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LEARNING OF THE CLOISTER.
The Abbey of Bee—Horlouin—Lanfranc—Anselm—Convent Schools —Rise of Cambridge—Course of Study in the Twelfth Century— Transcription of Books—Zeal of the Clergy for the diffusion of Learning—The Monkish Chronicles—Early Science—The Monk of Aquitaine's Story.
IT is refreshing, after contemplating those fierce and desolating wars, which, for the last eighteen years, were the scourge of England, to direct our attention to the progress of science and literature; and turning aside from the beleaguered castle, and the stern strife of the battle-field, to enter the convent school in the silent and peaceful cloister ; where, just awakened to the charms of knowledge, the aspiring student pursued his pleasant task with a persevering energy, to which, excepting in that age which witnessed the revival of classical learning, modern times afford no parallel. And very interesting is it, to find that, amid all that is generally considered most hostile to the advancement of letters, schools and learning increased with unequalled rapidity during the whole of Stephen's disastrous reign.*
* " The encouragement given to literature in England, from the happy taste of Henry, his queens, his court and clergy, so diffusely spread
The original impulse to this improvement, however, originated neither with Saxon nor Norman; but a native of the district beyond the Alps, led by distaste of the applause of his own more educated countrymen to quit his native city, traversed France, and at length settled in Normandy, unconscious, that while he only sought the peaceful retirement of an obscure cloister, Heaven was directing his steps to that abbey, which, under his auspices, should prove the nursing mother alike of the Norman and the Saxon mind.
Although, by the constitutions of the Benedictine rule, ample provision was made in each convent for the education of youth, yet, during the ninth and the tenth centuries, these constitutions became almost a dead letter. In Normandy the warlike character of its dukes, and the infant and unsettled state of the community, alike forbade the progress of letters; while, in England, a feeble and inefficient government, a luxurious and sport-loving nobility, and an indolent and ignorant clergy, by their united influence seemed to threaten the land with a return to its primitive barbarism. Still, although the most important use of monasteries, the preservation and advancement of learning, was all but forgotten, each generation saw new additions to their number rising on every side, where many sincere, but most igno- the desire to attain it, that even the stormy reign of Stephen seems to have been no impediment to its cultivation. Perhaps the military exactions and movements confined the clergy to their homes and monasteries, and made them more studious ; but it is certain that this wasteful period of civil war, was the interval in which the Anglo-Norman mind was extensively educating itself."—(Turner.)
rant men, retired from a world for whose cares and duties they were probably well-fitted, into a solitude, which, from the total absence of all intellectual cultivation, must have been a solitude indeed. Among many of the well-meaning but mistaken men who then fled from the world, was Herlouin, a noble of the territory of Brionne, who was so determined to fulfil his intention, that, to obtain dismissal from service to his liege lord, he actually counterfeited insanity. At length, after long-continued opposition, he obtained his wish, and retiring to the valley of Bee in Normandy, surrounded by a company of equal enthusiasts, built a lowly church and convent; while, as from their poverty they could obtain no spiritual father who would be willing to quit his pleasant cloister to take the superintendence of this newly gathered flock, Herlouin himself, although unable to read, was compelled to become the abbot. But, although the ruling desire of his heart was thus accomplished, sorrow and disappointment pursued the enthusiastic founder, even to his beautiful valley ;—twice was the new convent burnt to the ground, and in the latter conflagration his aged mother lost her life.* Each time of rebuilding, the site was changed; and each time, through the gifts of the faithful, did the abbey rise improved; and Herlouin, and his humble band, sat down in quiet to enjoy their long deferred repose.
* The sincere piety of this ignorant but worthy man, was eminently shewn in his conduct on this occasion. Being reminded that his mother was engaged in works of charity when she met her death, he knelt down, and lifting up his eyes streaming with tears, returned solemn thanks to Heaven that had judged her worthy to be taken from the world, while engaged in the peculiar work of a Christian.
In the mean time a young native of Pavia, who, having lost his parents in early life, had traversed the Italian cities in search of knowledge, and again returned to his native city with a mind so nobly endowed by nature, and so richly freighted with learning, that his lectures, and pleadings, and decisions, awakened the admiration of all, from some secret disgust, or strong devotional feeling, quitted the land of his birth and the city of his fame, and crossing the Alps never stopped on his journey, until he reached the town of Avranches in Normandy. This young man was the celebrated Lanfranc—his fame soon followed him even to this distant region; and, in the year 1036, the same year in which he quitted his country, he saw himself surrounded by a numerous band of scholars, all eager to imbibe the lessons of wisdom from the lips of the learned Pavian. But a cloister was at this period the general asylum of learning as well as piety; and influenced probably by his desire for complete seclusion, Lanfranc bent his footsteps, not to any of the more ancient and wealthy convents of Normandy, but to the lowly abbey of Bec. It is pleasing to learn that the^unlettered superior, and his illustrious inmate, dwelt together in perfect unity, and that the admiring abbot actually set about attempting to learn to read ;—but, although a Lanfranc was the tutor, the task was too great for the aged Herlouin, and he eventually gave it up.
Vain had been the attempts of the illustrious scholar to stifle the fame of his talents by flight from his native city, and equally vain was this his second attempt. His retreat was soon discovered; unnumbered scholars besieged the gates of the obscure and almost unknown convent; and the abbey of Bee, with its unlettered abbot, became the rallying point of all the scholarship of Normandy. On the death of Herlouin, Lanfranc assumed, by unanimous call, the crosier; and, during the years in which he wielded it, no private school ever sent forth so many celebrated scholars. Among these the monks proudly boasted Ives of Chartres, the restorer of the jus canonicum in France; Anselm, both in the abbey and in the primacy of England, his successor; and pope Alexander the third.
But seclusion, after which the anxious spirit of Lanfranc ever thirsted, was never to be his lot; and when William placed himself on the throne of England, he sent an urgent request to the abbot of Bee to resign the crosier of that beloved abbey, that he might assume the patriarchal cross of the see of Canterbury. To this request Lanfranc is reported to have returned an unhesitating denial;—by some writers it is stated that, appalled at the absolute barbarism of the people, he refused, feeling the utter impossibility of effecting any good among them. By others (and from what we know of the conscientious, though often mistaken opinions, of Lanfranc, it seems the more probable), he assigned as a reason the unwillingness he felt to take office under a sovereign whose conduct had been marked by so much cruelty toward his English subjects. Whatever were the motives and whatever were the excuse, they were at length overruled; and in the year 1070