By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Libraries in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods - The Rede Lecture Delivered June 13, 1894
Author: Clark, John Willis, 1833-1910
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Libraries in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods - The Rede Lecture Delivered June 13, 1894" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

[Illustration: FIG. 2. General view of part of the Library attached to the
Church of S. Wallberg at Zutphen.





  DELIVERED JUNE 13, 1894_


  J.W. CLARK, M.A., F.S.A.


    _The lecture was illustrated by lantern-slides. A brief notice
    of each of these is printed in the text in Italics at the
    place in the lecture where the slide was exhibited._


A library may be considered from two very different points of view: as a
workshop, or as a Museum.

The former commends itself to the practical turn of mind characteristic of
the present day; common sense urges that mechanical ingenuity, which has
done so much in other directions, should be employed in making the
acquisition of knowledge less cumbrous and less tedious; that as we travel
by steam, so we should also read by steam, and be helped in our studies by
the varied resources of modern invention. There lies on my table at this
present moment a _Handbook of Library Appliances_, in which fifty-three
closely printed pages are devoted to this interesting subject, with
illustrations of various contrivances by which the working of a large
library is to be facilitated and brought up to date. In fact, from this
point of view a library may be described as a gigantic mincing-machine,
into which the labours of the past are flung, to be turned out again in a
slightly altered form as the literature of the present.

If, on the other hand, a library be regarded as a Museum--and I use the
word in its original sense as a temple or haunt of the Muses--very
different ideas are evoked. Such a place is as useful as the other--every
facility for study is given--but what I may call the personal element as
affecting the treasures there assembled is brought prominently forward.
The development of printing, as the result of individual effort; the art
of bookbinding, as practised by different persons in different countries;
the history of the books themselves, the libraries in which they have
found a home, the hands that have turned their pages, are there taken
note of. Modern literature is fully represented, but the men of past days
are not thrust out of sight; their footsteps seem to linger in the rooms
where once they walked--their shades seem to protect the books they once
handled. What Browning felt about frescoes may be applied--_mutatis
mutandis_--to books in such an asylum as I am trying to portray:

    Wherever a fresco peels and drops,
      Wherever an outline weakens and wanes
    Till the latest life in the painting stops,
      Stands One whom each fainter pulse-tick pains:
    One, wishful each scrap should clutch the brick,
      Each tinge not wholly escape the plaster,
    A lion who dies of an ass's kick,
      The wronged great soul of an ancient Master.

It may be safely asserted that at no time has a love of reading, a desire
to be fairly well-informed on all sorts of subjects, been so widely
diffused as at the present day. As a necessary consequence of this the
'workshop' view of a library has been very generally accepted. I have no
wish to undervalue it; I only plead for the recognition of another
sentiment which may at times be overlaid by the pressure of daily
avocations. In Cambridge, at least, there is no fear that it should ever
be obliterated altogether, for we have effected a happy alliance between
the present and the past, by which neither is neglected, neither is unduly
prominent. This being the case, it has occurred to me that I may be so
fortunate as to interest a Cambridge audience while I set before them some
of the results at which I have arrived in investigating the position, the
arrangement, and the fittings of libraries in the medieval and renaissance
periods. It will, of course, be impossible to attempt more than a sketch
of so extensive a subject, and I fear that I must omit the contents of the
bookcases altogether; but I shall hope, by a selection of typical
illustrations, to make you realise what some of the libraries, monastic,
public, or private, that fall within my period were like.

I must begin with a few words about Roman libraries, because their methods
influenced the Middle Ages, and are, in fact, the precursors of those in
fashion in our own times. The Romans preserved their books in two ways:
either in a small room or closet, for reading elsewhere; or in a large
apartment, fitted up with greater or less splendour, according to the
taste or the means of the possessor, in which the books were doubtless
studied as in a modern library. An instructive example of the former class
was one of the first discoveries at Herculaneum in 1754. It was a very
small room, so small in fact that a man who stood with his arms extended
in the centre of it could almost touch the walls on either side, yet 1700
rolls were found in it. These were kept in wooden presses (_armaria_)
which stood against the walls like a modern bookcase. Besides these a
rectangular case occupied the central space, with only a narrow passage to
the right and left between it and the wall-cases. These cases were about
a man's height, and had been numbered. It may be concluded from this that
a catalogue of the books had once existed. In larger libraries the books
were kept in similar presses, but they were ornamented with the busts or
pictures of illustrious men, under each of which was a suitable
inscription, usually in verse.

No ancient figure of one of these book-presses has been preserved, so far
as I have been able to ascertain; but, as furniture is apt to retain its
original forms with but little variation for a very long period, a
representation of a press containing the four Gospels, which occurs among
the mosaics in the Mausoleum of the Empress Galla Placidia at Ravenna,
though it could not have been executed before the middle of the fifth
century, may be taken as a fairly accurate picture of the book-presses of
an earlier age. It is unnecessary to describe it, for it is exactly like a
still later example which I am about to shew you. This picture occurs at
the beginning of the MS. of the Vulgate called the _Codex Amiatinus_,
which is now proved to have been written in England, at Wearmouth or
Jarrow, but probably by an Italian scribe, shortly before 716. The seated
figure represents Ezra writing the Law.

_Bookcase in the Codex Amiatinus: from Garrucci, "Storia dell' arte
Cristiana,"_ iii. pl. 126.

To get an idea of one of the larger Roman libraries in ancient times we
cannot do better than turn to that of the Vatican at the present day. It
was fitted up as we see it now--with presses, busts, and antique vases, by
Pope Sixtus V., in 1588. It is therefore, at best, only a modern antique;
but arranged so skilfully that an ancient Roman, if he could come to life
again, might imagine himself in his own library.

