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From The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon, translated and edited by Thomas Forester, 1853, facsimile reprint by Llanerch Press, Felinfach; 1991; pp. 299-319.
WALTER2, my friend, once the flower of our youth and the ornament of our times, now alas! you are worn by a lingering disease, and languish under a painful disorder. When we were in the prime of our age, I dedicated to you a Book of poetical epigrams, and I also proffered for your acceptance a poem which I composed on love. Such trifles were fitting our youth, but now that we are old men what I offer you is becoming our years. I have, therefore, 302 written something on the contempt of the world, for your use and my own, which occupy your hours of languor, and to which I myself may recur with profit. I do not intend a rhetorical or philosophical dissertation; the ages of holy writ speak throughout of this one thing in a voice of authority, and the philosophers have made it their earnest study; but I shall treat the subject in the simplest manner, so as to make it plain to the multitude, that is, the unlearned, and to draw from what has passed under our own observation, reasons for contemning, now that we are old men, what is really contemptible. I will not, therefore, have recourse to former Histories; I shall relate nothing that has been told before, but only what is within my own knowledge, the only evidence which can be deemed authentic. But if the great names of our times should appear uncouth to posterity, or my treatise should seem indigested and wandering, and be considered wearisome, because so many names are introduced, at least it may be profitable to you and myself.
The first chapter shall have reference to matters concerning our Church. As, then, in youth, the seeds of all manner of vices bud luxuriously, that which rears itself most vigorously, and overtops the rest, is the love of this present world. But from the simplicity natural to the age, youth is free from many errors, such as scepticism, fickleness, and the like, while the tendency I have spoken of, being more seductive than the rest, abides and gains strength. As age advances, thing which once charmed fasten on the mind, as with a hook which cannot be extricated; and men are led captive by the love of wealth and of fleeting pleasures. This I have learnt by my own experience. For when I was a mere child, in my growing up, and while I was a young man, I had opportunities of closely observing the splendour in which our Bishop Robert lived3. 303 I saw his retinue of gallant knights and noble youths; his horses of price, his vessels of gold or of silver-gilt; the splendid array of his plate, the gorgeousness of his servitors; the fine linen and purple robes, and I though within myself that nothing could be more blissful. When, moreover, all that the world, even those who had learnt in the schools the emptiness of such things, were obsequious to hi, and he was looked up to as the father and lord of all, it was no wonder that he valued highly his worldly advantages. If at that time any one had told me that this splendour which we all admired ought to be held in contempt, with what face, in what temper, should I have heard it? I should have thought him more insensate than Orestes, more querulous than Thersites. It appeared to me that nothing could exceed happiness so exalted. But when I became a man, and heard the scurrilous language which was addressed to him, I felt that I should have fainted if it had been used to me, who had nothing, in such a presence. Then I began to value less what I had before so highly esteemed.
It is very common for worldly men to experience the most painful reverses before the end of their career. I will relate what happened to Bishop Robert before his death. He, who had been Justiciary of all England, and universally feared, was in the last year of his life twice impleaded by the king before an ignoble judge, and both times condemned with disgrace in heavy penalties. His anguish of mind in consequence was such, that I saw him shed tears during dinner, while I, then his archdeacon, was sitting near him. On the cause of being asked, he replied, “Formerly my own attendants were sumptuously apparelled; but now the fines extorted from me by the king, whose favour I have always cultivated, served to clothe a base crew.” After this, he so entirely despaired of the royal favour, that when some one repeated to him the high commendations which the king had made of him in his absence, he exclaimed, “The king praises no one whom he has not resolved utterly to ruin.” For King Henry, if I may venture to say so, practiced consummate duplicity, and his designs were inscrutable. A few days afterwards the bishop was at Woodstock, where the king had appointed a great 304 hunting-match; and while conversing with the king and the Bishop of Salisbury, the two prelates being the greatest men in the kingdom, our Bishop [of Lincoln] was struck with apoplexy. He was carried speechless to his inn, and there presently expired in the king’s presence4. Then the powerful monarch whom he had always faithfully served, whom he both loved and feared, whose favour he highly valued, and in whom he once places such confidence, could not help him in his last extremity. “Cursed be he that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.”5 When, therefore, the child, or the stripling, or the young man looks up to those who are at the summit of fortune, let them recollect how uncertain may be their end, and that even in this world affliction may come upon and consume them. Bishop Robert was humane and humble, he raised the fortunes of many, and crushed no one’s; he was the orphan’s father, and beloved by all who surrounded him; but we have seen what was his end.
