From The “Historia Brittonum“ Commonly Attributed to Nennius; From a Manuscript Lately Discovered in the Library of the Vatican Palace at Rome: edited in the Tenth Century by Mark the Hermit with an English Version, Fac Simile of the Original, Notes and Illustrations, by the Rev. W. Gunn, London: Printed for John and Arthur Arch, 1819; pp. iii-xviii.
THE editor, some years since, during a residence in Rome, obtained permission to search the library of the Vatican palace, for manuscripts relating to the history and affairs of this country. In the course of this interesting employment, an ancient exemplar of the “Historia Brittonum” was discovered. Presuming that one which dates much higher than any hitherto known, might be free from the inaccuracies and interpolations, long complained of in those of more recent date, a copy was procured; and it is this work to which the attention of the reader is solicited.
The original is on parchment, fairly written in double columns, and fills ten pages of a miscellaneous volume,1 of the folio size. Great iv care has been taken to obtain a faithful transcript of it; the orthography, however erroneous, is preserved, the capital and small letters correspond with the original; there is the same division of paragraphs; the forms of the points, and the location of them, though no guide to the sense, have one common resemblance; nor, except in a few instances, are any orthographical corrections attempted. So dry and abrupt is the style, as to set a literal version at defiance; in that now offered, the meaning of the author is, I trust, preserved. I once entertained a doubt, as to the propriety of one, since the perusal of the work will be limited to that description of readers, who will never refer to a translation as an authority, when the original is before them.
Respecting the age of the manuscript, the reader is in the course of it, thrice referred to the v tenth century; and the gentlemen officially employed in the library were unanimous in assigning it to that period.2 From the title “Alexandriana,” vi we learn, that this manuscript once belonged vii to that extraordinary personage, Alexandria Christina,3 who, in whatever country viii she visited, after she had abdicated the throne of Sweden, suffered no literary curiosity to pass unappropriated, which she could obtain, either by recompense or favour. When in France she purchased the Petavian library; and from a note on one of the leaves of the manuscript, it is said to have been procured by Alexander Petavius, from the monastery of St. Germain. Together with the spoils of the libraries of Prague and Dresden (the gift of her father Gustavus Adolphus,) she bequeathed her collection to Pope Alexander the Eighth, who, with the addition of his private library, deposited the whole in the Vatican.4ix
Of the real author, or rather compiler of this x work, nothing is satisfactorily known; manuscripts xi of it are numerous; and of those which the xii editor has examined, the following have proved xiii most useful in the illustrations he has attempted. xiv These are,5 three in the British Museum, one in the Bodleian, another in the Library of Ben’et College, Cambridge, and one lent him by OWEN PUGHE, Esq. formerly the property of Selden.xv
The “Historia Brittonum,” is by turns assigned to Nennius, to an anonymous Anglo-Saxon, to the two Gildas’s (Minor and Sapiens), and to Mark the Anchorite. On close examination, however, I do not find sufficient reason for yielding the claim to any one of these in preference to another. To account for the singularity of assigning to various authors the same performance, I learn from the Gentleman last mentioned, that nothing was more common than for the transcribers of the ancient British manuscripts to affix their own names to the same work, with such additions or retrenchments as they thought proper, so as to make it pass for their own composition. The hope expressed in the first page of the Preface, that a copy nearer the time to which the subject relates, than any other which has descended to us, might be free from the errors, interpolations, and substitutions, which disfigure those of later date, has been in a great measure defeated. For so many of these have, by repeated transcripts made between the period of compilation and the tenth century, insinuated themselves into the text, as materially to vitiate the original, that the censure of St. Jerome on the insufficient xvi scribes in his day, is applicable to the case before us; “Imperitiam notariorum librariorumque6 incuriam, qui scribunt quod non xvii inveniunt, sed quod intelligunt: et dum alienos xviii errores emendare nituntur, ostendunt suos.” Epist. ad Lucinium, No. 27.)
