Elegy on the Destruction of Lindisfarne, the latter of which is perhaps the happiest production of his pen, and evinces the real feeling of a poet. The news of the sad event which it commemorates excited consternation throughout Europe, but by none was it received with bitterer sorrow than by the abbot of Tours. “The man,” he says, “who can think of that calamity without terror, and who does not cry to God in behalf of his country, has a heart not of flesh but of stone.” He at once wrote letters of sympathy to Ethelred, King of Northumbria, and the monks who had escaped from the sword, which would be sufficient to evince how fondly his heart still clung to his native land even without the touching apostrophe which he introduces to his cell at York. What view was taken by Alcuin of the work of education, to which his whole life was devoted may be gathered from his treatise on the seven liberal arts, the introduction to which is cast in the form of dialogue between the master and his disciples. I will give an extract which may suffice to show the noble and elevated sentiments which these early scholars entertained on the subject of learning:–

Disc. “O, wise master, we have often heard you repeat that true philosophy was the science that taught all the virtues, and the only earthly riches that never left their possessor in want. Your words have excited in us a great desire to possess this treasure. We wish to know where the teaching of philosophy will lead us, and by what steps we may attain to it. But our age is weak and without your help we shall not be able to mount these steps.”

Master. “It will be easy to show you the way of wisdom, provided you seek it purely for God’s sake to preserve the purity of your own soul, and for the love of virtue; if you love it for its own sake, and do not seek in it any worldly honour and glory or, still less, riches or pleasure.”

Disc. “Master, raise us up from the earth where our ignorance now detains us, lead us to those heights of science where you passed your own early years. For if we may listen to the fables of the poets, they would seem to tell us that the sciences are the true banquets of the gods.”

Master. “We read of Wisdom, which is spoken of by the mouth of Solomon, that she built herself a house and hewed out seven pillars. Now, although these pillars represent the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost and the seven Sacraments of the Church, we may also discern in them the seven liberal arts, grammar, rhetoric, dialects, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, which are like so many steps on which philosophers expend their labours, and have obtained the honours of eternal renown.”

As the school of St. Martin rose in celebrity, it became the resort of a crowd both of foreigners and natives. Alcuin’s own countrymen in particular flocked around him, and it would seem that the number of English scholars who constantly arrived, at last excited the jealousy of the clergy of Tours. One day as four Frankish priests were standing at the gate of the monastery, a newly arrived Englishman, Aigulf by name, passed in, and supposing him to be ignorant of their language, one of them exclaimed, “There goes another of them! When shall we be free from these swarms of Britons? They gather round the old fellow like so many bees!” Aigulf hung his head and blushed; but when Alcuin heard what had passed he sent for the Frenchmen, and courteously requested them to sit down, and drink the health of the young scholar in his best wine. “The old Saxon,” as they called him, ceased not in his retirement to watch over the interests of learning, even in the remotest provinces. There was hardly a bishop or abbot of any distinction who had not at one time or other been his pupil, and he continued to enjoy and exercise among them the privileged freedom of an old and honoured master. His letters bear evidence of the immense range over which his influence extended. In his ninety-fourth epistle he conjures a young missionary to be always reminding the parish priests to keep up their schools. Another time he addresses a bishop, and advises him to return to his own country that he may set in order good grammar lessons for the children of his diocese. His fifty-sixth letter is to the English Archbishop of York; and in it he enters into several useful details; and advises him to have his school divided into different classes–one for reading, one for writing, and one for chanting, so as to preserve good order. Then comes a letter to the Emperor, reminding him to have the Palatine scholars daily exercised in their learning; arithmetical subtleties accompany another letter, and some sage observations on the utility of punctuation, which commendable branch of grammar has, he regrets to say, been of late much lost sight of. In short, his active mind, thoroughly Anglo-Saxon in its temper, worked on to the end; labouring at a sublime end by homely practical details. One sees he is of the same race with Bede, who wrote and dictated to the last hour of his life, and when his work was finished, calmly closed his book and died.

