OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Years 1399-1485 page 4

Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5 6 7 8 9 10

To make the matter worse, there arose a terrible dispute betwixt the secular clergy and the begging friars, in which they said many plain truths of each other, which were remembered to their common detriment. The begging friars claimed Christ as belonging to their class while on earth, which the seculars rejected as a horrible and blasphemous doctrine. The Pope was obliged to publish a bull denouncing the doctrine of the friars.

Of the amount of instruction by preaching given to the people, a convocation, held at York in 1466, gives us a striking idea. By its first canon, every parish priest is commanded to preach four times in the year! either personally or by another. The convocation omitted the second commandment of the Decalogue, and made the number up by dividing the tenth into two. The learning of the higher clergy is curiously shown in a little bit of attempted reform of Sunday trading, which was directed against the barbers, who are said, by Archbishop Chicheley, to keep open their shops on the Lord's-day, "namely," he says, "the seventh day of the week, which the Lord blessed and made holy, and on which he rested after his six days' work" - a singular confirmation of the Jewish Sabbath. In a word, it would be difficult to say whether ignorance or vice was more prevalent at this period; it was the dark hour before the dawn.

In the church of Scotland during this century, the chief events were the breaking out of the persecution against the Lollards and the erection of St. Andrew's into an archbishopric. John Resby, an English priest, who had fled from persecution at home, was arrested and burnt at Perth, in 1408. In 1433 was also burnt, at St. Andrew's, Paul Crawar, a Bohemian physician, who had been sent by the Reformers from Prague to communicate with the Wycliffites here. Pilgrimages were in high estimation in Scotland as well as in England, and Whithern, in Galloway, was a place of immense resort, to the shrine of St. Ninian.

The archbishopric of St. Andrew's was erected by Pope Sixtus IV., in 1471, but the act having been done without the consent of the crown and Parliament, brought down destruction upon its first occupant, Patrick Grahame, who was deposed, and, after being confined in several successive dungeons, perished in that of the castle of Lochleven.


During this century, two events of the highest importance to art and learning took place - the introduction of the knowledge of Greek, and the invention of printing.

If the knowledge of Greek had not entirely died out in western Europe, it had nearly so till this century. The crusades, leading the Christians of western Europe to the east, had opened up an acquaintance betwixt the people of the Greek empire and those of the west. The destruction of that empire in this century drove a number of learned men into Italy, where they taught their language and literature Amongst these were Theodore Gaza, Cardinal Bessarion, George of Trebizond, Demetrius Chalcondyles, John Argyropulus, and Janus Lascaris. Before that time some knowledge of the Greek philosophy had reached us through the Arabians, but till the fourteenth century very little of the literature of Greece was known in the western nations, not even the "Iliad" and "Odyssey" of Homer. In Italy Petrarch and Boccaccio learned the language and studied the writings of Greece, and an enthusiasm for Greek literature spread over all Europe. Grocyne studied it in Italy in 1488, under Chalcondyles, and came and taught it in England. But there were no more munificent promoters of this new knowledge than Pope Nicholas V. and Cosmo de' Medici. Gibbon says, "To the munificence of Nicholas, the Latin world was indebted for the versions of Xenophon, Diodorus, Poly-bius, Thucydides, Herodotus, and Appian, of Strabo's 'Geography,' of the 'Iliad,' of the most valuable works of Plato and Aristotle, of Ptolemy and Theophrastus, and of the fathers of the Greek church. The example of the Roman pontiff was preceded or imitated by a Florentine merchant, who governed the republic without arms and without a title. Cosmo of Medicis was the father of a line of princes whose name and age are almost synonymous with the restoration of learning. He corresponded at once with Cairo and London, and a cargo of Indian spices and Greek books was often imported in the same vessel. He encouraged the emulation of Demetrius Chalcondyles and Angelo Politian, and his active missionary, Janus Lascaris, returned from the East with a treasure of 200 manuscripts, fourscore of which were, as yet, unknown to the libraries of Europe."