1 Consisting of ninety-three pages. The first eighteen contain — “Nitardi Angelberti opus de rebus gallicis;” — from p. 19 to 46, “Frodoardi Chronicon ab obitu Karoli magni ad annum 978;” — from p. 47 to 57, the present work; — the genealogy of Karolus magnus, consisting of nine lines, then follows; and from p. 57, to the end — “Nonnull. Rom. Pontificum Vitæ a Stephano I. ad Hadrianum.” From some conformity in date and subject, these are put together under the direction of the Scrittori of the library, part of whose employment it is to arrange and repair the MSS.; and who then consigns them to a binder, whose workshop is contiguous to the reading-room.
2 The subjoined quotations and remarks are favourable to their opinion. In MSS. of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, the characters called “uncials,” and “demi-uncials” were principally used. They were rarely joined, nor were they separated into words: attempts towards punctuation are rarely seen. This form of writing was abandoned in the ninth century, and was succeeded by the small characters, much resembling those which were continued with variations, till the invention of printing. Of these, examples are engraved in Astle, (Origin and Progress of Writing,) Tab. 19. fig. 7. are of the ninth, and Tab. 20. fig. 1st, of the tenth century. In comparing the fac-simile from Mark, with these rules, we may observe, that, excepting in the title, and at the commencement of certain words, and these not uniformly, nor of the greatest importance, no mixture of capitals occurs, as in the uncial or demi-uncial; none of the letters are joined, though they are divided into words.
It is a matter of surprise, that the pauses required in reading and speaking, should not have earlier led to a correct system of punctuation. the ancient manner of writing among the Greeks and Romans was in capitals, placed at equal distances, without any blank spaces to separate the words, or any marks to divide or sub-divide the sentences. In some inscriptions and MSS. all the words are parted by dots or periods, in others, complete sentences, or paragraphs only, are distinguished by points or blank spaces. The origin of points is, however, of considerable antiquity, and both the Greeks and Romans had marks of distinction in their writings; but the first approach to punctuation, as now understood, consisted in the different position of one single point. “At the bottom of a letter it was equivalent to a comma; in the middle it was equal to a colon; and at the top it denoted a period, or the conclusion of a sentence. This mode was easily practised in ancient MSS. so long as they were written in capitals; but when small letters were adopted, (that is about the ninth century,) this distinction could not be observed; a change was therefore made in this manner of punctuation.” (Montf. Palæog. Recens; p. 41.) The use of the period (“Punto fermo”) in the early Italian poetry, is accurately described by Crescimbeni, (tom. i. lib. vi. c. 16. Dell. Ortografia, del puntare, e accentare.) “In the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, writers began to leave a space between the words, and to make use of commas, colons, and periods; but without any degree of regularity.” (Essay on Punctuations, p. 10.) If we examine the MS. before us by these rules, we shall find the colon, the period, and the semicolon; the latter, either of the form now used, or with the comma of it placed above, though generally in an oblique direction: there are no single commas. These points are all promiscuously inserted, not as in modern composition to mark the sense, but sometimes where none are wanted; at others, omitted where they are required. The plate in Astle last referred to, exhibits symptoms of the same irregular punctuation. One cause assigned for the arbitrary and unnecessary insertion of points, is explained by Marini; from whom it appears, that it was once customary for copiers and correctors of transcripts not to cancel errors, lest they should deform the MS., but to mark them by points, and that these were continued by subsequent scribes. “Antichissima usanza fu degli Scrittori, e Correctori de’ Codici, e carte, sottoporre de’ punti alle lettere o parole, che si volevano concellate, e come non esistenti per non deformare lo Scritto” (v. Schow Charta papyr, p. 67.) “nel papiro (l. 30.) erasi per isbaglio fatto tuitionem vestram in vece di tuitio vestra, pero non solo si sono messi i soliti punti sotto le lettere, che non si dovevano essere; ma e sopra e per mezzo, in tanto che tra questi restassero esse quassi chiuse ed incarcerate, &c. &c. &c.” (Marini Papiri Diplomat. &c. No. 1132. Roma, 1805. Fol.) I have examined Schow, (Romæ, 1788, 4to.) above referred to, with his Adnotatia Paleographica, p. 110 of the same work; as also a passage in Winkelmen, (Storia delle Arti del Disegno, tom. iii. p. 199. Roma, 1784.) all of which treat of similar extraneous additions, but not so immediately to the subject as Marini. The greatest variety of points I have ever met with in the same MS., are to be seen in the great charter of Edgar, engraved in Hickes’s Thesaurus. (vol. i. p. 158.) This beautiful specimen of ancient writing dates A. 964, of course very nearly contemporary with Mark, to which the letters bear a resemblance in form. The slight similarity to the saxon is in both much the same; and it is remarkable, that in the former, there are a few lines in that language, without any alterations in the letters.
