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This Volume contains four anonymous pieces of Biography, a Life of St. Oswin, King of Northumberland, two Lives of St. Cuthbert, and a Life of St. Eata, Bishop of Hexham.
The whole four belong, more or less, to that class of early biographical compilations, in which genuine history, and minute intimations of early customs and modes of living, are mixed with fabulous details ; and it may be sufficient to refer to the remarks prefixed to Reginald's Libellus de Admirandis Beati Cuthberti Virtutibus, printed by the Society in the year 1835, for an estimate of the value of such productions.
1. The Life of Oswin is derived from the MS. Cotton, Julius A. X., fol. 2, et seq. in the British Museum, and, with the exception of a few short notices of its contents in Leland's Collectanea, is new to the world. The name of its Author has not been recorded, but there is sufficient intimation in the work itself to prove that he was a Monk of St. Albans, that after having presided as Prior for some time over the Monastery of Wymundeham, a Cell under that Church, he removed to Tynemouth, another of
its Cells or dependent Monasteries, in order to repent at leisure of his sins, and prosecute his literary designs (p. 39–40). He seems to have taken up his abode at Tynemouth in the year 1111, for he was resident there on the 22nd of September in that year (p. 28), and it does not appear that he was present at the Translation of Oswin, which took place in the year preceding. Whilst resident at Tynemouth he was attacked with the gout, and we should have known nothing of his sufferings under this disease, had he not believed it to have been removed by the miraculous interference of his patron St. Oswin. He brings his history down to the reign of Stephen, and therefore he must have lived to a considerable age.
The first part of his work is a compilation, chiefly from Bede.
His style is pleasing, and he enters with considerable vigour, and occasionally with humour, into some of his tales, and details many very curious historical circumstances and local events, which but for him would have been buried in oblivion.
A pleasing memorial of the piety of King Oswin, the subject of this memoir, is preserved in the British Museum among the Cotton. MSS. (Galba A. 5.) a Psalter, which before the fire in 1731, when it was much injured, contained the inscription "Liber Oswini Regis.” From the portions which remain it seems to belong to Oswin's period. It is of the duodecimo size, and therefore the more adapted to daily use.
II. The second Tract, the prose Life of Cuthbert,
is printed from a manuscript of the fourteenth century belonging to the Dean and Chapter of York, of which a minute account will be given in the Preface to the Three Durham Historians, Coldingham, Graystanes, and Chambre, which are now engaging the attention of the Society. This piece of Biography has, as a whole, never been printed before. The Life of Cuthbert in Capgrave, which is a conflation from various sources, commences with the Irish origin of the saint, as detailed in the Life before us; and Coglan, apparently following Capgrave, has ascribed to him the same royal origin. The Editor of the Life of Cuthbert, in the Acta SancTORUM (March 20), enters fully into the apparent anachronisms and contradictions of the whole narrative as we give it in the following pages, and rejects it as fabulous. “ Certe,” says he, “Bæda nollet illustri suo purpureo operi hos laceros assui pannos," upon observing the silence of Bede respecting the alledged royal descent of the Saint, and thus concludes his remarks: “servent Hiberni suum Nulluhoc ejulantem et relinquant AngloSaxonibus Cuthbertum.” This life, however, comes within the plans of the Surtees Society as a regular piece of biography, written in a good style, and not deficient in incidental information upon subjects connected with the period in which it was written, and these considerations have led to its publication.
It must be remarked that the Monks of Durham had some belief in this Irish descent of Cuthbert, and in other circumstances in his history detailed in this piece of biography. This is proved by the following extract
from that interesting book, “ The Ancient Rites and Monuments of the Monastical and Cathedral Church of Durham.*
“ These two Bishops (Skirlaw and Langley) were the two first founders and builders of the said cloisters, and did bear all the charges of the building and workmanship of the said work, and were the first that did cause, from the cloister door to the church door, to be set in glass in the window, the whole story and niracles of that holy man St. Cuthbert, from the day of his birth to his dying day. And there you might have seen his mother lying in her child-bed, and how that after she was delivered the bright beams did shine from heaven unto her, aud upon the child as he lay in the cradle, insomuch that to every man's thinking the Holy Ghost had overshadowed him; for every one that did see it thought that the house had been all on fire, the beams did shine so bright over all the house both within and without, and the bishop baptised the child, and called him Yulloch in the Irish tongue, in English Cuthbert. The bishop's name who baptized and had the keeping of the virtuous and godly child was called Eugenius. The name of the city where St. Cuthbert was baptised was Hardbrecunb, for he was blessed of God even from his mother's womb. So that every miracle that he did after from his infancy was set in the said windows by itself, and under every miracle there were certain verses in latine, declaring the contents and meaning thereof, in most excellent coloured glass most artificially set forth and curiously wrought. In the time of King Edward the sixth this story was pulld down by Dean Horn and broken all to pieces, for he could never abide any ancient monuments, acts or deeds that gave any light of or to godly religion.”
* Published by J. Davies, of Kidwelly, in 1672.