The poem of Beowulf has been variously edited. It was first noticed by Wanley, in his catalogue of Saxon MSS. in 1705. It was printed with a Latin translation by Thorkelin, at Copenhagen, in 1815. Conybeare, in his Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon Poetry, points out several errors into which the Dane, Thorkelin, and the Englishman, Turner fell; and Thorpe, in his Anglo-Saxon Poems of Beowulf, differs from all preceding editors, who considered the heroes as mythical beings of a divine order, he suggesting that they were kings and chieftains of the North, within the pale of authentic history.* This opinion had been shared by Kemble, but under the influence of Grimmperhaps the greatest authority on these matters—he ended by regarding the poem as mythic. Later critics have, however, considered that it deals with historical persons.
* Preface, p. xvii.
Only secondary to the romance of Beowulf must once have been the fragment of a poem on the death of Beorhtnoth.* It was printed by Hearne in the appendix to his edition of Johannis Glastoniensis Chronicon, but without a translation.
* Formerly Otho A 12, in the Cottonian Library; the original perished in the fire of 1731.
"It constitutes," says Conybeare, "a battle-piece of spirited execution, mixed with short speeches from the principal warriors, conceived with much force, variety, and character; the death of the hero is also very graphically described. The whole approximates much more nearly than could have been expected to the war-scenes of Homer."
Of the poem of Judith, one of the finest specimens of Anglo-Saxon songs, a fragment is preserved in the same volume which contains the story of Beowulf.
The type of the Anglo-Saxon poets in Christian times is Caedmon, whom Professor George Stephens called "the Milton of North England in the seventh century," and who, according to the legend told by Bede, being singularly unblessed with the power of song, received the gift miraculously in sleep. He is represented in the Cottonian library only by a few prayers in Anglo-Saxon (Julius, A 2) which Junius printed from this MS. at the end of his edition of Caedmon's paraphrase. The interesting collection, which goes by Caedmon's name in the Bodleian library, is a series of pieces on Scriptural subjects, with beautifully painted illustrations.
A manuscript of the tenth century (Cleopatra, B 13) contains a short hymn on the conversion of the AngloSaxons; and in the same volume is a life of St. Dunstan.
Two important volumes (Tiberius, B 5, and Titus, D 27), one of which appears to have been written for the use of nuns, formed part of the material for a history of mathematics in England, during the Middle Ages.*
* Rara Mathematica from inedited MSS., by J. O. Halliwell.
Alcuin and Aldhelm were the chief Anglo-Latin poets. Some of Alcuin's letters are to be found in this collection. St. Aldhelm, Abbot, afterwards Bishop of Malmesbury, was regarded by King Alfred as the prince of Anglo-Latin poets. His chief work, The Praises of Virginity, is at Cambridge, but his metrical treatise on the monastic life and one of his letters are here preserved.
Alfred is well represented in his Laws, and in his Saxon versions of Augustine's soliloquies.
Of the works of the venerable Bede we have the Ecclesiastical History, the Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert, and nine other manuscripts.
It was probably between 1615 and 1621 that Sir Robert Cotton became possessed of the celebrated manuscript known as the Utrecht Psalter. Its early history is obscure, and experts have differed widely as to its probable date and origin. Sir Thomas Hardy, who summarised its contents, and drew up a report upon the intrinsic arguments in favour of its remote antiquity, called attention to the fact that it could not have been written in England, because it contains certain liturgical pieces which were not in use in this country, at the time assigned for its age by other internal evidence. He suggested that it was brought into England by the Christian princess, Bertha, daughter of Charibert the Frankish king, who became the queen of Ethelbert. He based this supposition on the costliness of the manuscript which would point to its having belonged to a royal personage. He next considered the probability that this Psalter was presented by Queen Bertha to the monastery of Reculver, in Kent, where the king had built a new palace, and where Bertha attended the services of her religion, Hardy drew this inference from the coincidence that at the time when the volume came into Cotton's hands there was bound up with it a charter, recording the gift of certain lands by Lothair, King of Kent, to Bercwald, Abbot of Reculver, and to his monastery. The charter is dated Reculver, May 7, 679, and it seems to have been the custom in smaller monasteries to place royal and other charters inside valuable books for preservation, in default of any more suitable depository. This charter, which Cotton took to be an original document, he separated from the Utrecht Psalter, preserving it in another part of his library. It is still to be found where he placed it (in Augustus, B 2).
Mr. Birch, however, disposed summarily of Sir Thomas Hardy's ingenious theory, and pronounced Cotton's opinion that the charter was an original document, as not worth much. After giving all the evidence for and against the probability of Queen Bertha, having presented the Psalter to Reculver Abbey, he showed reasons for the charter being a copy of the original, and for its having been made at Christ Church, Canterbury, a religious house very closely allied to Reculver, which was secularised centuries before the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.
But the most recent authority on illuminated manuscripts, Sir Edward Maunde Thompson, considers that the actual date of the Utrecht Psalter may be placed about the year 800, and he maintains with Sir Thomas Hardy, judging by internal palaeographical evidence, that without doubt, the manuscript is of Frankish workmanship, and he assigns its origin to the north, or north-east of France.* This carries us back to Queen Bertha and Cotton's suggestion that she brought the book over with her.
* See a Paper on English Illuminated Manuscripts, A.D. 700-1066, by Mr., now Sir Edward Maunde Thompson, Bibliographica, part ii., London Kegan & Co.
Shortly after the suppression of Christ Church, which, in all probability, inherited the treasures of Reculver, the Utrecht Psalter, together with its incorporated charter, fell into the hands of the Talbot family; and in Mr. Bond's report on the manuscript he said that the name Mary Talbot could, with some difficulty, be deciphered on the lower margin of folio 60b, in a sixteenth century hand. Various suggestions have been made in regard to this name, but in Mr. Birch's opinion—and here there is good reason for following him—it belonged to the wife or daughter of "Master Talbot of Norwich, a most ingenious and industrious antiquary." He made a collection of rare manuscripts, most of which are now in Corpus Christi College at Cambridge, and it was from this collection that the Utrecht Psalter passed into Sir Robert Cotton's possession, but whether by gift or purchase is not recorded.
The manuscript is entered in the catalogue of the library written by Cotton himself in 1621, under the press-mark Claudius C 7, but it is not to be found in any subsequent catalogue. An entry occurs among the Notes of such books as haze been lent out by Sir Robert Cotton to divers persons, and are abroad in their hands att this daye, the 15th of January 1630, which entry is to the effect that the Psalter was lent "to my lord the Earle of Arundel." Birch gave it up as lost to the Cotton library from the time that it passed into Lord Arundel's hands; but he must have been unaware of the existence of Smith's own copy of his printed catalogue, which contains his manuscript notes of books borrowed from the Cotton collection, and in which these words are written "Borrowed by Mr. Ashmole, on the 17th February 1673, Claudius, C. 7." Smith's folio catalogue, published in 1696, has the word Deest, marking its absence from the library. Nothing further can be discovered till 1718, when the book appears to have become the property of Monsieur de Ridder, a Dutchman, who presented it to the University of Utrecht where it still remains.* Sir Robert Cotton's signature is on the first page.
*The History, Art, and Paleography of the Utrecht Psalter, by W. de Gray Birch, F.R.S.L., Keeper of the Manuscripts in the British Museum.
The great charm of this manuscript, a facsimile of which is to be seen in the Cottonian library, lies in its pen-and-ink illustrations, as forcible and appealing as are the scenes of the Last judgment on the walls of the Campo Santo at Pisa. Among the Harleian MSS., moreover (No. 603), there is an illuminated Psalter so like it, that it seems impossible that the artist should not have had the Utrecht Psalter before him as he drew; unless, as Sir Edward Thompson supposes, the older manuscript is itself a copy of a still more ancient one, which leads him to infer that other versions of this Psalter were in existence in England at an early date. This would account also for the Eadwine Psalter at Cambridge, a twelfth-century imitation of the Harleian manuscript. Neither of these Psalters can be described as an absolute copy of the Utrecht Psalter.
We are here led to deplore the loss of another valuable manuscript of a totally different kind, which, although not in the collection at the time of Sir Robert's death, once belonged to this library, and was lost in the same way. We refer to to the "Enconium Emmae" an eleventh century MS. which Cotton sent to Duchesne, and which the latter used in writing his Historiae Normanorum, but never returned. It has entirely disappeared.