On the grave accent, Scaliger remarks — “Accentus graves, qui dictionibus Latinis apponuntur, nostrâ memoria introducti sunt et in libros illati; qui cum nihil juvent auditorem qui nescit utrum sit accipiendum quantum aut quantum adverbialiter vel ut nomen: nec etiam pronunciantem; toto cœlo Latino ablegandi et fugandi sunt. Virgulæ ( , , ) et cola ( ; ; ) nostra etiam tempestate inventa à Manutio, cum antiquis prorsus incognita fuerint. Multi dicunt, ad quid istæ Latinitatis minutiæ exquiruntur? Dicam, ad quid Latin[è] loqui affectus? (Scaligerana, p. 4.) When small letters superseded the use of capitals in latin MSS., the latter were retained as dates, till arabic numerals were adopted. (Du Cange, v. Numericæ notæ.) When this occurred, it is to be regretted that dates were not written at full length, instead of abbreviations in Roman capitals; since the omission, addition, or curvature of a single stroke, may present a period, wide of the original, to the perplexity of the chronologist, and the perversion of historical facts. The “Historia Brittonum” is, from this circumstance, so abundant in these inaccuracies, that I hesitate to admit as authentic, any of the assigned æras, which cannot be otherwise verified; and as they rarely conduce to illustration, I have in the translation commonly left them unaltered.
3 She, on Christmas day, 1654, in the Basilica of Sta. Maria Maggiore, abjured Lutheranism, and was solemnly received into the bosom of the church of Rome, by Alexander the Seventh, who, on this occasion, superadded to her former name, that of Alexandra — “aggiunse al nome di Christiana (Christina) quello d’Alessandria.” — (Platina Vit. Alessand. 7.)
4 An attempt to trace the rise and history of this wonderful collection, may not be unacceptable to the reader. There are reasons for believing, that the Palatine, the Ulpian, and other celebrated libraries in ancient Rome, did not survive the disasters which befel that city, after the decease of Theodosius. (Tiraboschi, tom. iv. p. 318.) In the fourth century, collections of books were frequent, not only in Italy, but throughout the limits of the latin churches. St. Augustine on his death-bed, with anxious care, consigned his own library to his successor, and all the books of his church of Hippo; a solicitude then prevalent among other bishops. (Ibid, 319.) In that period, private collections were formed in the houses of the Roman citizens, as appears from the epistles of Symmachus, (l. 8. ep. 22.) who was himself provided with one. These accumulations were often made, both from motives of vanity, and the expectation that, like the supposed property of the lamp of Epictetus, they might confer wit and learning on the possessor. Ausonius thus satirizes a collector of this description:
“Emptis quod libris tibi bibiliotheca referta est
Doctum et Grammaticum te Philomuse putas?
Hoc genere et chordas, et plectra et barbita conde;
Omnia mercatus, cras citharædas eris.” — Epist. 44.
Though it is probable that a papal library was early formed at Rome, and it is not likely that such men as St. Damasus (A. 384), and St. Leon (A. 461), one celebrated for learning, the other for piety, should have been unprovided, we yet find no record of any before the time of Hilary (A. 467), who established two, in the Basilica of the Lateran Palace. (Anastas. v. Pontif. tom. i. p. 78.)
In the sixth century, we first hear of Bibliothecarius of the apostolical library, an office which through successive ages to the present time, has been honourably and respectably filled.
For several centuries that followed, we meet with no other than casual allusions to the papal library; but these are sufficient to assure us it was always preserved. Others from this silence, have supposed it to be in a very neglected condition: the conjecture is not well founded; for the centre of the western churches must have been always provided with the means of gratifying the various and incessant applications made to it, from every quarter where their influence extended; and we know, that throughout every age, many were the pontiffs who were interested in the promotion, not only of sacred, but of profane learning. The calumny of John of Salisbury (Policraticon, l. 1, c. 9.), which has been amplified by Brucker, (Hist. Crit. Philos. l. 7. c. 2.) that Gregory I. (A. 594-604) burned the works of classical authors, has been candidly examined and ably refuted by Tiraboschi, tom. v. p. 173): nor do we need further proof of the miscellaneousness of the papal collections, when we recollect, that though thinly scattered indeed over the dark ages, we yet find Roman writers whose talents would have embellished any age or country, but whose works could not have been composed without the help of many books, and those of ancient authors in particular.