At the same moment that Greek began to be studied, Latin in Europe was in the lowest and most degraded state. Though it still continued the language of divines, lawyers, philosophers, historians, and even poets, it had lost almost every trace of its original idiom and elegance. Latin words were used, but in the English order, and where words Were wanting, they Anglicised them. William of Worcester, speaking of the arrival of the Duke of York from Ireland, says - "Et arrivavit apud Redbanke prope Cestriam;" that is, And arrived at Redbanke, near Chester. But the style of most writers at this peried was equally barbarous; that of Thomas of Walsingham and a few others was better, but far from classical.

So low, indeed, was learning and the respect for it fallen in this age of continual distractions, fighting and revolutions, that Anthony a Wood says that there were frequent complaints from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge to Parliament, that all the most valuable livings were bestowed on illiterate men, or on foreigners, by the Pope. The son of a mad knight was made Archdeacon of Oxford before he was eighteen years of age; and soon after obtained two rich rectories and twelve prebends. The Chancellor of Oxford asked him one day what he thought of learning. "As for learning," said he, "I despise it. I have better livings than any of you great doctors, and I believe as much as any of you!" "What do you believe?" "I believe that there are three Gods in one person: I believe all that God believes!" "The best scholars in the kingdom were," adds Wood, "often driven to the necessity of begging their bread from door to door, with recommendations of the Chancellor of their university to public charity."

He says that "two of these learned mendicants came to the castle of a certain nobleman, who, understanding from their credentials that they had a taste for poetry, commanded his servants to take them to a well; to put one into the one bucket, and the other into the other bucket, and let them down alternately into the water, and to continue that exercise till each of them had made a couplet on his bucket. After they had endured this discipline for a considerable time, to the great entertainment of the baron and his company, they made their verses and obtained their liberty."

If such were the rewards of learning in the fifteenth century amongst the aristocracy, and in the persons of its most distinguished professors, we may conceive what must have been the dense darkness of the illiterate mass. Till the reign of Henry IV. no villein, farmer, or manufacturer was allowed to put his children to school, nor long afterwards dared they educate a son for the church without a licence from their lord. At no period had the condition of England been more benighted.

But that wonderful art which was destined to chase this darkness like a new sun, was already on its way from Germany to this country. The Chinese had printed from engraved wooden blocks for many centuries, when the same idea suggested itself to a citizen of Haerlem, named Laurent Janszoon Coster. Coster, who was keeper of the cathedral, first cut his letters in wood, then made separate wooden letters, and employed them in printing books by tying them together with strings. From wood he proceeded to cut his letters in metal, and finally to cast them in the present fashion. Coster concealed his secret with great care, and was anxious to transmit it to his children; but in this he was disappointed, for at his death one of his assistants, John Gensfleisch, the Gutenberger, and thence afterwards called Gutenberg, Gensfleisch, or Gansefleisch, Goose-flesh - not being a particularly lovable name - went off to Mayence, carrying with him movable types of Coster's casting.

That is the Dutch story, but the Germans insist on Gutenberg being the originator of printing. They contend that Coster's were only the wooden blocks which had long been in use for the printing of playing-cards, and manuals of devotion. They even insinuate that all that the Dutch claim, had probably been brought from China by Marco Polo in the thirteenth century, who had seen the paper-money thus printed there in letters of vermilion, and that Holland had no share in the invention at all. But we know that the Germans have a vast capacity for claiming; they are on the point of claiming Shakespeare, and they claim England as really German, calling it Die Deutsche Insel. It is notorious that all the earliest block-printing, the Bibliae Pauperum, the Bibles of the Poor, the Speculum Humanse Salvationis with its fifty pictures, and other block-works, were all done in the Low Countries in the century we are reviewing.

Enough, then, for the Germans, that Gutenberg, Fust, and Schoeffer, were the men, let them come at their t oes as they might, who first printed any known works in movable types, and from Mayence, in 1445, diffused very soon the knowledge of the present art of printing over the whole world. The first work which they are supposed to have printed was the Bible, an edition of the Latin Vulgate, known by the name of the Mazarin Bible, of which various copies remain, though without date or printer's name.