We now come to what is perhaps the noblest monument of Anglo-Saxon times in the Cottonian library—namely, the famous Lindisfarne Gospels also known as the Durham Book, a marvel of palaeographic art. It is indisputably the finest production of the school of Lindisfarne. The Latin text, written in double columns, was transcribed by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, while still a simple monk, in honour, some say for the use, of St. Cuthbert. It was finished after the saint's death, at the end of the seventh, or beginning of the eighth century. This we learn from intrinsic evidence, in the form of a brief note in Anglo-Saxon at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and a longer one at the end of the volume. These notes have thus been translated by Mr. Waring:—*
* Prolegomena, Lindisfarne, and Rushworth Gospels, part iv.
"Thou, O living God, bear in mind Eadfrith and Aethelwald, and Billfrith and Aldred, the sinner. These four with God's help were employed upon (or busied about) this book."
"Eadfrith, Bishop over the Church of Lindisfarne, first wrote this book in (honour of) God and St. Cuthbert, and all the company of saints in the Island; and Aethelwald, Bishop of Lindisfarne, made an outer cover, and adorned it as he was well able; and Billfrith, the anchorite, he wrought the metal-work of the ornaments on the outside thereof, and decked it with gold, and with gems, overlaid also with silver and unalloyed metal; and Aldred, an unworthy and most miserable priest, by the help of God and St. Cuthbert, over-glossed the same in English, and domiciled himself with the three parts. Matthew, this part for God and St. Cuthbert; Mark, this part for the bishop; and Luke, this part for the brotherhood; with eight ora of silver (as an offering) on entrance; and St. John's part for himself—i.e., for his soul; and (depositing) four silver ora with God and St. Cuthbert, that he may find acceptance in heaven through the mercy of God; good fortune and peace on earth, promotion and dignity, wisdom and prudence through the merits of St. Cuthbert.
"Eadfrith, Ethelwald, Billfrith, and Aldred have wrought and adorned this Book of the Gospels for (love of) God and St. Cuthbert."
Old as it is, neither vellum nor illumination shows the least sign of decay. The writing is exquisitely beautiful, and points to a degree of refinement and cultivation which we do not usually associate with a rough life, such as was led by the monks of sea-girt Lindisfarne. There are to be seen wonderful initial letters, geometrical and tesselated designs, like the most delicate and intricate mosaics, and above all, beautifully devout representations of the four evangelists, all evidently drawn by the same loving and reverent hand, and the whole colouring as fresh now as if it had been painted yesterday.
The evangelists, each accompanied by the symbolic animal, usually assigned to him, occupy nearly the whole of their respective pages. They are taken from Byzantine models, of which, as Westwood points out, nothing remains but the attitudes, the fashion of the dress and the form of the seats. There can be little doubt that these illuminations were copied from a MS. brought into England by the missionaries sent from Rome by St. Gregory in the seventh century.
* Facsimiles of the Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish Manuscripts. P. 35.
Sir Edward Thompson, following Dom Germain Morin,* shows that the Capitula, or tables of sections which accompany each gospel are according to the Neapolitan use, and that Adrian, the companion of the Greek, Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury in his mission to Britain in 668, was abbot of a monastery in the Island of Nisita, near Naples.
* See his articles in the Revue Benedictine line, Nov. and Dec. 1891, pp. 481 and 529.
Bede tells us that these missionaries were both at Lindisfarne, and Sir Edward Thompson gives it as his opinion that the Neapolitan MS. from which the Durham Book or Lindisfarne Gospel derived its text, had been brought a few years previously from Naples by the Abbot Adrian.*
* English Illuminated Manuscripts," Bibliographica," part ii.
The interlineary Saxon gloss was a later addition by the monk, Aldred, and Billfrith, as we have seen, made the sumptuous metal cover. This binding, needless to say, has long since disappeared, and for many years a shabby morocco covering replaced the gorgeous shrine in which the monks of Holy Island had deposited their treasure. About sixty years ago, Bishop Maltby of Durham, at the suggestion of Mr. John Holmes, provided a worthy substitute, the design for which was copied from one of the ornamented pages in the book itself.
This magnificent manuscript has been published by the Surtees Society, together with the very inferior Rushworth Gospels, but only one illumination has been reproduced.*
* The Lindisfarne Gospels or Durham Book is described in Planta's Catalogue (Nero, D 4), as "Liber praeclarissimus, elegantissimis characteribus et curiosissimus pro istius seculi arte picturis et delineationibus ornatus." See also Wanley's Catalogue, Codd. MS. (Anglo-Sax.) p. 250.
Of absolutely authentic history there is little to relate concerning this celebrated manuscript, but Simeon of Durham, or rather Turgot, whose account he copied (and both men lived in the neighbourhood), is responsible for a story which says that it remained at Holy Island till the ravages of the Danes forced the monks to fly, carrying with them their two greatest treasures, the body of St. Cuthbert, and this volume. But in their flight across the narrow strip of sea which divides the Island from the coast of Northumbria, their boat was thrown so much on one side that the book fell overboard. They arrived safely on the opposite shore, but could not make up their minds to continue their journey till they had done what they could to recover the precious relic. So they waited at the peril of their lives till the tide went out, leaving, as it does to this day, a stretch of bare sand between the Island and the mainland. To the inexpressible joy of the monks, they then found the book lying unharmed on the sand.
Archbishop Eyre, in his Life of St. Cuthbert, following the story as it is contained in the Rites of Durham,* places this incident in the sixth or seventh year of their wanderings.
* Surtees Society.
"And so, the bishop, the abbot, and the rest, being weary of travelling, thought to have stolen away, and carried St. Cuthbert's body into Ireland, for his better safety. And being upon the sea in a ship, by a marvellous miracle three waves of water were turned into blood. The ship that they were in was driven back by the tempest and by the mighty power of God as it would seem, upon the shore or land. And also the said ship that they were in, by the great storm and strong raging walls of the sea as is aforesaid, was turned on the one side, and the Book of the Holy Evangelists fell out of the ship into the bottom of the sea."
This account says that the monks found the volume about three miles from the shore, and that their landing-place was Whithorn in Galloway, opposite Belfast.
When Lindisfarne became a priory cell to Durham, this famous manuscript still remained in the city of St. Cuthbert, and in the History of North Durham by Raine, it is mentioned in the year 1637, as "the Book of St. Cuthbert which had fallen into the sea." We, indeed, notice a brown stain on several of its leaves, which might be accounted for by their having been saturated with salt water, did we but know what would be the effect of a sea-water mark after so long a period. At the time of the dissolution it was still at Durham, and no record of what then befel it has been preserved.*
* Brayley's Graphic and Historical Illustrator, 1834; article "The Durham Book," by the Rev. Joseph Stevenson.
Sir Robert Cotton discovered it in the possession of Robert Bowyer, clerk of Parliament under James I.
The resemblance between the artistic and palaeographic peculiarities of the Book of Kells and the Durham Book is accounted for by the fact that Lindisfarne was founded from Iona, which had been given to St. Columba and his Irish companions in the sixth century. The monks, who settled at Holy Island, continued the Scoto-Irish traditions which they had brought with them, and perpetuated them in their manuscripts.
A brief notice of one other remarkable MS. may be made. It is to be found in the press Claudius, B 4, and a careful description of it is given by Westwood in his Palaeographia Sacra Pictoria, and in his Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish MSS. An early tradition declares it to be one of the volumes sent to St. Augustine by Pope Gregory. However that may be, it is known as the Augustine Psalter, and the style of its ornamentation is of Roman origin. This ornamentation consists of initial letters in the Celtic manner; but gold, which was hardly ever used in the Lindisfarne school, and never in Irish MSS., is here seen in profusion, and this detail betrays a foreign influence. It belonged to the Abbey of St. Augustine at Canterbury, and may be a copy executed in that house of one of the books sent from Rome.
The Paraphrase of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, by Elfric, the grammarian, in this collection, is the finest known copy of the work. It is ornamented with 397 drawings, illustrating the text of the early books of the Bible. The largest miniature represents the building of the Tower of Babel.
The Psychomachia of Prudentius is very beautifully written in red and black ink. There are 83 drawings. A replica of this manuscript, which belonged to the monks of Malmesbury, is now at Cambridge.
Scarcely less interesting historically, than the Lindisfarne Gospels is the Book of the Benefactors of Durham Cathedral. Their names are written in alternate lines of bold and silver, the binding being also originally of gold and silver, to which fact a Latin couplet in verse testifies. As time went on it was carelessly kept by the monks of Durham, but entries were made up to the eve of the dissolution of the monastery. The book has been published by the Surtees Society under its name of Liber Vitae, and edited by the Rev. Joseph Stevenson who also wrote a preface. The meaning of Liber Vitae was that the fact of the benefactor's name being inscribed in this book was coupled with the hope and the prayer that the same name might at last find a place in the Book of Life, in which those are enrolled, who shall be faithful unto death.* Later on it became a sort of memorandum-book, in which together with the names of benefactors, was entered a brief account of the nature of their donations. Copies of charters were also inserted, and other matters of an historical character.
