VI

THE FOLK MEMORY

1 HISTORIOGRAPHY

IN feudal society many influences combined to encourage an interest in the past. Religion had books of history among its sacred writings; its feasts commemorated past events; in its most popular forms it drew sustenance from the stories that were told about the saints of long ago; finally, in affirming that mankind was soon to perish, it rejected the optimism which has caused other ages to be interested only in the present or the future. Canon law was founded on the ancient texts; secular law on precedents. The vacant hours of cloister or castle favoured the telling of long tales. History was not indeed taught ex professo in the schools, except through the medium of readings directed, in theory, to other ends: religious writings, which were read for the sake of theological or moral instruction, and works of classical antiquity, meant to serve as models of good style. In the common intellectual stock, history none the less occupied an almost predominant place.

What sources of information were accessible to people of education eager to learn about the past? Though known only through fragments of their writings, the historians of Latin antiquity had lost nothing of their prestige; though Livy was not by any means the one most often read, his name figures among the books distributed between 1039 and 1049 to the monks of Cluny for their Lenten readings.1 Nor were the narrative works of the early Middle Ages forgotten: we possess, for example, several manuscripts of Gregory of Tours executed between the tenth and the twelfth century. But the most considerable influence belonged unquestionably to the writers who, about the decisive turning-point of the fourth and fifth centuries, had set themselves to combine in synthesis the two historical traditions, hitherto alien to each other, whose double legacy thrust itself upon the new world—that of the Bible and that of Greece and Rome. Moreover, there was no need to go directly to Eusebius of Caesarea, St. Jerome, or Paul Orosius to benefit from the work of reconciliation which these pioneers had undertaken. The substance of their works had passed and continued to pass unceasingly into numerous writings of more recent date.

So eager was the desire to reveal the impetuous flow of the great river of time beyond the present moment that many authors, even among those con-

1 Wilmart, in Revue Mabillon, XI, 1921.

-88-

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