Page images

valry and the sword was ere long to fade away, as the stars disappear before the sun. Walpole has drawn the character of Earl Rivers in his most graphic style :"The credit of his sister, the countenance and example of his prince, the boisterousness of the times, nothing softened, nothing roughened the mind of this amiable lord, who was as gallant as his luxurious brother-in-law, without his weaknesses-as brave as the heroes of either Rose, without their savageness-studious in the intervals of business-and devout after the manner of those whimsical times, when men challenged others whom they never saw, and went barefoot to visit shrines in countries of which they had scarce a map." He was also one of Caxton's great patrons, and was the author of several of those translations from the French which the latter printed. In a manuscript copy, in the archbishop's library at Lambeth, of one of these translations—that of the Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers' (which Rivers executed for the instruction of his nephew, the young Prince of Wales, to whom he was governor)— there is an interesting illumination, in which the earl is represented introducing Caxton to Edward IV., his queen, and the Prince. In this instance, Earl Rivers condescended to translate a translation, for the original of the Dicts and Sayings' is in Latin. He was also the author of the metrical version of the Proverbs of Christine of Pisa,' and of another of Caxton's publications named Cordial, or Memorare Novisima,' both from the French. But these and the other translations in which the art of printing, on its first establishment among us, exercised its powers of multiplying the fountains of knowledge and of mental gratification were, as Walpole ob

serves, as much new and real presents to the age as original works would have been. To lords Worcester and Rivers this writer conceives their country to have been in a great measure indebted for the restoration of learning. "The countenance," he remarks, "the example of men in their situation, must have operated more strongly than the attempts of an hundred professors, Benedictines, and commentators."*


Although Chaucer had already set the example of writing on scientific subjects in the mother tongue by his treatise on the Astrolabe-the oldest work in English now known to exist on any branch of science—† this department of study was but very little cultivated in England during the present period. The short list of English scientific works during the fifteenth century does not contain a single name remembered, or deserving of being remembered, in the history of science. The dreams of astrology and alchemy still captivated and bewildered almost all who turned their attention either

to mathematical or natural philosophy. The only difference of opinion with regard to these mysterious pursuits was whether they were or were not forbidden by the law of God. Nobody doubted the most marvel

Royal and Noble Authors, vol. i.

+ See Book of Table Talk, i. 199.

See all those whose names have been recovered enumerated, with notices of their insignificant performances, in a paper on the English Mathematical and Astronomical Writers between the Norman Conquest and the year 1600, in the Companion to the Almanac for 1837, pp. 22-26.

lous of their pretensions; but many thought a skill in them was rather an inspiration from the prince of darkness, than light from heaven. Probably, however, it was not any feeling of this kind that occasioned an act of parliament passed in the beginning of the reign of Henry IV., making it felony to practise the transmutation of metals, there designated "the multiplying of gold or silver, or the craft of multiplication:"* the prohibition has more the look of having been dictated by political or economical considerations, as if there had been some apprehension that the operations of the multipliers might possy affect the value of the king's coin. Henry VI., at any rate, with all his piety, was as great a patron of the alchemists as Edward III. had been before him. These impostors practised with abundant success upon his weakness and credulity, repeatedly inducing him to advance them money wherewith to prosecute their idle operations, as well as procuring from him protections, which he sometimes prevailed upon the parliament to confirm, from the penalties of the statute that has just been mentioned. In one of these protections granted to the three "famous men," John Fauceby, John Kirkeby, and John Rayny, which was confirmed by parliament, 31st May, 1456, the object of the researches of the said philosophers is described to be "a certain most precious medicine, called by some the mother and queen of medicines; by some the inestimable glory; by others the quintessence; by others the philosopher's stone; by others the elixir of life; which cures all curable diseases with ease, prolongs human life in perfect health and vigour of faculty to its utmost term, heals all healable *Stat. Henry IV., c. iv.

[ocr errors]


wounds, is a most sovereign antidote against all poisons, and is capable," the enumeration of virtues concludes, "of preserving to us, and our kingdom, other great advantages, such as the transmutation of other metals into real and fine gold and silver."* The philosopher's stone, and the elixir of life, it will be observed, are here spoken of as one and the same medicine, contrary, we believe, to the common notion. The power attributed to the medicine, also, in the prolongation of life scarcely goes the length of the accounts usually given. Fauceby, here mentioned, is elsewhere designated the king's physician. Another of Henry's physicians was Gilbert Kymer, who was a clergyman, and, among other ecclesiastic promotions, held the offices of dean of Salisbury and chancellor of the University of Oxford. From this example we may perceive that the practice of medicine was still, to some extent, in the hands of the clergy. The art itself appears to have made little or no progress within the present period; indeed it may be doubted if the knowledge that had formerly been derived from the Arabic authors and schools was not now dimi ́nished rather than increased. Almost the only medical work that appeared in England in the fifteenth century, even the title of which is now remembered, is the 'Dietarium de Sanitatis Custodia,' (or Dietary for the Preservation of Health), of this Dr. Gilbert Kymer. It is a tract consisting of twenty-six chapters, and is dedi cated, like so many others of the productions of thự learned of this age, both in England and other countries, to the great patron of literature, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester. Surgery was also in as rude a state as ever. * Fœdera, xi. 379.


It appears, from a record in the Fœdera, that in Henry' V.'s army which won the battle of Agincourt there was only one surgeon, a certain John Morstede, fifteen assistants, whom he had pressed under a royal warrant, not having yet landed. Of these assistants three were also to act as archers, the whole number having the pay of common archers, and Morstede himself only that of a man at arms. The art indeed was hardly yet considered as anything more than a species of mechanical handicraft. It deserves to be noted, however, that the operation of lithotomy was successfully performed at Paris for the first time, at least by any modern surgeon, in the year 1474, on a condemned criminal, whose life was granted by the king to the petition of the physicians and surgeons of the city, that he might serve, according to the philosophie maxim, as the corpus vile, or worthless subject, of the experiment.


Of the literary productions of this age the literary merits are in general of the humblest description. Among the Latin historians, or chroniclers, Thomas Walsingham may be accounted one of the best, if not the chief. He was a Benedictine of the Abbey of St. Alban's, and is the author of two works; one a History of England, entitled 'Historia Brevis,' which begins at 1273, where Matthew Paris ends, and extends to the beginning of the reign of Henry VI.; the other a History of Normandy, under the title of Ypodigma Neustriæ,' from the first acquisition of the duchy by Rollo the Dane. The style of these chronicles is sufficiently rude and unpolished; but they are very full and circumstantial, and the

« PreviousContinue »