A digression to the state of literature in our own country, during the seventh and eighth centuries, may be pardoned, and the view is gratifying.
In the sixth age began the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, by papal missionaries; and, after long and pertinacious resistance, the integrity of the long and regularly established British church was destroyed, and became subject of that of Rome. But, if lost independence was lamented, it must be conceded, that civilization and learning, far exceeding the regular growth of human proficiency in a similar period, and during a rude age in particular, was conferred on the island in exchange. From the commencement of this great ecclesiastical event, intercourse with Rome was incessant; persons of every rank, both clergy and laity, resorted thither, (Beda Hist. l. 5, c. 7.) and a school was there established for the youth of Britain. Detailed particulars are scarcely to be expected. Among innumerable instances, doubtless, we know that the saxon monk, Biscop, (A. 669), who was greatly favoured by contemporary popes, and especially by Agatho, made repeated visits to Rome, expressly for the promotion of religion and the decoration of churches. In one of his returns, he was accompanied by Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury, and brought with him several ingenious artists, as glaziers and painters, together with books, relicts, robes, and pictures. (Ibid. l. 4, c. 18. and Vit. Sanct. p. 293.) This eminent prelate was a native of Tarsus, in Cilicia, and after his arrival visited great part of the island. He established a seminary at, or near Oxford; and being skilful both in human and divine learning, his audience was numerous; “literis sacris simul et secularibus — abundanter ambo erant instructi, congregatâ discipulorum catervâ.” The sciences of arithmetic, astronomy, and music, were also cultivated. Some of his pupils were alive in the time of Beda, who could deliver themselves in Greek and Latin with equal ease and perspicuity. (Ibid. l. 4. c. 2.) Egbert, archbishop of York, (A. 731,) and brother of Eadbert, king of Northumberland, founded a noble library in his metropolitan city, which could only have been furnished from Rome. (Malms. de Gestis Regum. Anglor. l. 1. c. 3.) We are not left to conjecture, as to the importance of its contents; for our countryman Alcuinus, who was a pupil of that prelate, and the keeper of it, left a catalogue, which still exists. (Gale, Scrip. xv. p. 730. De Pontificibus Sanct. Eccles. Ebor. l. 1536.) The state of learning in Britain was, at this period, superior to that of Gaul; a fact, proved by the following circumstance: Alcuinus, who was the preceptor, and valued friend of Charlemagne, received from him the Abbacy of St. Martin at Tours, to which late in life he retired. In this privacy, he addressed a letter to his royal patron, whence the following extracts are taken: “The employments of your Alcuinus in his retreat, are suited to his humble sphere; but they are neither inglorious nor unprofitable. I spend my time in the halls of St. Martin, in teaching some of the noble youths under my care, the intricacies of grammar, and inspiring them with a taste for the learning of the ancients; in describing to others, the order and revolutions of those shining orbs which adorn the azure vault of heaven; and in explaining to others the mysteries of divine wisdom, which are contained in the holy scriptures; suiting my instructions to the views and capacities of my scholars, that I may train up many to be ornaments to the church of God, and the court of your imperial majesty. In doing this, I find a great want of several things, particularly of those excellent books in all arts and sciences which I enjoyed in my native country, through the expense and care of my great master Egbert. May it, therefore, please your majesty, animated with the most ardent love of learning, to permit me to send some of our young gentlemen into England, to procure for us those books which we want, and transplant the flowers of Britain into France, that their fragrance may no longer be confined to York, but may perfume the palaces of Tours. — I need not put your majesty in mind, how earnestly we are exhorted in the holy scriptures to the pursuit of wisdom; than which nothing is more conducive to a pleasant, happy, and honourable life; nothing a greater preservative from vice; nothing more becoming or more necessary to those especially, who have the administration of public affairs, and the government of empires. Learning and wisdom exalt the low, and give additional lustre to the honours of the great. By wisdom, kings reign, and princes decree justice. Cease not, then, O Gracious king! to press the young nobility of your court, to the eager pursuit of wisdom and learning in their youth, that they may attain to an honourable old age and a blessed immortality.” (Henry’s Hist. Eng. 8vo. vol. iv. p. 37.) No stronger perception of the importance of letters can be conceived, than is expressed in this admirable letter. It teaches us that in this age implements of erudition were at hand, and required but a Charlemagne to patronise, and an Alcuinus to execute.
