ENGLISH ILLUMINATION FROM THE TENTH TO THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY

The scriptorium at St. Alban's, to which the fame of book production in the Middle Ages very largely reverted, was not founded until nearly three centuries after the foundation of that abbey. The library began with twenty-eight notable volumes, and eight Psalters, a book of collects, another of epistles, and Evangelia legenda per annum, two Gospel-books bound in gold and silver and set with gems, together with other necessary volumes for ordinary use. Almost every succeeding abbat contributed something to the library shelves. Geoffrey, the sixteenth abbat, a Norman who once had a school at Dunstable, and who was both a popular and liberal ruler, enriched the library with a Missal bound in gold, another incomparably illuminated and beautifully written, and also a Psalter richly illuminated, a Benedictional, and others. His successor, Ralph Gubiun, also gave a number of MSS. Robert de Gosham, the next abbat, gave “very many” books, which he had caused to be written and sumptuously bound for the purpose. And Abbat Simon, who followed in 1166, created the office of historiographer to the abbey, repaired and enlarged the scriptorium, and kept two or three of the cleverest writers constantly employed in transcription, and ordained that for the future every abbat should maintain at least one suitable and capable scribe. Among the many choice MSS. added by Abbat Simon was a beautiful copy of the Bible specially written with the greatest care and exactness. In addition he presented the library with all his own precious collection. Another liberal benefactor was John de Cell, a man of vast learning in grammar and poetry, and also a practitioner in medicine. Being unfit for household management, he committed the secular affairs of the abbey to his prior Reymund, by whose zeal many noble and valuable books were transcribed for the library. And so grew in magnitude and importance the great collection which supplied Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris with materials for their famous histories. St. Alban's, indeed, was at one period perhaps the most noted of all the English centres of book production. To dilate on other centres, such as Westminster, Exeter, Worcester, Norwich, or York, would lead us too far afield for a mere handbook like the present. Enough has been said to give a good idea of what our English abbats and priors were in the habit of doing for art and letters.