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EUBULUS. Doubtless there is a time, vacare studiis et Deo ; and to a certain extent religious retirement might have been retained. Or rather, as now in Denmark, convents might have been permitted to exist, where no vows were required.
ALETHES. But I thought I had heard you say that in Denmark the only house that remained was for females,-a kind of secular nunnery.
EUBULUS. You are right. What I meant was, that it might have been well to have retained some few such as old Burton speaks of. The one in particular which I alluded to in Denmark is an excellent institution, but it is much restricted. It requires considerable interest to get in, and is a receptacle only for the unmarried females of the higher classes. It shows, however, that the plan might have been carried out.
I am informed that a circular has been widely distributed, in which “ the revival of monastic and conventual institutions on a plan adapted to the exigencies of the Reformed Catholic Church in England," is proposed. I can hardly think it feasible.
The intent, no doubt, is good and single-hearted. But, to say the truth, my idea is that monasteries have had their day. With all the attendant evil, real or fictitious, which accompanied them, they wrought a good work. They were a refuge under feudal tyranny, and had a softening influence on men's minds. Drones there were, in abundance, about the hive--but it was a hive of busy bees nevertheless. And what if some mocked? The incense of prayer and praise ascended nevertheless continually. Amid the hurly burly of wild aggression, and when the darker places of the land were full of cruelty, they gave themselves, like the Psalmist, unto prayer. They were lights in a dark place, and none, with any soul, can look upon the remains of such places as were Furness, Fountains, Tintern, Haughmond, Vale Royal, and a hundred others, without thankfulness. In little things and
great they were benefactors to the land they lived in. I will exemplify my meaning in the beginning stanzas of that exquisite ballad, the “ Inchcape Rock :"
“ No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,
Her keel was steady in the ocean.
The waves flow'd o'er the Inchcape Rock ;
They did not move the ‘Inchcape Bell.'
Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock;
“ When the Rock was hid by the surge's swell,
The mariners heard the warning bell ;
Many's the lesson to be read in verse like that—“ Lectorem delectando pariterque monendo !" Little do the many know when they speak superciliously of monasteries and monkery, that it is to them we owe a great part of the literature we are now possessed of. Some of our wealthy landlords, who now hold what was once the patrimony of the Church, would be surprised to hear that it was the Benedictines who reclaimed the marsh lands which are at present their fat meadows; and that the Cistercians brought into cultivation those moors which are now so thick with corn. There is plenty of ground even yet to be brought into cultivation, and with our increased and increasing population, we might take a leaf out of their book instead of sneering at their idleness. I suspect the text is yet true, “ Dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed !"
It was to the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny, you will recollect, that the Pope consigned Becket; and Henry threatened to expel
BENEDICTINES AND CISTERCIANS-AGRICULTURISTS,
the order from England if they continued to harbour him. They were said at that time to have no less than five hundred houses here. The first Cistercian Abbey founded here was at Waverley in Surrey, by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, in A.D. 1128. But whilst, Alethes, we acknowledge benefits received, we must hold in mind that ancient motto of the Grecian sage ΜΗΔΕΝ ΑΓΑΝ! Some say that shortly after this time the Clergy occupied about one-fifth of the soil, Hallam says one-half, and even a greater proportion in other parts of Europe". If so their temporals, as human nature is constituted, must have usurped much of their attention, whereas,
“ Pastorem, Tityre, pingues Pascere oportet oves !" Bacon remarks in his “ Meditationes Sacræ ?,” that “the beginnings of the monastical life were good,” which they certainly were, but it turned out with them, as with the rest of the world, -possessions brought distraction !
None will more readily grant the truth of what you say than myself, but hear what Hallam says, no very favourable witness : “ Many of the grants to monasteries which strike us as enormous, were of districts absolutely wasted, which would probably have been reclaimed by no other means.
We owe the agricultural restoration of great part of Europe to the monks. They chose for the sake of retirement, secluded regions, which they cultivated with the labour of their hands. Several charters are extant, granted to convents, and sometimes to laymen, of lands which they had recovered from a desert condition."
We are quite agreed on the main, though I think Hallam, in a later page of his work rather depreciates the state of horticulture. Of one thing we may rest assured the monks were always better than their neighbours,—but the restoration of the conventual system, depend upon it, is a dream. You will find the subject well treated in the Preface to Mr. Maitland's “Dark Ages.” Have you seen the Reprint ?
10 Middle Ages, vol. ii. p. 209. 1 Works, vol. i. p. 212. Ed. Montagu.
Middle Ages, vol. iii. pp. 436. 444.
I have not.
EUBULUS. Then I shall have the satisfaction of reading to you a passage which, if I am not mistaken, exactly contains our views.
“ It is quite impossible to touch the subject of MonastiCISM without rubbing off some of the dirt which has been heaped upon it. It is impossible to get even a superficial knowledge of the mediæval history of Europe, without seeing how greatly the world of that period was indebted to the Monastic Orders; and feeling that, whether they were good or bad in other matters, monasteries were beyond all price in those days of misrule and turbulence, as places where it may be imperfectly, yet better than elsewhere) God was worshipped—as a quiet and religious refuge for helpless infancy and old age, a shelter of respectful sympathy for the orphan maiden, and the desolate widow-as central points whence agriculture was to spread over bleak hills, and barren downs, and marshy plains, and deal its bread to millions perishing with hunger and its pestilential train ; as repositories of the learning which was to be—as nurseries of art and science, giving the stimulus, the means, and the reward to invention, and aggregating around them every head that could devise, and every hand that could execute—as the nucleus of the city which in after days of pride should crown its palaces and bulwarks with the towering cross of its cathedral. This, I think, no man can deny. I believe it is true, and I love to think of it. I hope that I see the good hand of God in it, and the visible trace of his mercy that is over all his works 3.”
He then proceeds to show the impossibility of restoring what I have called the conventual system, and I think he does it well and wisely.
One loss was sustained by the dissolution of the monasteries which I think has never been redeemed to this day.
3 See Preface, p. v.
EUBULUS. What do you allude to.
ALETHES, The systematic teaching which was pursued there, and in the place of which the Grammar Schools of Edward VI. (in themselves excellent and invaluable institutions) were but a sorry change. It is old and honest Latimer that says, “ To consider what hath been plucked from abbeys, colleges, and chantries it is marvel no more to be bestowed upon this holy office of salvation. Very few there be that keep poor scholars, that set their children to school to learn the word of God; and to make a provision for the age to come
Averse as Latimer was to the life of an idle friar, none was more sensible than he of losses sustained. I agree entirely with you in thinking that the education of the people, -especially of the poor,-received at that time a shock which it is only just recovering from. Means for exertion were done away with, and finances crippled by indiscriminate robbery and spoliation.
ALETHES. Basil's care for the education of children in the monasteries of the East can never be forgotten. But, is there reason to believe that the like care was bestowed upon the children of the poor and orphans in our Anglo-Saxon Religious Houses?
There is not, but as a general truth, they were fully alive to the Satirist's saying,
“ Maxima debetur puero reverentia.” Formerly the schools were within the abbey, and the monks, under the prior's inspection, were the teachers. It is not to be disguised, however, that very many of these children were consigned to the care of the House by their parents, and brought up as monks before they could choose for themselves, and in this there was a marked difference from the rule and conduct of St. Basil. But the schools were not restricted, and others received
4 Sermons, vol. i. p. 267. Ed. Watkins.