The Mediaeval Mind: A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages - Vol. 2

By Henry Osborn Taylor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXII
EVOLUTION OF MEDIAEVAL LATIN PROSE

IN this and the next chapter we are concerned with literature, properly speaking, and with the effect of the Classics, the pure literary antique, upon mediaeval literary productions. The latter are to be viewed as literature; not considering their substance, but their form, their composition, style, and temperamental shading, qualities which show the faculties and temper of their authors. We are to discover, if we can, wherein the qualities of mediaeval literature reflect the Latin Classics, or in any way betray their influence.

It is an affair of dull diligence to learn what Classics were read by the various mediaeval writers; and likewise is it a dull affair to note in mediaeval writings the direct borrowing from the Classics of fact, opinion, sentiment, or phrase. Such borrowing was incessant, resorted to as of course wherever opportunity offered and the knowledge was at hand. It would not commonly occur to a mediaeval writer to state in his own way what he could take from an ancient author, save in so far as change of medium -- from prose to verse, or from Latin to the vernacular -- compelled him. So the church builders in Rome never thought of hewing new blocks of stone, or making new columns, when some ancient palace or temple afforded a quarry. The details of such spoliations offer little interest in comparison with the effect of antique architecture upon later styles. So we should like to discover the effect of the ancient compositions upon the mediaeval, and observe how far the faculties and mental processes of classic authors, incorporate in their writings, were transmitted to mediaeval men, to become incorporate in theirs.

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