_Interior of part of the Vatican Library._

The library-era, as we may call it, of the Christian world, began with the
publication of the Rule of S. Benedict, early in the sixth century. But,
just as that Rule emphasized and arranged on the lines of an ordered
system observances which had long been practised by isolated congregations
or individuals living in solitude--so the part of it which deals with
study was evidently no new thing. S. Benedict did not invent literature or
libraries; he only lent the sanction of his name to the study of the one
and the formation of the other. That libraries existed before his period
is proved by allusions to them in the Fathers and other early writers;
but, as those allusions are general, and say nothing from which either
their size or their arrangement can be inferred, I shall dismiss them in
very few sentences. The earliest is said to have been the collection got
together at Jerusalem, by Bishop Alexander, at the beginning of the third
century. Another was founded about fifty years later at Cæsarea by
Origen. This is described as not only extensive, but remarkable for the
importance of the manuscripts it contained. Others are recorded at Hippo,
at Cirta, at Constantinople, and at Rome, where both S. Peter's and the
Lateran had their special collections of books. I suspect that all these
libraries were in connexion with churches, possibly actually within their
walls. At Cirta, for example, it is recorded that during the persecution
of 303-304 the officers "went to the church where the Christians used to
assemble, and spoiled it of chalices, lamps, etc., but when they came into
the library (_bibliothecam_), the presses (_armaria_) there were found
empty." This language seems to imply that the sacred vessels and the books
were in different parts of the same building. The instructions, again, of
the dying Augustine, who bequeathed his library to the church at Hippo,
lead to the same conclusion. The library of S. Peter's at Rome, though
added to the basilica erected by Constantine, long after its primitive
foundation, was on the ground-floor in the angle between the nave and the
north limb of the transept, a position which may perhaps have been
selected in accordance with early usage.

I now pass to the treatment of books in the libraries of the monastic
orders. These either adopted the Rule of S. Benedict, or based their own
Rule upon its provisions. It will therefore be desirable to examine what
he said on the subject of study, and I will translate a few lines from the
48th chapter of his Rule, _Of daily manual labour_.

    Idleness is the enemy of the soul; hence brethren ought, at
    certain seasons, to occupy themselves with manual labour, and
    again, at certain hours, with holy reading....

    Between Easter and the calends of October let them apply
    themselves to reading from the fourth hour till near the sixth
    hour. After the sixth hour, when they rise from table, let
    them rest on their beds in complete silence; or, if any one
    should wish to read to himself, let him do so in such a way as
    not to disturb any one else....

    From the calends of October to the beginning of Lent let them
    apply themselves to reading until the second hour.... During
    Lent, let them apply themselves to reading from morning until
    the end of the third hour ... and, in these days of Lent, let
    them receive a book apiece from the library, and read it
    straight through. These books are to be given out at the
    beginning of Lent. It is important that one or two seniors
    should be appointed to go round the monastery at the hours
    when brethren are engaged in reading, in case some
    ill-conditioned brother should be giving himself up to sloth
    or idle talk, instead of reading steadily; so that not only is
    he useless to himself, but incites others to do wrong.

"Behold! how great a matter a little fire kindleth!" These simple words,
uttered by one who in power of far-reaching influence has had no equal,
gave an impulse to study in the ages it once was the fashion to call dark
which grew with the growth of the Order--till wherever a Benedictine house
arose--or a monastery of any one of the Orders which were but off-shoots
from the Benedictine tree--books were multiplied, and a library came into
being, small indeed at first, but increasing year by year, till the
wealthier houses had gathered together a collection of books that would do
credit to a modern University.

It is very interesting to notice, as Order after Order was founded, a
steady development of feeling with regard to books, and an ever increasing
care for their safe-keeping. S. Benedict had contented himself with
general directions for study; the Cluniacs prescribe the selection of a
special officer to take charge of the books, with an annual audit of them,
and the assignment of a single volume to each brother; the Carthusians and
the Cistercians provide for the loan of books to extraneous persons under
certain conditions--a provision which the Benedictines in their turn
adopted. Further, by the time that the Cluniac Customs were drawn up in
the form in which they have come down to us, it is evident that the number
of books exceeded the number of brethren; for both in them, and in the
statutes which Lanfranc promulgated for the use of the English
Benedictines in 1070, the keeper of the books is directed to bring all the
books of the House into Chapter, after which the brethren, one by one, are
to bring in the books they had borrowed on the same day in the previous
year. Some of the former class of books were probably service-books, but,
after this deduction has been made, we may fairly conclude that by the end
of the eleventh century Benedictine Houses possessed two sets of books:
(1) those which were distributed among the brethren; (2) those which were
kept in some safe place, probably the church, as part of the valuables of
the House: or, to adopt modern phrases, they had a lending library and a
library of reference. The Augustinians go a step farther than the
Benedictines and the Orders derived from them, for they prescribe the kind
of press in which the books are to be kept. Both they and the
Premonstratensians permit their books to be lent on the receipt of a
pledge of sufficient value. Lastly, the Friars, though they were
established on the principle of holding no possessions of any kind, soon
found that books were indispensable; that, in the words of a Norman
Bishop, _Claustrum sine armario, castrum sine armamentario_. So, by a
strange irony, it came to pass that their libraries excelled those of most
other Orders, as Richard de Bury testifies in the _Philobiblon_.

    Whenever we turned aside to the cities and places where the
    Mendicants had their convents ... we found heaped up amidst
    the utmost poverty the utmost riches of wisdom....

    These men are as ants ever preparing their meat in the summer,
    and ingenious bees continually fabricating cells of honey....
    And to pay due regard to truth, although they lately at the
    eleventh hour have entered the Lord's vineyard ..., they have
    added more in this brief hour to the stock of the sacred books
    than all the other vine-dressers; following in the footsteps
    of Paul, the last to be called but the first in preaching, who
    spread the gospel of Christ more widely than all others.

