« PreviousContinue »
Whilst he aspired to emulate the more advanced learning and civilization of other countries, he never attempted to merge his nationality in theirs. “ He always wore,” says Eginhardt, " the dress of his own country, that of the Franks. Foreign costumes, however handsome they might be, he held in great contempt, and he allowed no one to wear them in his presence. Twice only, at Rome-once at the request of Adrian, and once at that of Leo—he consented to assume the Roman dress. On ordinary days, his clothes differed but little from those worn by the common people.” The monk of St. Gall tells an amusing anecdote illustrative of this. Observing the young nobles of his court affecting the Italian costume, and coming before him clad in costly silks and furs, instead of the plain homely German dress, which he himself always wore, he one winter morning invited them to accompany him to the chase, without giving them time to change their dresses for others more suited to the season and the sport. Very soon their garments were torn to tatters by the thickets, and drenched with the rain, which was falling fast. On their return, he simply took off his old cloak of otter skin, which he always wore, wrung out the wet, and replaced it on his shoulders; they gathered around the fire to dry their tattered and dripping attire. This completed the destruction of their dresses, which now shrivelled up with the heat. The emperor then calling the young men to him, upbraided them for daring to appear before him
in such beggarly attire, and dismissed them to their homes,
When occasion seemed to require it, however, he could lay aside his Frankish simplicity, and assume the magnificence of Constantinople or Rome. One such instance is recorded when the ambassadors of Nicephorus, the emperor of the east, visited his court to negotiate a treaty of alliance. On their arrival in France, they found Charlemagne, as usual, absent on a campaign. They followed, and overtook him in his encampment on the banks of the Saal. Their arrival had been expected, and prepared for. Charlemagne, aware how much importance the Greeks attached to outward pomp, and knowing, too, that they expected nothing but the rude simplicity of a barbarous camp, determined to surprise them by a display of magnificence and an assumption of dignity, which should eclipse even that to which they were accustomed at Constantinople. A pavilion was erected, and fitted up with unusual splendour. The ambassadors, who were prepared for nothing of the kind, were ushered in by the appointed officers, and were about to prostrate themselves before a person gorgeously attired and seated in a chair of state. They were checked, however, and told that this was only the master of the horse. They were then conducted into an inner chamber, still more magnificently decorated, and were prostrating themselves before another person more sumptuously dressed than the first; but, he proved to be only the count Palatine. The
was repeated in the successive apartments of the steward and chamberlain ; all of whom remained seated as the ambassadors passed. Thus, their impatience and expectation were heightened by repeated disappointments, till at length the doors of the royal presence chamber were thrown open, and the monarch himself was discovered dressed in his own simple costume, though surrounded by the foreign magnificence and pomp which he so heartily despised.
In his mode of life, he was as plain and simple as in dress. “ He was abstemious in his food, but still more so in his drink, In fact, he had great horror of drunkenness in every one, but much more so in himself or those around him. As to his food, he could not so easily abstain from it, and often complained that fasting was hurtful to his health. He very rarely gave banquets, but when he did so, it was to a great number of persons at once. Generally his table was served with only four dishes, besides the roasted joint, which he preferred to all other meat, and which his huntsmen used to serve up to him on the spit. During the meal, he listened to some narrative, or to his reader. In the course of his repast, he scarcely drank three times. In the summer, he would eat some fruit, and having drunk again, would repose for two or three hours. During the night, he used not only to wake, but to rise three or four times. While he dressed he admitted his friends, and, if any lawsuit required his
attention, he then heard it and pronounced sentence, as though on the judgment seat. At the same time, he assigned to every one the work they must do in the course of the day.” In this passage, we are furnished with the explanation of his having been able to accomplish so much, and in so many ways. It was by the wise distribution and rigid economy of his time. It is evident, that every hour of every day had its assigned duty; that his vast energies were not suffered to go to waste through misdirection or uncertainty of purpose. Not only was he active, but active according to a previously arranged plan and rule. Perhaps no man has ever accomplished much without this. It is painful to reflect upon how much capability for usefulness has been rendered unproductive, how much activity has been wasted, from vagueness of purpose and indefiniteness of aim. How many do we see who have activity without action, and motion without progress! The wheels may spin round, and yet the carriage not advance. The butterfly flitting here and there, visits far more flowers, and traverses a far wider space than the bee; yet with what poor results! It is not, then, activity only, but activity rightly directed, that constitutes the secret of employing time well.
To complete our estimate of the character of Charlemagne, it now remains that we consider his personal morality. This was irreproachable with a single exception. In many of the passages quoted, his temperance and inte
grity have been applauded by those who knew him intimately. His possession of these virtues seemed the more remarkable in that age, and among that people, since they were almost unpractised, at least by layinen.* That which is so lamentably common when barbarism comes into contact with civilization, had happened to the hordes who took up their abode within the limits of the old empire; they lost their ancient simplicity whilst they retained their rudeness; they caught the vices whilst they rejected the refinements of the conquered people. To this, however, Charlemagne formed a noble exception. He retained all his old Frankish simplicity and temperance, whilst he aspired after the civilization of Rome. Another characteristic, which excited yet more wonder among his rude warriors, was his parental tenderness. They, like most other races just emerging from barbarism, felt that military fortitude required the repression of all emotion. It was, therefore, with wonder that they saw him profoundly affected by domestic bereavements, and his admiring biographer can hardly abstain from blame and condemnation when, under such circumstances, he was seen even to shed tears.
The otherwise irreproachable morality of Charlemagne has, however, one exception; the purity of his life is stained by one sad and serious blot-the sin of his age and race-con
* See in proof of this Thierry's Narratives of the Merovin gian Era.