It was after the retirement of Alcuin from court, that we must date the arrival in France of the Irish scholars, Dungal and Clement, concerning whom the monk of St. Gall relates a story which is treated as apocryphal by Tiraboschi, though it has found a place in most earlier histories. He tells us, that having landed on the coast of France, they excited the curiosity of the people by crying aloud, “Wisdom to sell! who’ll buy?” The rumour of their arrival reaching Charlemagne’s ears, he caused them to be brought before him, and finding them well skilled in letters, retained them both in his service. Clement remained at Paris and received the direction of the Palatine school, whilst Dungal was sent to Pavia, where he opened an academy in the monastery of St. Augustine. Whatever may be thought of the incident connected with their first appearance in France, there is no doubt as to their historic identity. Tiraboschi quotes an edict of the Emperor Lothaire published in 823, for the re-establishment of public schools in nine of the chief cities of Italy, from which it appears that Dungal was at the time still presiding over the school of Pavia. He seems to be the same who, in 811, addressed a long letter to Charlemagne on the subject of two solar eclipses, which were expected to take place in the following year, and may be yet further identified with the Dungalus Scotorum præcipuus, who is noticed in the catalogue of the library of Bobbio, where he at last retired, bringing with him a great store of books, which he presented to the monastery. Among them were four books of Virgil, two of Ovid, one of Lucretius, and a considerable number of the Greek and Latin fathers.

As to Clement, there is no difficulty in tracing his career. He seems to have been deeply imbued with the learned mysticism of the school of Toulouse, and in a treatise on the eight parts of speech, which is still preserved, quotes the rules of the grammarian Virgil, and the writings of the noble doctors Glengus, Galbungus, Eneas, and the rest. Alcuin complained much of the disorder introduced into the Studies of the court school after his departures. “I left them Latins,” he exclaimed, “and now I find them Egyptians.” This was a double hit at the gibberish of the twelve Latinites, which Alcuin could not abide, and at the hankering which the Irish professors always displayed, both in science and theology, for the teaching of the school of Alexandria, many of them having embraced the peculiar views of the Neo-Platonists. The Egyptians, however, found a welcome at the court of Charlemagne in spite of their eccentricities; for there no one was ever coldly received who could calculate eclipses, or charm the ears of the learned monarch with Latin hexameters. And it is perhaps to one of these Irish professors that we must attribute those verses preserved by Martene, and professing to be written by an “Irish exile,” which contain such agreeable flattery of the Frankish sovereign and of his people, and which were presented to the emperor as he held one of those solemn New-year courts, at which his subjects vied one with another in offering him jewels, tissues, horses, and bags of money. And perhaps, to his mind, the graceful lines that celebrated the Frankish people as “a race of kings come forth from the walls of Troy, into whose hands God had delivered the empire of the world,” were more acceptable than even the glittering heaps of the precious metals.

Charlemagne did his utmost to draw Alcuin once more to his side, and specially pressed him to accompany him on his visit to Rome, in the year 800, when he received the imperial crown. But Alcuin was not to be moved by his arguments and entreaties, though he did not refuse to quit his retirement at the call of real duty. In 799 he attended the council of Aix-la-Chapelle, to oppose in person the heretical teacher, Felix of Urgel, who, together with Elipandus, had revived the Nestorian heresy in a new shape. After a disputation of six days, Felix owned himself vanquished, and frankly renounced his errors. This was perhaps the most glorious moment in Alcuin’s life; but he only used the credit which he had thus obtained with his sovereign to solicit permission to resign all his preferments into the hands of his disciples, that he might spend the remainder of his life in retirement. Frèdegise, therefore, succeeded him in the abbacy of St. Martin’s, and Sigulf in that of Ferrières. “I have made all things over into the hands of my sons,” writes the old man, rejoicing in his late-earned freedom, “and laying down the burden of the pastoral care, I wait quietly at St. Martin’s until my change shall come.”

The short remainder of his life was spent in the humblest exercises of charity and devotion. He chose the place of his interment and often visited it with disciples, and his letters show him to have been incessantly occupied with the great thought of his approaching end. It came at last, and on the morning of Whitsunday, May 19, 804, the great scholar passed gently and happily to the eternity he had so long contemplated. Charlemagne mourned his death as that of a friend and master, and before his final departure addressed him some Latin verses, which, if not distinguished for much poetical merit, at least do justice to the honest affection that dictated them. He survived Alcuin ten years, and was buried in the royal “chapel” that he had erected as the place of his sepulture, not reclining in a coffin, but seated on his throne, with the crown on his brow, the sceptre in his hand, his good sword Joyeuse by his side, and the book of the Gospels resting on his knees. And a brief inscription marked the spot where rested all that was mortal of “the great and orthodox emperor.”

Source:  Augusta Theodosia Drane, Christian Schools and Scholars (1910) .

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