It might have been expected, from the use of the word _library_ in the
Rule of S. Benedict, that a special room assigned to books would have been
one of the primitive component parts of every Benedictine House. This,
however, is not the case. Such a room does usually occur in these Houses,
but it will be found, on examination, that it was added to some previously
existing structure in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Its absence
from the primitive plan brings out two points very clearly: (1) how few
books even a wealthy community could afford to possess for several
centuries after the foundation of the Order; (2) how strictly the Order
adhered to prescribed arrangements in laying out its Houses, for even
those built, or rebuilt, after books had become plentiful, do not admit a
Library as an indispensable item in their ground-plan.

How then did they bestow their books after they had become too numerous to
be kept in the church? The answer to this question is a very curious one,
when we consider what our climate is, and indeed what the climate of the
whole of Europe is, during the winter months. The centre of the monastic
life was the cloister. Brethren were not allowed to congregate in any
other part of the conventual buildings, except when they went into the
frater, or dining-hall, for their meals, or at certain hours in certain
seasons into the warming-house (_calefactorium_). In the cloister
accordingly they kept their books; and there they sat and studied, or
conducted the schooling of the novices and choir-boys in winter and in
summer alike.

Such a locality as this could not have been very favourable to the
preservation of the books themselves. They, however, had a certain amount
of protection which was denied to their readers, for they were shut up in
presses. The word used for these, _armarium_, is the same as that which
was applied by the Romans to their bookcases; and probably the idea of
such a piece of furniture was due to a far-off echo of ancient usage. The
official who had charge of the books did not derive his name from them, as
in modern times, but from the presses which contained them--for he was
uniformly styled _armarius_.

As time went on, greater comfort was introduced. The windows of the walk
of the cloister where the presses stood, usually the walk next the Church,
were glazed--and sometimes not merely with white glass, but with mottoes
alluding to the authors whose works were near at hand; while in some
monasteries the elder monks were provided with small wooden studies,
called "carrells." A description of the whole system has been preserved
for us in that curious book _The Rites of Durham_; but it must be
remembered that this represents the customs of the convent just before the
suppression, and therefore gives no idea of the rigour of an earlier time.

_Part of the north walk of the cloister, Durham._

    In the north syde of the Cloister, from the corner over
    against the Church dour to the corner over againste the Dorter
    dour, was all fynely glased from the hight to the sole within
    a litle of the grownd into the Cloister garth. And in every
    wyndowe iij Pewes or Carrells, where every one of the old
    Monks had his carrell, severall by himselfe, that, when they
    had dyned, they dyd resort to that place of Cloister, and
    there studyed upon there books, every one in his carrell, all
    the after nonne, unto evensong tyme. This was there exercise
    every daie.

    All there pewes or carrells was all fynely wainscotted and
    verie close, all but the forepart, which had carved wourke
    that gave light in at ther carrell doures of wainscott. And in
    every carrell was a deske to lye there bookes on. And the
    carrells was no greater then from one stanchell of the wyndowe
    to another.

    And over against the carrells against the church wall did
    stande certaine great almeries [or cupbords] of waynscott all
    full of bookes [with great store of ancient manuscripts to
    help them in their study], wherein did lye as well the old
    auncyent written Doctors of the Church as other prophane
    authors with dyverse other holie mens wourks, so that every
    one dyd studye what Doctor pleased them best, havinge the
    Librarie at all tymes to goe studie in besydes there carrells.

No example of an English monastic book-press has survived, so far as I
have been able to discover; but it would be rash to say that none exists.
Meanwhile I will shew you a French example of a press, from the sacristy
of the Cathedral at Bayeux, but I cannot be sure that it was originally
intended to hold books. M. Viollet-Le-Duc, from whom I borrow it, decides
that it was probably made early in the thirteenth century.

_Cupboard from sacristy of Bayeux Cathedral._

The Durham _Rites_ speak only of book-presses standing in the cloister
against the walls; but it was not unusual to have recesses in the wall
itself, fitted with shelves, and probably closed by a door. Two such are
to be seen at Worcester, immediately to the north of the chapter-house
door. Each is about ten feet wide by two feet deep.

_Book-recess, east walk of the cloister, Worcester._

A similar receptacle for books seems to have been contemplated in
Augustinian Houses, for in the Customs of the Augustinian Priory of
Barnwell, written towards the end of the thirteenth century, the following
passage occurs:

    The press in which the books are kept ought to be lined inside
    with wood, that the damp of the walls may not moisten or stain
    the books. This press should be divided vertically as well as
    horizontally by sundry partitions, on which the books may be
    ranged so as to be separated from one another; for fear they
    be packed so close as to injure each other, or delay those who
    want them.

Recesses such as these were developed in Cistercian houses into a small
square room without a window, and but little larger than an ordinary
cupboard. In the plans of Clairvaux and Kirkstall this room is placed
between the chapter-house and the transept of the church; and similar
rooms, in similar situations, have been found at Fountains, Beaulieu,
Tintern, Netley, etc. The catalogue, made 1396, of the Cistercian Abbey at
Meaux in Holderness, now totally destroyed, gives us a glimpse of the
internal arrangement of one of these rooms. The books were placed on
shelves against the walls, and even over the door. Again, the catalogue of
the House of White Canons at Titchfield in Hampshire, dated 1400, shews
that the books were kept in a small room, on shelves there called
_columpnæ_, set against the walls. It is obvious that no study could have
gone forward in such places as these; they must have been intended for
security only, and to replace the wooden presses used elsewhere.

