Home  »  Volume II: English THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES  »  § 17. Peterhouse Library and Catalogue; The Library of the Medieval Student

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XV. English and Scottish Education. Universities and Public Schools to the Time of Colet

§ 17. Peterhouse Library and Catalogue; The Library of the Medieval Student

A comparison of the statutory requirements of the university with the contents of a medieval college library would appear to furnish a sufficient basis for judgment as to the extent of the studies indicated.

Peterhouse is fortunate in still possessing, not only a library catalogue of 1418, but the majority of the volumes therein described. It is clear from its arrangement that, unlike the noble collection vainly bequeathed by Richard of Bury to the Benedictine house of Durham in Oxford, and the great library of duke Humphrey of Gloucester, it was a working library. Making allowances for entries on the roll inserted at a somewhat later date, the collection of 1418 contains over 300 volumes. These are divided into two classes, as being either “chained in the library” or “distributed amongst the fellows.” They are further arranged under subject-headings as representing theology, natural philosophy, metaphysics, moral philosophy, astronomy, “Alkenemie,” “Arsmetrice” (arithmetic), music, geometry, rhetoric, logic, grammar, poetry, chronicles, medicine, civil law and canon law. Theological works occupy the largest space. Canon law and civil law in combination slightly exceed the three philosophies. Of medical chained books there are fifteen; but, amongst the fellows, for regular reading, logic, poetry and grammar are in greater request. Astronomy is studied; though it is in the chained library where Ptolemy reigns among a company of Arabians and their Jewish translators, together with Bacon De multiplicatione specierum cum perspectiva ejusdem and half a dozen recent table-makers, closing with John Holbroke, who was elected master of the college in the same year. Of the other subjects of the quadrivium, music, arithmetic and geometry are, under their several proper headings, denoted each by a single tome. A second copy of Euclid, indeed, elsewhere appears, bound up with astronomical works, as do two other treatises on geometry; and there are two copies of the Arithmetica of Boethius; but the weakness of the mathematical element is very marked, as compared with the overwhelming force of the philosophy of Aristotle.

It is to be remembered that the fellows of Peterhouse were at least bachelors of arts, whose main studies would be concerned with cursory lecturing on Posteriora. Of thirteen works on logic, which the library of 1418 contains, we find, accordingly, eight distributed amongst the society. The eight consist entirely of texts of Aristotle, including Posteriora, Priora, Topica and Elenchi, with texts of Porphyry, various commentaries and collections of questions on both Aristotle and Porphyry and the Sophismata of William of Heytesbury (fellow of Merton, 1330; chancellor of Oxford, 1371). In the chained library, Boethius joins Porphyry and Aristotle, together with the Philosophia of the great Albert, the Summa of Ockham and commentaries of Kilwardby and St. Thomas. A later fifteenth century hand added to the catalogue the Summa of Peter Hispanus and the Quaestiones of William Brito (ob. 1356). Under the several headings of natural philosophy, moral philosophy and metaphysic, the catalogue of 1418 records no fewer than eighteen volumes of Aristotelian texts, together with commentaries by Averroes, Aquinas, Egidius Romanus (ob. 1316), Walter Burley (ob. 1345), Durandus and Peter de Alvernia, and the Summa of John Dumbleton (fellow of Queen’, Oxford, 1341). Under the same class heading Palladius and Columella introduce agriculture and veterinary medicine; Seneca and Pliny instruct De Animalibus; and Capella and Isidore range through all fields in dictionary fashion.

In the lower educational stages of the trivium we find, for grammar, authorities in time-honoured Priscian, as edited by Kilwardby, in the Dictionary of Hugucio (bishop of Ferrara, (ob. 1213), the Catholicon of friar John de Janua, the Summa de expositione verborum Bibliae of William Brito, Bacon De Grammatica and the inevitable Doctrinale Puerorum of Alexander. In rhetoric, Cassiodorus and Tully are supported by Guido delle Colonne’s History of the Trojan War, Pharaoh’s Dream by John Lemouicensis, and Practica sive Usus Dictaminis, a “Complete Letter Writer” by one Master Laurence Aquilegiensis.