* Preface to the published volume, p. 8.
As far as folio 42, it is written in a beautiful ninth century hand, but from this point onwards, the gold and silver lines are omitted, and it is continued in varied and less elegant writing. This manuscript remained at Durham till the dissolution, and it is not known what then became of it, nor in what manner it passed finally into the Cottonian library. It is thus quaintly described:
"There did lie on the High Altar an excellent fine book, very richly covered with gold and silver, containing the names of all the benefactors towards St. Cuthbert's Church, from the very original foundation thereof, the very letters of the book being for the most part all gilt, as is apparent in the said book till this day. The laying that book on the High Altar did show how highly they esteemed their founders and benefactors; and the quotidian remembrance they had of them in the time of Mass and divine service. And this did argue not only their gratitude, but also a most divine and charitable affection to the souls of their benefactors as well dead as living, which book is yet extant, declaring the said use in the inscription thereof." *
* The Ancient Rites and Monuments of the Monastical and Cathedral Church of Durham, collected out of ancient manuscripts about the time of the Suppression.
These examples may suffice as a glimpse into the nature of this treasure-house, but where so much is rare and costly, it is not easy to make a selection that shall be fairly representative.
With regard to the peculiar designation of the places occupied by the books, Sir Robert Cotton arranged them in fourteen presses, each press being surmounted by a bust of one of the twelve Roman emperors, the two last supporting those of Cleopatra and Faustina. The contents of each press were placed in boxes or portfolios, or were bound up in volumes, each box, portfolio, or volume being designated by a letter of the alphabet, each document having a special number.
After the death of its founder the library remained for some time in sequestration, to the great annoyance of the new baronet, Sir Thomas Cotton, who complained bitterly that he was shut out from his study, the best room in his house. A schedule was at length drawn up, consisting of a large vellum roll still extant in the collection, showing that it contained nothing that did not belong to him, and ultimately he gained admission.
Sir Symond D'Ewes made no secret of his opinion that Sir Thomas was "wholly addicted to the tenacious increasing of his worldly wealth, and altogether unworthy to be master of so inestimable a library." We cannot altogether agree with this verdict, since Sir Thomas avenged himself by lending D'Ewes his father's collection of coins; and it is but fair to add that he appears in general to have been no less liberal, one might almost say careless, in lending than his father. Rancour may, however, have set in later on, for Dugdale, writing to D'Ewes in 1639 says, "I am in despair to obtain the books of Sir Thomas Cotton which you desire." Richard James, librarian, fell under the same condemnation as his master, for D'Ewes describes him as "a wretched mercenary fellow."
Sir Thomas Cotton died in 1662, and was succeeded by his eldest son, John, who was somewhat of a scholar. Some respectable Latin verses written by him occur among Smith's MSS. at Oxford. He married Dorothy, daughter and coheiress of Edmund Anderson, of Stratton in Bedfordshire, and it appears that during the civil war the library was removed to that place for greater safety. This was the beginning of its wanderings and vicissitudes, which lasted nearly a hundred years.
The first regular catalogue of the Cottonian library was made and printed at Oxford by Dr. Thomas Smith in 1696. This catalogue is defective in many ways, especially as regards State Papers and detached tracts, of which there are no fewer than 170 volumes, which are here severally entered under one head only, although they each contain on an average as many as a hundred separate documents on different subjects. Dugdale, who was allowed to make what use he liked of the library, discovered 80 of these volumes in loose bundles, and had them bound. But they were still practically useless for want of proper descriptions and indices, till Planta, keeper of the MSS. in the British Museum, published his descriptive catalogue in 1802. Although not without faults, it has never been superseded.
It is to the third baronet that we are mainly indebted for the magnificent project of bequeathing the Cottonian library to the nation. He died in 1702, before the final steps had been taken in this direction; but his grandson and immediate successor carried out his wishes which had also been those of his father and grandfather.
The statute, drawn up in the year 1700 (12 and 13 William III.) is entitled, "An Act for the better settling and preserving the library kept in the house at Westminster, called Cotton House, in the name and family of the Cottons for the benefit of the public."
The next step was to have the books carefully inspected, and compared with Smith's catalogue, now found to be inadequate. Many of the manuscripts were reported to be in a state of decay, the place where they were kept not being suitable. In 1706, Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to fit up the study for public use, but he declared that Cotton House was in a ruinous condition; and in consequence of his report, in the following year, another Act of Parliament decreed that to increase the public utility of the library, Cotton House should be purchased of Sir John Cotton for 4500 pounds, and a new building erected for the collection of books. Still, nothing was done, till the house, actually threatening to tumble down, the books were removed to Essex House, in the Strand, where they remained for twenty-eight years. In 1730, Ashburnham House, Westminster, was purchased by the nation for the reception of the Cottonian, together with the Royal library. It was here, in 1731, that the terrible fire broke out in which so many valuable manuscripts were destroyed.
At about 2 o'clock in the morning of the 23rd October, Dr. Bentley, the librarian, and his family, who lived at Ashburnham House, were roused from sleep by a suffocating smoke which soon afterwards burst into flames. The outbreak was caused by a wooden mantelpiece taking fire, in the room immediately under the two libraries. It was at first hoped that the flames might be extinguished by throwing water upon the woodwork of the room actually on fire, so that they did not begin to remove the books as soon as they should have done. But seeing that this was useless, Mr. Casley, deputy librarian, hastened to rescue the famous Alexandrian MS. in the Royal library, and the books in the Cottonian press named Augustus, as being considered the most valuable. These are principally charts, maps, grants, and papal bulls, all relating to early English history. Several of the presses were then removed bodily, but as the fire spread with alarming rapidity, and there was a delay in the arrival of the engines, it was discovered none too soon, that the backs of some of the presses were on fire. Then the books were seized and thrown out of windows, after which they were carried into Westminster School and the Little Cloisters. By permission of the Dean and Chapter they subsequently found a temporary home in a new building that had been erected as a dormitory for the school.
A committee was at once appointed by the House of Commons to inquire into the amount of injury sustained. It was found that a great number of manuscripts had suffered from the engine-water, as well as from fire, and the report of the commissioners stated, that out of 958 volumes of MSS. 746 were unharmed, and 98 partially injured.
The press named Otho had suffered the most. In the table drawn up by Casley in his appendix to the Royal library, not one volume in Otho is seen to be intact; 16 are marked defective, 55 as lost, burnt, or defaced so as not to be distinguishable. Vitellius was the next greatest sufferer, 46 volumes being preserved, 28 defective, and 34 seriously damaged. Vespasian, with its fine collection of historical materials for the history of England and Scotland, its dramas in Old English verse, and the famous Coventry Mystery Plays and others happily escaped altogether.* Casley's figures differ slightly from those of the commissioners: out of a total of 958 volumes, he notes 748 as uninjured, 99 as defective, and 111 as lost, burnt, or defaced.
* Narrative of the Fire which happened at Ashburnham House, 23rd October 1731. Report of the committee appointed by the House of Commons.
On the 1st November the work of restoration began, and was carried out by Bentley, Casley, three clerks from the Record Office, a bookbinder, and others. The Speaker of the House of Commons was frequently present. Some of the MSS. inclined to mildew were dried before a fire. Some would have rotted if they had not been taken out of their bindings, so thoroughly had the water permeated. The paper books which had received stains were taken to pieces and plunged into the softest cold water that could be procured, and when the stains disappeared they were put into alum and water, and then hung upon lines to dry.
The best means of stretching vellum to its original dimensions, after it has been shrivelled and contracted, had not at that time been discovered, but the restorers did what they could. It was first softened in cold water, then those leaves, which had become glued together by the heat melting all kinds of extraneous matter, were separated by means of an ivory cutter, and the glutinous substances carefully removed with the fingers, the parchments smoothed with the palm of the hand, and their backs pressed with a clean flannel. Fragments were also carefully cleaned and preserved, and upon many of these with which the original restorers could do nothing, Sir Frederick Madden afterwards worked wonders. By his method, 100 volumes were repaired on vellum, and 97 on paper.