During the series of vicissitudes and disasters which for ages afflicted the Queen of Cities, her library was preserved. On the removal of the seat of government to Avignon, by Clement V. the literary treasures of the see accompanied the Pontiff. (Tirab. tom. xi. p. 38.) This secession ended with Martin V. (A. 1417) who fixed himself at Rome, and brought part of them with him; and, making allowance for loss and spoliation, the remainder was afterwards restored to their original situation by Pius V. (Ibid. tom. viii. l. 1. — tom. xiv. p. 213.) These being deposited in the Vatican, are generally said to have been the foundation of that collection. I however find, that so long previous as the commencement of the eighth century, the library of the Lateran, formed by Hilary, was transferred to the Basilica of St. Peter, (a situation which answers to the present,) and from time to time received augmentations. (Tirab. tom. v. 159. Muratori. Scrip. Rer. Ital. tom. iii. part 1. p. 154-163.) Nicholas V. (A. 1447-1455,) Callistus III., Sixtus IV. and V. are justly deemed the parents of the library, and the enlargers of the structure in which it is contained. After many unsuccessful attempts, in the reign of the pope last mentioned, it became open to the public. (Tirab. vol. xiv. p. 214.)
This stupendous library, consisting chiefly of manuscripts, admits of six great divisions: viz.
1. Vaticana, consisting of those MSS. which existed from the earliest times, together with the accessions of subsequent Popes.
2. Palatina, or that which was brought from Heidelbergh, and given to Gregory XV. by Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria, after the capture of that city.
3. Alexandriana, or that which was bequeathed to Alexander VIII. by Christina, queen of Sweden.
4. Urbinata, transferred to Rome from Urbino, when that Duchy devolved to the church, during the reign of Urban VIII.
5. Capponiana, given to Benedict XIV. by the Marquis Alessandro Capponi.
6. Ottoboniana, purchased of the house of Ottoboni, by the Pontiff last mentioned.
The history of the acquirement and removal of such parts of the Palatine collection to Rome as had not been previously dispersed, is curous: “Avea il Duca di Baviera Massimiliano nella guerra mossa contro di Federigo Elettor Palatino, siccome dicemmo, fatto l’acquisto d’ Eidelberga, e di tutto il Palatinato inferiore (A. 1622). In essa Cittâ si trovava un insigne Biblioteca di Antichi Codici scritti a mano, Ebraici, Greci, Latini, e d’altre Lingue, raccolti per quanto fu divolgato, da tutti i Monisteri di quella Provincia, introdotta che vi fù l’ Eresia. Attento il Pontefice Gregorio (XV.) a profittar anch’ egli dell ’altrui naufragio, si per qualche ricompensa de sussidj prestati al Duca in quell ’impresa, come ancora per la pretensione, che appartenesse alla Santa Sede quel tesoro di manuscritti, come spoglio di Luoghi sacri fece gagliarde istanze di ottenerli, e il Duca vi condiscese Scrivono alcuni che la persona inviata dal Papa Urbano VIII. ad Eidelberga per trasportar que’ Codici a Roma, a cagion della poca sua accortezza lasciò sfiorar quella si riguardevole Libreria, essendone stati asportati i Codici migliori. Non pochi certamente se ne trovano nella Real Biblioteca di Vienna. Di poca attenzione per questo fu accusato Leone Alacci uomo di gran credito per la sua erudizione, e par tanti libri dati alla luce, giacchè a lui fu appoggiata l’incombenza suddetta.” (Muratori, A. 1623. Tirabos. tom. viii. part 1. p. 65. edit. 1812.)
The Alexandrian collection has also been supposed to have suffered spoliation before it reached its present destination; “passò,” is the expression of Muratori, (A. 1689) “per la maggior parte, nella Vaticana.” The number of manuscripts it comprises, is estimated at between 1900 and 2000.
