Page images

indebted to the commentaries of the Arabic doctors, would be a curious inquiry. But, whether they took their method of philosophy entirely from the ancient heathen sage, or in part from his modern Mahomedan interpreters and illustrators, it could in neither case have had at first any necessary or natural alliance with Christianity. Yet it very soon, as we have said, formed this alliance. Both Lanfranc and Anselm, although not commonly reckoned among the schoolmen, were imbued with the spirit of the new learning, and it is infused throughout their theological writings. Abelard soon after, before he was yet a churchman, may almost be considered to have wielded it as a weapon of scepticism. Even so used, however, religion was still the subject to which it was applied. At last came Peter Lombard, who, by the publication, about the middle of the twelfth century, of his celebrated Four Books of Sentences, properly founded the system of what is called the Scholastic Theology. The schoolmen, from the Master of the Sentences, as Lombard was designated, down to Francis Suarez, who died after the commencement of the seventeenth century, were all theologians. Although, however, religious speculation was the field of thought upon which the spirit of the Aristotelian philosophy chiefly expended itself, there was scarcely any one of the arts or sciences upon which it did not in some degree seize. The scholastic logic became the universal instrument of thought and study; every branch of human learning was attempted to be pursued by its assistance; and most branches were more or less affected by its influence in regard to the forms which they assumed.

[ocr errors][merged small]

John of Salisbury went to complete his education at Paris in the year 1136. "When I beheld," he writes in a letter to his friend Becket, "the reverence paid to the clergy, the majesty and glory of the whole church, and the various occupations of those who applied themselves to philosophy in that city, it raised my admiration as if I had seen the ladder of Jacob, the top of which reached to Heaven, while the steps were crowded with angels ascending and descending." The first master whose lectures he attended was the renowned Abelard, still, after all the vicissitudes of his life, teaching with undiminished glory, in the midst of a vast confluence of admiring disciples, on the Mount of St. Genevieve. " I drank in," says his English pupil, "with incredible avidity, every word that fell from his lips; but he soon, to my infinite regret, retired." Abelard lived only a few years after this date, which he spent in devotion and entire seclusion from the world. John of Salisbury then studied dialectics for two years under two other masters, one of whom was his countryman, Robert de Melun, mentioned above. After this he returned to the study of grammar and rhetoric, which he pursued for three years under William de Couches, of whose method of teaching he has left a particular account. It appears to have embraced a critical exposition both of the style and the matter of the writers commented upon, and to have been well calculated to nourish both the understanding and the taste. After this he spent seven years under other masters, partly in the further prosecution of his acquaintance with the writers of antiquity and the


practice of Latin composition, partly in the study of the mathematics and theology. The entire course thus occupied twelve years; but some, it would appear, devoted the whole of this time to the study of dialectics, or logic, alone. John of Salisbury's treatise entitled Metalogicus' is intended principally to expose the absurdity and injurious effects of this exclusive devotion to the art of wrangling; and, although it must be considered as written with some degree of satirical licence, the representation which it gives of the state of things produced by the new spirit that had gone abroad over the realms of learning is very curious and interesting. The turn of the writer's own genius was decidedly to the rhetorical rather than the metaphysical, and he was not very well qualified, perhaps, to perceive certain of the uses or recommendations of the study against which he directs his attack; but the extravagances of its devotees, it may be admitted, fairly exposed them to his ridicule and castigation. "I wish," he says in one place, “to behold the light of truth, which these logicians say is only revealed to them. I approach them,— I beseech them to instruct me, that, if possible, I may become as wise as one of them. They consent,-they promise great things,-and at first they command me to observe a Pythagorean silence, that I may be admitted into all the secrets of wisdom which they pretend are in their possession. But by-and-by they permit, and even command me, to prattle and quibble with them. This they call disputing; this they say is logic; but I am no wiser." He accuses them of wasting their ingenuity in the discussion of such puerile puzzles as whether a person in buying a whole cloak also bought the cowl? or

whether, when a hog was carried to market with a rope tied about its neck and held at the other end by a man, the hog was really carried to market by the man or by the rope? It must be confessed that, if their logic had been worth much, it ought to have made short work with these questions, if their settlement was deemed worth any thing. Our author adds, however, that they were declared to be questions which could not be solved, the arguments on both sides exactly balancing each other. But his quarrel with the dialecticians was chiefly on the ground of the disregard and aversion they manifested, in their method of exercising the intellectual powers, to all polite literature, to all that was merely graceful and ornamental. And there can be no question that the ascendancy of the scholastic philosophy was fatal for the time to the cultivation of polite literature in Europe. So long as it reigned supreme in the schools, learning was wholly divorced from taste. The useful utterly rejected all connexion with the beautiful. The head looked down with contempt upon the heart. Poetry and fiction, and whatever else belonged to the imaginative part of our nature, were left altogether to the unlearned, to the makers of songs and lays for the people. It was probably fortunate for poetry, and the kindred forms of literature, in the end, that they were thus left solely to the popular cultivation for a time; they drew nourishment and new life from the new soil into which they were transplanted; and their produce has been the richer and the racier for it ever since. The revival of polite literature probably came at a better time in the fifteenth, than if it had come in the twelfth century. Yet it was not to be expected that, when it was threat

ened with blight and extinction at the earlier era, its friends should either have been able to foresee its resurrection two or three centuries later, or should have been greatly consoled by that prospect if they had.


John of Salisbury's chief work is his 'Polycraticon,' or, as he further entitles it, 'A Treatise in eight books, on the Frivolities of Courtiers and the Footsteps of Philosophers' (De Nugis Curialium et Vestigiis Philo"It is," says Warton, sophorum). an extremely pleasant miscellany, replete with erudition, and a judgment of men and things, which properly belongs to a more sensible and reflecting period. His familiar acquaintance with the classics appears not only from the happy facility of his language, but from the many citations of the purest Roman authors with which his works are perpetually interspersed."* He also wrote Latin verses with extreme elegance. John of Salisbury died bishop of Chartres in 1182. Peter of Blois (or Petrus Blessensis), a native of the town in France from which he takes his name, was another distinguished cultivator of polite literature in the same age. Among the writings he has left us, his Letters collected by himself to the number of 134, are especially interesting, abounding as they do in graphic descriptions of the manners and characters of the time. But neither in elegance of taste and style, nor in general literary accomplishment, is the Frenchman to be compared with his English contemporary.

* Introd. of Learning into Eng. p. cliii.

« PreviousContinue »