Among these mutilated fragments was the priceless fourth century manuscript of Genesis, Otho, B 6, which was thought to have been taken abroad as it could not be found after the fire. For a while it was given up as irrevocably lost, but Sir Frederick Madden discovered the much burnt remains and pieced them together. This Book of Genesis was at one time thought to be the oldest Greek MS. in England. It is now known that the four leaves of the gospel in Greek, Titus, C 15, are as old or even older. The Oxford librarian, Thomas James, wrote in the beginning of the volume that it was brought into this country by two Greek bishops as a present to Henry VIII. They told him that according to an old tradition it had belonged to Origen, and there was nothing in the text to make the supposition incredible. This, if true, would carry the manuscript back 1500 years at least, with a possibility of its being much more ancient. It had been the subject of a dispute in the time of the first Sir John Cotton, when it was supposed to have been lost. All at once it was discovered in the possession of Lady Stafford, who stoutly maintained that it had belonged to the late earl, her husband, who had lent it to Sir Thomas Cotton; and that while it was in his hands he caused it to be newly bound, and his coat of arms fixed upon it. She said, however, that Sir John might have it for 40 pounds, but that she would not take a farthing less, adding that he had already offered her 30 pounds in her own house, but that she had refused the sum. Mr. Gilbert Crouch, who was negotiating for Sir John, in explaining the matter to Dugdale, said that if Sir John Cotton had "so great a mind to the book, he were better give this other 10 pounds than run the charge and hazard of a suit."*
* Life, Diary, and Correspondence of Sir William Dugdale.
All that now remains of this uniquely beautiful MS., painted on every page, are eighteen melancholy scraps of no use but as a monument of the ingenuity with which they have been pieced together, mended, and preserved.
The Chronicle of Wendover, which was also believed to have perished, was found and repaired in the time of Sir Frederick Madden.
A fragment of another MS., marked as missing in Planta's catalogue, has found its way to the Bodleian library. It consists of ten folios of the Life of St. Basil, and a note by Hearne says that it came from a Cottonian MS.
Grand and imposing as the Cottonian library still is, it is painful to consider how incomparably finer it must have been during the life of its founder, before it suffered from the ravages of the fire, and from the carelessness or dishonesty of so many borrowers. Sir John Cotton avowed that many books lent to Selden were never returned; the Duke of Buckingham was also guilty in the same respect. A manuscript now in the Bodleian library (Barlow 49) was borrowed from the Cottonian by Dr. Prideaux, and never returned. It was afterwards exposed for sale at Worcester, and bought by Dr. Barlow, who presented it to the Bodleian. Parliamentary rolls often suffered a like fate, and instances of similar losses could be largely multiplied. The loss of the Utrecht Psalter is, however, perhaps the most grievous that the library has sustained from borrowers.
Some of the manuscripts, injured by the fire at Ashburnham House, were further mutilated by another fire which occurred on the premises of a bookbinder on the 10th July 1865.
In 1753 the government purchased the large Natural History and Art Collection of Sir Hans Sloane, together with a library of 50,000 volumes, which were deposited in Montague House, Bloomsbury, on the site of the present British Museum Buildings. Hither the Cottonian and Royal libraries were brought, forming, together with the Sloane manuscripts, the nucleus of the great national collections of which we are justly proud, and which, under their present efficient and courteous management, are rendered so useful to students.
The British Museum was formally opened to the public at Montague House in 1759. But it grew so rapidly that soon more space was needed, and in 1823 the eastern wing of the present building was erected to receive the library of George III. presented to the museum by George IV. The whole building was completed in 1847.
V. THE ROYAL LIBRARY
The Royal library is in many ways the most splendid of our national manuscript collections. Had it been fortunate enough, like the Harleian library, to number a Wanley among its custodians and biographers, the history of its formation would read like a fairy-tale. But, unhappily, we have to depend for our chief data on what Casley, the "dry as dust" pay excellence of librarians could tell us, and though his knowledge of the age of MSS. was admirable, he was remarkably uncommunicative regarding their pedigree, meagre in his descriptions, and apparently insensible to paleographic beauty. There is scarcely, in the whole British Museum, a less satisfactory book than his catalogue of the Royal library. Thus, the student is hampered by the want of a guide, and must hew paths for himself through the luxuriant growth and accumulations of many centuries. In point of mere size, the Royal library ranks third among the four great collections acquired by the British Museum at the time of its foundation—the Harleian numbering 7639 MSS.; the Sloane, 4001; the Royal, 1950; the Cottonian, 900.
Of the three others we have ample details; their hoards have been thoroughly ransacked, and there are scarcely any surprises for the student. We can, without much trouble lay our hands on any fact, beauty, or excellence to be found in them, for there are hardly any hidden gems. But with the Royal library it is different. Each student is his own pioneer, and must make voyages of discovery if he would know something of the riches which it contains.
Its history is scarcely more complete than its catalogue; although the nucleus of the collection must be almost coeval with the monarchy. Before the reign of James I., however, there were no records except the strangely anomalous ones contained in the Privy Purse Expenses, and in the Wardrobe and Household Accounts of the various English kings who have added to the library. It is curious to light, among the sums disbursed for such items as feather-beds and four-post bedsteads, on the price paid for a rare manuscript, or for the binding of a choice codex. Queen Elizabeth's "Keeper of the Books" was also "Court Distiller of Odoriferous Herbs," and received a better salary as perfumer than as librarian. But in times when books were more costly, the office of custodian was considered an honourable one, and a Close Roll of the year 1252 makes mention of the Custos librorum Regis.
Impossible though it be to fix the exact date or even reign when the English kings began to collect books, we shall not be wrong if we infer that the Royal library had already a very real existence in the reign of Henry II., when a great literary revival took place. Although the movement originated in the cloister, the court followed in its wake, and William of Malmesbury had his secular counterpart in Alfred of Beverley. A favourite of the king's, Walter de Map, who had been a student in Paris, and Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis) divided the honours between courtly and popular themes, while a number of poets and romanticists sprang up and wove fantastic myths and legends out of such material as the Crusades, the Arthurian traditions, and the feats of Charlemagne. King John, with scarcely a quality which men cared to praise, was, strangely enough, fond of books and of scholars. A taste for learning was gradually leavening the barbarous Normanic lump, spreading downwards from monarch to people. Two years before John's death Roger Bacon was born, whose opus Majus embraced every branch of science, and whose life is the whole intellectual life of the thirteenth century. Matthew Paris, the last of the great monastic historians, was the intimate friend of Henry III., who delighted in his scholarship, and loved to visit him in the scriptorium at St. Alban's where he himself contributed to the famous chronicle, which would alone have sufficed to make the reputation of the learned Benedictine. Thus, indirectly, we are led to the Royal library.
In 1250, a French book is mentioned in a State Paper as belonging to the king, but being actually in the keeping of the Knights Templars, who are commanded to hand it over to an officer of the Wardrobe, with the apparent object that the king's painters might copy from it when painting a room called the Antioch Chamber.
In the reign of Edward I. a part of the Royal library was kept in the Treasury of the Exchequer, and a few of the books are mentioned in the Wardrobe Accounts of the year 1302. These included Latin service books, treatises on devotional subjects, and romances. One book is described as "Textus, in a case of leather on which magnates are wont to be sworn."
All through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries there are occasional allusions to the king's books in the Wardrobe Accounts, and the Exchequer Inventory of Edward II. enumerates "a book bound in red leather, De regimine Regum; a small book on the rule of the Knights Templars, De regula Templariorum; a stitched book, De Vita sancti Patricii; and a stitched book in a tongue unknown to the English which begins thus: Edmygaw dorit doyrmyd dinas," and other books and rolls "very foreign to the English tongue," the scribe, not knowing Welsh even by sight, whereas, although he might not be able to read them, he would probably know the look of Greek or Hebrew manuscripts. The list closes with the Chronicle of Roderick de Ximenez, Archbishop of Toledo, "bound in green leather."*
* Stapleton's exchequer Inventory, Edward II.
A document, belonging to the year 1419, and printed by Sir Francis Palgrave, relates to the delivery into the King's Treasury of five volumes, consisting of a Bible, a copy of the Book of Chronicles, a treatise, De conceptione Beatae Mariae, a compendium of theology, and a volume entitled Libellus de emendatione vitae. But in the following year these manuscripts were given to the monastery at Sheen. In 1426 a book described as Egesippus, another as Liber de observantia Papa, were borrowed from the library in the Treasury by Cardinal Beaufort, and there are subsequent notices of the return and re-loan of the same volumes to the same borrower. It is interesting to note that a manuscript called Hegesippus De Bello Judaico, etc., still in the Royal library, is ascribed by Casley to the eleventh century, and may be identified with the former of these two books.
In the following years entries occur of works on Civil Law, and of some others being lent to the Master of King's College, Cambridge, and of their subsequent presentation to that house, with the assent of the Lords of the Council.
