Chapter 1




Jocelin of Brakelond


We will, in this Second Portion of our Work, strive to penetrate
a little, by means of certain confused Papers, printed and other,
into a somewhat remote Century; and to look face to face on it,
in hope of perhaps illustrating our own poor Century thereby. It
seems a circuitous way; but it may prove a way nevertheless.
For man has ever been a striving, struggling, and, in spite of
wide-spread calumnies to the contrary, a veracious creature: the
Centuries too are all lineal children of one another; and often,
in the portrait of early grandfathers, this and the other
enigmatic feature of the newest grandson shall disclose itself,
to mutual elucidation. This Editor will venture on such a thing.

Besides, in Editors' Books, and indeed everywhere else in the
world of Today, a certain latitude of movement grows more and
more becoming for the practical man. Salvation lies not in tight
lacing, in these times;--how far from that, in any province
whatsoever! Readers and men generally are getting into strange
habits of asking all persons and things, from poor Editors' Books
up to Church Bishops and State Potentates, not, By what
designation are thou called; in what wig and black triangle dost
thou walk abroad? Heavens, I know thy designation and black
triangle well enough! But, in God's name, what _art_ thou? Not
Nothing, sayest thou! Then if not, How much and what? This is
the thing I would know; and even _must_ soon know, such a pass
am I come to!--What weather-symptoms,--not for the poor Editor of
Books alone! The Editor of Books may understand withal that if,
as is said, 'many kinds are permissible,' there is one kind not
permissible, 'the kind that has nothing in it, _le genre
ennuyeux;'_ and go on his way accordingly.

A certain Jocelinus de Brakelonda, a natural-born Englishman, has
left us an extremely foreign Book,* which the labours of the
Camden Society have brought to light in these days. Jocelin's
Book, the 'Chronicle,' or private Boswellean Notebook, of
Jocelin, a certain old St. Edmundsbury Monk and Boswell, now
seven centuries old, how remote is it from us; exotic,
extraneous; in all ways, coming from far abroad! The language
of it is not foreign only but dead: Monk-Latin lies across not
the British Channel, but the ninefold Stygian Marshes, Stream of
Lethe, and one knows not where! Roman Latin itself, still
alive for us in the Elysian Fields of Memory, is domestic
in comparison. And then the ideas, life-furniture, whole
workings and ways of this worthy Jocelin; covered deeper than
Pompeii with the lava-ashes and inarticulate wreck of seven
hundred years!

----------
* _Chronica Jocelini de Brakelonda, de rebus gestis Samsonis
Abbatis Monasterii Sancti Edmundi: nunc primum typis mandata,
curante Johanne Gage Rokewood._ (Camden Society, London, 1840)
----------

Jocelin of Brakelond cannot be called a conspicuous literary
character; indeed few mortals that have left so visible a work,
or footmark, behind them can be more obscure. One other of those
vanished Existences, whose work has not yet vanished;--almost a
pathetic phenomenon, were not the whole world full of such! The
builders of Stonehenge, for example:--or alas, what say we,
Stonehenge and builders? The writers of the _Universal Review_
and _Homer's Iliad;_ the paviers of London streets;--sooner
or later, the entire Posterity of Adam! It is a pathetic
phenomenon; but an irremediable, nay, if well meditated, a
consoling one.

By his dialect of Monk-Latin, and indeed by his name, this
Jocelin seems to have been a Norman Englishman; the surname de
Brakelonda indicates a native of St. Edmundsbury itself,
_Brakelond_ being the known old name of a street or quarter in
that venerable Town. Then farther, sure enough, our Jocelin was
a Monk of St. Edmundsbury Convent; held some _'obedientia,'_
subaltern officiality there, or rather, in succession several;
was, for one thing, 'chaplain to my Lord Abbot, living beside him
night and day for the space of six years;'--which last, indeed,
is the grand fact of Jocelin's existence, and properly the origin
of this present Book, and of the chief meaning it has for us now.
He was, as we have hinted, a kind of born _Boswell,_ though an
infinitesimally small one; neither did he altogether want his
_Johnson_ even there and then. Johnsons are rare; yet, as has
been asserted, Boswels perhaps still rarer,--the more is the pity
on both sides! This Jocelin, as we can discern well, was an
ingenious and ingenuous, a cheery-hearted, innocent, yet withal
shrewd, noticing, quick-wilted man; and from under his monk's
cowl has looked out on that narrow section of the world in a
really _human_ manner; not in any _simial,_ canine, ovine, or
otherwise inhuman manner,--afflictive to all that have humanity!
The man is of patient, peaceable, loving, clear-smiling nature;
open for this and that. A wise simplicity is in him; much
natural sense; a _veracity_ that goes deeper than words.
Veracity: it is the basis of all; and, some say, means genius
itself; the prime essence of all genius whatsoever. Our
Jocelin, for the rest, has read his classical manuscripts, his
Virgilius, his Flaccus, Ovidius Naso; of course still more, his
Homilies and Breviaries, and if not the Bible, considerable
extracts of the Bible. Then also he has a pleasant wit; and
loves a timely joke, though in mild subdued manner: very amiable
to see. A learned grown man, yet with the heart of a good
child; whose whole life indeed has been that of a child,--St.
Edmundsbury Monastery a larger kind of cradle for him, in which
his whole prescribed duty was to _sleep_ kindly, and love his
mother well! This is the Biography of Jocelin; 'a man of
excellent religion,' says one of his contemporary Brother Monks,
_'eximiae religionis, potens sermone et opere.'_

