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was a favourite study of the cloister. Prior Walcher's rhyming epitaph, among other eulogies, expressly records that he was "bonus astrologus ;" and the remark of the chronicler, that the priest, whose testimony he quotes to avouch some marvellous fact, was "learned in the stars," seems to be considered sufficient to render his testimony equivalent to that of a whole jury of unlearned men. The exact sciences were however also cultivated; and in geometry, and the higher branches of mathematics, many denizens of the cloister attained celebrity.
It was very questionable whether at this early period the witching dreams of alchemy (that unquestionable parent of modern chemistry) were believed by the learned of the day, or even by their Jewish instructors. From a curious story, related by Malmsbury, it would seem that this "art of arts," as it was fondly termed by its deluded votaries, was unknown. The story shall be given; for the illustration it affords of the belief of the times, especially in those two singular articles of the popular creed, that of the transformations of faerie being not real but illusory, and that of the power of water in dissolving magical spells.
Malmsbury has just completed his wonderful account of that wonderful man Gerbert, afterwards Pope Sylvester,—he, who in return for so many singular and important discoveries, was handed down to posterity, by an age that refused to profit by them, as the child and bond servant of Sathanas. After telling us that Gerbert made a brazen head that answered all questions, that he learned the meaning of the flight and language of birds, how to raise spectres from hell, and how he constructed a golden bridge with golden horses and riders, he proceeds : "probably some may regard all this as a fiction, because the vulgar are accustomed to undermine the fame of scholars, saying that the man who excels in any admirable art holds converse with the devil; I shall therefore relate what I heard, being a boy, from a certain monk of our house, a native of Aquitaine, a man of years, and a physician."
This man, when a child of only seven years old, ran away from his father; "and surmounting the snowy Alps, went to Italy." One day, playing about with his companions, he discovered a perforated mountain, in which it was said "that the treasures of Octavian were buried." Into this mountain, therefore, he and his companions were determined to go; and with more forethought than children generally possess, they provided themselves with a ball of thread, one end of which they fastened to a small post at the entrance, and lighting their lanthorns, set forth on the expedition. For a long time they journeyed on, and beheld, by the faint light of their lanthorns, that the place was strewed with dead bodies. At length, a broad river stopped their progress; but looking narrowly, they perceived that it was spanned by a bridge of brass. The sun, which now they saw shining brightly, shewed them, beyond the bridge, both golden horses and golden riders, and they determined to pass over; but this was no easy task; for no sooner had one of their number put his foot on the bridge, than it immediately sunk down at that end, while the farther was raised, "bringing forward a rustic of brass, armed with a club of the same metal, which, dashing the waters, so clouded the air that he obscured the day." The moment the foot was withdrawn, the bridge subsided; but, as every time the attempt was made the same results followed, the boys at length despairing of success determined to return; and guided by the ball of thread, retraced their foot-steps in safety.
The next day, they went to a professor " said to know the unutterable name of God," and told him where they had been, and prayed his assistance. This man, after he had fasted and confessed (for his art was holy), led them to a fountain. "Taking some water from it in a silver vessel, he silently traced the unpronounceable name with his fingers, until we understood with our eyes what was unutterable with the tongue." They then all went to the mountain, but found the entrance beset, "as he believed, with devils, hating the name of God, who was able to destroy their inventions;" and a second time they disappointedly returned. On the morrow, a Jew came, inquiring into this curious story; and when he heard of their want of success, "Ye shall see how my art can prevail," he replied with loud laughter. Immediately he proceeded toward the mountain, and entered it; soon after, he came out, "bringing as a proof that he had crossed the bridge many things which I had observed on the other side, especially some of that most precious dust which turned every thing it touched into gold; not that it was really so, but only retained this appearance until it was touched with water; for nothing effected by necromancy can, when put into water, deceive the beholders"* Here the story abruptly ends; the boys most probably being unwilling to trust themselves in a place which, although it remained firmly closed against Christian prayer and incantation, had opened spontaneously to the Jew.
This wild story incidentally affords strong corrobo ration of the opinion that the Jews in experimental science far surpassed the most learned of the Christians, and that they were in possession of many a curious and important secret; by means of which, through exciting the fears of the ignorant, they obtained that ascendancy, which might vainly have been demanded on the better founded claim of superior knowledge.
In tracing the subsequent progress of science and learning, although many a proud name will pass in array before us, still must we turn to render our tribute of grateful homage to the memories of Lanfranc and Anselm; nor, while we contemplate the palace halls of Oxford and Cambridge, forget the humble school in the lowly abbey of Bec. It is to the first devoted followers, the earliest fosterers, the timely preservers of literature, that, before all others and beyond all others, our grateful remembrance is due. Inferior in genius, or in learning, as those truly great men may have been, compared with the giant spirits of a
* Vide Malmsbury, Rev. J. Sharp's translation, page 205.
later age, still, to their fostering care in the formation of libraries and the foundation of schools, those giant spirits owed alike their strength and their greatness. If, in after ages, science no longer needed such retreats, and literature quitted its cloistered shades to walk abroad at will amid the bustle and turmoil of the world, let us not forget their benefits in an age when the convent formed the only calm and secure retreat from the desolations of civil war; and when the convent library afforded the only safe asylum for those precious remains of ancient learning, which, but for its guardian care, had been lost for ever. Because monastic institutions have been found unsuited to modern days, let us not deny them the claim of usefulness in their own. "They nourished," says a competent judge,* "the improving energies of society, till they were themselves outstripped by that progress, which, though they had contributed to awaken, they could never overtake ;" — surely those who have placed in our hands the means of surpassing them, deserve at least our gratitude.
It is fabled of Rosicrucius, that, after years of intense and wearisome labour, he constructed a lamp that should burn for ever. He closed it in a secret vault; centuries rolled on, and still the hidden lamp poured forth its ineffectual brightness. At length the vault was unclosed, the lamp discovered, and crowding spectators pressed forward to admire: — immediately an armed figure started up, and with
* Sharon Turner.