Something should be said of his predecessor Remi6, who came to England with William the First, and was present in his wars. He was raised to the bishopric of Dorchester by that king, and changing its seat to Lincoln, he founded our church there, endowed it with ample possessions, and attached to it men of worth. I speak only of what I have seen and heard. Him, indeed, I never saw, but I knew all the venerable men to whom he gave appointments in his new church. I will mention a few of the number. He chose Ralph a venerable priest, for dean, and appointed Rayner treasurer, whose place is now filled by his nephew Geoffrey. Rayner was so pious a man, that he often chaunted psalms over the tomb which he had built to receive his remains, and there prepared himself by continual prayers for his eternal home; that when the days of his devotion were ended, and he was laid there, he might be partaker of the mercy of God. Felix was an 305 exemplar of the highest excellence. I must not omit Hugh the priest, a man indeed worthy to be remembered; for he was the first, and the prop of the whole Chapter. He was succeeded by Osbert, a most agreeable and amiable man. William, a youth of great promise, now fills his place. Guerno was appointed Precentor, whose office Ralph the chaunter now holds. I must not pass over Albinus of Anjou, who was my own master; whose brothers were most worthy men, and my associates. They were graced by the triple robe of the most profound learning, the strictest continence, and perfect purity; but, by the inscrutable judgment of God, they were afflicted with leprosy, from which they are now cleanses by the purification of the grave. Remi placed archdeacons over the seven counties comprised in his bishopric. Richard was made Archdeacon of Lincoln, and was succeeded by Albert the Lombard, who was succeeded by William of Bayeux, and now by Robert the younger, who is the richest archdeacon in England. Nicholas7 was Archdeacon of Cambridge, Huntingdon, and Hertford, distinguished no less by the graces of his death, when Cambridgeshire was detached from our see, and attached to a new bishop, I myself succeeded to the archdeaconry of the two remaining counties. Bishop Remi appointed Nigel, archdeacon of [North] Hampton; he was succeeded by Robert, and, in turn, by William, the excellent nephew of our present Bishop Alexander8. Ralph was appointed to Leicester, and was succeeded by Godfrey, a man worthy of all praise, whose place is now filled by Robert de Merceto, a man not to be forgotten. Oxford was given to Alfred, an eminent rhetorician. Buckingham received Alfred the little, who was succeeded by Gilbert, distinguished by his courtly manners, and writings both in verse and prose. Their successor was Roger, now made Bishop of Chester. Then came Richard; but it is now held by David, the brother of your venerable Bishop 306 Alexander, the fifth in succession. Bedford, the seventh archdeaconry, was given to Osbert, who was succeeded by Ralph, unhappily killed. Hugh was appointed to his office, and then Nicholas, who is the fourth in succession. I must pass over the rest of the clergy, excellent men, lest I should be prolix. Consider, then, how many of these reverend men are now dead, and will shortly be lost in oblivion. Reckon also in your mind’s eye all those we have formerly seen, on the right of the choir, and on the left; not one of them now survives. These men loved what we love, sought what we seek, desired what we desire; but death has buried them all in oblivion. It is our duty to reflect that the same fate awaits ourselves, and it should be our earnest care to seek that which is durable, that which has foundation, and is not a mere dream; in short, that which has a real existence, for things here are nought.