As time went on, the number of the books would naturally increase, and by
the beginning of the fifteenth century the larger monasteries at least
had accumulated many hundred volumes. For instance, at Christ Church,
Canterbury, at the beginning of the 14th century, there were 698. These
had to be bestowed in various parts of the House without order or
selection,--in presses set up wherever a vacant corner could be found--to
the great inconvenience, we may be sure, of the more studious monks, or of
scholars who came to consult them. To remedy such a state of things a
definite room was constructed for books--in addition to the presses in the
cloister, which were still retained for the books in daily use. A few
instances of this will suffice. At Christ Church, Canterbury, a library
was built between 1414 and 1443 by Archbishop Chichele, over the Prior's
Chapel; at Durham between 1416 and 1446 by Prior Wessyngton, over the old
sacristy; at Citeaux in 1480, over the writing-room (_scriptorium_); at
Clairvaux between 1495 and 1503, in the same position; at S. Victor in
Paris--an Augustinian House--between 1501 and 1508; and at S. Germain des
Prés in the same city about 1513, over the south cloister.

Most of us, I take it, have more or less imperfect ideas of the appearance
of a great monastery in the days of its completeness; and information on
this point is unfortunately much more defective for our own country than
it is for France. In illustration, therefore, of what I have been saying
about the position of monastic libraries, I will next shew you two
bird's-eye views of the Benedictine House of S. Germain des Prés, Paris.
The first, dated 1687, shews the library over the south walk of the
cloister, where it was placed in 1513. It must not, however, be supposed
that no library existed before this. On the contrary, the House seems to
have had one from the first foundation, and so early as the thirteenth
century it could be consulted by strangers, and books borrowed from it.
The second view, dated 1723, shews a still further extension of the
library. It has now invaded the west side of the cloister, which has
received an upper storey, and even the external appearance of the
venerable refectory, which was respected when nearly all the rest of the
buildings were rebuilt in a classical style, has been sacrificed to a
similar gallery. The united lengths of these three rooms must have been
little short of 324 feet. This library was at the disposal of all scholars
who desired to use it. When the Revolution came it contained more than
49,000 printed books, and 7000 manuscripts. The fittings belonged to the
period of its latest extension: they appear to have been sumptuous, but
for my present object, uninteresting.

_Views of S. Germain des Prés:_ (1) _from Franklin, "Anciennes
Bibliothèques de Paris,"_ i. 126; (2) _from Bouillart, "Histoire de
l'Abbaye de S. Germain des Préz."_

At Canterbury the library, built as I have said, over the Prior's Chapel,
was 60 feet long, by 22 feet broad; and we know, from some memoranda
written in 1508, when a number of books were sent to be bound or repaired,
that it contained sixteen bookcases, each of which had four shelves. I
have calculated that this library could have contained about 2000 volumes.

I have shewn you a Benedictine House, and will next shew you a bird's-eye
view of Citeaux, the parent house of the Cistercian Order, founded at the
close of the eleventh century. The original was taken, so far as I can
make out, about 1500, at any rate before the primitive buildings had been
seriously altered. The library here occupied two positions--under the roof
between the dormitory and the refectory (which must have been extremely
inconvenient); and subsequently it was rebuilt in an isolated situation on
the north side of the second cloister, over the writing-room
(_scriptorium_). This was also the position of the new library at
Clairvaux--the other great Cistercian House in France--the fame of which
was equal to, if not greater than, that of Citeaux. Of this latter library
we have two descriptions; the first written in 1517, the second in 1723.

_View of Citeaux: from Viollet-Le-Duc, "Dictionnaire de l'Architecture,"_
i. 271.

The former account, by the secretary of the Queen of Sicily, who visited
Clairvaux 13 July 1517, is as follows:

    On the same side of the cloister are fourteen studies, where
    the monks write and study, and over the said studies is the
    new library, to which one mounts by a broad and lofty spiral
    staircase from the aforesaid cloister. This library is 189
    feet long, by 17 feet wide. In it are 48 seats (_bancs_), and
    in each seat 4 shelves (_poulpitres_) furnished with books on
    all subjects, but chiefly theology; the greater number of the
    said books are of vellum, and written by hand, richly storied
    and illuminated. The building that contains the said library
    is magnificent, built of stone, and excellently lighted on
    both sides with fine large windows, well glazed, looking out
    on the said cloister and the burial-ground of the brethren....
    The said library is paved throughout with small tiles adorned
    with various designs.

The description written in 1723, by the learned Benedictines to whom we
owe the _Voyage Littéraire_, is equally interesting:

    From the great cloister you proceed into the cloister of
    conversation, so called because the brethren are allowed to
    converse there. In this cloister there are 12 or 15 little
    cells, all of a row, where the brethren formerly used to write
    books; for this reason they are still called at the present
    day the writing-rooms. Over these cells is the Library, the
    building for which is large, vaulted, well lighted, and
    stocked with a large number of manuscripts, fastened by chains
    to desks; but there are not many printed books.

In the great cloister, on the side next the Chapter House, the same
observer noted "books chained on wooden desks, which brethren can come and
read when they please." The library was for serious study, the cloister
for daily reading, probably in the main devotional.

If my time were unlimited I could describe to you several other fifteenth
century monastic libraries, but I feel that I must content myself with
only one more--that of the Franciscan House in London, commonly called
Christ's Hospital. The first stone of this library was laid by Sir Richard
Whittington, 21 October, 1421, and by Christmas Day in the following year
the roof was finished. Stow tells us that it was 129 feet long by 31 feet
broad; and the Letters Patent of Henry the Eighth add that it had 28
desks, and 28 double settles of wainscot. The whole building--so well
worth preservation--has been totally destroyed, but I am able to shew you
a view of it.

_Library of Christ's Hospital: from Trollope's "History of Christ's
Hospital,"_ p. 105.

This view is an excellent illustration of the point on which I have
insisted, namely, that in the course of the fifteenth century the great
religious Houses--no matter to what Order they belonged--found that their
books had become too numerous for the localities primitively intended for
them, and began to build special libraries--usually over some existing
structure; or--in other words--established a library of reference, which
was not unfrequently thrown open to scholars in general, who were allowed
to borrow books from it, on execution of an indenture, or deposit of a
sufficient pledge. "It is safer to fall back on a pledge, than to proceed
against an individual," said the Customs of the Priory at Abingdon.

In what way were these monastic libraries fitted up? No trace of any
monastic fittings has survived, so far as I am aware, either in England,
or in France, or in Italy; and even M. Viollet-Le-Duc dismisses "The
Library" in a few brief sentences, of which the keynote is despair. My own
view is that a close analogy may be traced between the fittings of
monastic libraries and those of collegiate libraries; and that when we
understand the one we shall understand the other.

The collegiate system was in no sense of the word monastic, indeed it was
to a certain extent established to counteract monastic influence; but it
is absurd to suppose that the younger communities would borrow nothing
from the elder--especially when we reflect that the monastic system had
completed at least seven centuries of successful existence before Walter
de Merton was moved to found a college; that many of the subsequent
founders of colleges were churchmen, if not actually monks; and that there
were monastic colleges at both Universities. Further, as we have seen that
study was specially enjoined upon the monks by S. Benedict, it is
precisely in the direction of study that we should expect to find common
features in the two sets of communities. And this, in fact, is what came
to pass. An examination of the statutes affecting the library in the codes
imposed upon the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge shews that their
provisions were borrowed directly from the monastic Customs. The
resemblances are too striking to be accidental. Take, for instance, this
clause, from the statutes of Oriel College, Oxford, dated 1329:

    The common books (_communes libri_) of the House are to be
    brought out and inspected once a year, on the feast of the
    Commemoration of Souls [2 November], in presence of the
    Provost or his deputy, and of the Scholars [Fellows].

    Every one of them in turn, in order of seniority, may select a
    single book which either treats of the science to which he is
    devoting himself, or which he requires for his use. This he
    may keep until the same festival in the succeeding year, when
    a similar selection of books is to take place, and so on, from
    year to year. If there should happen to be more books than
    persons, those that remain are to be selected in the same

Bishop Bateman--who had been educated in the priory at Norwich, and whose
brother was an abbot--gave statutes to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1350,
with similar provisions, and the addition that certain books "are to
remain continuously in the library-chamber, fastened with iron chains, for
the common use of the Fellows." These were copied by Wykeham at New
College, Oxford, but with extended provisions for lending books to
students, and a direction that all the books "which remain unassigned
after the Fellows have made their selection are to be fastened with iron
chains, and remain for ever in the common Library." This statute was
repeated at King's College, Cambridge, and at several colleges in Oxford.

Let me now remind you of Archbishop Lanfranc's statute for English
Benedictines, dated 1070, which was based, as he himself tells us, on the
general monastic practice of his time:

    On the Monday after the first Sunday in Lent, before brethren
    come into the Chapter House, the librarian (_custos librorum_)
    shall have had a carpet laid down, and all the books got
    together upon it, except those which a year previously had
    been assigned for reading. These brethren are to bring with
    them, when they come into the Chapter House, each his book in
    his hand....

    Then the librarian shall read a statement as to the manner in
    which brethren have had books during the past year. As each
    brother hears his name pronounced he is to give back the book
    which had been entrusted to him for reading; and he whose
    conscience accuses him of not having read the book through
    which he had received, is to fall on his face, confess his
    fault, and entreat forgiveness.

    The librarian shall then make a fresh distribution of books,
    namely, a different volume to each brother for his reading.

You will agree with me, I feel sure, that this statute, or similar
provisions extracted from other regulations, is the source of the
collegiate provisions for an annual audit and distribution of books; while
the reservation of the undistributed volumes, and their chaining for
common use in a library, was in accordance with the unwritten practice of
the monasteries. This being the case I think that we are justified in
assuming that the internal fittings of the libraries would be identical
also; and it must be further remembered that both collegiate and monastic
libraries were being fitted up during the same period, the fifteenth

When books were first placed in a separate room, fastened with iron
chains, for the use of the Fellows of a college or the monks of a convent,
the piece of furniture used was, I take it, an elongated lectern or desk,
of a convenient height for a seated reader to use. The books lay on their
sides on the desk, and were attached by chains to a horizontal bar above
it. There were at least two libraries in this University fitted with such
desks, at the colleges of Pembroke and Queens'; and that it was a common
form abroad is proved by its appearance in a French translation of the
first book of the _Consolations of Philosophy_ of Boethius, which I
lately found in the British Museum[1], executed towards the end of the
fifteenth century (fig. 1).

[Illustration: FIG. 1. Interior of a library: from a MS. of a French
translation of the first book of the _Consolations of Philosophy_ of

One example at least of these fittings still exists, in the library
attached to the church of S. Wallberg, at Zutphen in Holland. This library
was built in its present position in 1555, but I suspect that some of the
fittings, those namely which are more richly ornamented, were removed from
an earlier library. Each of these desks is 9 feet long by 5 feet 6 inches
high; and, as you will see directly, a man can sit and read at them very
conveniently. I shall shew you first a general view of part of the library
(fig. 2); and, secondly, a single desk (fig. 3).

Such cases as these must have been in use at the Sorbonne, where a library
was first established in 1289 for books chained for the common convenience
of the Fellows (_in communem sociorum utilitatem_). A description of this
library, based probably on records now lost, has been given by Claude
Héméré (Librarian 1638-1643) in his MS. history. This I proceed to

[Illustration: FIG. 3. Desk in the library at Zutphen: from a photograph.]

    The old library was contained under one roof. It was firmly
    and solidly built, and was 120 feet long by 36 feet broad.
    Further, that it might be the more safe from the danger of
    being burnt, should any house in the neighbourhood catch
    fire, there was a sufficient interval between it and every
    dwelling-house. Each side was pierced with 19 windows of equal
    size, that plenty of daylight both from the east and the west
    (for this was the direction of the room) might fall upon the
    desks, and fill the whole length and breadth of the library.
    There were 28 desks, marked with the letters of the alphabet,
    five feet high, and so arranged that they were separated by a
    moderate interval. They were loaded with books, all of which
    were chained, that no sacrilegious hand might [carry them off.
    These chains were attached to the right-hand board of every
    book] so that they might be readily thrown aside, and reading
    not be interfered with. Moreover the volumes could be opened
    and shut without difficulty. A reader who sat down in the
    space between two desks, as they rose to a height of five feet
    as I said above, neither saw nor disturbed any one else who
    might be reading or writing in another place by talking or by
    any other interruption, unless the other student wished it, or
    paid attention to any question that might be put to him. It
    was required, by the ancient rules of the library, that
    reading, writing, and handling of books should go forward in
    complete silence.

This system must have been very wasteful as regards space; for only a few
volumes, say a couple of dozen, could be accommodated on a single desk. As
books accumulated therefore some other form of case had to be devised,
which would accommodate more volumes than could be consulted at once. The
desk could not be dispensed with so long as books were chained, but one or
more shelves were added to it. This addition was effected in two ways,
according as the books were to stand on their ends, or to lie on their

As an illustration of the former plan I will take the library of Merton
College, Oxford, attributed by tradition to William Reade, Bishop of
Chichester 1368-85; and it has been so little altered that it may be taken
as a type of a medieval collegiate or monastic library. It is a long
narrow room, as all medieval libraries were, with equidistant windows, and
the bookcases stand at right angles to the walls in the spaces between
each pair of windows, in front of which is the seat for the reader. Each
bookcase had originally two shelves only above the desk. I will shew you,
first, a general view of the interior of this library, and then a single
bookcase and seat.

_Merton College, Oxford: (1) general view of the interior of the Library;
(2) a single bookcase as at present._

The system of chaining, as adopted in this country, would allow of the
books being readily taken down from the shelves, and laid on the desk for
reading. One end of the chain was attached to the middle of the upper edge
of the right-hand board; the other to a ring which played on a bar set in
front of the shelf on which the book stood. The fore-edge of the books,
not the back, was turned forwards. A swivel, usually in the middle of the
chain, prevented tangling. The chains varied in length according to the
distance of the shelf from the desk. The bar was kept in place by a rather
elaborate system of iron-work attached to the end of the bookcase, and
secured by a lock which often required two keys--that is, the presence of
two officials--to open it. To illustrate this I will shew you a sketch of
one of the bookcases in Hereford Cathedral (fig. 4).

[Illustration: FIG. 4. Bookcase in Hereford Cathedral. (Lent by the
Syndics of the University Press.)]

Having said thus much about chaining, I return to the Merton bookcases.
Cases similar to these were evidently in use in the library of Christ
Church, Canterbury, where the memoranda I mentioned record four
shelves--that is, two on each side--in each bookcase, and also at
Clairvaux, where a similar feature was observed. The design was evidently
much admired, for we find cases on a similar plan, but larger, elsewhere
in Oxford, as at the Colleges of Corpus Christi, S. John's, Trinity,
Jesus, and in the Bodleian Library.

_Bookcase in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford._

Another device for combining desk with shelf is to be seen at Trinity
Hall, Cambridge, and, as these cases were set up after 1626, we have here
a curious instance of a deliberate return to ancient forms. There is
evidence that there once existed below the shelf a second desk, which
could be drawn in and out as required, so that a reader could stand or sit
as he pleased, as you will see from the next illustration.

_Bookcase in the Library of Trinity Hall, Cambridge._

The University of Leiden in Holland adopted a modification of this design,
for there the shelf is above the desk, and readers could only stand to
use the books (fig. 5).

[Illustration: FIG. 5. Bookcases in the library of the University of
Leiden: from a print by J.C. Woudanus, dated 1610. (Lent by the Syndics of
the University Press.)]

An arrangement analogous to this was adopted at Citeaux, as we may gather
from the catalogue, drawn up in 1480. I will not trouble you with
details, but merely say that there was evidently a shelf below the desk as
well as one above it. The cases therefore resembled those at Leiden, with
this difference; and they were also probably of such a height that a
reader could conveniently sit at them.

On the continent, where elaborate bindings came early into fashion,
sometimes protected by equally elaborate bosses at their corners, it would
have been impossible to arrange the volumes as we did side by side on the
shelves. It therefore became the fashion to place a shelf below the desk,
and to lay the books upon it on their sides. The earliest library fitted
in this manner that I have been able to discover is at Cesena in North
Italy. It was built in 1452, by Domenico Malatesta Novello, for the
convent of S. Francesco. It is possible, therefore, that the parent house
of S. Francesco at Assisi, which had a large library, divided, so early as
1381, into a _Libreria publica_ and a _Libreria secreta_, had similar
bookcases. I am going to shew you a general view of the room, which has a
thoroughly medieval character, next the cases (fig. 6), and thirdly a
single book with its chain (fig. 7). You will observe that the seats for
the reader are no longer independent, but are combined with the bookcase.

[Illustration: FIG. 6. Bookcases at west end of south side of Library,

These cases no doubt suggested those in the Medicean library at Florence,
begun in 1525 by Michael Angelo. The cases, perhaps the finest specimens
in existence of wood-carving as applied to this style of work, were
designed by other artists shortly after the completion of the room.

[Illustration: FIG. 7. Part of a single bookcase in the Library, Cesena.]

_Bookcase in the Medicean Library at Florence._

In English libraries at least bookcases arranged on what I may term the
Oxford type were in general use throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. The invention of printing had largely increased the number of
volumes, and at the same time diminished their value, so that chaining was
no longer necessary. When it had been abandoned neither a desk, nor a seat
in close proximity to the books, was required. In consequence, though
libraries continued to be built on the ancient type with numerous windows
close to the floor, it was possible to alter the old cases, or to make new
ones, with a far larger number of shelves than heretofore; and when
further space for books was needed, low cases were interposed between each
pair of tall ones. A splendid specimen of this treatment is to be seen at
S. John's College, Cambridge, where the bookcases were put up soon after
the completion of the library in 1628. Though the plinth and central
pilaster have been taken away, and the levels of the shelves changed,
their original appearance can be recovered at a glance. On the top of all
the low cases there was a desk, in memory of that of ancient times. At the
end of the taller cases is a panel to contain the catalogue, here closed
by a small door.

_Bookcases in S. John's College Library._

Sometimes, as we see at Peterhouse, ancient usage asserted itself so far
that a seat was contrived by making the plinth of the tall case project to
a sufficient distance. These bookcases were set up between 1641 and 1648.

_Bookcase in Peterhouse Library._

When the necessity for still further space for books became imperative,
the seat was given up, or was dropped to the height of a step, as in the
bookcases in the south room of the University Library, Cambridge, put up
soon after 1649. The carved wing, however, which had masked the ends of
it, was retained as an ornament, both there and in the old library at
Pembroke College, Cambridge, furnished soon after 1690.

Meanwhile a new system of arranging bookcases had come into use on the
continent. So far as I have been able to discover, the first library
arranged in the way with which we are familiar, namely, with the bookcases
set against the walls instead of at right angles to them, is that of the
Escurial. These cases were made by Herrera, the architect of the building,
in 1584. There is no indication of chaining, but, in conformity with
ancient usage, the fore edge of the books, instead of their backs, is
turned outwards, and the desk is represented by a shelf, carried all round
the room at a convenient height. No doubt so important a structure as
this, erected by so mighty a potentate as the King of Spain, would be much
talked about, and provoke imitators. Among these, I feel sure, was
Cardinal Mazarin, whose library was fitted up in Paris in or about 1647,
as a library to be used daily by the public. After his death his books and
bookcases were moved to the building in which they may still be seen. I
will now shew you views of the two libraries, and you shall decide whether
it is not obvious that the one was suggested by the other.

_Interior of the Library of the Escurial and of the Bibliothèque Mazarine,

The new system was not accepted hastily. I believe that Sir Christopher
Wren, when he built Trinity College Library in 1695, was the first English
architect who ventured to build a library with windows which, as he says
himself, "rise high, and give place for the deskes against the walls." I
suspect that he borrowed this latter idea from France, which he visited in
1665, and most likely from the Bibliothèque Mazarine, for he has himself
recorded his admiration for "the masculine furniture of the Palais
Mazarin," though he does not specially mention the library. But he did
not discard the ancient arrangement altogether. On the contrary he
utilised it so far as to subdivide the room, and provide recesses for the
convenience of students. He says:

    The disposition of the shelves both along the walls and
    breaking out from the walls must needes prove very convenient
    and gracefull, and the best way for the students will be to
    have a litle square table in each celle with 2 chaires. The
    necessity of bringing windowes and dores to answer to the old
    building leaves two squarer places at the endes, and 4 lesser
    celles not to study in, but to be shut up with some neat
    lattice dores for archives.

_One compartment of Trinity College Library._

I need hardly say that neither this library, nor any of those built by
Wren's pupils or imitators, shew traces of chaining. The old fashion,
however, lingered. In 1651 Humphrey Cheetham directed the books he gave to
certain specified parish-churches near Manchester to be chained; in 1694
James Leaver gave books to the grammar-school at Bolton in Lancashire
which were chained in a cupboard very like the _armarium_ of a monastic

_Book-cupboard and desk at Bolton, Lancashire. The former is lettered:
"The gift of Mr James Leaver, citison of London 1694."_

and at All Saints Church, Hereford, a collection of books bequeathed in
1715 was chained to ordinary shelves set against the walls, as may still
be seen. This very obvious way of disposing of books evidently shocked
old-fashioned people, for Cole the antiquary, writing in 1703, could still
speak of the arrangement of shelves against the walls as _à la moderne_.

The libraries I have been describing were more or less public, and I
should like, before I conclude, to shew you how books were bestowed in the
studies of individual scholars--whether royal, monastic, or secular.

I conceive that for many centuries after the beginning of the Christian
era the methods of the ancient world were followed; and that private
libraries were arranged upon the Roman model in presses, with busts,
mottoes, and the like. Such was the library of Isidore, Bishop of Seville
(601-636). He was a voluminous writer, and seems to have had a voluminous
library, divided, if I interpret the arrangements correctly, among
fourteen presses, each ornamented by one or more portrait-busts or
medallions with suitable verses beneath them. The series concludes with a
notice _Ad interventorem_, a person whom we may call _A talkative

  Non patitur quenquam coram se scriba loquentem:
    Non est hic quod agas, garrule, perge foras.

How useful such an admonition would be in modern libraries, if only it
could be enforced!

So late as the end of the twelfth century I find a Bishop who bequeathed
his library to a church describing it as "the contents of my press
(_plenarium armarium meum_)."