For one thing, he had learned to write a kind of Monk or Dog-
Latin, still readable to mankind; and, by good luck for us, had
bethought him of noting down thereby what things seemed notablest
to him. Hence gradually resulted a _Chronica Jocelini;_ new
Manuscript in the _Liber Albus_ of St. Edmundsbury. Which
Chronicle, once written in its childlike transparency, in its
innocent good-humour, not without touches of ready pleasant wit
and many kinds of worth, other men liked naturally to read:
whereby it failed not to be copied, to be multiplied, to be
inserted in the _Liber Albus;_ and so surviving Henry the
Eighth, Putney Cromwell, the Dissolution of Monasteries, and all
accidents of malice and neglect for six centuries or so, it got
into the _Harleian Collection,_--and has now therefrom, by Mr.
Rokewood of the Camden Society, been deciphered into clear print;
and lies before us, a dainty thin quarto, to interest for a few
minutes whomsoever it can.

Here too it will behove a just Historian gratefully to say that
Mr. Rokewood, Jocelin's Editor, has done his editorial function
well. Not only has he deciphered his crabbed Manuscript into
clear print; but he has attended, what his fellow editors are
not always in the habit of doing, to the important truth that the
Manuscript so deciphered ought to have a meaning for the reader.
Standing faithfully by his text, and printing its very errors in
spelling, in grammar or otherwise, he has taken care by some note
to indicate that they are errors, and what the correction of them
ought to be. Jocelin's Monk-Latin is generally transparent, as
shallow limpid water. But at any stop that may occur, of which
there are a few, and only a very few, we have the comfortable
assurance that a meaning does lie in the passage, and may by
industry be got at; that a faithful editor's industry had
already got at it before passing on. A compendious useful
Glossary is given; nearly adequate to help the uninitiated
through: sometimes one wishes it had been a trifle larger;
but, with a Spelman and Ducange at your elbow, how easy to have
made it far too large! Notes are added, generally brief;
sufficiently explanatory of most points. Lastly, a copious
correct Index; which no such Book should want, and which
unluckily very few possess. And so, in a word, the _Chronicle of
Jocelin_ is, as it professes to be, unwrapped from its thick
cerements, and fairly brought forth into the common daylight, so
that he who runs, and has a smattering of grammar, may read.

We have heard so much of Monks; everywhere, in real and
fictitious History, from Muratori Annals to Radcliffe Romances,
these singular two-legged animals, with their rosaries and
breviaries, with their shaven crowns, hair-cilices, and vows of
poverty, masquerade so strangely through our fancy; and they are
in fact so very strange an extinct species of the human family,--
a veritable Monk of Bury St. Edmunds is worth attending to, if by
chance made visible and audible. Here he is; and in his hand a
magical speculum, much gone to rust indeed, yet in fragments
still clear; wherein the marvelous image of his existence does
still shadow itself, though fitfully, and as with an intermittent
light! Will not the reader peep with us into this singular
_camera lucida,_ where an extinct species, though fitfully, can
still be seen alive? Extinct species, we say; for the live
specimens which still go about under that character are too
evidently to be classed as spurious in Natural History: the
Gospel of Richard Arkwright once promulgated, no Monk of the old
sort is any longer possible in this world. But fancy a deep-
buried Mastodon, some fossil Megatherion, Ichthyosaurus, were
to begin to speak from amid its rock-swathings, never so
indistinctly! The most extinct fossil species of Men or Monks
can do, and does, this miracle,--thanks to the Letters of the
Alphabet, good for so many things.

Jocelin, we said, was somewhat of a Boswell; but unfortunately,
by Nature, he is none of the largest, and distance has now
dwarfed him to an extreme degree. His light is most feeble,
intermittent, and requires the intensest kindest inspection;
otherwise it will disclose mere vacant haze. It must be owned,
the good Jocelin, spite of his beautiful childlike character, is
but an altogether imperfect 'mirror' of these old-world things!
The good man, he looks on us so clear and cheery, and in his
neighbourly soft-smiling eyes we see so well our _own_ shadow,--
we have a longing always to cross-question him, to force from him
an explanation of much. But no; Jocelin, though he talks with
such clear familiarity, like a next-door neighbour, will not
answer any question: that is the peculiarity of him, dead these
six hundred and fifty years, and quite deaf to us, though still
so audible! The good man, he cannot help it, nor can we.

