« PreviousContinue »
had full sway: as we have already seen the christian MSS. libraries springing up amid the ruins of those of Greece and Rome. There is, however, this remarkable difference in the two cases, that whereas the medieval christian libraries did not cause the ruins on which they were founded, but deplored the evil and laboured to remedy it, those of modern times, on the contrary, revelled amidst the ruins which those who founded them had in many instances themselves brought about !
What has now become of all the Cathedral and monastic libraries which were formerly so flourishing in Germany and England ? They have—alas! almost without an exception, been swept from the earth by the storm of the reformation; they have all been buried under the ruins which that miscalled revolution left in its course, or consumed in the conflagrations which its burning zeal enkindled! If you now wish to find any of those time-honoured manuscripts, you must travel to Italy or Spain—to countries which the reformation never blighted: you will find scarcely one of them in Protestant Germany or England. The reformers were much too enlightened to value or preserve those old monastic books, the collection of which had cost whole centuries of patient toil!
This is no rhetorical flourish; it is no exaggeration : it is a plain, unvarnished statement of an undoubted fact. We will present a fev evidences of this fact, which does not rest on our bare assertion. In France, the Huguenots burned the famous library of St. Benedict Sur Loire with its 5000 valuable MSS. volumes: and there is no telling how many other libraries, attached to Churches or to Monasteries, they burned or destroyed in the various provinces of France where they fomented civil war. In Germany, the war of the peasants, sent more than one hundred thousand poor men to the tomb, and consumed no doubt more than twice that number of MSS. volumes. The thirty years war completed the work of destruction, and left Germany almost a dreary wilderness. Every one who has read the history of those troubled times has learned the singular circumstances under which the great library of the city of Munster-one of the most famous of all Germany-was destroyed by the Anabaptists. Rothman, one of their leading prophets, employed the very same reasoning to induce the mob to destroy it, as Omar had used in regard to the famous library of Alexandria. Standing in the public square, he proclaimed with a stentorian voice: “the books in yon library are either conformable to the Bible, or they are not: if the former, they are useless, and should be destroyed; if the latter, they are baneful, and should be burned: therefore, in either case, that library must be destroyed !” The rabble took him at his word; and thus one of the brightest lights of Germany was put out forever.*
But it is to England—to proudly boasting England—that we would beg leave to direct special attention. She did openly, in the face of day, and by act of
• See Audin's Life of Luther, p. 460.- American Edition.
Parliament, what other Protestant countries had done under the maddening influence of popular excitement, and of civil war. The wanton destruction of the English monasteries was invariably followed by that of the libraries attached to them. The Protestant historian, Tyrell, in his history of England, laments, while he freely admits, this sweeping destruction. Bishop Tanner, in his work on the monasteries of England, admits the same thing. Not only this, but the libraries of the two great Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were likewise wantonly destroyed, at the instance of the reforming visiters sent by the King. The two famous libraries of Oxford, founded in the fourteenth century by Richard Aungerville and Thomas Cobham, fell a sacrifice to this reforming zeal. One of those royal myrmidons actually boasted, that he had left the New College quadrangle all covered with the leaves of torn books! In vain did the authorities of the University complain of this rapacious Vandalism: but one single book, of all that splendid collection, could be recovered; and, in 1555, the University sold the very desks and shelves of its once florishing libraries. And what, think you, did those pious visiters do with the books? They sold them to thc Green grocers for wrapping paper! And a few of them were afterwards accidentally found at their stalls, and redeemed!* It is a singular fact, that the Bodleian library, subsequently erected at Oxford, in 1602, contains but three of all those thousands of volumes which formerly enriched the Oxford libraries!! And yet those libraries, thus wantonly destroyed, contained, besides other important works, the ancient annals of England. Not to mention other facts in proof of this, both William of Malmesburg and Florence of Worcester, assure us, that they composed their histories almost entirely from the monastic records.
Thus did enlightened Protestant England revel amid the ruins of her christian libraries of the middle ages. She first used every effort to obliterate all traces of medieval learning, and then sneered at the darkness of those ages, and boasted her own superior enlightenment! The middle ages would have been dark indeed, if the reformation had had unchecked sway in the world : but thanks to the literary zeal of Catholic Italy, the works of medieval literature have not wholly dissappeared!
Notwithstanding this violent check to learning by the fanaticism of the reformation, modern libraries increased apace, in consequence of the Art of Printing. The early activity of the press in the multiplication of books is almost incredible. From the year 1455, to 1536, a period of 81 years, it is computed that no less than 22,932,000 books were printed. The first book of any magnitude that was printed was probably the Latin Bible, which according to Mr. Hallam, I appeared as early as 1455. It is also a well ascertained fact, that, during the seventy years intervening between the first issue of the press, and
• See Chamberlain-Present State of England, Part III. p. 45. † Petit Radel-Recherches Sur les Bibliotheques, p. 82.
In his “ Introduction to the History of Literature in Europe,” &c.
the publication of Luther's German Bible in 1530, more than SEVENTY different editions of the Bible had been published in the various vernacular tongues of Europe!
We should be endless, were we to dwell in detail on all, or even the principal, great modern libraries. Suffice it to name the Bodleian at Oxford, and that of Cambridge, together with the Gresham Library, and that connected with the British Museum, in England; the Bibliotheque Royale, and a host of others, in France; the Royal Library, at Munich in Bavaria; the Senatorial Library at Leipsic, and the Imperial Library at Vienna. We hazard little, however, in saying, that both in regard to number and to antiquity, Italy is perhaps better furnished with libraries than any other country of Europe. She has none, perhaps, which can boast as great a number of books as the Royal Library at Paris : but withal, she has more numerous and respectable libraries than either France, England, or Germany. There is the Ambrosian Library at Milan; that of St. Mark at Venice; the Magliabecchiana and the Laurentiana at Florence; and the Vatican at Rome; which may compete with any others in the world. All the other principal cities of Italy—Turin, Pavia, Padua, Parma, Pisa, Sienna, Modena, Ferrara, Bologna, Naples and Perugia, have numerous public libraries, which are free for all. In Venice, there are no less than fourteen, some of which are larger than St. Mark’s; and there is about the same number at Rome. “ Ignorant Italy” is thus still ahead of the world in bibliographical treasures, upon which she draws without intermission. While there are, perhaps, not more then four respectable libraries in loudly boasting and bitterly sneering England, there are perhaps not less than a hundred in unpretending Italy; and these almost all richly stored with ancient MSS. volumes, and other rare works!* The old saying is here verified : “ smooth water runs deep.”
Our own rising country is still far behind Europe in libraries. Still we have made a good beginning, and we have already many respectable collections of books. Almost every College in the land, and State in the Union, has the nucleus of a library. The most ancient and the most richly furnished are those of Philadelphia and of Harvard, each of which numbers about 50,000 volumes. That of Yale College is about one-third less than these two. Mercantile enterprise and liberality have done much to establish libraries and to augment those already in existence; and when the munificent bequest of $400,000 left by the present John Jacob Astor of New York shall be applied to its contemplated object, we may expect to see a splendid library in our great commercial emporium.
Nothing can be more desirable than the multiplication of libraries throughout our happy country. They are great fountain heads whence flow literary streams which will irrigate and fertilize our land. To the forecast of our great
* See Baretti-- Account of Italy, vol. 1. p. 196–7. Edit. London in 2 vol's. 8vo. 1769.
statesman philosopher, Benjamin Franklin, we are indebted for the first idea of a great library at Philadelphia. The conception was well worthy of him on whose tomb was inscribed the appropriate epitaph :
“Eripuit fulmen cælo, sceptrumque tyrannis.” Public libraries in large commercial cities serve greatly to qualify the mercantile spirit, and to quench the otherwise all devouring fever of avarice, which, in our enlightened age of dollars and cents, is but too apt to be the all pervading malady. As we grow older, the restless spirit of speculation will, it is hoped, somewhat abate ; and then we shall enjoy more literary leisure, and shall apply more ardently and successfully to the pursuits of science and literature.