In the Wardrobe accounts of Edward IV. (Royal MS. 14, C 8), there are entries relating to "the coveryng and garnyshing of the bookes of oure saide Souverain Lorde the Kinge," which mark his possession in 1480 of certain choice MSS., and the same document shows that these were bound by Piers Bauduyn for the king. Among them were a Froissart, the binding, gilding, and dressing of which cost 20S., and a Biblia Historians (now marked 19 D 2 in the Royal library), bound and ornamented for the same sum. On a fly-leaf is an inscription recording its purchase for 100 marks by William de Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, after the battle of Poitiers. It had been taken as loot among the baggage of the French king. On his death in 1397, the Earl of Salisbury bequeathed it to his wife, who, in her will, ordered that it should be sold for forty livres.
When the king went from London to Eltham his books went with him, and some were put into "divers cofyns of fyrre," and others into his carriage. They were bound in "figured cramoisie velvet, with rich laces and tassels, with buttons of silk and gold, and with clasps bearing the king's arms." The only reference to books in the will of Edward IV. is in regard to such as appertained "to oure chapell," which he bequeathed to his queen, such only being excepted "as we shall hereafter dispose to goo to oure saide Collage of Wyndesore."*
* Add. MS., Transcript by Rymer, No. 4615.
Henry VII. stands between the Middle Ages and modern times, but his additions to the Royal library consisted chiefly of Renaissance literature. Notwithstanding his parsimony in most matters, his Privy Purse Expenses contain a remarkable series of entries of payments for books, for copying manuscripts, and for binding them. On one occasion the sum of 23 pounds was spent on a single book, and there is an item of 2 pounds paid to a clerk for copying The Amity of Flanders. He bought a great number of romances in French as well as the grand series of volumes printed on vellum by the famous Antoine Verard. Bacon describes Henry VII. as "a prince, sad, serious, and full of thoughts and secret observations, and full of notes and memorials of his own hand . . . rather studious than learned, reading most books that were of any worth, in the French tongue. Yet he understood the Latin."*
* Life and Rein of Henry VII, i., 637.
He had also a taste for finely illuminated books of devotion, and presented a beautiful Missal to his daughter Margaret, Queen of Scots, in which he inscribed his own name in enormous letters several times. This book is now in the possession of the Duke of Devonshire. In the Royal collection is another Missal which belonged to the same king, written in a late Gothic hand.
Henry VII. was careful to have his children well instructed, and his second son, being intended for the Church, received an education fitting him for an ecclesiastical career. In his youth Henry VIII. displayed considerable literary talent, posed as a patron of scholars, and smiled benignly on such geniuses as Erasmus, More, Linacre, and Grocyn; but in after years he was more keen to destroy other peoples' libraries than to build up his own. The accounts of his Privy Purse Expenses contain few entries of disbursements for books, and to take one short period as a specimen, we find that the whole sum spent on his library between 1530 and 1532, including not merely all moneys paid for binding, but also an indefinite amount "to the taylour and skynner for certeyn stuff, and workmanship for my lady Anne," was only 124 pounds, 16s. 3d. These figures become still more insignificant if we compare them with those representing the money spent during the same period for jewels alone, exclusive of plate, which amounted to the prodigious sum of 10,800 pounds.
But although Henry VIII. did not buy books extensively, he sometimes borrowed them, and several entries chronicle the lending of books to him by monastic and other libraries, when he was pestering Christendom for arguments in favour of his divorce from Katharine of Arragon.
Nevertheless, in spite of adverse circumstances, the Royal library had been steadily growing in the course of ages, and had by this time assumed notable proportions. Henry VIII. found himself the possessor of a collection of books at Windsor, comprising 109 volumes in bindings of velvet and leather, with silver and jewelled clasps; of another at Westminster, consisting of Latin primers, some richly ornamented, of a few Greek authors, Latin classics, and English chronicles, "bokes written in tholde Saxon tongue." He had another library at Beaulieu (now New Hall) in Essex, with about 60 volumes of Latin authors, besides works of the Fathers, dictionaries, and histories. At Beddington in Surrey he had many chronicles and romances, and "a greate boke of parchment written and lymned with gold of graver's work—De Confessione Amantis, which may be identified as the MS., now marked 18 C 22, in the Royal library. At Richmond was a small collection made by his father, consisting chiefly of missals and romances. At St. James's Palace were, among others, works described vaguely as "a boke of parchment containing divers patterns; a white boke written on parchment; one boke covered with green velvet contained in a wooden case; a little boke covered with crimson velvet," and so on, a curious method of cataloguing and utterly useless for the purpose of identification after so long an interval. Here and there a distinctive title occurs, such as the Foundation Book of Henry VIIth's Chapel.
All these different small collections together represented the Royal library in the early part of the sixteenth century. Henry VIII. had the greater number of the books removed to Greenwich, where there were already some printed volumes and a few manuscripts. That part which remained at Westminster was enriched with some of the spoils of the monasteries, placed there perhaps by Leland to save them from destruction.* Among these was a Latin Evangelia of the eleventh century (1 D 3), which belonged to the monks of Rochester, and which had been given to them by a certain Countess Goda, according to an inscription in the book itself. From Christ Church, Canterbury, came a fine copy of the gospels (1 A 1 8), presented to that monastery by King Athelstan, and from St. Alban's several choice historical and theological works from the pen of Matthew Paris.
* Edward's Memoirs of Libraries, i., 364 et seq.
It is a question whether the attention bestowed on the Royal library during the reign of Edward VI. was an advantage to it or the reverse. It is true that the energy of Sir John Cheke, and Roger Ascham, King's librarian, secured for it the manuscripts that had belonged to Martin Bucer; but on the other hand, the rabid intolerance of Edward's Council deprived it of many of its valuable contents. On the 25th January 1550, a so-called king's letter, sent from the Council Board, authorised certain commissioners to make a descent upon all public and private libraries, and to "cull out all superstitious books, as missals, legends, and such like, and to deliver the garniture of the books, being either gold or silver, to Sir Anthony Aucher.* The havoc thus wrought was irremediable, and not even the king's own library was spared the terrible perquisitions. But at the same time we cannot but marvel that still so many of the condemned books should have escaped the notice of the commissioners. In the same year the libraries at Oxford were also "purged of a great part of Fathers and Schoolmen," and great heaps of books set on fire in the market-place were watched with delight by the younger members of the university, who named the conflagration "Scotus's funeral."
* Council Book of Edward VI.
The short and troubled reign of Mary afforded no scope for literary activity, and Elizabeth was far too busy outwitting her enemies abroad, and controlling the factious tendencies of her friends at home, to be able to cultivate her taste for books. Nevertheless, although in the course of a hundred years the Royal library had suffered as much as it had gained, it was even then a goodly sight. Paul Hentzner, the German literary tourist, who visited it in 1598, says that it was "well stored with Greek, Latin, and French books, bound in velvet of different colours, although chiefly red, with clasps of gold and silver, the corners of some being otherwise adorned with gold and precious stones."* Perhaps the custodians vouchsafed him but a glance at these outer splendours, for he tells us nothing of the treasures within, of which all this magnificence was only the antechamber.
* P. Hentzner, Itnerarium Germaniae, Angliae, etc., p. 188.
But the golden age of the Royal library was in the reign of James I., and its greatest benefactor a youth who died at the age of eighteen. It were idle to speculate on what might have been the future of Henry, Prince of Wales, had he lived to fulfil the bright promise of his boyhood. To a singularly well-balanced mind, he appears to have joined an amiability of character that endeared him to all save the crotchety doctrinaire who sat upon the throne. He loved hunting and hawking and all healthy open-air pursuits no less than he loved books, and the society of men, who were the history-makers of his day. He would visit Sir Walter Raleigh in his prison in the Tower, and listen to his brilliant projects for the future greatness of England in the development of her colonies, and the annexation of still barbarous lands, the fabulous wealth of which was the life-long dream of the veteran explorer.
But Raleigh was not a mere dreamer, as his History of the World shows—a work which, written during his long years of captivity, became the text-book and standard authority for the next two hundred years. Whatever his faults, and he had perhaps grave ones, it was his misfortune to be in some ways in advance of the age in which he lived, in consequence of which his finer qualities were misunderstood by most of his contemporaries. Prince Henry was not, however, among their number; he lent a fascinated ear to Raleigh's grand, patriotic schemes, and had they both lived, the one to reign, the other to counsel and guide, England might not only have been spared the most disgraceful blot on her escutcheon, but have anticipated by more than two hundred years her subsequent achievements. It was without doubt Sir Walter Raleigh who inspired the young prince to take the Royal library under his protection, and his pupil threw himself heart and soul into the work, so that rightly or wrongly he has been considered its real founder.
