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.”

The grand Basilica at Cluny was completed in 1131, and, until the erection of St. Peter's at Rome, was the largest church in Christendom, and even then was only ten feet shorter than the Roman edifice. The building is a masterpiece of architectural beauty and massiveness, being with its narthex added by Abbat Roland de Hainaut, no less in length than 555 feet. The splendour of the church, its gorgeous tombs and mausoleums, its huge coronals for lights of brass, silver, and gold—the grand candelabrum before the altar, with its settings of crystal and beryl—the mural painting of the cupola, and the general luxury and magnificence of the whole constituted an unpardonable sin in the eyes of the stern and self-denying Cistercians. Hence arose long disputes between the abbats of the two houses about tithes and other matters. Among the other matters were included questions of candlesticks and bindings and gildings of books. The two houses were long at variance on the right definition of luxury in living, and this variance may to this day be observed in their separate and distinct styles, both of architecture and the ornamentation of books. The use of gold was still continued in the older Benedictine abbeys, but was long forbidden in the Cistercian, almost all the ornament of the latter being confined to pen-drawing and the use of coloured inks. The employment of gold for the text of manuscripts so common in the ninth century became rare in the eleventh. Only here and there do we hear of such volumes. Where the gold lettering still lingers, it is confined to the first page or two, and the same may be said of the purple vellum. A certain monk, Adémar, who died at Jerusalem in 1034, wrote a Life of St. Martial of Limoges entirely in letters of gold; but it was quite an exceptional volume. Another example occurs in an Evangeliary, which was probably a copy of a ninth-century model, as at first glance it might be assigned to that age, but on closer examination it is found that in one of the borders is a medallion bearing the name of the Emperor Otho, showing that it cannot be later than the latter part of the tenth century. It is now in the National Library at Paris.

Before speaking of Othonian illumination it may be well to refer to that of the Netherlands in these earlier centuries.

The most ancient writings known in this district were charters and other documents, and the pious effusion of the occupants of the monasteries, such as St. Amand, Lobbes, Stavelot, etc.

It was the revival of art and literature under Charlemagne that was the beginning of artistic calligraphy, then followed the production of books outside the monasteries, classical authors, chronicles, and mirrors of various sciences. In the eleventh century we find monastic books and others of which the ornamentation is sometimes even splendid, such as Psalters, Evangeliaries, Bibles, and Missals, glowing with gold and colours. Already the Abbeys of Stavelot and Liége were high-class centres of production. St. Martin's of Tournay had a famous scriptorium also, noted for the beauty of its writing and its grand initial letters. Immediately following St. Martin's, the Abbeys of Gembloux, St. Bavon at Ghent, and others, produced or acquired MSS. of the most sumptuous kind, and before the thirteenth century the Netherlands had established quite a distinguished reputation.

In a later chapter we shall deal with the development of its remarkable schools, whose work eventually took rank, not only among the most artistic, but the most prolific in Europe.