Gradually, however, other methods came into fashion, due probably to the
introduction of the handsome bindings of which I have already spoken. Some
particulars have fortunately been preserved of the cost of fitting up a
certain tower in the Louvre between 1364 and 1368, to contain the books
belonging to Charles the Fifth of France, from which much useful
information may be extracted. The fittings of the older library in the
palace on the Isle de la Cité were to be taken down and altered, and set
up in the new room. Two carpenters are paid for "having taken to pieces
all the cases (_bancs_) and two wheels (_roes_), that is revolving desks,
which were in the king's library in the palace, and transported them to
the Louvre...; and for having put all together again, and hung up the
cases (_lettrins_) in the two upper stages of the tower that looks toward
the Falconry, to put the king's books in; and for having panelled ... the
first of those two stories all round inside." Next a wire-worker
(_cagetier_) is paid "for having made trellises of wire in front of two
casements and two windows ... to keep out birds and other beasts
(_oyseaux et autres bestes_) by reason of, and protection for, the books
that shall be placed there."

The words _bancs_ and _lettrins_, which I have translated "cases," are
both frequently used. The first commonly denotes the cases in monastic
libraries, and the second is the usual word for a reading-desk. I think,
therefore, that the two words were applied to describe the same piece of
furniture, as "stall" and "desk" were with us. I am now going to shew you
two pictures of rooms arranged for study, which fit the above description
very well. The first is from a French translation of Boccaccio, _Des cas
des maleureux nobles hommes et femmes_, written and illuminated in
Flanders for King Henry the Seventh[2]. Two gentlemen are studying at a
revolving desk, which can be raised or lowered by a screw. This is
evidently the "wheel" of the French king's library. Behind are their
books, either resting on a desk hung against the wall (which is
panelled), or lying on a shelf beneath the desk. The second is also
Flemish, of the same date, from a copy of the _Miroir historial_[3]. It
represents a monk, probably the author of the book, writing in his study.
Behind him are three desks, one above the other, hung against the wall,
with books, as in the first picture, resting upon them.

Some such arrangement as this must have been long in fashion. Libraries
such as those of Diane de Poitiers and Francis the First could not have
been bestowed in any other way; and in fact, when books are enriched with
metal-work, or have specially elaborate ornaments on their sides, a desk
of some sort is indispensable.

Humbler scholars had to content themselves with small cupboards
constructed in the thickness of the wall, or hung against it, as in the
picture I will next shew you, from a French translation of Valerius
Maximus, copied for King Edward the Fourth, and dated 1479[4]. You will
observe that the lower part of the window is fitted with trellises as in
the French king's library, not casements. The upper part only is glazed.

Another, and apparently very usual way of bestowing books, especially when
they were not numerous, was to place them in a sort of cupboard under the
sloping desk on which the owner read or wrote. An excellent specimen of
this device--which Richard de Bury specially commends, as being modelled
on the Ark, in the side of which the book of the Law was put--is to be
found in the _Ship of Fools_ (1498). Another, of a curiously modern type,
occurs in an _Hours_ in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, executed about
1445 for Isabel, Duchess of Brittany.

Sometimes this book-cupboard supported a revolving desk, which could be
raised or depressed by the help of a central screw--like those I shewed
you just now; sometimes the desk alone appears, with books laid on it.
The forms given to these pieces of furniture by the ingenuity of those who
made them are infinite; and they often include beautiful designs for
armchairs, fitted with desks for writing. I will shew you just one--not
because it is specially beautiful, but because it gives a quaint picture
of a scholar's room at the beginning of the fifteenth century[5].

Here Time--as represented by yonder clock--holds up his finger and bids me
stop. I would fain have shewn you more pictures--but I hope that you have
seen a sufficient number to give you some idea of the surroundings in
which our forefathers read and wrote. I am sure that only in this way can
we realise that they were real living people--not mere names. Their modes
of thought were far different from ours; they may have wasted their time
in verbal subtleties, and uncritical tales; but the more we study what
they did, the more we shall realise how laborious, how artistic, how
conscientious they were; and amid all the developments of the nineteenth
century, we shall gratefully confess that the Middle Ages rocked the
cradle of our knowledge, and that we "See but their hope become reality."


1. Interior of a library, from Boethius.

2. General view of part of the library attached to the Church of S.
Wallberg at Zutphen.

3. Desk in the library at Zutphen.

4. Bookcase in Hereford Cathedral.

5. Bookcases in the library of the University of Leiden.

6. Bookcases at west end of south side of library, Cesena.

7. Part of a single bookcase in the library, Cesena.



CAMBRIDGE AND ETON, by the late ROBERT WILLIS, M.A., F.R.S., Jacksonian
Professor in the University of Cambridge. Edited with large Additions and
brought up to the present time, by JOHN WILLIS CLARK, M.A. 4 vols. Super
royal 8vo. With 342 illustrations and 29 plans.

Cambridge University Press.


Seeley and Co.

about A.D. 1296. Edited, with an English translation, introduction, plan
of an Augustinian House, and notes. 8vo. [_In the Press._

ATKINSON. With 30 plates by LE KEUX and STORER and upwards of 100
Illustrations in the text--Plans, Views, Arms, &c. Medium 8vo. [_In

Macmillan and Bowes, Cambridge. Macmillan and Co., London.


[Footnote 1: MSS. Harl. 4335.]

[Footnote 2: _MSS. Mus. Brit._ 14. E. V.]

[Footnote 3: _MSS. Mus. Brit._ 14. E. I.]

[Footnote 4: _MSS. Mus. Brit._ 18. E. IV.]

[Footnote 5: _MSS. Mus. Brit._ 20. B. XX.]

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Libraries in the Medieval and Renaissance Periods - The Rede Lecture Delivered June 13, 1894" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.