On the death of John, Lord Lumley, Prince Henry secured his fine collection of MSS., by which means he more than made up for the loss which the Royal library had sustained by his father's incomprehensible warrant to Sir Thomas Bodley to choose any of the books in any of his houses or libraries.*
* Reliquiae Bodleiana, p. 205.
Lord Lumley had not only been a diligent collector himself, but had inherited a valuable library from his wife's father, Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, who had begun to collect at the most propitious moment for acquiring rare MSS., and had obtained a portion of Archbishop Cranmer's library. The prince's Privy Purse Expenses have unfortunately been destroyed, but one single entry of the year 16og, bearing reference to his books, has survived: "To Mr. Holcock, for writing a catalogue of the library which his Highness hade of my Lord Lumley, 68 pounds, 13s. 0d." This catalogue has unfortunately disappeared.
Edward Wright, the mathematician, and the learned Patrick Young were both candidates for the post of librarian, and Wright was appointed with a salary of 30 pounds a year.
Besides purchasing Lord Lumley's books, the young prince acquired the entire collection of the erudite Welshman, William Morice, and an unprecedented stir and activity began to animate the affairs of the Royal library. Scholars saw in the Prince of Wales their future stay and protector, and looked forward to his reign as to that of the first English king in modern times, who would not merely patronise, but also extend learning by his inherent love of, and zeal for, letters. But this fair prospect was doomed to fade, even as they were contemplating it, and the hope of England died in the very midst of all his literary labours. The books which he had collected were mainly incorporated into the Royal library, but many were dispersed after his death. Scattered up and down the country may still be seen volumes in private collections bearing the tell-tale conjoined names, "Tho. Cantuariensis—Arundel—Lumley."
James I., aptly styled by Henry IV. of France "the wisest fool in Christendom," dabbled in books as in most other things, but does not appear to have succeeded in doing much harm to his library beyond the suicidal carte blanche to Sir Thomas Bodley. He appointed Patrick Young to be custodian of the different sections of it distributed throughout the various royal palaces, and this really great scholar retained the post till the Revolution.
That part of the collection which was lodged at Richmond went by the name of Henry VIIth's library, and was shown to Johann Zingerling, a German scholar who came to England while Patrick Young was librarian. The only MS. which he singled out for mention was the Genealogia Regum Anglia, ab Adamo, a roll of the fifteenth century (t4 B 8). The Richmond collection was removed to Whitehall by Charles I., and the Genealogia appears in a catalogue made after the Restoration.
The reign of Charles I. is almost barren of events in the Royal library, save at the very, beginning, for the acquisition of one MS., which may, however, be regarded as the piece de resistance of the whole collection. This was the famous Codex Alexandrinus, one of the three oldest MSS. of the whole Bible in Greek. Before describing this venerable codex, it will be well to relate what little is known of its history. In 1624, Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople, formally presented it to James I., through his ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe. Writing to Lord Arundel, in December of that year, Roe says: "One book he (the Patriarch) hath given me to present his Majestie, but not yet delivered, being the Bible intire, written by the hand of Tecla, the protomartyr of the Greeks, that lived with St. Paul, which he doth aver it to be authentical, and the greatest relique of the Greek Church." In 1626, he wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury: "The Patriarch also, this New Year's tide, sent me the old Bible formerly presented to his late Majesty, which he now dedicates to the king, and will send it with an epistle. What estimation it may be of is above my skill, but he values it as the greatest antiquity of the Greek Church. The letter is very fair, a character I have never seen. It is entire, except the beginning of St. Matthew. He doth testify under his hand that it was written by the virgin Tecla, daughter of a famous Greek, called Stella Hatutina, who founded the monastery in Egypt, upon Pharaoh's Tower, a devout and learned maid, who was persecuted in Asia, and to whom Gregory Nazianzen hath written many epistles. At the end whereof, under the same hand, are the epistles of Clement. She died not long after the Council of Nice. The book is very great, and hath antiquity enough at sight; I doubt not his Majesty will esteem it for the hand by whom it is presented."*
* Negotiations of Sir Thomas Roe, London, 1740.
Sir Thomas Roe certainly did not overestimate the value of the manuscript, and it would be extremely interesting could we trace the evidence by which it came to be believed that it was written by the hand of St. Tecla. A note in Arabic at the foot of the first page of Genesis says that it was "made an inalienable gift to the patriarchal cell of Alexandria. Whoever shall remove it thence shall be accursed and cut off. Written by Athanasius the humble."
* "Probably," says Sir Edward Maunde Thomson, "Athanasius, the Melchite Patriarch, who was still living in 1308." Description of Ancient Manuscripts in the British Museum.
Before his translation to Constantinople, Cyril Lucar had been Patriarch of Alexandria, and possibly he himself risked the threatened curse and excommunication in taking the Bible away with him, though his deacon asserted that he had obtained it from Mount Athos.
But besides the above-mentioned note there is another also in Arabic, with a Latin translation at the back of the table of books. This note says: "Remember that this book was written by the hand of Tecla the martyr." The tradition is recalled by Cyril Lucar at the beginning of the manuscript. He states that the name of Tecla was originally to be found inscribed at the end of the volume, but that when Christianity practically became extinct in Egypt, the few remaining Christians and their books were doomed, and for this reason the name was erased, Tecla's memory and the legend being perpetuated notwithstanding.
Tregelles accounts for the tradition that St. Tecla was the writer of the MS. by the supposition that the Arabic note was ignorantly added by some scribe who had observed the name of Tecla written in the now mutilated margin of the first leaf of the New Testament, which contains the lesson appointed by the Greek Church for the feast of St. Tecla. Sir Edward Thompson points out, however, that this would infer that in the fourteenth century the Gospel of St. Matthew was in its present mutilated state, and that then as now, the New Testament formed a separate volume apart from the Old; and he shows that the Arabic numeration of the leaves, which is of about the same age as the inscription, is carried continuously through both Testaments, and by a calculation of the numbers which have not been cut away in trimming the edges, it appears that the twenty-five leaves which contained the greater portion of St. Matthew were lost at a later period, the last leaf of the Old Testament bearing the number 641, and the present first leaf of the New Testament 667.
Cobet and other experts fixed the date of the two codices, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Alexandrinus, as not earlier than the fifth or sixth century, the principal reason for assigning to them so late a date being the generally accepted theory that uncials were not in use until vellum had entirely superseded papyrus as the medium for precious manuscripts. But the latest authority in this department, Mr. F. G. Kenyon, has thrown light on the whole question of early Christian Greek MSS., by the discovery of a large uncial round hand on a papyrus dated Anno Domini 88.* Thus it is quite possible, palaeographically, that the Codex Vaticanus, which has been hitherto supposed to date from the fourth century, may be much older, and there is now no conclusive evidence to prove that the Alexandrinus was not written by St. Tecla, whatever the probabilities may be to the contrary.
* The Paleography of Greek Papyri, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1899.
The three above-named codices, the Vaticanus, the Sinaiticus, and the Alexandrinus have certain points in common, but the MS. in the Royal library is written in double columns, that of the Vatican in triple columns, and the Codex Sinaiticus, some leaves of which are in the public library at Leipzig, the main body of the work being in the imperial library at St. Petersburg, in quadruple columns.
Besides being numerically imperfect, the leaves of the Codex Alexandrinus have suffered from the clipping of the outer edges by the binder, and several of its priceless pages have been otherwise spoiled and mutilated.
The MS. is austere in its simplicity, being totally unadorned, save for the red ink used in the opening lines of each book, and occasionally in superscriptions and colophons. The letters are uncials (or capitals) without break, their form proving that the book was written in Egypt.
Patrick Young was librarian when this celebrated codex was added to the Royal library, and duly conscious of its value, he did his utmost to get a facsimile of it printed. But the king could not be induced to take up the matter. In 1644 Young prevailed on the assembly of divines to present a petition to the House of Commons, praying "that the said Bible may be printed, for the benefit of the Church, the advancement of God's glory, and the honour of the kingdom." A committee was found to confer with him on the subject, but nothing was done, owing to the troubled state of the country.
During the Revolution and under the commonwealth the Royal library was in extreme peril. Hugh Peters, successor to Young, although he belonged to the iconoclastic faction, practically saved the books, but was unable to protect the unique collection of medals and coins. After a few months the custodianship was transferred to Ireton, and ultimately a permanent librarian was appointed in the person of Bulstrode Whitelocke, first commissioner of the Great Seal. He accepted the office from patriotism and reverence for the antiquities which were in such imminent danger, but he wrote deprecatingly:
"I knew the greatness of the charge, . . . yet being informed of a design to have some of them (the books) sold, and transferred beyond sea (which 1 thought would be a disgrace and damage to our nation, and to all scholars therein), and fearing that in other hands they might be more subject to embezzling . . . I did accept the trouble of being library-keeper at St. James's, and therein was much persuaded by Mr. Selden, who swore that if I did not undertake the charge of them, all those rare monuments of antiquity, those choice books and MSS. would be lost, and there were not the like of them except only in the Vatican, in any other library in Christendom."