Printing was introduced into England in 1472, according to all the chief authorities of or near that time, by William Caxton, though there have not been wanting attempts since to attribute this to one Corsellis. The story of Corsellis, however, is by no means well authenticated: it wants both proof and probability. Caxton was a native of the Weald of Kent. He served his apprenticeship to a mercer of London, became a member of the Mercer's Company, and was so much esteemed for his business talents, that in 1464 he was sent with others by Edward IV. into the Low Countries, to negotiate a commercial treaty with the Duke of Burgundy. There he was greatly regarded by Margaret, the Duchess of Burgundy, Edward IV.'s sister, who retained him as long as she could at her court. Caxton was now upwards of fifty years of age, but his inquisitive and active temperament led him to learn, amongst other things, the whole art of printing. He saw its immense importance, and he translated Raoul le Feure's "Recueil des Histoires de Troyes," and printed it in folio. This great work he says himself that he began in Bruges, and finished in Cologne in 1471. The first work which he printed in England was "The Game and Playe of Chesse," which was published in 1474. From this time till 1490, or till nearly the date of his death in 1491 or 1492, a period of sixteen years, the list of the works which Caxton passed through his press is quite wonderful. Thomas Milling, the Abbot of Westminster, was his most zealous patron; and at Westminster, in the Almonry, he commenced his business. The Earl Rivers, brother to the queen of Edward IV., was another of his friends and patrons, translating the "Diets and Sayings of the Philosophers" for his nephew, the Prince of Wales, and introducing Caxton, when it was printed, to present it to the king and royal family.

We should, however, afford no idea of the amount of service rendered by Caxton in his own lifetime if we did not give a catalogue of the works he printed. They are: - The Recule of the Histories of Troye; the Game of Chess; the Pilgrimage of the Soul; Liber Festivalis, or Directions for keeping Feasts all the Year; Quatuor Sermones, or Four Sermons, in English; the Golden Legend, three editions; the Art and Craft to know well to Die, from the French; Infanta Salvatoris, the Childhood of our Saviour; the Life of St. Catherine of Siena; Speculum Vitae Christi, or Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ; Directorium Sacerdotum, a Directory of Church Services; a Book of Divers Ghostly Matters; the Life of St. Winifred; the Provincial Constitutions of Bishop Lyndwood of St. Asaph, in Latin; the Profitable Book of Man's Love, called the Chastening of God's Children; the Book of the Life of Jason; Godfrey of Bologn; the Knight of the Tower, from the French; the Book of the Order of Chivalry or Knighthood, from the French; the Book Royal, or the Book for a King; a Book of the Noble Histories of King Arthur and certain of his knights; the History of the Noble, Eight Valiant, and Eight Worthy Knight, Paris, and of the fair Vienne; the Book of Feats of Arms and of Chivalry, from the French of Christine of Pisa; the History of King Blanchardine and Queen Eglantine, his Wife; Renard the Fox, from the German, translated also by Caxton; the Subtle Histories and Fables of AEsop; the works of Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate, &c. That is a noble monument of labour in the very outset of printing in this country, and at the latter end only of a busy life. But while Caxton was thus busy he saw others around him also as hard at work with their presses: Theodor Eood, John Lettow, William Machelina, and Wynkyn de Worde, foreigners, and Thomas Hunt, an Englishman. A schoolmaster of St. Albans set up a press there, and several books were printed at Oxford in 1478, and to the end of the century. There is no direct evidence of any work being printed in Scotland during this century, though such may have been the case, and all traces of the fact obliterated in the almost universal destruction of the cathedral and conventual libraries at the Eeformation. James III. was known to collect the most superb specimens of typography, and Dr. Henry mentions seeing a magnificent edition of " Speculum Moralitatis" which had been in that king's possession and contained his autograph.

Not less meritorious benefactors of their country, next to the writers and printers of books, are those who collected them into libraries, and the most munificent patron and encourager of learning in this manner was the unfortunate Duke Humphrey of Gloucester. He gave to the University of Oxford a library of 600 volumes in 1440, valued at 1,000. Some of these very volumes yet remain in different collections. Duke Humphrey not only bought books, but he employed men of science and learning to translate and transcribe. He kept celebrated writers from France and Italy, as well as Englishmen, to translate from the Greek and other languages; and is said to have written himself on astronomy, a scheme of astronomical calculations under his name still remaining in the library of Gresham College. The great Duke of Bedford, likewise, when master of Paris, purchased and sent to this country the royal library, containing 853 volumes, valued at 2,223 livres.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5 6 7 8 9 10

Pictures for Years 1399-1485 page 4

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About