« PreviousContinue »
quested his master to allow him to retire from court and live in seclusion. The emperor, however, knew too well the value of his trusted counsellor and friend to part with him willingly. At length, in the year 796, the solicitations of Alcuin prevailed, and the abbey of St. Martin at Tours was given him as a retreat. Even in his honourable retirement and repose he was not idle ; he undertook the active superintendence of the monastery, he employed a number of young priests in copying manuscripts to enrich the library; he himself directed their labours, and he continued the work of education which through life he had felt to be his true vocation; and of the young men, whom he trained in the school which he formed, grew up to play important parts in the world after he was gone. Charlemagne made many
efforts to recall him to his side ; but in vain. In answer to one such request he replied, “Grant, I pray you, that a weary man may repose himself, that he may daily pray for you, and that he may prepare himself by confessions and tears to appear before the eternal Judge."
In the year 801 he resigned all his honours, wealth, and engagements, and three years after he died, on the 19th of May, 804. History records few lives more usefully spent or more happily closed.
Next in influence and energy to Alcuin was Eginhardt. He was an Austrasian Frank, and belonged to that least civilized part of the nation who lived beyond the Rhine. He hence
speaks of himself as a barbarian, and apologizes for the defects of his Latinity, as arising from this cause.
He was introduced by Alcuin to Charlemagne when young, and was speedily raised by the emperor to the post of secretary, and employed to superintend most of the public works carried on during his reign.
After the death of Charlemagne, Eginhardt continued in the service of Louis, his son and successor, but soon becoming disgusted with the feeble and superstitious character of the young prince, he sought and obtained permission to leave the court and retire to his estates. As he found old age creeping on, he, according to a custom very frequent in those ages, separated from his wife, and they retired, he to a monastery -she to a nunnery. The reason for this strange practice was the superstitious belief that whoever died in the habit and profession of one of the religious orders, was thereby fitted for and entitled to an immediate entrance into heaven. She died in the year 836, and he thus pathetically expresses his grief at her decease to his friend Lupus, abbot of Ferrières : “All my previous cares for my friends, or for myself, are nothing to me now. All sinks into nothing, all is effaced by this cruel sorrow—the death of my wife, my sister, my beloved companion and friend for so many years. It is a misery which cannot cease, for her memory is so deeply engraven on my heart that nothing can destroy it. What redoubles my grief, and aggravates my wounds is, that all my prayers and tears
have been unavailing, and all my hopes deceived. The words of those who attempt to console me only reopen my wounds, for they call upon me to support with calmness sorrows they do not feel, and in which they cannot point out the slightest source of contentment."
How differently do Alcuin and Eginhardt speak of death! The one can find no source
even of contentment,” but his grief is bitter, uncontrolled, and inconsolable the other, as we saw a few pages back, points out hopes and blessings even in bereavement itself. It is not enough to explain the contrast, as Eginhardt attempts to do, by saying that those who speak the language of resignation and cheerfulness are not themselves bereaved, and are endeavouring to console others under sorrows which they do not feel, because we find that Alcuin and those like-minded can give utterance to such feelings even when the blow has fallen
themselves. The only adequate explanation is, that superstition fails to give confidence and support in the hour of trial, and will abandon us, as it abandoned Eginhardt, to "cruel sorrow "unavailing tears," whilst the strong faith in God and Christ which Alcuin possessed keeps us from sorrowing" even as others which have no hope," binds « the broken hearted," and comforts “those that mourn." Scriptural and spiritual religion—an inestimable treasure at all times—proves its transcendent excellency and worth in the anguish of bereavement, and in the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death."
Eginhardt survived his loss only three years, and died in 839, at the abbey of Seligstadt, which he had himself founded and richly endowed. Though his chief and characteristic excellence was his practical energy, and his co-operation with Charlemagne in the affairs of active life, yet his writings are of considerable value. The best known and most important of these, “ The Life and Conversation of the most Illustrious Emperor Charles the Great," is the source whence almost all our information of the personal history of its hero is drawn.
Whilst the two just named were the chief coadjutors with Charlemagne in his work of restoring learning and civilization, there were many others associated with them of less celebrity indeed, but of scarcely less energy. Of one of these, Paul Warnefrid, or as he is often called, Paulus Diaconus, it was said, in the extravagant and affected style of the age, “that you might discern Homer in his Greek, Virgil in his Latin, and Philo in his Hebrew; his poems you would take for those of Horace, and his eloquence for that of Tibullus.” Of another, Rabanus Maurus, it was said in the same spirit of extravagant and affected eulogy, that “ Germany had not produced his equal, nor Italy his superior." About these “bright particular stars" there gathered a galaxy of others of inferior importance, Augilbert, Leidrade, Smaragde, Benedict of Aniane, Theodulph, Adalhard, Amalaric, Agobard, etc. It was in association with these admirable men, whom ho
had attracted to his court and attached to his person, that Charlemagne addressed himself to his great enterprise of gaining and diffusing knowledge.
Among the most important agencies which he employed for self culture was the Schola Palatina, or School of the Palace. It consisted of the emperor, his family, the chief officers of state, and those learned men whom he constituted his personal attendants. It accompanied him as he travelled from place to place. Alcuin was its president, and among the fellow-scholars of Charlemagne are enumerated his children and grand-children, his sisters, several bishops, archbishops, and royal councillors. They assumed feigned names, taken from sacred or classical antiquity. Charlemagne was styled David ; Alcuin took the name of Albinus Flaccus; Angilbert that of Homer; Fredegis that of Nathaniel ; Gisla, the daughter of Charlemagne, that of Lucia—and so on. It has been generally supposed that this adoption of fictitious names originated in the pedantry of the age. Without denying that this may have had something to do with it, a much more probable explanation is found in the fact that the emperor sat among the scholars, whilst his subjects were the teachers. The use of their proper names and titles would have kept constantly before them the inconsistencies and discrepancies of their relative positions, and thus have destroyed that perfect freedom of intercourse requisite for the successful management