The second chapter, on the contempt of the world, concerns those I have seen, who being nurtured in the highest prosperity, have been subjected to the severest calamities. I have seen Henry, the king’s son, habited in robes of silk interwove with gold, surrounded by troops of attendants and guards, and brilliant with almost celestial splendour. He was the only son of the king and the queen, and looked with confidence to the inheritance of the throne. In truth, I know not whether the assurance of succeeding to the crown was not better to him, than the present possession of it to his father; because the father had already spent a long period of his term of reigning, while the son might count on the entire period of his own. His father, indeed, had to reflect with sorrow on the time when it would be no longer his, while the son could anticipate its possession with unmixed joy. But unpleasing thoughts suggested themselves to my mind, the presage of future calamity, when I observed the excessive state with which he was surrounded and his own pride. I said to myself, “This prince, so pampered, is destined to be food for the fire!” He, indeed, from his proud eminence, fixed his thoughts on his future kingdom; but God said, “Not so, unrighteous man9, not so!” And it came to pass that the head 307 which should have worn a crown of gold, was rudely dashed against the rocks; instead of wearing embroidered robes, he floated naked in the waves; and instead of ascending a lofty throne, he found his grave in the bellies of fishes at the bottom of the sea. Such was the change wrought by the right hand of the Most High! So also Richard, earl of Chester, the only son of Earl Hugh, nurtured in the greatest splendour, in the full prospect of inheriting his father’s high honours, perished, while still young, in the same ship, and shared the same burial. Richard, also, the king’s bastard son, who had been splendidly brought up by our Bishop Robert, and treated with distinction by me, and others of the same family of which I was then a member10; one whom we admired for his talents, and from whom we expected great things, he too was dashed on the rocks in the same ship, when no wind ruffled the sea, and, being plunged in its depths, met with a sudden death. Again, when William, the king’s nephew, that is, son of Robert, duke of Normandy, who now remained sole heir to the crown, and was judged worthy of it in the opinion of all men, had, by his consummate ability, acquired the earldom of Flanders, and by his indomitable valour defeated Theodoric in a pitched battle, he perished from a slight wound. Thus the hopes of all who looked upon him as their future king were disappointed.
If I were to dwell on such examples, my letter would swell to a large book. But I must not omit to mention our dean Symon, the son of our Bishop Robert, born to him while he was Chancellor of the great King William. He being educated at court, was, while yet young, appointed our dean, and made rapid advances in the royal favour and 308 in courtly honours. He was gifted with a lively genius and a brilliant eloquence; his person was noble, and his manners were graceful; though young in years, he was old in wisdom: but these qualities were tainted by his pride. From pride springs envy, from envy hatred, from hatred slanders, quarrels, and secret accusations. He spoke truly of himself when he said, “I mix with the courtiers like salt among live eels;” for as the salt excruciates them, so he tormented by his calumnies all who were attached to the royal household; but as the salt loses its pungency by the moisture exuding from the eels, so the universality of his slander deprived it of its acrimony, and nullified his malice. One part of this adage he understood very well, but the other did not occur to him. He spoke the truth of himself without knowing it: for, from having been among the highest at court and in the royal favour, after a time he fell under the king’s extreme displeasure, and being thrown into prison, from which it is reported he escaped through a sewer, he became an exile and a ruined man while he was still young. In him, therefore, was well exemplified the proverb, “Those who are brought up among flower beds are not far from dung.” We must not be surprised, then, when we see that noble youths, brilliant with personal graces and fortune’s favours, frequently fall into the greatest misery. Then all their vain hopes vanish, and that which was nothing is reduced to nothing.
My third observation on the contempt of this fleeting life — I would it were despised by me as I could wish, and as it deserves — relates to the wisdom of this world, or that which is most desirable in it. That, indeed, is more precious than the riches of the whole earth, and all that is coveted in the world cannot be compared with it: for it is written11, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” Which saying of the Apostle I propose to exemplify from instances within my own knowledge. I will mention the Earl of Mellent, the most sagacious in political affairs of all who lived between this and Jerusalem12. His mind of was enlightened, his eloquence persuasive, his shrewdness acute; he was provident and wily, his prudence never 309 failed, his counsels were profound, and his wisdom great. He had extensive and noble possessions, which are commonly called honours13, together with towns and castles, villages and farms, woods and waters, which he acquired by the exercise of the talents I have mentioned. His domains lay not only in England, but in Normandy and France; so that he was able, at his will, to promote concord between the kings of France and England; or to set them at variance, and provoke wars between them. If he took umbrage against any man, his enemy was humbled and crushed; while those he favoured were exalted to honour. Hence his coffers were filled with a prodigious influx of wealth in gold and silver, besides precious gems, and the contents of his ward-robe14. But when he was in the zenith of his power, it happened that a certain earl carried off his lady he had espoused, either by some intrigue, or by force and stratagem. Thenceforth, even to his declining years, his mind was disturbed and clouded with grief, nor did he, to the time of his death, regain composure and happiness. After days abandoned to sorrow, when he was labouring under an infirmity which was the precursor of death, and the archbishops and priests were performing their office for the confessional purification, they required of him that as a penitent he should restore the lands which, by force or fraud, he had wrung from others, and wash out his sins with tears of repentance; to which he replied, “Wretched man that I am! if I dismember the domains that I have got together, what shall I have to leave to my sons?” Upon this, the ministers of the Lord answered, “Your hereditary estates, and the lands which you have justly acquired, are enough for your sons; restore the rest, or else you devote your soul to perdition.” The earl replied, “My sons shall have all. I leave it to them to act mercifully, that the defunct may obtain mercy.” But after his death his sons were more careful to augment, by fresh 310 injustice, the possessions their father had acquired, than to distribute any part of them for the food of his soul. It is evident, therefore, that a man’s highest wisdom may, in the end, degenerate not only to sheer folly, but to blind insanity.
