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parts of the continent. But his previous publications, while prefect of the Ambrosian Library at Milan, are less known in these countries; and his subsequent labours in the Vatican, both before and since his elevation to the cardinalate, of which this was but an inconsiderable instalment, have been permitted to proceed, if not entirely unobserved, at least without any such record as their magnitude and importance deserve. Čircumstances have so much delayed our own long intended notice during the progress of his publications, that we feel the subject has now outgrown our power-magnitudine jam laborat sua; and we can hope to do little more at present than direct towards it the personal attention of those among our readers to whom it is not already familiar.

The “ Vatican collection of Ancient Authors,” cited at the head of these pages, comprises little more than one half the publications of this extraordinary man. Although these ten quarto volumes average from seven to eight hundred pages each, yet, even amid the cares and duties of the cardinalate, in which he is distinguished by his activity and zeal, his eminence has found time to issue pari passu from the groaning presses of the Propaganda, ten similar volumes in royal octavo, equally recondite and miscellaneous in their contents! Several new volumes, among which are the works of Sophronius, are, we understand, now ready for the press; and the most interesting of all, the celebrated Codex Vaticanus, is, we believe, already printed, and on the very eve of publication.

The reader who has no means of judging of the work beyond the vague impression created by the vastness of its bulk, and the incredibly short time* in which it has been prepared, may form hence, notwithstanding, some conception of the labour which it must have cost a single unassisted editor. But when he has minutely examined the collection itself, the character of the works which it comprises, and the sources from which they are derived; when he has discovered that its extent is even inferior to its learning; that as much apparent pains have been devoted to each part, as though it alone had been the object of the editor's care; and that the translations, prefaces, and illustrations of a single volume might well be the fruit of many years' study—it is only then he can estimate the merit of this prodigious monument of human diligence and learning, and the obligations which

* From 1825 (when the first edition of the first volume was published) till 1838.

literature owes to the indefatigable mind by which it has been raised.

Nor is it the extent of the collection alone, but the vast variety of subjects which it embraces. There is no department of human learning which, in its extensive range, has not received some important contribution. Literature, sacred and profane-Greek, Latin, and Oriental -eloquence, poetry, jurisprudence, and, above all, history, have each its own place; and the illustrious editor appears equally at home in all. Since the revival of letters in the fifteenth century, and the first outpouring of the wealth of the ancients after the discovery of printing, it would be difficult to find a period in which the united efforts of the entire republic of letters have done so much for the extension of its domain, as a single individual has thus accomplished, unaided, within the space of a few brief years. We have said, unaided; because in this immense undertaking Cardinal Mai has relied exclusively on his own resources—himself arranging and deciphering the manuscripts--transcribing them with his own hand-himself executing all the translations (in some instances poetical) which accompany the text, as well as the copious notes by which it is illustrated-in a word, all, even to delineating with his own pencil the accurate and beautiful fac-similes prefixed to each of the volumes ! It will scarcely be credited, and yet it is literally true; the only assistance which he received, being in the treatises of Sedulius, Decorosus, and Luculentius, (an inconsiderable part of the ninth volume) which were copied from the MS. by the amiable and learned Father Theiner, to whose personal services the cause of religious literature is already so deeply indebted.

It will be easy therefore to perceive the impossibility of giving, within the limits at our disposal, any account, however meagre, of the entire work: and indeed a bare enumeration of the contents would far exceed them. We propose to confine ourselves chiefly to one single department, more illustrative than the rest, as well of the difficulty of the task, as of the singular and unexampled endowments of the venerable author. We have selected, therefore, the second volume, for two reasons :—first, because its principal subject, history, will, we presume, be found most generally interesting: and secondly, because it supplies the most remarkable example of the peculiar triumph of Cardinal Mai’s geniusthe restoration to the world of the learning hidden in the PALIMPSESTI or codices rescripti-until his time almost universally regarded as lost, hopelessly and for ever. Perhaps it may not be inappropriate to premise some account of the nature and origin of the palimpsest parchments, whose discovery has opened a new era in the history of literature.

We can easily conceive the enthusiasm with which a mind like Cardinal Mai's has devoted its whole energies to this novel study. There is something peculiarly interesting in the fate of one of those mysterious volumes-uninscribed sepulchres of the unknown or forgotten heroes of old. To unbury and identify their remains—to reunite their withering and fleshless skeletons, and call back the spirits which have slept for ages, is a sort of literary daring, which must charm by its very boldness and singularity. It is to push letters beyond their natural, or at least prescriptive limits; to open a converse forbidden to less gifted or less enterprising spirits, and, by a sort of intellectual necromancy, to hold the entire world of shades at our command. Who is there that would not covet the glory of the enterprise

Pandere res alta terra et caligine mersas ! The practice of writing a second time on a parchment or papyrus already, used, had its origin in the dearness and scarcity of writing materials. It is extremely ancient, and not without examples even amid the wealth and luxury of Rome. A paper of coarse material, called palimpsestus, was manufactured for the purpose, and in one of Cicero's letters to Trebatius,* there is a playful, but homely enquiry, suggested by his correspondent's having written on a palimpsest parchment. It does not appear, however, to have prevailed to any considerable extent during the classic times. The comparatively abundant supply of papyrus from the Egyptian market, obviated the necessity of what was, at best, a troublesome expedient; and perhaps it was confined to the uses of a modern blotting-book-for memoranda, or the first draft of literary compositions. But, at a later period, when the division of the Empire rendered the intercourse with the East more difficult and irregular, and thus diminished the supply of this valuable material, the practice seems to have been more generally adopted, and on a larger scale. Meanwhile, in the anarchy consequent on the inroads of the barbarous conquerors of Rome, the peaceful arts, and among them, the manufactures, were interrupted and dwindled away; and when, eventually, the successes of the Saracens in the East deprived Europe entirely of the papyrus, the art of repreparing parchment already used, furnished almost the only substitute within the reach of the less opulent classes.

* Cic. Fam. vii. 8.

Such is the origin and history of this very singular practice. It is unnecessary to enter into the speculations of antiquarians as to the period at which it came into use, and that at which it was abandoned. From the eighth till the fourteenth century, when the unhappy causes to which we have referred were most rife, it is found to have prevailed more than at any other period; and these unfortunate circumstances of the time have furnished occasion to an accusation against the monks of the Middle Age, industriously exaggerated by those, who, blind to all the excellencies of this remarkable period, love to dwell only on its darkest and most unpleasing features, and can see nothing but superstition and barbarism in its most faultless institutions. Our readers, we doubt not, have met it a hundred times in some of its many forms. The following extract from D’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature, seems to embody them all.

“ The works of the ancients, were frequently destroyed at the instigation of the monks. They appear sometimes to have mutilated them ; for passages have not come down to us which once evidently existed ; and occasionally their interpolations and other forgeries formed a destruction in another shape, by additions to the originals. They were indefatigable in erasing the best works of the most eminent Greek and Latin authors, in order to transcribe their ridiculous lives of saints on the obliterated vellum. One of the books of Livy is in the Vatican, most painfully defaced by some pious father for the purpose of writing on it some missal or psalter, and there have been recently others discovered in the same state. Inflamed with the blindest zeal against everything pagan, Pope Gregory the Seventh* (!) ordered that the library of the Palatine Apollo, a treasury of literature formed by successive emperors, should be committed to the flames. He issued this order under the notion of confining the attention of the clergy to the holy scriptures! From that time all ancient learning which, was not sanctioned by the authority of the Church, has been emphatically distinguished as profane in opposition to sacred f.”

“ Ignorance and barbarism unfortunately seized on Roman manu

*

* This calumny, which we bave already refuted (vol. v. 63, et seq. “Prejudices of Early Education"), is here ignorantly transferred from St. Gregory I to Gregory VII! In the index, to which we had the curiosity to refer, Gregory VIII is made to bear the obloquy.

+ “Curiosities of Literature,” tenth edition, p. 18.

scripts, and industriously defaced pages once imagined to have been immortal! The most elegant compositions of classic Rome were converted into the psalms of a breviary, or the prayers of a missal. Livy and Tacitus “hide their diminished heads” to preserve the legend of a saint, and immortal truths were converted into clumsy fictions. It happened that the most voluminous authors were the greatest sufferers; these were preferred, because, their volume being the greatest, most profitably repaid their destroying industry, and furnished ample scope for future transcription. A Livy or a Diodorus was preferred to the smaller works of Cicero or Horace."*

To objections of this class we have never attached much importance. No one ever denied that, owing to causes over which religion certainly exercised no control, profane literature was little cultivated, or entirely neglected during the Middle Ages. But he would be a very superficial reasoner who would draw from such a fact a conclusion unfavourable to religion; and we are so accustomed to meet in our popular writers, declarations similar to that cited above, that we have learned to regard them with indifference. But, perhaps, while we are directly discussing the question, it may be well to show how grossly these and similar statements are exaggerated, and how imperfect, or rather how completely defective, is the evidence by which they are brought home to the monastic body. The case is simply this. Many of the ancient classics have been entirely lost; scarcely any have come down to our time unmutilated. Now a few morsels of some of these have been discovered under writings evidently monkish. It is equally evident, that the ancient MS. of the pages thus re-written was defaced in order to make room for the modern. Hence it is at once concluded, that all this destruction is the work of the monks—and all the result of their conscious ignorance and consequent hatred of the ancient learning. Such, in substance, is the simple argument, divested of the declamation in which its shallowness is concealed.

Now let us see what should be proved, in order that this conclusion may be legitimately deduced. It should be shown, in the first place, that this wholesale system of defacing ancient MSS. was entirely, or in great part, attributable to the monastic bodies, or executed by their orders. It will not be enough to show that the monks sometimes themselves obliterated the old writing, or even that the modern manuscript is generally monkish ; because the first would not warrant a

* “ Curiosities of Literature,” p. 7.

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