Salisbury, John Of

, one of the greatest ornaments of the twelfth century, was born at Old Sarum, whence he derived the name of Sarisburiensis, about 1116. After he had gone through a course of education in England, he went to the university of Paris in 1136, and attended upon | the lectures of Abelard and other masters, with such industry and success, that he acquired an uncommon share of knowledge both in philosophy and letters. At an early period of life, his poverty obliged him to undertake the office of preceptor; yet amidst engagements of this kind, he found leisure to acquire a competent knowledge of dialectics, physics, and morals, as well as an acquaintance with the Greek, and (what was at that time a rare accomplishment) with the Hebrew, languages. He may justly be ranked among the first scholars of his age. After many years had elapsed, he resolved to revisit the companions of his early studies on Mount St. Genevieve, in order to confer with them on the topics on which they had formerlydisputed. His account of this visit affords a striking picture of the philosophical character of this age. “I found them,” says he, “the same men, and in the same place; nor had they advanced a single step towards resolving our antient questions, nor added a single proposition, however small, to their stock of knowledge. Whence I inferred, what indeed it was easy to collect, that dialectic studies, however useful they may be when connected with other branches of learning, are in themselves barren and useless.” Speaking in another place of the philosophers of his time, he complains, that they collected auditors solely for the ostentation of science, and designedly rendered their discourses obscure, that they might appear loaded with the mysteries of wisdom; and that though all professed to follow Aristotle, they were so ignorant of his true doctrine, that in attempting to explain his meaning, they often advanced a Platonic notion, or some erroneous tenet equally distant from the true system of Aristotle and of Plato. From these observations, and from many similar passages to be found in his writings, it appears, that John of Salisbury was aware of the trifling character both of the philosophy and the philosophers of his age; owing, probably, to the uncommon share of good sense which he possessed, as well as to the unusual extent and variety of his learning. Throughout his writings there are evident traces of a fruitful genius, of sound understanding, of various erudition, and, with due allowance for the age in which he lived, of correct taste.

At his return into England, after his first visit to Paris, he studied the civil law under Vacarius, who taught with, great applause at Oxford in 1149. Embracing the | monastic life at Canterbury, he became the chief confidant of two successive archbishops of that see, Theobald and Thomas a Becket. To the last of these he dedicated his celebrated work “Polycraticon, or De nugis curialium, et vestigiis philosophorum,” a very curious and valuable monument of the literature of his times. Although he did not approve some part of the conduct of Becket, he submitted to Henry the Second’s sentence of banishment, and remained in exile for seven years, rather than give up the party of the archbishop, which was the condition on which he might have been permitted to return. In negotiating Becket' s affairs, he performed no less than ten journeys into Italy. In one of these journeys, he obtained familiar intercourse with pope Adrian IV. his countryman, who having asked him what the world said of him and of the Roman church, John returned such an answer as might have been expected from the boldest of the reformers in the sixteenth century, telling his holiness, among other things, that the world said, “the pope himself was a burthen to Christendom which is scarcely to be borne.” The whole of this curious dialogue may be seen in the work above mentioned.

At length he was permitted to return to England in 1171 and was a spectator of the murder of his friend Becket, from whom he endeavoured to ward off one of the b-lows, and received it on his arm, which was seriously hurt. In 1172 he was promoted to the French bishopric of Chartres, in the province of Sens, which he held ten years, dying in 1182. He composed many other works besides the “Polycraticon,” which is written in a plain concise style, and is an excellent treatise upon the employments, occupations, duties, virtues, and vices, of great men, and contains a number of moral reflections, passages from authors, examples, apologues, pieces of history, and common-places. His familiar acquaintance with the classics appears, not only from the happy facility of his language, but from the many citations of the purest Roman authors, with which his works are perpetually interspersed. Montfaucon says, that some part of the supplement to Petronius, published as a genuine and valuable discovery a few years ago, but since supposed to be spurious, is quoted in the “Polycraticon.” It was published at Paris in 1513, and at Leyden in 1595, 8vo and a French translation of it, entitled “Les Vanitez de la Cour,” at Paris, 1640, in 4to | with a life of the author prefixed. Among his other works are a volume of “Letters,” published at Paris in 1611, for which his style seems best adapted, and his correspondents were some of the first personages of the age. Their contents, as detailing important occurrences, are interesting, and their turn of expression sometimes elegant. Another of his works was a learned defence of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, against one whom he calls Cornificius, which contains a most curious account of the state of these sciences at this period. 1


Leland.—Tanner.—Gen. Dict. Brucker.—Henry’s Hist. of Great Britain. —Berrington’s Literary History of the Middle Ages.