Need I mention Gilbert, surnamed the Universal, bishop of London? His equal for learning was not to be found even at Rome. He was an accomplished master of the liberal arts, and in speculative knowledge he had no equal. Living in France, he was rector of the school of Nivernois, when the bishopric of London was proposed to him, and he accepted the offer. Notwithstanding the great expectations which were formed of him, he soon began to yield to the temptations of avarice; amassing much, spending little. At his death he bequeathed nothing; but King Henry found immense hoards of wealth in his coffers. Even the bishop’s boots, well stuffed with gold and silver, were brought into the royal treasury15. So that this man of consummate learning was universally admitted to be the greatest of fools.
I will say a word of Ralph, the king’s chancellor. He was a man of the greatest sagacity, astute and crafty; and he applied all the powers of his intellect to disinheriting simple folk, and easing them of their money. During this course of life he became subject to habitual infirmity. But such was his passion for accumulating, that, even then, resisting God, as it were, and overcoming nature, he did not cease to ruin and plunder those he could. His greed grew with his grief, his sins with his sickness, his peculations with his pains; until at last, happing to fall from his horse, a monk rode over him16; so that he met his death in an extraordinary way. These examples, selected from a crowd of others, may serve to exhibit the folly of this world’s wisdom.
In the fourth place, I will address myself to the fortunes of men whose names are great, such as the Lord spoke of when He said to David, “And I have made thee a great 311 name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth.”17 David’s prosperity, indeed, was blessed; theirs of whom I speak was other wise. For in these times no one can acquire a great name except by great wickedness. A great name was obtained by Thomas, duke of Louvain, in France, because he was great in crime. In hostility of all the neighbouring churches, he extorted from them contributions to his money-bags. When any one, by fraud or force, fell into his hands, the captive might truly say, “The pains of hell compassed me round.” Homicide was his passion and his glory. He imprisoned his own countess, an unheard-of outrage; and, cruel and lewd at once, while he subjected her to fetters and torture by day, to extort money, he forced her to cohabit with him by night, in order to mock her. Each night his rude followers dragged her from her prison to his bed, each morning they conveyed her from his chamber back to her prison. Amicably addressing any one who approached him, he would plunge a sword into his side, laughing the while. For this he wore his sword naked under his cloak, more frequently than sheathed. Men feared him, bowed down to him, worshipped him. Reports concerning him were spread throughout France. Meanwhile, his possessions, his wealth, his followers daily increased. Do you desire to hear the end of this abandoned man? When mortally wounded, he rejected the sacrament of penance, turned his head away from the consecrated host, and so died. It may well be said of him, “His life was follow’d by a fitting end.”
You knew Robert de Belesme, the Norman earl who was thrown into prison18. He was a very Pluto, Megæra, Cerberus, or anything that you can conceive still more horrible. He preferred the slaughter of his captives to their ransom. he tore out the eyes of his own children, when in sport they hid their faces under his cloak19. He impaled persons of both sexes on stakes. To butcher men in the most horrible manner was to him an agreeable feast. His name was the theme of general discourse, and the fearful freaks 312 of Robert de Belesme became common proverbs. At length, we come to his end; a thing much to be desired. This cruel man, who had been the gaoler of others, was thrown into a dungeon by King Henry, where he died after a long imprisonment. Of him, whose fame had been spread everywhere, no one knew, after he was in prison, whether he was alive or dead; and report was silent of the day of his death. I have given an account of two out of many such monsters. Such as these might be a terror to the devils themselves, and I refrain from saying any more about them.
