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His parents obtained for him an introduction into the ecclesiastical establishment at Glastonbury. He continued his studious applications, and there is no reason to disbelieve the statement, that his conduct at this time was moral and religious (1).
Some Irish ecclesiastics had settled at Glastonbury, and were teaching the liberal studies to the children of the nobility. Dunstan attached himself to their instructions, and diligently explored their books (2).
The first part of his life was a laborious cultivation of mind, and he seems to have attained all the knowledge to which it was possible for him to gain access. He mastered such of the mathematical sciences as were then taught; he excelled in music; he accomplished himself in writing, painting, and engraving; he acquired also the manual skill of working in gold and silver, and even copper and iron (3). These arts had not at that day reached any pre-eminent merit, but it was uncommon that a man should practise himself in all. To have excelled his contemporaries in mental pursuits, in the fine arts, as far as they were then practised, and in mechanical labours, is evidence of an activity of intellect, and of an ardour for improvement, which, under a better direction of their energies, might have advanced the progression of the social world.
When his age admitted, he commenced his career of public life as a courtier. Some relation introduced him into the royal palace, and his musical talents interested and often recreated the king (4).
No circumstance can more impressively attest the superiority of Dunstan's attainments than his having been accused, while at court, of demoniacal arts (5). Such charges give demonstration of the ta
sero pene contiguus morti exterius erat relictus, hoc se ignorare respondit, et rumorem miraculi grata ignorantia auxit." Adelard, MSS. Nero, C. 7.
(1) MSS. Cleop. B. 13.
(2) Osberne Vita Dunstani, p. 92. MS. Cleop. B. 13.
(3) Osberne, 93, 94. His attainments are thus enumerated in the MS. Cleop. B. 13. : "Hic itaque inter sacra litterarum studia-artem scribendi nec ne citharizandi pariterque pingendifperitiam diligenter excoluit, atque ut ita dicam, omnium rerum utensilium vigil inspector fulsit." This MS. mentions a particular instance of his painting and embroidery : Quandam stolam diversis formularum scematibus perpingeret quam postea posset auro gemmisque variando pompare." It also mentions, that he took with him ex more cytharam suam quam, lingua paterna, hearpam vocamus.
(4) Adelard says, "De Glastonia egressus Archo Dorobernensi Adelmo patruo scilicet suo se junxit et cohabitare cœpit-in palatio eum præsentavit et regi Athelstano-magno affectu commendavit." Nero, c. 7. Osberne implies the same, p. 94. But I think the king should be Edmund. The MS. Cleop. B. 13. mentions his living in Edmund's palace, where plans were formed against him.
(5) Asserentes illum malis artibus imbutum, nec quicquam divino auxilio sed pleraque dæmonum præstigio operari. Osb. 95. The MS. Cleop. B. 13. thus expresses it: "Dicentes, eum ex libris salutaribus et viris peritis non saluti animæ profutura, sed avitæ gentilitatis vanissima didicisse carmina et histriarum colere Incantationes."
lents and knowledge of the person so accused. In the very same century another man of eminence suffered under a similar imputation, because he had made a sphere, invented clocks, and attempted a telescop (1). The charge of magic was of all others the most destructive, because the most difficult to repel. Every exertion of superior intellect in defence was misconstrued to be preternatural, and confirmed the imputation.
His enemies were successful. The king was influenced against him, and Dunstan was driven from court (2); from that Eden of his hopes, where, like another Wolsey, he was planning to be naturalised.
His courtly rivals were not content with his disgrace: they insulted as well as supplanted him; they pursued and threw him into a miry marsh. He extricated himself on their retreat, and reached a friend's house about a mile distant (3).
Thus far Dunstan appears neither unamiable nor uninteresting. Youthful ambition is the parent of much excellence; while subordinate to reason and duty it is an honourable energy in the springtime of life, when the buds of expectation are incessantly shooting. Dunstan's pursuit of distinction, though perhaps questionable as to its prudence, was no immoral impulse. His means were the most honourable he could employ-the cultivation of his mind, the increase of his knowledge, and the fair exertion of his beneficial acquisitions.
To be checked in the first madness of our juvenile ambition, may often introduce the invaluable treasures of moderate wishes, moral prudence, and becoming humility. There is no evidence that the effects of Dunstan's disgrace were at first any other. He was repelled from the paths of political greatness, and he submitted to the necessity; he turned his eye from the proud but tempestuous mountains of life to its lowly but pleasant vales, where happiness loves to abide, the companion of the industrious, the contented, and the good. After he left the court, he formed an attachment to a maiden, whom he wished to marry (4).
It is with regret we read that such honourable impressions were
(1) This was Gerbert, who became archbishop of Rheims and of Ravenna; and in 999 was made pope, under the name of Sylvester II. "He had learned the mathematics in Spain: his knowledge made him pass for a magician, and gave rise to the fable of his being promoted to the papal chair by a contract which he made with the devil. Dupin, 10 cen. p. 44.; and see Matt. West. 348., and Malmsb. 65.
(2) MS. Cleop. B. 13.
(3) MS. Cleop.
(4) It is the MS. Cleop. which informs us of this curious circumstance. It says, the devil primum enim mulierum illi injecit amorem, quo per familiares earum amplexus mundanis oblectamentis frueretur. Interea propinquus ipsius Elfheagus, cognomine Calvus, præsulque fidelis, petitionibus multis et spiritualibus monitis eum rogavit ut fieret monachus. Quod ille instinctu præfati fraudatoris renuntians, maluit sponsare juvenculam, cujus quotidie blanditiis foveretur, quam more mo pachorum bidenti nis indui panniculis.
deemed to be diabolical suggestions by the relations and biographers of Dunstan. The bishop Elfheag, his relation, opposed them. Attached by his own taste and habits to the ecclesiastical order, he conjured him to become a monk, a character then much venerated, and, notwithstanding its superstitions, allied to many virtues.
Dunstan was at first insensible to his oratory. He replied to Elfheag's reasoning, that the man who lived from choice regularly in the world, was of greater excellence than he who, having entered a monastery, could not avoid doing what his order enjoined. The man in the world displays moral freedom and voluntary rectitude; the monk was a creature of compulsion and necessity. Elfheag opposed the discriminating remark, by arguing on the future punishment, on the importance of extinguishing the fire of passion, and of avoiding its incitements by withdrawing from the world (1). Dunstan still resisted; his relation continued to importune him.
These unfortunate entreaties disturbed the mind of Dunstan. He became agitated by a tumult of contending passions. With the monastic habit were connected all the internal enjoyments of piety to those who valued them, and to those who were less devout it gave a release from the dread of futurity, the reputation and the means of peculiar sanctity, and an impressive empire over the minds of men. But it exacted a renunciation of the charms of mutual affection, of the delights of a growing family, and of those numerous gratifications with which social life in every age abounds. His health was unequal to the conflict a dangerous disease attacked him (2) before he could decide, and his life was despaired of. He lay without a prospect of recovery, and so senseless that the pulse of life seemed to have ceased: at last it slowly returned, and life renewed in gradual convalescence. But he rose from the bed of sickness with an altered mind. He renounced the flattering world, assumed the monastic habit, and condemned himself to celibacy (3).
But to give new directions to our feelings, by the violence of terror, is to produce changes of thought and action, neither salutary to our moral principles, nor calculable in their consequences. Dunstan, while ardent with passions not dishonourable in youth, was driven forcibly from civil honours, and was afterwards excluded from social life. In obedience to duty, fear, importunity, and some new impressions, but in direct contradiction to his own earlier wishes and prospects, he became a monk. Does the incessant experience of human nature teach us to expect that an amiable,
(1) Osberne, 95.
(2) MS. Cleop. And see Osberne's statement, p. 96.
(3) MS. Cleop. B. 13. Osberne, 96. Mr. Lingard talks of the "anile eredulity of Osberne. His epithets are just; but how can he apply them fairly to Osberne, and not extend them to all, or nearly all, the legends of his church which crowd the hundred volumes of the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists? Is Osberne more anile than almost all the writers of the Catholic Hagiography?
benevolent, or virtuous character, would result from these compulsions? Checked in our dearest, and not immoral propensities, are we never soured by the disappointment, never irritated by the injustice? Driven by violence into the schemes of others, will not individuals of strong feelings become artificial characters? harshly coerced themselves, will they not be indurated towards others? Is not selfishness, with all its power of mischief, most likely to become afterwards the ruling principle? It is, indeed, true, that exalted virtue will rise superior to every temptation to misanthropy and vice. Many are the glorious minds who have withstood the fiery trial; and whoever loves virtue as he ought, will pursue it, unaffected by the follies of man, or the accidents of life. Many, however, fall the victims of their vicissitudes; and the remainder of Dunstan's life will best show how far he was of the number.
The predominant features in Dunstan's character, in addition to strong religious impressions, were energy and ambition. The path of life to which he was forced did not extinguish these tendencies, though it may have added peculiarity and severity. His superior mind and all its acquisitions still remained; but it was necessary that all its peculiarities should thereafter be displayed in the language, garb, and manners of a monk. The aspiring soldier seeks distinction in the field of battle by excelling in courage; the ambitious recluse pursues the phantom in his lonely cell, by extraordinary penances, and a superior superstition. Dunstan had now only this way to fame; and from his future actions we infer that he pursued it with an earnestness which every year became more separated from moral principle, and which at last poisoned his mind and injured his contemporaries, but gratified his passion.
He made with his own hands a subterraneous cave or cell, so unlike any thing of the sort, that his biographer, who had seen it, knew not what to call it (1). It was more like a grave than a human habitation. Cells were commonly dug in an eminence, or raised from the earth: this was the earth itself excavated. It was five feet long and two and a half wide. Its height was the stature of a man standing in the excavation. Its only wall was its door, which covered the whole, and in this was a small aperture to admit light and air (2).
Do not such singularities as these reveal either an inflamed ima
(1) Non enim invenio qua id appellatione quam proxime vocem; cum non tam humani habitaculi quam formam gerat sepulchri, propriis laboribus fabricavit. Osberne, 96.
(2) Osberne, 96. This author's additional exclamation is worth translating, for its singularity: "Wretch and sinner as I am, I confess that I have seen this holy place of his residence. I have seen the works of his hands. I have touched them with sinful hands, have brought them to my eyes, watered them with my tears, and adored them with bended knees, I remember how often he has heard my petitions in my perils, and therefore I did not refrain my tears; nor if I could have avoided it, would I have left the place." Ibid.
gination in the sincere, or a crafty ambition in the hypocritical? Genuine piety is modest, private, and unaffected. Piety, when assumed as a mask to cover or to assist inordinate ambition, or connected with a disordered fancy, labours to be ostentatious, absurd, extravagant, and frantically superstitious. If Dunstan's mind had been of weak texture, the selection of such a cell might be referred to its imperfections; but in a man of his talents, it is more likely to have been the deliberate choice of his secret policy.
One of the legendary tales which has been used to exalt his fame, shows, if it ever happened, the arts by which he gained it. Dunstan carried to his sepulchral cell a fragment of his former disposition. He exercised himself in working on metals. One night all the neighbourhood was alarmed by the most terrific howlings, which seemed to issue from his abode. In the morning they flocked to him to enquire the cause; he told them that the devil had intruded his head into his window to tempt him while he was heating his work; that he had seized him by the nose with his red hot tongs, and that the noise was Satan's roaring at the pain (1). The simple people are said to have venerated the recluse for this amazing exploit. They forgot to recollect that he might himself have made the clamour, to extort their morning wonder at his fabricated tale.
All ages and ranks united to spread his fame (2), and a substantial benefit soon accrued. A noble lady, Ethelfleda, of royal descent, who was passing a quiet life of widowhood, was attracted into his vicinity, was charmed by his conversation, and religiously loved him. She introduced him to the king, who visited her; and what gave him immediately an importance of the most interesting nature, she left him at her death, which happened soon afterwards, the heir of all her wealth (3). It is stated that he distributed his acquisitions among the poor.
Dunstan's reputation and connection made him known to Edmund, who invited him to court (4). He eagerly obeyed. The prospects of his youth began to shine again; but he beheld them with very different feelings. The world, and all its pleasures, would then have been his harvest; but now the peculiar path of monastic life was that which he had to tread.
At court, though he had many friends, he had also many enemies. He surmounted, however, all opposition; for the chancellor Turketul supported him (5), and the first step of his future aggrandisement was laid by the acquisition of the monastery of Glastonbury, to which he was appointed abbot by the king (6).
(1) Osberne, 96, 97.
(2) Ibid. 97.
(3) MS. Cleop. B. 13. Osberne, 97. (4) Ibid. 99.
(5) Ingulf, 38.
(6) MS, Cleop. This says, that the king took him to Glastonbury, et apprehensa ejus dextra causa placationis seu etiam dignitatis osculatus est illum. And see Adelard. Nero, G. 7.