The copyists—Gratuitous labour—Last words of copyists—Disputes between Cluny and Citeaux—The Abbey of Cluny: its grandeur and influences—Use of gold and purple vellum—The more influential abbeys and their work in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Of course, only really expert calligraphers were employed on great and important works. In the monastery all such labour was gratuitous, that is, the copyist received no pecuniary remuneration, only his food and lodging. Yet even this had to be provided for. Hence the frequent requests for donations from the laity.

To give a volume to a monastery did not always mean actually to present the book, but to stand the expense of its production in the monastery itself. In the case of specially distinguished penmen, their entertainment in a monastery was sometimes an expensive business. It was only in later times, however, when lay-artists were invited to reside in the monastery to do their work that money was paid for their services. Very often we find notices at the end of volumes that “So-and-so” had ordered the book to be written and illuminated at his expense, and an invocation for the gratitude of the reader and remembrance in his prayers is added, sometimes with the date to the very hour when the book was finished.

The copyist's last words after his task was completed are often very full of weariness—sometimes pious, sometimes hankering after fleshly lusts, occasionally quite too dreadful to repeat. “May Christ recompense for ever him who caused this book to be written.” At the end of a Life of St. Sebastian: “Illustrious martyr, remember the monk Gondacus who in this slender volume has included the story of thy glorious miracles. May thy merits assist me to penetrate the heavenly kingdom; and may thy holy prayers aid me as they have aided so many others who have owed to them the ineffable enjoyments both of body and soul.” Wailly quotes the following: “Dextram scriptoris benedicat mater honoris” (“May the mother of honour bless the writer's right hand”). A very common ending is “Qui scripsit scribat semper cum Domino vivat” (“He who wrote, let him write; may he ever live with the Lord”). Another: “Explicit expliceat. Bibere scriptor eat” (“It is finished. Let it be finished, and let the writer go out for a drink”). Another ending is “Vinum scriptori reddatur de meliori” (“Let wine of the best be given to the writer”). And again: “Vinum reddatur scriptori, non teneatur” (“Let wine be given to the writer; let it not be withheld”). Here is the recompense wished for by a French monk: “Detur pro penâ scriptori pulcra puella” (“Let a pretty girl be given to the writer for his pains,” or “as a penance”) The monks enjoyed puns, as “bibere,” a common pun on “vivere.” One writer groans thus: “Scribere qui nescit, nullum putat esse laborem” (“Whoso knows not how to write, thinks it is no trouble”).

As time goes on, after the tenth century, it is noticeable that the more beautiful a manuscript becomes in its writing the less accurate becomes its Latinity. And so the monks who once were noted for learning, gradually lose their grip on Latin. The manuscripts executed in Benedictine abbeys became inaccurate—almost illiterate. Faults of ignorance of words; misrendering of proper names; blundering in the inept introduction of marginal notes and confounding such notes with the text, showing that the heart of the copyist was not in his work nor his head capable of performing it. His hand is simply a machine, which when it goes wrong does so without remorse and without shame. So in the greater houses, men were appointed whose sole business was to supervise the copyists—in fact, to supply the brains, while the scribe furnished the manipulation of the pen. Even they, however, did not always succeed to perfection, as very few of them were too well furnished with scholarship. There were not many Alcuins or Theodulfs in the twelfth century. What they did usually keep free from serious error were the books used in their own services. It was the aim, particularly among the Cistercian houses, to have their liturgical texts absolutely without fault. In respect of illumination, there was a great quarrel between the Abbey of Citeaux and that of Cluny. The great Abbey of Clugny (or Cluny) in ancient Burgundy was founded in 910, and in the course of a century or obtained a degree of splendour, influence, and prosperity unrivalled by any other mediæval foundation. It possessed enormous wealth and covered Western Europe with its affiliated settlements. Under Peter the Venerable, when the controversy began, it was the chief monastic centre of the Christian world. The words of Pope Urban II., when addressing the community, were: “Ye are the light of the world.”