The civilians were, in view of statutory requirements, necessarily provided with all the books of the corpus juris. They were furnished, also, with glosses of Accursius and comments of Bartholus, Odofredus and Peter de Bella Pertica (ob. 1308). The favourite text-writers were, however, Cinus of Pistoia (ob. 1336) and Azo (ob. 1200), “the light of the lawyers,” whom Bologna was constrained to recall from Montpellier. Of Cynus super Codicem, as of Parvum Volumen (e.g. the Institutes and Novellae), Digestum Vetus, Digestum Inforciatum, Digestum Novum and of Codex, there were three copies, two of each being distributed to fellows, who borrowed also the Summa and Brocardica Azonis. For canonists, with the necessary texts of decrees, decretals, Liber Sextus, “Extravagants” and Clementines, there were commentaries of Paulus, of Joannes Andreae (ob. 1348), of William de Monte Lauduns (c. 1346), of William de Mandagoto and of Henry of Susa, cardinal of Ostia (ob. 1271). As English clerks, the Peterhouse fellows had, doubtless, frequent recourse to their several copies of the Constitutions of Otho and Ottobon, and, it may be surmised, to Liber taxarum omnium beneficiorum Angliae, which lay in the chained library. But their regularly used manuals of canon law were, clearly, the famous Summa Ostiensis, which appears in both sections of the library; the similarly honoured Rosarium of archdeacon Guido de Baysio, which recalls the Bologna school of 1300; and the ever popular Speculum Juris, or Speculum Judiciale, of William Durand (ob. 1296) to whom Boniface VIII vainly offered the archbishopric of Ravenna. Two copies of Speculum, with the like number of texts of decretals, Liber Sextus and Clementines, are lent out to fellows, while another copy of each remains in the chained library. The law fellowships of Peterhouse were, evidently, full, the statutes permitting, as has been noted, to not more than two contemporary fellows, the study of canon, or civil, law.

The one fellow allowed by statute to adopt the medical art was pursuing in 1418 the regular university course: he had borrowed Macer, De virtutibus herbarum, and the prescribed texts of “Johannicius” and of “Isaac.” Chaucer recites the qualifications of his Doctor of Phisyk:

  • Well knew he the’s olde Esculapius
  • And Deiscorides, and eek Rufus,
  • Old Ypocras, Haly and Galien;
  • Serapion, Razis and Avicen;
  • Averrois, Damascien and Constantyn;
  • Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn.
  • The Peterhouse chained library of 1418 held but thirteen volumes of medicine; but a brief examination of the contents of its shelves enables us to identify at least ten of Chaucer’s classical authorities. The ruler of the medieval medical school was, undoubtedly, Galen, whose commentaries upon Hippocrates must be twice heard in lecture by the Cambridge would-be medical inceptor. Other prescribed books were the Breviary of Constantine, commonly known as Viaticus, the Isagoge of Johannicius, a general introduction to physic, the Antidotarium of Nicholaus, Theophilus De Urinis and the works of Isaac, a high authority on dietary and fevers. Amongst additional authors represented on the Peterhouse shelves a notable place was claimed by Gerard of Cremona, an indefatigable translator, and by Richard, the Englishman, who is identifiable with Richard of Wendover (ob. 1252), canon of St. Paul’, the compiler of an encyclopaedic treatise covering the entire field of Medicine. It is no hard task to detect the fontes of medieval medical knowledge. Isaac, a Peterhouse librarian scribe informs us, fuit araabs nacione. Gerard of Cremona translates one book of Galen in Toledo from the Arabic into Latin; another is introduced as ad tutyrum translato johannici filii ysaac de greco in arabicum et a marcho toletano de arabico in latinum. Medicine, with astronomy, passed to western Europe through the hands of the Arabian and the Jew.

    And what, finally, of theology, the crowning study of the medieval university? There, indeed, the Latin held his own. In the Peterhouse chained library of 1418 an imperfect Chrysostom practically monopolises the representation of the eastern church, with Cyprian as spokesman for the African. A magnificent Latin Bible, the gift of archbishop Whittlesea, is flanked by a host of patristic writers of the western church. Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome are followed by Gregory and Isidore, by Bernard and Anselm, by Stephen Langton, Lyra and Hugo de St. Victor. There are the inevitable sermons standing behind great names. There is, too, the Historia Scholastica of Peter Comestor, Magister Historiarum. But in the list of books distributed amongst the fellows the true character of the theological studies of the university comes out. With four more Bibles, one being specially assigned for daily reading in hall, a glossed Gospel of St. John, a brief tractate on the epistles of St. Paul, two or three books clearly designed for private meditation and Grosseteste, De Oculo Morali, there are two additional copies of Magister Historiarum, six Psalters, four Latin, one Hebrew and Latin and one Hebrew and no fewer than nine copies of the Master of the Sentences, reinforced by the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, the Quaestiones of his opponent Henry of Ghent (ob. 1293) and John Bokyngham Super Sententias. The ancient fathers of the church here appear only in the shape of extracts in the much used Pharetra, a medieval Familiar Quotations. The working theology of fifteenth century Peterhouse was the theology of Peter Lombard.