But truly it is a strange consideration this simple one, as we go
on with him, or indeed with any lucid simple-hearted soul like
him: Behold therefore, this England of the Year 1200 was no
chimerical vacuity or dreamland, peopled with mere vaporous
Fantasms, Rymer's Foedera, and Doctrines of the Constitution, but
a green solid place, that grew corn and several other things.
The Sun shone on it; the vicissitude of seasons and human
fortunes. Cloth was woven and worn; ditches were dug,
furrowfields ploughed, and houses built. Day by day all men and
cattle rose to labour, and night by night returned home weary to
their several lairs. In wondrous Dualism, then as now, lived
nations of breathing men; alternating, in all ways, between
Light and Dark; between joy and sorrow, between rest and toil,
between hope, hope reaching high as Heaven, and fear deep as very
Hell. Not vapour Fantasms, Rymer's Foedera at all! Coeur-de-
Lion was not a theatrical popinjay with greaves and steelcap on
it, but a man living upon victuals,--_not_ imported by Peel's
Tariff. Coeur-de-Lion came palpably athwart this Jocelin at St.
Edmundsbury; and had almost peeled the sacred gold _'Feretrum,'_
or St. Edmund Shrine itself, to ransom him out of the Danube Jail.

These clear eyes of neighbour Jocelin looked on the bodily
presence of King John; the very John _Sansterre,_ or Lackland,
who signed _Magna Charta_ afterwards in Runnymead. Lackland,
with a great retinue, boarded once, for the matter of a
fortnight, in St. Edmundsbury Convent; daily in the very
eyesight, palpable to the very fingers of our Jocelin: O
Jocelin, what did he say, what did he do; how looked he, lived
he;--at the very lowest, what coat or breeches had he on?
Jocelin is obstinately silent. Jocelin marks down what interests
_him;_ entirely deaf to _us._ With Jocelin's eyes we discern
almost nothing of John Lackland. As through a glass darkly, we
with our own eyes and appliances, intensely looking, discern at
most: A blustering, dissipated, human figure, with a kind of
blackguard quality air, in cramoisy velvet, or other uncertain
texture, uncertain cut, with much plumage and fringing; amid
numerous other human figures of the like; riding abroad with
hawks; talking noisy nonsense;--tearing out the bowels of St.
Edmundsbury Convent (its larders namely and cellars) in the most
ruinous way, by living at rack and manger there. Jocelin notes
only, with a slight subacidity of manner, that the King's
Majesty, _Dominus Rex,_ did leave, as gift for our St. Edmund
Shrine, a handsome enough silk cloak,--or rather pretended to
leave, for one of his retinue borrowed it of us, and we never got
sight of it again; and, on the whole, that the _Dominus Rex,_ at
departing, gave us 'thirteen _sterlingii,'_ one shilling and one
penny, to say a mass for him; and so departed,--like a shabby
Lackland as he was! 'Thirteen pence sterling,' this was what the
Convent got from Lackland, for all the victuals he and his had
made away with. We of course said our mass for him, having
covenanted to do it,--but let impartial posterity judge with what
degree of fervour!

And in this manner vanishes King Lackland; traverses swiftly our
strange intermittent magic-mirror, jingling the shabby thirteen
pence merely; and rides with his hawks into Egyptian night
again. It is Jocelin's manner with all things; and it is men's
manner and men's necessity. How intermittent is our good
Jocelin; marking down, without eye to _us,_ what _he_ finds
interesting! How much in Jocelin, as in all History, and indeed
in all Nature, is at once inscrutable and certain; so dim, yet
so indubitable; exciting us to endless considerations. For King
Lackland was there, verily he; and did leave these _tredecim
sterlingii_ if nothing more, and did live and look in one way
or the other, and a whole world was living and looking along
with him! There, we say, is the grand peculiarity; the
immeasurable one; distinguishing, to a really infinite degree,
the poorest historical Fact from all Fiction whatsoever. Fiction,
'Imagination,' 'Imaginative Poetry,' &c. &c., except as the
vehicle for truth, or _fact_ of some sort,--which surely a man
should first try various other ways of vehiculating, and
conveying safe,--what is it? Let the Minerva and other Presses
respond!--But it is time we were in St. Edmundsbury Monastery,
and Seven good Centuries off. If indeed it be possible, by any
aid of Jocelin, by any human art, to get thither, with a reader
or two still following us?



Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Email:
Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.
Email: