The origin and development of the early handwritings of our own Islands differ from those of the continental nations of Western Europe which have been examined in the last chapter. While on the continent the Roman Cursive hand formed the basis of the national forms of writing, in Ireland and England the basis was the Roman Half-uncial.
The foundation of the early Church in Ireland and the consequent spread of civilization naturally fostered the growth of literature and the development of a national school of writing ; while at a later period the isolation of the country prevented the introduction of new ideas and changes which contact with neigbbouring nations invariably effects. Ireland borrowed the types for her handwriting from the MSS. which the Roman missionaries brought with them ; and we must assume that the greater number of those MSS. were written in the half-uncial character, and that there was an unusually scanty number of uncial MSS. among the works thus imported ; otherwise it is difficult to account for the development of the Irish hand on the line which it followed.
In writing of the course of Greek Palæography we had occasion to notice the very gradual changes which came over the handwriting of Greece, confined as it was to a comparatively small district and to a single language. In Ireland this conservatism is stil more strongly marked. The hand which the modern Irish scholar writes is essentially, in the forms of its letters, the pointed hand of the early middle ages ; and there is no class of MSS. which can be more perplexing to the palæographer than Irish MSS. Having once obtained their models, the Irish scribes developed their own style of writing and went on practising it, generation after generation, with an astonishing uniformity. The English conquest did not disturb this even course. The invaders concerned themselves not with the language and literature of the country. They were content to use their own style of writing for grants of land and other official deeds ; but they left the Irish scribes to go on producing MSS. in the native characters.
The early Irish handwriting appears in two forms : the round and the pointed. Of pure uncial writing we have to take no account. There are no undisputed Irish MSS. in existence which are written in that style ; although the copy of the Gospels in uncials, which was found in the tomb of St. Kilian and is preserved at Würzburg, has been quoted as an instance of an Irish uncial MS. The writing is in ordinary uncial characters and bears no indication of Irish nationality (Z. and W., Exempla, 58).
The round Irish hand is half-uncial, and in its characters there is close relationship with the Roman half-uncial writing as seen in the MSS. of Italy and France dating from the fifth or sixth century. A comparison of the earliest surviving Irish MSS. with specimens of this style leaves no room to doubt the origin of the Irish round hand ; and, without accepting the traditional ascription of certain of them to St. Patrick or St. Columba or other Irish saints, there can be no hesitation in dating some as far back as the seventh century. We may therefore place the period of the first development of the Irish round hand somewhat earlier, namely, in the sixth century, the Roman half-uncial MSS. of which time evidently served as models.
Among the oldest extant Irish MS. of this character is the fragmentary copy of the Gospels, of an early version, in the library of Trinity College, Dublin (Nat. MSS. Ireland, i. pl. 2 ; Pal. Soc. ii. pl. 33), which is to be ascribed to the latter part of the 7th century. The writing bears a very close resemblance to the continental half-uncial hand, but at the same time has the distinct impress of its Irish nationality, indicated generally in a certain angular treatment of some of the strokes which in the Roman half-uncial MSS. are round.
|Gospels.—late 7th century.|
|[ami]cus meus supervenit de via a[d me] | et non habeo quod ponam an[te illum] | ad ille deintus respondens [dicit no] | li mihi molestus esse iam ostiu[m clusum] | est et pueri in cubiculo mecum [sunt] | non possum surgere et dare|
The MS. may be cited as a specimen of a style of writing which was no doubt pretty widely used at the time for the production of MSS. of a good class—a careful working book-hand, which, however, did not compete with the sumptuous style for which the Irish scribes had by this time become famous. The same kind of writing, but more ornamental, is found in a Psalter (Nat. MSS. Ireland, i. pl. 3, 4) traditionally ascribed to St. Columba, but probably also of the same date as the Gospels just described.
No school of writing developed so thoroughly. and, apparently, so quickly, the purely ornamental side of calligraphy as the Irish school. The wonderful interlaced designs which were introduced as decorative adjuncts to Irish MSS. of the seventh and eighth centuries are astonishing examples of skilful drawing and generally of brillant colouring. And this passion for ornamentation also affected the character of the writing in the more elaborately executed MSS.—sometimes even to the verge of the fantastic. Not only were fancifully formed initial letters common in the principal decorated pages, but the striving after ornamental effect also manifests itself in the capricious shapes given to various letters of the text whenever an opportunity could be found, as, for instance, at the end of a line. The ornamental round hand which was elaborated under this influence, is remarkable both for its solidity and its graceful outlines. The finest MS. of this style is the famous copy of the Gospels known as the "Book of Kells," now in the library of Trinity College, Dublin (Nat. MSS. Ireland, i. pl. 7-17; Pal. Soc. i. pl. 55-58, 88, 89), in which both text and ornamentation are brought to the highest point of excellence.
|Book of Kells.—7th century.|
|fecit . Se ipsum non potest sal | vum facere si rex Israhel est des | cendat nunc de cruceet crede | mus ei . Confidit in dom ino et nunc li | beret-eum si vult dixit|
Although tradition declares that the MS. belonged to St. Columba, who died in the year 507, it does not appear to be older than the latter part of the seventh century.
It was a volume of this description, if not the Book of Kells itself, which Giraldus Cambrensis, in the twelfth century, saw at Kildare, and which he declared was so wonderful in the execution of its intricate ornamental designs that its production was rather to be attributed to the hand of an angel than to human skill. The oftener and the more closely he examined it, the more he found in it to excite his admiration.
Another MS. of Irish execution, which is of the same character, but not nearly so elaborate as the Book of Kells, is the copy of the Gospels of St. Chad, at Lichfield (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 20, 21, 35). But the grand style of round half-uncial writing which is used in these MSS. was not adapted for the more ordinary purposes of literature or the requirements of daily intercourse, and, after reaching the culminating point of excellence in the Book of Kells, it appears to have quickly deteriorated—at all events, the lack of surviving examples would appear to indicate a limit to its practice. The MS. of the Gospels of MacRegol, written about the year 800, now in the Bodleian Library, is a late specimen, in which the comparative feebleness and rough style of the writing contrast very markedly with the practised exactness of the older MSS.
|Gospels of MacRegol.—about A.D.800.|
|prophetas audiant illos— | abracham sed si quis ex mor[tuis] — I [paeni]tentiam agent ait autem illi | —non audiunt neque si quis ex mortu[is]—|
The pointed Irish hand was derived from the same source as the round hand. On the continent we have seen that the national cursive hands were but sequels of the Roman Cursive subjected to varying conditions, and were distinct from the literary or book hands which were used contemporaneously by their side. The Irish scribes had, or at least followed, but one model—the Roman Half-uncial. The pointed hand is nothing more than a modification of the round-hand, with the same forms of letters subjected to lateral compression and drawn out into points or hair-lines, and is a minuscule hand. There cannot be much doubt that this style of writing came into existence almost contemporaneously with the establishment of a national hand. The round hand no doubt preceded it ; but the necessity for a more cursive character must have made itself felt almost at once. The pointed hand, of an ornamental kind, appears in some of the pages of the Book of Kells, a fact which proves its full establishment at a much earlier period. The Book of Dimma (Nat. MSS. Ireland, i. pl. 18, 19) has been conjecturally ascribed to a period of about the year 650, but can scarcely be older than the eighth Century. The first example to which a certain date can be given on grounds of internal evidence which are fairly conclusive is the Book of Armagh (Nat. MSS. Ireland, i. pl. 25-29), a MS. containing portions of the New Testament and other matter, written, as it seems, by Ferdomnach, a scribe who died in the year 844.
|Book of Armagh.—before A.D.844.|
|[Id]eo dico vobis ne soliciti sitis animæ | quid manducetis aut corpori vest ro qui d | induamini non ne anima plus est quam æs | ca et corpus quam aëṡca vestiment um | respicite volatilia cæli quonia m non serunt | neque congregant in horrea et pater | veste r cælestis pascit illa non ne vos | magis plures estis illis|
There is a close resemblance between the writing of this MS. and that of the pointed hand written in England at the same period.
The MS. of the Gospels of MacDurnan, in the Lambeth Library (Nat. MSS. Ireland, i. pl. 30, 31) of the end of the 9th or beginning of the 10th Century may be referred to as a specimen of the very delicate and rather cramped writing which the Irish scribes at this time affected.