5 1. Vitell. A. XIII. P. Plut; IX. A. intitled, “Nennii antiquum exemplar.”
2. Vespas. D. XXI. p. 115. Plut. VI. A. intitled “Antiquissimum exemplar Nennii in quo,” plura continentur quam in aliis.
3. Plut. 624. V. 28. T. This copy was once in the possession of Sir Simon D’Ewes, who professes to have compared it with many others. He styles it, “Anglo-Saxonici anonymi chronica.”
4. The Bodleian, is No. 2016 of the Catalogues of MSS. published 1697. Fol. now Bodl. No. 163. This was once in the collection of Archbishop Usher, who enriched it with notes and collations. The title runs, “Incipiunt gesta Britonum a Gilda (Gilda Minori) sapiente composita.” To the attention of the late Rev. Mr. Price, librarian, the editor owes extracts so copious as nearly to amount to a complete transcript.
6 Notarius and Librarius (to which may be added Antiquarius) are terms which, before the invention of printing, frequently denoted the profession of a copier. — The third of these, was properly the transcriber of such MSS. as were ancient. (Isidor. l. 6, c. 14. Macri Hierolexicon. Du Cange v. Antiquarii.) The eminent and excellent Cassiodorus (480-575,) at the age of seventy retired from public life to a monastery he founded near his native Squillaci, and to which he prescribed the rules of St. Benedict. He enriched it with a valuable library, from which the works of profane authors were not excluded. Among all his amusements, he declares, that the copying MSS. gave him the most pleasure; artists were engaged to adorn them with figures, and to bind them elegantly. When he had attained his ninety-third year, he composed a treatise on orthography, for the use of his monks, that they might learn to transcribe correctly. In times less remote, as the demands for books increased, and as public schools and universities were formed, besides such as were claustral, secular scribes were established universally and became a numerous body. Not only men, but women were thus occupied, to whose insufficiency the defects of many MSS. are assignable. (P. Sarti de Profess. Bonon. tom. i. part 1. p. 186.) This authority refers to the female scribes of Bologna. We may, however, believe the practice to have been general; for Engelhardus, (Abbas. A. 1200, Vite Stæ Michildis Virgin. tom. v. c. 23. Canissii,) reports an accident which happened to a nun in the exercise of her employment: “Cum soror una cui usus erat scribendi membranam, dum ad lineas punctaret subulam incautè trahens, oculum transfigit.” Defective transcript is, however, not solely to be attributed to females; for the accurate and elegant Petrarch indignantly exclaims, “Who shall prescribe an effectual remedy for the ignorance and worthlessness of copiers, who spoil and confuse the performances they undertake? — At this time, every one who can redden letters* or guide a pen, though void of learning, skill, or ability, assumes the character of a scribe. I should not censure their defects in orthography (for that is a long forgotten art,) if they would faithfully transcribe what is before them. They might betray their insufficiency, but we should have in the copy the substance of the original. They now confound both together, and, by substituting one thing for another, we can scarce identify the author from which they transcribed. If Cicero, Livy, and many other illustrious writers, could return to life, and re-peruse their own compositions, would they understand them, and doubting the whole, would they believe them to be their own, or rather, those of some barbarous people?” (De Rem. Utriusque Fortune, l. 1, dial. 43.)
It was once the custom publicly to expose lists of MSS. as a modern bookseller does his printed catalogue. These expressed the number of pages each contained, the terms on which they might be bought, consulted, perused, or copied. To purchase, was not within the ability of every one. At Bologna, highly celebrated for beauty and fidelity of execution, the price of a Bible, in the thirteenth century, was eighty bolognese livres; three of which equalled two fiorini d’oro. — This coin is no longer current. “The florins of Florence weigh a drachm, and are no less than twenty-four carats fine, according to Italian writers; being intrinsically worth about twelve shillings.” (Pinkerton on Medals, vol. ii. p. 19.)
At the same period and place, 200 florins were given for a splendid missal, ornamented with gold letters and painted designs. The word Bibliotheca was equivocal, and frequently meant the books of the Old and New Testament only. (Macri Hierolexicon.) The following extract from a catalogue of the books of Cardinal Guala, A. 1227, bequeathed by him to the monastery of St. Andrea, in Vercelli, of which he was the founder, is curious, both as examples of splendid decoration, and for the enumeration of letters in which they were written; “Bibliotheca magna de littera Parisiensi, cooperta purpurâ, et ornata floribus aureis et literæ capitales aureæ — item alia bibliotheca de littera Boloniensi cooperta corio glauco — item alia bibliotheca de littera Boloniensi cum corio rubro; item biblitheca de littera Anglicana — item bibliotheca parva pretiosissima de littera Parisiensi cum litteris aureis et ornamento purpureo — item Exodus, Leviticus, de littera antiqua — item XII Phrophete in uno volumine de littera Lombarda — item moralia B. Gregorii super Job, de bona littera antiqua aretina.” (Tiraboschi, tom iv. l. 1. p. 83.) Hitherto, except for very distinguished purposes, MSS. had been copied with but little attention to elegance; they now became objects of splendid luxury. The aid of painters was sought for, (“hodie scriptores non sunt scriptores sed pictores,”) who displayed their talents in gilding initials and ornamenting the margins, in which were whimsical figures grinning like baboons; — for such was the conceit of the facetius Odofredus Beneventanus (preceptor to the celebrated Jacobus Baldewinus, A. 1230, (Trithem. apud. Fabric. Bib. Eccles. p. 108) who thus exposes the misapplication of the stipend granted to a young student by his father — “Dixit Pater filio — vade Parisius vel Bononiam, et mittam tibi annuatim centum libras. Iste, quid fecit? Ivit Parisius, et fecit libros suos babuinare de literis aureis — ibat ad cerdonem et faciebat se calceari omni die Sabbati.” Babuinare many not exclusively apply to the quadruped, but may indicate those capiricious animal-forms displayed in the margins of illuminated MSS. “Babewynus Simii species. Ital Babbuino — Visitatio Thesaurariæ S. Pauli Londinensis ann. 1295. Imago quædam pulchra Beatæ Virginis cum pede quadrato stante super quatuor Babewynos. — Hinc stulti infantes Babewini dicuntur. (Macri Hierolexicon, v. Babewynus.)
These designs are not meant for the animals to which they bear some resemblance, nor are they the result of arbitrary fancy merely, but symbolical modifications of infernal spirits trodden under foot by the blessed Virgin, as frequently represented in carvings and illuminated missals, under those of divine persons. (“The dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet.” Psalm, 19, 13 — Gori. diptych. passim.) Perhaps from an idea of degradation, they are frequently seen on the under side of the folding seats in cathedral stalls, called “Misericordiæ,” at times, of such a description, as to betray the low ebb of the popular feeling of decorum, which even a sacred edifice could not chasten.
In the dark ages, every man was his own manufacturer. I meet with the appointment in monasteries of “Pergamenarius — officium in monasteriis, — apud Adalardum in Statut. Corbinensis, l. 1, c. 1. Qui Pergamena parabat, et est in vita B. Mariani Abbat. Ratispon. n. 9. (Du Cange) Adelardus (A. 753-826) was of the blood royal in France, and founded the monastery of Corbio in Saxony. I quote from memory, but if I mistake not, by the capitulary of Charlemagne, monks were intitled to the skins of animals taken in hunting, to make covers for their books.
* The terms miniator and illuminator, are not unfrequently used in common. The first is, however, derived from the colouring substance used; it has not properly any reference to the diminutive size of the picture represented, nor is it exclusively so considered by the modern Italians. “Miniare, quasi minio describere. Relever en vermeillon.. Joann. de Janua. Miniare minio præparare vel scribere minio. Miniator, qui minio scribit, vel præparat minium. Miniographus qui minio scribit. Miniographia, scriptura cum minio facta. (Du Cange.) Illuminator, Aurarius pictor, qui libros variis figuris, iisque aureis condecorat. Illuminare, pingere coloribus, adumbrare, and the word was employed so early as the 8th century, in a less contracted manner; and the following passage from the Epistles of Alcuinus, (No. 1.) may perhaps explain the origin of that branch of the art. — “Quosdam stellarum ordine, ceu picto cujuslibet magnæ domus culmine inluminari gestio.” (Du Cange.)