Then may we hope to treat with contempt all that flimsy stuff with which the press daily floods our land, and which is christened literature, we suppose, by courtesy. Then may our youth turn with disgust from the sickly effusions of our Willis’, our Tays, and our Poes, to the more solid productions of our Irvings, our Prescotts, our Stephens', and our Bancrofts. A quaint old poet has well said:
“ The busy mints
And coining new ideas.” Now it so happens that this same “busy mint” now-a-days "coins" more spurious, than it does genuine, “ideas.” Literary activity will be of little avail, unless we be able to detect the counterfeit, and distinguish it from the genuine coin. We set down as counterfeit almost all the fashionable novels of the day—the French especially included—and we except only those of Walter Scott, of Maria Edgworth, and the writings of Charles Dickens—bating, however, his “ American Notes," which are not much more current here, than the same amount of notes of one of our broken banks. We like Dickens, because he has discovered the “philosophers's stone :” he transforms into pure gold every thing that he touches. He is the friend and advocate of the poor and the distressed ; and he strikes at tyrany and avarice in high places. Besides, he leaves a good moral impression in most of his works.
We would not be understood as disparaging the great literary activity of our age: we would only wish to see it properly directed. Activity in the health of both body and soul. The mind becomes more buoyant and vigorous by exercise. The mind of a nation particularly,
" Like the bounding ocean Gains, and gains, and grows more strong by inotion.”
From the (London) Catholic Magazine.
THE MONTH OF MARY.
“OH, MARY, CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN, PRAY FOR ME, WHO HAVE RECOURSE TO You.”
It was a fine evening in the month of May, and after wandering long among the tombs of Père la Chaise, I was about to depart from thence, when a murmur of voices fell on my ear, and turning round I beheld a sight which never shall, which never can be, obliterated from my memory. It was a funeral procession—but one which told less of death than of life everlasting, less of grief, than of gladness, that a pure spirit had been removed from the contagion of earth to joy in the purity of its heaverly sisters. Beside the coffin walked a pair of mourners whose looks of misery told their tale; they were the parents of the departed, perhaps they had lost their only child, the joy of their younger days, the hope and staff of their approaching age. Neither of them were old; the creature over whom they wept could have barely passed the first years of childhood; and the hat-bands of the mourners, and the pall that covered the coffin, were of the spotless hue that denotes the virgin.
The coffin was preceded by a troop of young girls all clad in white, and bearing wreathes of white roses in their hands. Their eyes were cast modestly down, and amid looks of deep recollection and prayer, I thought I could trace on many a fair young brow a mingled expression of sadness for the loss of a friend, and of most sweet assurance of her present bliss. I knew at once that this young troop of mourners belonged to the Society of the Month of Mary, and that they were about to consign a companion of their pious association to an early grave.
The Month of Mary has always appeared to me one of the most beautiful, as it certainly is one of the most poetical, of the devotions of the Catholic church. By this holy practice, the month of May, the fairest of the months of Spring, is dedicated to Mary, who was the first and fairest among the daughters of men, and whose days beamed upon this unhappy world like a beautiful Spring, making it fair by her virtues and bright by the proinise of that spiritual summer which was to visit its children in the person of her Son.
But I must return to Père la Chaise. The pure child of this most pure devotion, was consigned to earth; her sisters in piety and love had knelt round her grave, mingling their prayers with tears, half of sorrow for her death, half of sympathy in her present bliss; then each flung her white garland on it, until it became a trophy of white blossoms, and so they all departed in prayer and religious resignation. The bereaved parents alone remained on the spot where their all of earthly joy was buried. Long and fervently that mother prayed! Now she cast her eyes to Heaven, as if there she could trace the flight of her child to bliss! And now she cast them to the earth, as nature would have its way, and her heart was wrung with sad thoughts of the coffin and the worm, and all that makes death horrible to the mind of man. What a contrast