At the Restoration, Thomas Rosse was made royal librarian, but his offices were already so numerous that he was unable to bestow much attention on the books. Nevertheless, he revived the project of printing the Alexandrian MS., and urged the king to interest himself in bringing it about, saying that, although it would cost 200 pounds, it would "appear glorious in history after your Majesty's death." "Pish," replied Charles II., characteristically, "I care not what they say of me in history when I am dead," and there was an end of the matter till our own day.
The year 1678 is noteworthy in the annals of the Royal library as the period at which it acquired the series of valuable MSS. known as the Theyer collection. They had been bought from Theyer's executors by Robert Scott, a famous bookseller, who offered them to the king for 6841. He subsequently got them for 560 pounds. Next to the Alexandrian Codex this is the most important addition to the library in comparatively modern times. It consisted of 336 volumes, including l00 rare treatises, a whole series of Roger Bacon's works, and the celebrated autograph collection formerly belonging to Cranmer, and long mourned as lost. Many of these manuscripts could be traced back to the library of Llanthony Abbey, having passed into Theyer's possession by the marriage of one- of his ancestors with a sister of the last prior of Llanthony. Nearly the whole of the Theyer collection is described in the Catalogi Librorum Manuscriptorum of 1697, but without the least hint that it then formed part of the Royal library. The great Richard Bentley was at that time librarian, and was responsible for the amazing omission, having prohibited any mention of the Royal library in that work, his reason perhaps being the disgraceful condition into which the books had fallen. Bentley was by far the most distinguished of the royal librarians during any part of its history, and he would, no doubt, have accomplished wonders if he had not been so outrageous a pluralist, so busy a scholar, and so pugnacious a litigant. Not only was he Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, Regius Professor of Divinity, Rector of Haddington, Rector of Wilburn, and Archdeacon of Ely, but he was immersed in numberless lawsuits, and in classical studies which would alone have sufficed to fill the whole life of an ordinary man. What he, in spite of these multifarous occupations, attempted to do for the Royal library at least testifies to the grandeur of his conceptions and the boldness of his schemes. His failure to place the library within the reach of students was as much due to the stultifying effects of red-tapeism as to the disorganised condition of the library itself.
Bentley's first care on taking office was to enforce the Copyright Act, which, although passed in 1663, had been carelessly ignored. By this means about 1000 printed books were added to the collection, but no bindings were provided, or shelves on which to put them. In a famous controversy with Charles Boyle, who complained that difficulties were placed in the way of his access to one of the royal manuscripts, Bentley answered: "I will own that I have often said and lamented that the library was not fit to be seen," and proceeding to exulpate himself, he added: "If the room be too mean, and too little for the books; if it be much out of repair; if the situation be inconvenient; if the access to it be dishonourable, is the library- keeper to answer for it?"
A proposal was made, during Bentley's tenure of office, to erect a suitable building for the books, establishing it by Act of Parliament. But nothing was done, and in the course of nineteen years the collection was four times removed. In 1712 it migrated from the much abused quarters at St. James's to Cotton House, and from thence to Essex House in 1722. It was next lodged, together with the Cottonian library at Ashburnham House, and after the disastrous fire in 1731, from which the Cotton MSS. suffered so severely, it gained with them a temporary refuge in the old Westminster dormitory.
Bentley resigned his office of librarian in 1724, in favour of his son, another Richard Bentley; but Casley, who, as deputy custodian, had been for many years the only working librarian, continued to fill that post.
In 1757, George II. presented the Royal library to the nation, handing it over by Letters Patent to the custody of the trustees of the British Museum, and thus its hitherto chequered career was turned into prosperous channels. All that is henceforth left to desire is a descriptive catalogue worthy of its unique contents.*
* The Royal Library must not be confused with the King's Library belonging to George III., and presented to the British Museum by George IV. The King's Library included, however, a few important MSS. which had been retained by George II. when he made over the Royal collection to the nation.
The Greek MSS. in the British Museum are not very numerous, but are widely renowned. Of those in the Royal library the Codex Alexandrinus is by far the most interesting, not only as being the one Greek MS. of the whole Bible in the library, but also as surpassing all the other existing Greek fragments of the Scriptures in point of antiquity. The next earliest MS., containing the Books of Ruth, Kings, Esdras, Esther, and the Maccabees (1 D 2), is of the thirteenth century. The Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon (1 A 15), are of the fifteenth century. Nearest in antiquity to the Alexandrian Bible in the British Museum is the Cotton MS. (Titus, C 15), the Codex Clarmontanus, a purple-dyed fragment of the sixth century, written on vellum of so subtle and delicate a texture that even experts have sometimes mistaken it for Egyptian papyrus.
A few words will not be out of place here respecting the writing materials of the ancients, and their custom of staining leaves of vellum. Skins of animals were probably one of the most ancient mediums, as being the most durable. There exists in the British Museum a ritual, written on white leather, which dates from about the year 2000 B.C. But the custom of writing on leather is known to have been much older still. The commonest mode of keeping records in Assyria and Babylonia was on prepared bricks, tiles, or cylinders of clay, baked after the inscription had been impressed on them. But a wood-cut of an ancient sculpture from Konyungik* illustrates scribes in the act of writing down the number of heads and the amount of spoil taken in battle, on rolls of leather, which the Egyptians used as early as the eighteenth dynasty. At the close of the commercial intercourse between Assyria and Egypt, rolls of leather may have been the only material employed for writing on. Parchment, so prepared that both sides could be used, was doubtless the development of this custom, but was a much later invention. Together with the use of the rough skins, and of the more or less carefully prepared surfaces of the leather, papyrus became one of the most frequent vehicles for written words, and was used for some time after the beginning of the Christian era. Leaves of palm or mallow led up to the first forms of papyrus used—hence, perhaps, the word leaf of a book. Bark was next pressed into the service of literature and, it has often been suggested, possibly gave rise to the word book, although it seems more likely that book was of runic origin and derived from the beech-staves—Buch-staben, on which the runes were expressed.
* Nineveh and its Remains, by Sir Henry Layard, ii., 185.
Eventually vellum entirely took the place of papyrus, but papyrus was used not only in Egypt, but in imperial Rome before vellum became common, and even biblical manuscripts were written on rolls of this material. It was, however, too fragile and perishable to remain the receptacle of writing and illumination intended to last for all time, and therefore, by the middle of the tenth century A.D. it was altogether discarded. Only a few tattered fragments of the New Testament written on papyrus are still extant.
The oldest manuscripts belonging to the Christian era were written on the thinnest and whitest vellum. The parchment of later times is more coarsely grained, and less well finished, manuscripts a thousand and more years old showing no signs of decay or discoloration, unlike many which date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Scrivener, basing his authority on Tischendorf, observes that the Codex Sinaiticus is made of the finest skins of antelopes, the leaves being so large that a single animal could furnish but two of them. The Codex Vaticanus is greatly admired for the beauty of the vellum; and the whiteness of the Codex Alexandrinus can be seen by all who visit the British Museum, although the exquisite thinness, softness, and delicacy of the texture can only be appreciated by touching it. The beautiful fabric of the Codex Clarmontanus has already been mentioned.
But not only was the vellum finer and more durable in the earliest days of our era than at a comparatively recent date, but the ink was better, and the colours used in illuminating were far more beautiful. The ancients laid on the gold very thickly, and the ink which they prepared is still black, so that the text can be easily read, while the ink used in the Middle Ages is now generally of a greyish brown. Red ink is very ancient, and often seen in early Egyptian papyri. The instrument for writing on papyrus was the reed growing in the marshes formed by the Tigris and the Euphrates, and on the banks of the Nile. It was also used for writing on vellum, but quills, admirably adapted for this kind of material, came gradually into use with parchment. By degrees the roll form was abandoned for the codex or book form, as being more convenient, the leaves being stitched into gatherings or quires; but for a long time both forms were used together.
It is uncertain when the custom of staining the most precious MSS. purple came into vogue, but it did not obtain after the tenth century. St. Jerome and his contemporaries practised it, using letters stamped rather than written, in silver and gold. Writing in gold ceased to be common in the thirteenth century, and in silver when the fashion of staining the vellum died out. The value of a manuscript does not depend on its purple colour, but this is chiefly interesting as serving to show one phase of the reverence paid to the Scriptures. It may also help to fix the date of a MS.*
* Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, p. 23.