Fifthly, I purpose to treat of those who, elevated far above all other mortals, are in human affairs as the sum of a problem. For kings are to their subjects a sort of gods. Men devote themselves to them by solemn oaths, and the very stars of heaven appear to do them service. So great is the majesty of these rulers of the world, that men are never weary of looking on them, and their subjects regard them as something more than mortal. It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that not only women and children, but men of light minds, should eagerly rush to gaze at them. But even the wise, and men of grave discretion, after repeated views, are drawn by some indescribable impulse to their presence. What is the reason of this? What can be more full of bliss than their state? What more radiant with glory? Would that one of these favoured mortals could talk to you freely, and pour into your ear the secrets of his heart! You would then form a very different judgment. While others count them most happy, they are consumed with trouble, tormented with fear. No man in their dominions is equally wretched, equally wicked. Hence it is said, that the royal state is wickedness. King Henry threw his brother, the Lord Robert, into a dungeon, and kept him there till he died. He caused his nephew’s eyes to be torn out; numbers fell into his hands by his breach of faith; numbers he put to death craftily; he broke many solemn oaths. He was a slave of ambition and avarice. What alarm seized him when his brother Robert led an army against him out of Normandy to England! He was terrified into making peace; but the result was that he caused his highest nobles to commit perjury, because he broke the treaty and took his brother prisoner. What 313 was his alarm when the Count of Anjou took his castles, and he dared not march to oppose him! What his alarm when Baldwin, earl of Flanders, carried fire through Normandy to his very face, and he was unable to check him! What was his anguish of mind when his sons, and daughters, and nobles were engulfed in the sea! With what anxiety was he devoured when his nephew William, having obtained the earldom of Flanders, it seemed certain that he himself would lose his crown! He was reckoned the most fortunate of kings, but, truly, he was the most miserable.
Need I speak of Philip, king of France, and Lewis, his son, both of whom reigned in my time, whose god was their belly, and indeed a fatal enemy it was; for such was their gluttony, that they became so fast as not to be able to support themselves. Philip died long ago of plethora; Lewis has now shared the same fate, though a young man. What can we say of their fortunes? Was not Philip often defeated? Was he not frequently forced to fly before the vilest of the people? Was not Lewis expelled by King Henry from the Field of Mars; and driven out, as is apparent, by his own subjects? Again, the King of Norway was lately taken prisoner in battle by his own brother, who put out his eyes, dismembered him, cut off the head of his sucking child, and hung his bishop. All of these kings were alike ill-fated.
But you will allege in contradiction, Why have you so highly extolled King Henry in your History20, while here you bring against him such serious accusations? My answer is this: I said that this king was of great sagacity21, that his counsels were profound, that his foresight was keen, and that he was renowned in arms, that his achievements were glorious, and that his wealth was extraordinary. Notwithstanding all this, all that I have said to his disadvantage is but too true; would it were otherwise22. But perhaps 314 you will still aver, His reign has now lasted thirty-five years23; and the instances of his good fortune, if you count them, are more in number than adverse events. To this I reply, Yes, but not even a thousandth part of his good fortune can be admitted as evidence of his happiness; for the very occurrences which seemed fortunate were always mingled with disappointment. When he gained a victory over the French king, with what protracted anxieties was that short triumph followed! Because, in a word, another army was immediately raised, which caused him fresh uneasiness. You speak, with admiration of his length of days, and the many years of his reign; but a man of God had predicted that it shall not last two years longer. Soon you will see the miserable end of a miserable life. Would it could be otherwise! But so it will be24. Thus, you must not fix your regards on these unhappy things, but on God, who alone is blessed, and opens the kingdoms of bliss to his faithful servants.
