Alcuinus, Flaccus

, one of the fevr learned Englishmen of the eighth century, was born in the north of England, and educated at York, under the direction of archbishop Egbert, as we learn from his own letters, in which he frequently calls that great prelate his beloved master, and the clergy of York the companions of his youthful studies. As he survived the venerable Bede about seventy years, it is hardly possible that he could have received any part of his education under him, as some writers have asserted; nor does he ever call that great man his master, though he speaks of him with the highest | veneration. It is not well known to what preferments he had attained in the church before he left England, although some say he was deacon of the church of York, and abhot of Canterbury. The occasion of his leaving his native country was, his being sent on an embassy by Offa, king of Mercia, to the emperor Charlemagne, who contracted so great an esteem and friendship for him, that he earnestly solicited, and at length prevailed upon him, to settle in his court, and become his preceptor in the sciences. Alcuinus accordingly instructed that great prince in rhetoric, logic, mathematics, and divinity; which rendered him one of his greatest favourites. He was treated with so much kindness and familiarity by the emperor, that the courtiers called him, by way of eminence, “the emperor’s delight.

Charlemagne employed Alcuinus to write against the opinions of Felix, bishop of Urgel, who had revived something like the Nestorian heresy, by separating the humanity from the divinity of the Son of God; and Alcuinus shewed himself a master of his subject, and wrote in a very candid and moderate spirit. He also defended the orthodox faith against Felix, in the council of Fraucfort, in 794. This likewise he performed to the entire satisfaction of the emperor and council, and even to the conviction of Felix and his followers, who abandoned their errors. The emperor consulted chiefly with Alcuinus on all things relating to religion and learning, and, principally by his advice, founded an academy in the imperial palace, over which Alcuinus presided; and other academies were established in the chief towns of Italy and France, at his instigation. In France he may be reckoned a principal instrument in founding the universities of Paris, Tours, Fulden, Soisson, and many others.

After Alcuinus had spent many years in the most intimate familiarity with Charlemagne, he at length, with great difficulty, obtained leave to retire to his abbey of St. Martin’s, at Tours. Here he kept up a constant correspondence with the emperor, and the contents of their letters show their mutual love of religion and learning, and their anxiety to promote them in the most munificent manner. In one of these letters, which Dr. Henry has translated, there is a passage which throws some light on the learning of the times “The employments of your Alcuinus in his retreat are suited to his humble sphere; but they are neither inglorious nor unprofitable, I spend my time in the halls of | St. Martin, in teaching some of the noble youths under my care the intricacies of grammar, and inspiring them with a taste for the learning of the ancients; in describing to others the order and revolutions of those shining orbs which adorn the azure vault of heaven; and in explaining to others the mysteries of divine wisdom, which are contained in the holy scriptures: suiting my instructions to the views and capacities of my scholars, that I may train up many to be ornaments to the church of God, and to the court of your imperial majesty. In doing this, I find a great want of several things, particularly of those excellent books in all arts and sciences, which I enjoyed in my native country, through the expence and care of my great master Egbert. May it therefore please your majesty, animated with the most ardent love of learning, to permit me to send some of our young gentlemen into England, to procure for us those books which we want, and transplant the flowers of Britain into France, that their fragrance may no longer be confined to York, but may perfume the palaces of Tours.” Mr. Warton, who in his History of Poetry gives some account f the learned labours of Alcuinus, endeavours to undervalue his acquirements. This, in an enlightened age like the present, is easy, but is scarcely candid or considerate. Alcuinus was one of the few who went beyond the learning of his age, and it is surely impossible to contemplate his superiority without veneration. Mr. Warton has likewise asserted, what is a mistake, that Alcuinus advised Bede to write his Ecclesiastical History. He probably copied this from Leland, without examining the dates. Alcuinus must have been a mere child, if born at all, when Bede wrote his history. But there was another Alcuinus, an abbot of Canterbury, who was strictly contemporary with Bede, and may have been his adviser.

Charlemagne often solicited him to return to court, but he excused himself, and remained at Tours until his death, May 19, 804. He was buried in the church of St. Martin, where a Latin epitaph of twenty-four verses, of his own, composition, was inscribed upon his tomb. This epitaph is preserved by father Labbe, in his Thesaurus Epitaphiorum, printed at Paris 1686. He understood the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages extremely well; was an excellent orator, philosopher, mathematician, and, according to William of Malmesbury, the best English divine alter Bede and Adhelme. How greatly France was indebted to him | for her flourishing state of learning in that and the following ages, we learn from a German poet, cited by Camden in his Britannia:

Quid non Alcuino, facumla Lutetia, debes?

Instaurare bonas ibi qui feliciter artes,

Barbariemque procul solus depellere cœpit.

His works, which consist of fifty-three treatises, homilies, commentaries, letters, poems, &c. were first collected and published at Paris, by Andrew Duchesne, fol. with a life of the author; but a more complete edition was published in 1777, at Ratisbon, 2 vols. fol. by M. Froben, prince-abbe of St. Emmeraude. Father Chifllet published also in 1656, 4to, “The Confession of Alculnus,” which Mabillon proves to have been genuine. The last mentioned edition of 1777, contains most of the pieces written by A leu in us, which were pointed out by Du Pin; and the editor having procured a great number of manuscripts from Italy, France, Germany, England, and Spain, was enabled not only to revise and correct what had been already published, but to make very considerable additions; the whole arranged in a methodical order, carefully collated, and illustrated with historical and critical introductions, disquisitions, and notes. 1

1 Henry’s History of England, vol. IV. the best account in English of Alcuinus. Biog. Brit. Gen. Dict. Warton’s Hist. vol. I. Dissert. 2, p. 101-103. Archaeologia, vol. IV, —Cave, vol. I. Drake’s Eboracum. —Leland. Bale. Tanner in Albinus. Crit. Rev. vol. XLVI. p. Sos. —Saxii Onomasticon,