In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the pointed hand took the final stereotyped form which it was to follow in the future, and had assumed the angular shapes which are henceforth characteristic of the Irish hand. As a good example of the early part of the twelfth century we select a passage from the Gospels of Mælbrighte (Nat. MSS. Ireland, i. pl. 40-42; Pal. Soc. i. pl. 212), written in the year 1138, and now in the British Museum.
|Gospels of Mælbrighte.—A.D.1138.|
|Penitentiam et remisionem peccatorum in omne s gen | tes incipientibus ab ierusolima. Vos autem tes | tes estis horum. Et ego mitto pro missum pat ris | mei in vos. Vos autem sedete hic in civitate quo | adusque induamini virtute exalto. Eduxit | autem eos usque in bethaniam. Et elevatis manibus | suis benedi xit eis. Et fa ctu m est cum bene diceret illis re | cessit ab eis et ferebatur in celu m et ipsi adoran[tes]|
In the writing of this MS. the old forms of letters have undergone but little change, but yet they have assumed the essential character of the Irish mediæval hand. Attention may also be drawn to the use of certain forms of abbreviation which are found almost exclusively in Irish and English MSS.
But while the writing of Ireland remained untouched by external influences, and passed on from generation to generation with little change, the influence which, in revenge, it exercised abroad was very wide. We shall presently see how England was almost entirely indebted to Ireland for her national handwriting. In the early middle ages Irish missionaries spread over the Continent and founded religious houses in France and Italy and other countries, and where they settled there the Irish form of handwriting was practised. At such centres as Luxeuil in France, Wiirzburg in Germany, St. Gall in Switzerland, and Bobio in Italy, it flourished. At first, naturally, the MSS. thus produced were true specimens of the Irish hand. But thus distributed in isolated spots, as the bonds of connection with home became loosened and as the influence of the native styles of writing in their neighbourhoods made itself more felt, the Irish writers would gradually lose the spirit of their early teaching and their writing would become traditional and simply imitative. Thus the later MSS. produced at these Irish settlements have none of the beauty of the native hand ; all elasticity disappears, and we have only the form without the spirit.
The history of writing in England previous to the Norman Conquest takes a wider range than that of writing in Ireland, although, at least in the earlier periods, it runs on the same lines. Here we have to take into account influences which had no part in the destinies of the Irish hand. In England there were two early schools of writing at work : the one originating from Ireland, in the north, from which emanated the national hand, holding its own and resisting for a long time foreign domination; the other, the school of the Roman missionaries, essentially a foreign school making use of the foreign styles which they brought with them but which never appear to have become naturalized.
We may commence with stating what little can be gathered regarding the foreign school from the few remains which it has left behind. That the Roman Rustic capital writing was made use of by the missionaries and was taught in their school, whose principal seat must have been at Canterbury, is proved by the occurrence of such specimens as those found in a Psalter of about A.D. 700, in the Cottonian collection, which belonged to St. Augustine's monastery at Canterbury (Cat. Anc. MSS. ii. pl. 12,13), and in one or two charters, or, more properly, copies of charters. The Psalter just referred to also affords an example of the character which the foreign uncial assumed in this Canterbury school—an unmistakably local character, of which, however, so few specimens have survived that perhaps no better proof, negative as it is, could be found of the failure of the Roman majuscule styles of writing to make their way in the country. The celebrated copy of the Bible, the " Codex Amiatinus,"which was presumably written in Northumbria about the year 700, must not be taken as an example of native uncial writing. The style is quite foreign ; the MS. is probably the work of foreign scribes, and has none of the local cast which belongs to the Canterbury uncial hand. We must suppose that the Canterbury school of writing ceased to exist at a comparatively early period ; and, as it had no influence upon the native hand, its interest for us is merely incidental.
The introduction of the foreign minuscule hand in the tenth century is due to later political causes and to the growth of intercourse with the Continent ; and it must be considered as altogether unconnected with the early foreign school which has just been discussed.
Now, as to the native school of writing—
St. Columba's settlement in Iona was the centre from whence proceeded the founders of monasteries in northern Britain ; and in the year 634 the Irish missionary Aidan founded the see of Lindisfarne (Holy Isle), which became a great centre of English writing. At flrst the writing was indeed nothing more than the Irish hand transplanted into new soil, and for a time the English style is scarcely to be distinguished from that of the sister island. But gradually distinctions arose, and the English school, under wider influences, developed more graceful forms and threw off the restraints which fettered the growth of Irish writing.
We have, then, first to follow the course of English Writing on the same lines as that of Ireland, and to examine the two styles, the round and the pointed, which here, as in Ireland, were adopted as national forms of writing. The round hand again is a half-uncial hand. Uncial writing, as we have seen, was excluded from Irish writing and therefore finds no place in the English school of St. Aidan's followers.
The earliest and most beautifnl MS. of the English round half-uncial is the copy of the Lindisfarne Gospels, or the " Durham Book," in the British Museum (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 3-6, 22; Cat. Anc. MSS. ii. pl. 8-11), said to have been written by Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, about the year 700.
|Beati qui lugunt | quoniam ipsi | consolabuntur | Beati qui esuriunt | et sitiunt iustitiam || Gloss : eadge biðon ða ðe gemænas | for ðon ða | gefroefred biðon | eadge biðon ða ðe hynegrð | and ðyrstas soðfæstnisseð|
This very beautiful hand leaves nothing to be desired in the precision and grace with which it is executed, and fairly rivals the great Irish MSS. of the same period.
The glosses in the Northumbrian dialect were added by Aldred, a writer of the tenth century.
The round hand was used for books, and, less frequently, even for charters, during the eighth and ninth centuries ; but, although in very carefully written MSS. the writing is still solid, the heavy-stroke style of the Lindisfarne Gospels appears generally to have ceased at an early date. We give a specimen of a lighter character from a fragmentary copy of the Gospels which belonged to the monastery of St. Augustine, Canterbury, though not necessarily written there (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 8 ; Cat. Anc. MSS. ii. pl. 17, 18). It is probably of the end of the 8th century.
|Canterbury Gospels.—late 8th century.|
|erue eum et proico abs te . | bonum tibi est cum uno oculo | in vitam intrare quam duos | oculos habentem mitti | in gehennam ignis|
In its original state this MS. must have been a volume of extraordinary magnificence, adorned with paintings and illuminated designs, and having many leaves stained, after the ancient method, a beautiful purple, a few of which still remain.
Other specimens of this hand are found in the Durham Cassiodorus (Pal Soc. i. pl. 164), the Epinal Glossary (Early Engl. Text. Soc.), and in some charters (Facs. Anc. Ch. i. 15, ii. 2, 3; Pal. Soc. i. pl. 10). One of the latest MSS. in which the hand is written in its best form is the " Liber Vitas," or list of benefactors of Durham (Cat. Anc. MSS. ii. pl. 25 ; Pal. Soc. i. pl. 238), which was compiled about the year 840.
For study of the pointed English hand there has survived a fair amount of material. This form of writing was used both for books and documents ; but, as might be expected, it is chiefly seen in the latter. The Facsimiles of Ancient Charters in the British Museum and the Facsimiles of Anglo-Saxon MSS. (Rolls Series), besides many plates published by the Palæographical Society, contribute largely to our knowledge of the different varieties of the hand as practised in various parts of the country, and we are even able to distinguish certain forms as peculiar to certain districts. The period covered by existing documents in the pointed hand, properly so called, ranges from the eighth to the tenth century ; later than this time, the changes effected in its structure by contact with southern influences mark a new departure. In the oldest specimens the writing generally exhibits that breadth of form and elegance of shape which we have noticed in other handwritings in their early stages. Then comes the tendency to lateral compression and fanciful variations from the older and simpler types. In illustration of the progress of this hand it will be convenient to select facsimiles from both books and documents in chronological order, the distinction between book-hand and cursive hand being not very marked, although here, as elsewhere, we must expect rather more care in the writing of books than in that of documents.
Our first example shall be selected from the remarkably handsome copy of Bede's " Ecclesiastical History," in the University Library of Cambridge, written probably not long after the year 730 and, it has been conjectured, at Epternach, or some such Anglo-Saxon colony on the Continent. The MS. is also famous as containing the original Anglo-Saxon of the song of Cædmon (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 139, 140).
|Bede's Ecclesiastical History.—middle of 8th century.|
|[divi]nitus adiutus . gratis canendi— | et super vacui poematis facere— | [re]ligionem per tinent religiosam eius — | [ha]bitu se cu lari usque ad tempora pro — | carminum aliqua ndo didicerat — | laetitiae causa decretum . ut|
Nothing could be finer of its kind than the broad, bold, style of this hand, and it requires no demonstration to explain its evolution from the perfect round hand of the early Irish and English scribes who could execute such books as the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels.
We make an advance of some half-century and next take a few lines from a charter of Cynewulf, King of the Mercians, of the year 812 (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 11).
|Mercian Charter.—A.D. 812.|
|Indictione v. Regni quoque gloriosissimi Me[rciorum] — | eventȍs verbi gratia placuit itaque reg[i]— | —eorum consentientibus firmiter perager[e]— | hlincas vocitantur iuxta distributionem— | —lond appellatur. Quam terram vide[licet]|
|... and HERE's a better facsimile of this charter.|
The writing of this document is more laterally compressed than the preceding example, and is refined and elegant. Many of the existing charters of Mercian origin of this period are in this style, and prove the existence of an advanced school of penmanship in the Mercian kingdom. Comparing with those deeds other finely written specimens which belong to the kingdom of Kent, we are disposed to discern in the latter the influence of the Mercian school.
In contrast with this elegant style of writing we find a hand practised chiefly in Wessex, and less widely in Kent, in which the letters are roughly formed and adopt in sorm instances peculiar shapes. The following specimen is taken from a MS. in the Bodleian Library, which was written at Winchester, apparently before the year 863, and contains collections relating to the paschal cycle and other compatations (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 168).
|Computations.—middle of 9th century.|
|[Do]mino vere . san cto adque beatissimo ac | [a]postolico . mihique post domi nu m pluri | [m]um . colendo . Papa Leoni . Pascasinus | [epi]scopus Apostolatus vest ri scripta | [diacon]o Panormitanæ Ecclesię . Silva | [no def]erente . per cipi quæ nuditati meæę|
It will be observed that in this MS., although the writing is cast into a fairly regular mould as a book hand, the letters are rather straggling in shape, as for example in long s and r, and particularly in the t, the bow of which terminates in a short thickened stroke or dot.
The rugged nature of this southern hand is more apparent in the less carefully written charters, as will be seen from the following faesimile taken from a Kentish charter of the year 858 ( Facs, Anc. Chart. ii. 33).
|[Pas]singivellan hancque livertatem | —tum liventer largitus sum | —[dominati]one furisque conprehensione | —[se]cura et inmunis per maneat|
The change which took place in the English pointed hand in the course of the tenth Century is very marked, and towards the close of the century the influence of the French minuscule hand begins to assert itself, and even, under certain conditions, to usurp the place of the native hand, Characteristic is the disposition to flatten the upper part of the round portion of such letters as a and q, and, so to say, cut it off at an oblique angle. This will be seen in an example selected from a charter of Ӕthelstan of the year 931 (Facs. Anc. Chart. iii. no. 3), a good instance of a carefully written document which, while exhibiting the new forms just referred to, retains much of the graceful character of the earlier century.
|Charter of Ӕthelstan.—A.D.931.|
|to ottes forda ; ðonon to wudumere— | Si autem quod absit . aliquis diabol[ico]— | examinationis die . stridula cla[ngente] — | qui á satoris pio sato . filius perd[itionis]— | atque inventę voluntatis scedula. An[no]|
With this we may compare the writing of a Latin Psalter of about the year 969 (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 189), having an interlinear Anglo-Saxon gloss of the early part of the 11th century. The text is written with regularity in well-formed minuscules; but the influence of the foreign school can be detected in the fluctuations of certain forms, as e.g. in the letter s, the round shape being more generally used than the long Saxon letter.
|qui faciad bornum non est usque ad unum | [Domi]nus de ce̢lo prospexit super filios | hominum. ́ ut videad si est intelle | gens aut requirens deum | [O]mnes declinaverunt simul inutiles || Gloss : þa do god na oþ on anne | drihten of heofena besceawaþ ofer bear | manna þæt geseo gif is ynderstan | dende oþðe secende drihten | ealle fram ahyldan ætgædere unnytþ ð|
This is not the place to discuss the establishment of the foreign minuscule hand as an independent form of writing in England. This subject will engage our attention when the history of that form of writing will be treated as a whole and its progress throughout the different countries of Western Europe will be taken into one view. It is enough at present to notice the fact that foreign minuscules generally take the place of the native hand in the course of the tenth century for Latin texts, while the Saxon writing still held its own for texts in the vernacular. Thus, in charters of this period we find the two styles standing side by side, the body of the document, in Latin, being written in the foreign minuscule hand, and the boundaries of the property conveyed, expressed in Anglo-Saxon, being in the native hand. This foreign invasion naturally made its chief impression in the south, if we may judge from the fact that three important MSS. of English origin, which still survive, and which are written in the continental style, viz. the charter of King Eadgar to New Minster, Winchester, of the year 966 (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 46, 47), the Benedictional of Bishop Æthelwold of Winchester, earlier than the year 984 (Pal. Soc. i pl. 142, 144), and a MS. of the Office of the Cross in the British Museum (Pal. Soc. i. pl. 60), which, though not quite so early, falls in the first years of the next century, A.D. 1012-1020, were all executed in the southern royal city.
The beginning of the eleventh century is an epoch of decided change in the native minuscule hand. It cannot any longer be called a pointed hand. The body of the letters becomes squarer, and the strokes above and below the line become longer than before. In a word, the writing has by this time lost its compactness ; and the change must be attributed to exterior influence, the sentiment of the foreign style of the period being instilled into the native characters. This change is well illustrated by a MS. of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of about the year 1045 (Pal. Soc. i. 242).
|Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.—about A.D.1045.|
|and his hroðor eac eadmimd aþeling eal[dor]— | æt sæcce . swurda ecgum . embe brunna[nburh]— | clufon . heowon heaþolinda . hamora la[fum]— | weardes . swa him geæþelo wæs . fram en[eo]— | campe oft . wiþ laþra gehwæne land eal[godon]|
The same characteristics are seen in the series of charters of this century. From one of these, dated in 1038 (Facs. Anc. Ch., iv. no. 20), we select a few lines. The writing is very neat and uniform. It is interesting to notice the survival, in an altered shape, of the fashioning of the top of the letter a into a point by an oblique stroke, which was noticed above as characteristic of the tenth century. Here the top stroke, made independently of the body of the letter, is generally a hair-line nearly horizontal. The practiceof marking the letter y with a dot, as seen in this facsimile, is a survival from about the sixth century, when it appears to have been first followed in uncial MSS. for the purpose of distinguishing the Y from V.
|begen þa to eallon gebroþran and bædon— | heom ealle togædere endemes þæt he hit— | þa gyrnde he þæt he moste macian forna[ngen]— | and se arcebisceop eadsige let hit eall to heora— | wolde þæt scip ryne sceolde þærinne licgea[n]— | willan . and se abbod let hit eall þus . and se hire[d]— | sancte augustine . þis is call soð gelyfe se þe— | eallon a on ecnysse . amen .|
This is a favourable specimen of the charter-writing of the period. Many of the surviving documents are written in a far rougher style, but in all cases the lengthening of the main strokes, as well as deterioration in the forms of letters, marks the hand of the eleventh century.
With the Norman Conquest the native English minuscule hand disappeared as an official hand. The conquerors brought their own form of writing ; and the history of later charters and legal and official documents written in England is the history of the law-hand—the hand used in the courts of law and for legal business generally. The native hand had already practically disappeared as the handwriting of the learned. There remained only books composed in the native tongue in which to employ the native form of writing : and there it continued, for a certain time, to survive, more and more, however, losing its independent character, and being evermore overshadowed and displaced by tbe new writing of the continental school, until at length the memory of the old hand survives only in the paradoxical employment of the letter y to represent the old Saxon long thorn þ, particularly in writing the definite article, ye for þe. We break off, then, with the period of the Norman Conquest as virtually marking the end of the English hand of the Anglo-Saxon type.