One of the most beautiful specimens of early paleographic art in the Royal library is the Latin MS. of the gospels, known as the Evangelia of King Canute (1 D 9). Westwood indeed considers that it will not bear comparison with the Gospels of Trinity College, Cambridge, though he admits that it exceeds them in interest owing to the Anglo-Saxon entries relating to Canute at the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel.* Wanley has described these entries as a certificate or testimonial of Canute's reception into the family or society of the Church of Christ at Canterbury. One leaf bears this inscription: "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is written Canute the King's name. He is our beloved Lord worldwards, and our spiritual brother Godwards; and Harold, this King's brother; Thorth, our brother; Kartoca, our brother; Thuri, our brother." On the next leaf is a charter by the same king, confirming the privileges of Christ Church, Canterbury. The book was probably the gift of Canute to the monks of that house. There are no miniatures, but an illuminated page with a grand border, heavily gilt, contains small figures of the evangelists in medallions. Written in ink at the bottom of the illuminated page is the name Lumley, showing that the MS. formed part of that collection acquired by Prince Henry.
* Facsimiles of the Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish MSS.
The Gospels of St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury (1 E 6), written in England in the eighth century, are probably the remains of the so-called Biblia Gregoriana. But if this codex was really among the books sent by Pope Gregory to St. Augustine, it must first have been sent to Rome from England, but internal evidence points to a much later date. It contains four very dark-purple or rather rose-coloured stained leaves, with inscriptions in letters of gold and silver an inch long, the silver being oxidised by age. It is one of the most precious examples of Anglo-Saxon caligraphy and illumination now existing. The half-uncial letters of English type are by different hands, and the miniatures are of different dates, that of the Lion of St. Mark being probably of the tenth century. It is also supposed that the missing verses at the beginning of the gospels were all written on purple-stained vellum, and that there may have been a miniature of the evangelist before each gospel. An inscription on the fly-leaf states that it belonged to the monastery of St. Augustine at Canterbury, and that it formed part of that library in the fourteenth century.
The fine manuscript, designated 2A 20, is a book of prayers and lessons on vellum, of the eighth century. It belonged to the Theyer collection, and several notes are inserted in the handwriting of John Theyer. It is very much stained and spoiled, the binder, as was so often the piteous case, having barbarously cut off some of the edges, and with them a portion of the marginal writing, to the great detriment of the book.
2 A 22 is a magnificent Latin Psalter of the twelfth century, the best period of penmanship. Sir Edward Thompson draws attention to the fact that this volume originated at Westminster, as may be inferred by the prominence given in the calendars and prayers to St. Peter and St. Edward, even without its identification with an entry in the Abbey Inventory.* A further proof of this is furnished by the miniatures of the two saints, one of which begins the series; the other leads up to the beautiful Salvator Mundi. Between are St. George and St. Christopher. Instead of being dispersed throughout the book, the illustrations are all at the beginning and end, indicating by the colourless faces, and by what for want of a better word may be styled their Gothic outlines, that they are of English origin. Some of the capital letters are very interesting. One of these quaintly represents the Saviour of the world enthroned in glory, on a gold background. His hand is raised in blessing, while a Benedictine monk, floating on the wings of prayer, clasps a scroll, one end of which disappears under the rainbow-hued throne. On the scroll are the words Domine, exandi orationem mean. At the end of the Psalter are Litanies and other prayers.
* English Illuminated MSS., pp. 34, 35.
The broad manner in which these illuminations are treated, with foliage boldly designed, and animals of various kinds disporting themselves among the branches, is indicative of the period. There is a striking contrast between this large, bold treatment and the minute style of the next century, although the period of transition occupied but a few years. The change began with the development of the initial letter, which was the starting-point of the border and of the miniature.
The Royal MS. 1 D 1, a Latin Bible of the middle of the thirteenth century, forms an excellent example of this development. It is written on fine vellum, and in a perfect style of calligraphy. The paintings are few if we except those connected with the initial letter, which serves admirably to illustrate the growth of the border from its pendants, cusps, and graceful finials, showing how the initial and miniature came to be combined. Writing about this same MS. Sir Edward Thompson says: "In the large initial we see the combination of the miniature with the initial and partial border, a combination which is typical of book decoration of the thirteenth century. In MSS. of earlier periods the miniature was a painting which usually occupied a page, independently of the text . . . or if inserted in the text it was not connected with the decoration of the page. It was, in fact, an illustration and nothing more. But now, while the miniature is still employed in this manner, independently of the text, the miniature initial also comes into common use, the miniature therein., however, continuing to hold for some time a subordinate place, as a decoration rather than as an illustrative feature. In course of time, with the growth of the border, the two-fold function of the miniature, as a means of illustration and also of decoration, is satisfied by allowing it to occupy part or even the whole of a page as an independent picture, but at the same time, set in the border, which has developed from the pendent of the initial. This development of the border it is extremely interesting to follow, and so regular is its growth, and so remarkable are the national characteristics which it assumes, that the period and place of origin of an illuminated MS. may often be accurately determined from the details of its border alone." *
* English Illuminated MSS., p. 37.
The distinguished writer goes on to show that in tracing this development one sees how the initials first terminate in simple buds or cusps, and how, in the next stage, characteristic of the thirteenth century, they put out little branches, the buds growing into leaves and flowers, and how thus gradually the border comes to surround the whole page.
The Royal MS. 2 B 3, commonly known as Queen Mary's Psalter, is a good specimen of fourteenth century art. This is a large octavo volume of 320 leaves of vellum, almost everyone being magnificently illuminated on both sides, with daintily executed drawings, lightly sketched, and slightly tinted in green, brown, and violet. One richly-decorated page represents the Last Judgement. At the top, a miniature within the border shows forth the judge of all mankind. Angels with green-tipped wings hover on either side. Before the Saviour as judge kneel the Blessed Virgin and St. John, and on the other side is a group of monks. The background is of pure gold. Underneath, enclosed in a blue and white border, the dead rise to judgment. Angels blow long trumpets and the graves open. Below this again is a lovely initial, with more figures on a gold background. The letter begins the words of the Litany Kyrie eleison. A drawing at the bottom of the page represents Saul receiving the letter to Damascus for the persecution of the Christians. This page, as elaborate and glowing with colour as it is rich in design and fine in execution, is, however, not more striking than many others in the same manuscript, which may, without too much praise, be described as a gem of palaeographic art. A note on the last leaf explains that the MS. was on the point of being carried beyond seas, when a customs officer, one Baldwin Smith, in the port of London seized and presented it to the Queen, in October 1553, the first year of her reign.
The writer does not record whether the hapless owner was indemnified for his loss. It was probably Queen Mary herself who caused the book to be bound as we now see it, in the worn crimson velvet binding, with the remains of large pomegranates embroidered at each corner, pomegranates being her own badge.
The MS. 2 B 7 is an extremely beautiful piece of workmanship of the fourteenth century. Its delicate outline drawings, mostly in mauve and green, are reminiscent of the Guthlac roll. They represent mainly an illustrated Martyrology of Saints, popular in England. 1 A 18 is the copy of the Latin Gospels presented to Christ Church, Canterbury, by King Athelstan, with the name Lumley on the first page of the Eusebian canons, and Umfridus me fecit on a fly-leaf.
The beautiful French version of the Apocalypse, written in England about 1330 (19 B R5), contains drawings of great refinement, though scarcely to be compared with those which adorn Queen Mary's Psalter.
The very large Bible of the end of the fourteenth century measuring twenty-four by Leventeen inches, is splendidly illuminated and profusely adorned with miniatures.
But choice and variety are infinite, and to the devout lover of these things, the Royal library resembles a goldmine with nuggets of immense value lying in profusion wherever his adventurous footsteps lead him. If his object be delight he will find that every step leads him there.
VI. THE HARLEIAN COLLECTION OF MANUSCRIPTS
When Robert Harley laid the foundation of his magnificent library in t 7o5, so many collectors were already in the field that the prospect of getting together any large number of choice manuscripts did not seem promising. But contrary to expectation, this very fact proved fortunate, for whereas Cotton had built up his library, book by book, laboriously, Harley had the advantage of forming his, to a great extent, by the purchase of other well-known collections, either at the death of their original owners, or after the manuscripts had passed through successive hands. Of these larger acquisitions may be mentioned the library which had belonged to the famous antiquary, Sir Symonds D'Ewes, Cotton's friend; the greater number of the Graevius MSS.; the 23 bulky volumes of the Baker collection; many of the papers originally belonging to Nicholas Charles, Lancaster Herald, which, at his death, Camden had purchased for 690 pounds, and the collection of Stow, the historian of London.