My sixth and last treatise concerns those great men and peers of the realm who, not long since, were most potent, and still are not powerless. But they are nothing, they are nowhere; I may almost say, with some extravagance, they never were25. Scarcely any one remembers them now; all memory of them has begun to vanish; presently it will be entirely lost; they will vanish like running water. Listen, then, my dear friend Walter, to my discourse concerning those illustrious men whom we have ourselves seen, though it may be somewhat tedious. In our time flourished Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, a philosopher and a politician; he was succeeded by Anselm, a wise and most religious prelate. After them we saw Ralph, who was worthy of his high dignity. Next, the see of Canterbury 315 was filled by William, of whose merit nothing can be said, for he had none26; at present it is filled by Theobald, a man worthy of all praise. In our time, also, Walkeline was bishop of Winchester; he was succeeded by William Giffard, a man of true nobility. Both these are dead, and have come to nothing. Their seat is occupied by Henry, the king’ sons, who promises to exhibit a monstrous spectacle, compounded of purity and corruption, half a monk, half a knight27. In our time, also, Ingulfus was bishop of Rochester; after whom came Ralph, then Arnulf, then John. All these are dead; and Asceline, who now fills the see, cannot hold it long28. In our time, Maurice, bishop of London, died; he was succeeded by Richard, and afterwards by Gilbert, the great philosopher. At present, the see is filled by Robert, a man of enlarged mind. These two are dead. John, the physician, held the see of Bath29, and then Godfrey; Robert now fills it; and these also are nothing. At Worcester I saw Samson, a prelate of great eminence; after him came Teulf; now we see Simon there. At Chester we saw Robert bishop; then another Robert, surnamed Pecceth30; now the see is filled by Roger, who will soon be nothing. Herbert had Norwich, a mild and 316 learned bishop, whose writings we possess31. He was succeeded by Everard, who was deposed for his excessive cruelty. William now fills that see. Hervey was the first bishop of Ely, and was succeeded by Nigel. Osmond was bishop of Salisbury, succeeded by Roger, a great statesman, who is now the king’s justiciary. Robert filled the see of Exeter; he became blind, and is now dead, and his nephew Robert has it. Ralph was bishop of Chichester; in whose place Pelochin was appointed, a great rogue, who was consequently deposed. William, who had the bishopric of Durham, was killed; after him came Ralph, who set all England on fire by his rapacity; they were succeeded by Geoffrey, and William now fills it. We have seen Gerard, archbishop of York, and after him was Thomas; then came Thurstan, a most excellent man; it is now held by William, who was treasurer of that church. Remi, bishop of Lincoln, lived in our days; Alexander, a faithful and munificent prelate, now fills the see32. Thus far of the bishops.
Among our contemporaries were Hugh, earl of Chester, and Richard his son, and Ralph their successor, and now another Ralph; all who preceded him are gone. You knew that able but abandoned man, Robert, earl of Mellent33 of whom I have before spoken, and now his son Robert, in praise of whom little can be said. Have you not seen Henry, earl of Warwick, and his son Roger, who is now living, men of ignoble minds? You knew also William Earl Warrenne, and Robert de Belesme, earl [of Shrewsbury], 317 with Robert, earl of Morton, of whom I have spoken in my History of England34; as also Simon, earl of Huntingdon; Eustace, count of Boulogne, and many others: their very memory is wearisome. In their day they had great power, and appeared worthy of the closest scrutiny; now they scarcely deserve mentioning. The very parchment on which their names are written seems ready to perish, nor are eyes to be found which would be willing to read it. My own letter is witness, which no one or scarcely any one, will read, though it contains the names of so many powerful men, worthy to be rescued from oblivion. Why should I mention Aldwine35, my own master, who was abbot of Ramsey, and Bernard, his successor; after whom came Remald, a clever but intemperate man; who was succeeded by Walter, the present dignified abbot. Where, now, are these? Thorold, abbot of Peterborough; and Arnulf, and Mathias, and Goodric, and John, and Martin, all whom I knew, are dead and come to nothing. But you ask why include the living with the dead, and say that they all are come to nothing? For this reason: as the dead are come to nothing, the others soon will, or, to speak freely, have already come. For that which is called our life is, as Tully says, death. When you begin to live, you begin to die. I pass over those celebrated men, Ralph Bassett and his son Richard, with Geoffrey Ridel, who were justiciaries of all England, and others out of number, to offer whom respectful homage was once a pleasure to me; but now that they are dead it seems labour in vain to write even the slightest notices of them.
Reflect, then, my friend Walter, how worthless is this present life; and since we see that even the most powerful, who were in possession of the fullest measure of its wealth, accomplished nothing, and that we ourselves accomplish nothing, let us seek another way of life in which we may expect happiness and shall not fail. Rouse yourself, my brother; rouse yourself and look about you, for what you have sought of in this life you have never found. Did not Alexander, a king, so to speak, all but omnipotent, die at 318 last of a little poison? Did not Julius Cæsar, a man equally or still more powerful, after he had become master of the world, fall by the stroke of a small poignard? What he aimed at he did not obtain. Seek, therefore, that which you can find; seek the life that comes after this life, for life is not to be found in the present life. Almighty God! how truly are we called mortals! For death clings to us while we live; but our dissolution, which we call death, puts an end to death. Whatever we do, whatever we say, perishes from the moment it is said or done. The remembrance of them, indeed, as in the case of the deceased, survives for a while; but when that also has vanished, all our acts and words are annihilated, as it were, by a second death. Where is now what I did yesterday? where what I said? They are swallowed up in the death of endless oblivion. Let us then hope for the death of this living death, since we cannot escape it but by the death of our bodies, which is the middle term between life and death.
I had scarcely finished this letter when it was announced to me that the friend to whom it is addressed had ceased to live. What is the lot of mortals, but to be helpless at their birth, wretched during life, painful at their end? O death, how sudden is thy grasp, how unexpected thy attack, how relentless thy stroke! May He, Walter, who is the physician of the soul after this life is ended, vouchsafe to administer to thee the healing antidote of his mercy, that thou mayest attain the life of enduring health. My letter now will never reach you: a short epitaph is all that I can offer, a memorial of you on which my tears will fall while I write: —
Satires, once, and songs of love
Woke the echoes of the grove;
Then my youthful minstrelsy,
Walter, was addressed to thee.
Now my heart, oppress’d with grief,
Yearns to find some short relief
While I deck thy fun’ral bier,
And, bedew’d with many a tear,
Fondly weaving mournful verse,
Wreathe a chaplet for thy hearse.
He, my better half, is fled,
Lying number’d with the dead;
319 He, my light, my joy, my crown,
Whose fond love return’d my own.
Chill’d the heart that freely gave,
Cold the hand outstretch’d to save;
Deeming what he gave as naught
In his modesty of thought.
Twice bless’d was his charity,
Open hand and beaming eye
Met, to stay, the suppliant’s cry.
Walter, of unrivall’d worth,
Sleeps in consecrated earth;
Number’d now among the blest,
May his soul have grateful rest!
1 In the MSS. which have been collated, this epistle, with three others, form the Eighth Book of Henry of Huntingdon’s History. The first edition, so to speak, of the History concluding with the reign of Henry I., in the year 1135, the epistle, which was written in that year, and treats principally of persons connected with the narrative of the Seventh Book, was a regular sequel to it. In the original order, the Ninth Book comprised an account of the miracles related by Bede; and afterwards Huntingdon composed a Tenth Book, continuing his History through the reign of Stephen to the accession of Henry II. But it appears that the transcribers of the MSS. still continued to insert the epistles and the account of the miracles in the Eighth and Ninth Books, though these interrupted the progress of the History, which proceeds consecutively from the reign of Henry I., with which the first edition closed; tot the reign of Stephen, which is the subject of Huntingdon’s continuation of his work in his last Book. Sir Henry Savile, in his, which was the first, printed edition of Huntingdon’s history, calls this the Eighth Book; stating that some MSS. omit the two intervening ones, which he did not publish. Not to interrupt the tenor of the narrative, I have followed Savile’s arrangement; but for the same reasons given in the Preface, I have thought it desirable to add the “Epistle to Walter” as an appendix to the History.
2 Savile states that Walter was Archdeacon of Oxford. Henry of Huntingdon does not insert his name in the list of dignitaries of the church of Lincoln, given in this epistle; but that may be accounted for from its being addressed to Walter himself.
3 Robert de Bloet, bishop of Lincoln, in whose household Henry was brought up from his earliest years. We have here a lively picture of the sumptuous mode of living of the great ecclesiastics of those times. Bishop Robert was also justiciary of all England, and much employed by Henry I. in secular affairs. See the preceding History, p. 250.
4 The Saxon Chronicle adds some little details, which Henry of Huntingdon, who would seem to have the best information, omits, both here and in his History; see note, pp. 250-1. The Chronicle, with which Huntingdon agrees, fixes his death in 1123; Ordericus Vitalis in 1118.
5 Jer. xv. 5.
6 See the preceding History, pp. 219-20.
7 It is not improbable that Nicholas was the father of Henry of Huntingdon. See the preceding History, p. 245.
8 .To whom Huntingdon dedicated his History. See note to the dedication at the beginning of this volume, and the account of this bishop’s death and character given in the Eighth Book of the History.
9 Huntingdon seems to indulge his cynical humour in treating of this young prince. Except the pride and indulgence, natural to his station, which our historian had opportunities of observing, I am not aware of any blemish on his character, unless there is any ground for including him in the foul imputation which Huntingdon attaches to the memory of most of those who perished in the shipwreck. But I have not found any other authority for it than the passage in Huntingdon’s History. See p. 249; and our author there mentions it only as a report. The gallantry with which the prince attempted to rescue his sister, the Countess of Perche, from the wreck, and in so doing perished himself, leaves a favourable impression. See in Malmesbury, book v. p. 455, a fuller account of this disaster than is given by our author.
10 See the earlier part of this letter, p. 302
11 1 Cor. iii. 19.
12 See the History, p. 246.
13 An “honour” was a law term not merely signifying personal rank or title, but feudal rights of a superior kind over large territories, including manors, &c., dependent upon the “honour.” Thus the domains dependent upon the castle of Pevensey were erected into the Honour of the Eagle.
14 The word “wardrobe” included not only wearing apparel, but the hangings and movable furniture of palaces and castles.
15 The chattels and treasures of the bishops were held to lapse to the crown on their death.
16 See the story in Henry of Huntingdon’s History, p. 250 of this volume.
17 2 Sam. vii. 9.
18 See the History in this volume, p. 245.
19 William of Malmesbury gives rather a different account of this barbarity.
20 See Book vii. p. 261 of the present volume.
21 It is singular that Henry of Huntingdon, both here and in his History, is silent on the literary accomplishments of Henry I., which obtained for him the surname of Beau-clerc..
22 The free manner in which Henry of Huntingdon treats of the character of this Norman king, while he was still living, and notwithstanding his evident personal attachment to him, is creditable to his own character for impartiality as a historian. Perhaps it also exhibit’s the spirit of independence felt by the ecclesiastics of those times.
23 This computation fixes the date of Huntingdon’s Letter to Walter, which has been assigned to a later period. See the observations in the Preface to this volume.
24 This prediction was singularly verified, if we may suppose that King Henry’s state of health at this time was not such as to render it far from hazardous. The king died before the end of the year in which this epistle was written, “the day after the feast of St. Andrew,” the 29th of December, 1135.
25 Sic. The writer explains himself a little further on.
26 In the “Acts of King Stephen,” this prelate is described as grasping and covetous.
27 This was the Bishop of Winchester, and papal legate, of whom Huntingdon here shrewdly predicts the extraordinary part he took in the troubles of the succeeding reign.
28 Dacher, in his edition of this epistle, inserts in the text the name of Baldulf, as Bishop of Rochester, between those of Ingulfus and Ralph. There was a bishop of Whiterne in Galloway of that name, A. D. 791. See “Huntingdon’s History,” p. 139. Dacher adds in a note, “Gundulf” [or Ingulf] “died in 1170; and we might suppose that Asceline, the fourth in succession, was dead in 1147;’ which is most probable from what Huntingdon here says; but it is clear that the “Letter to Walter” was written in 1135, notwithstanding that Wharton and Petrie have assigned to it a much later date. See the observations on this subject in the Preface to the present work.
29 Having removed it from Wells. See the character of this bishop in William of Malmesbury.
30 Malmesbury says that Robert Pecceth removed the sea of Litchfield from Coventry to Chester. The modern bishopric of Chester was founded at the Reformation in 1541.
31 Herbert, surnamed Losinga, from a French word, signifying to cozen, removed the see of East Anglia from Thetford to Norwich. He was at one time the greatest simonist in England. William of Malmesbury gives a long character of him, representing him to have repented and become, as Huntingdon intimates, an excellent bishop as well as scholar. The “writings” here referred to are probably his letters, the MS. of which was lately discovered at Brussels, and they have since been published there and in London. See William of Malmesbury’s History, “Bohn’s Antiquarian Library,” p. 352. He died A. D. 1100. — Sax. Chron.
32 This distinguished prelate is frequently mentioned in the Eighth Book of Huntingdon’s History. See also the “Acts of King Stephen” in the present volume.
33 See the notes to this letter, pp. 308, 311.
34 Pp. 242, 243.
35 Probably the same person as Albinus, mentioned before as a member of the Chapter of Lincoln.