The History of The Kings of England 13

William of Malmesbury

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At Shaftesbury, truly shines a splendid proof of royal sanctity; for to his merit must it be attributed, that there a numerous choir of women dedicated to God, not only enlighten those parts with the blaze of their religion, but even reach the very heavens. There reside sacred virgins wholly unconscious of contamination, there, continent widows, ignorant of a second flame after the extinction of the first; in all whose manner, graceful modesty is so blended with chastened elegance, that nothing can exceed it. Indeed it is matter of doubt which to applaud most, their assiduity in the service of God or their affability in their converse with men: hence assent is justly given to those persons who say that, the world, which has long tottered with the weight of its sins, is entirely supported by their prayers.

In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 979, Ethelred, son of Edgar and Elfthrida, obtaining the kingdom, occupied, rather than governed it for thirty-seven years. The career of his life is said to have been cruel in the beginning, wretched in the middle, and disgraceful in the end. Thus, in the murder to which he gave his concurrence, he was cruel; base in his flight, and eifeminacy; miserable in his death. Dunstan, indeed, had foretold his worthlessness, having discovered it by a very filthy token: for when quite an infant, the bishops standing round, as he was immersed in the baptismal font, he defiled the sacrament by a natural evacuation: at which Dunstan, being extremely angered, exclaimed, “By God, and his mother, this will be a sorry fellow.” I have read, that when he was ten years of age, hearing it noised abroad that his brother was killed, he so irritated his furious mother by his weeping, that not having a whip at hand, she beat the little innocent with some candles she had snatched up: nor did she desist, till herself bedewed him, nearly lifeless, with her tears. On this account he dreaded candles during the rest of his life, to such a degree that he would never suffer the light of them to be brought into his presence. The nobility being assembled by the contrivance of his mother, and the day appointed for Dunstan, in right of his see, to crown him, he, though he might be ill-affected to them, forbore to resist, being a prelate of mature age, and long versed in secular matters. But, when placing the crown on his head he could not refrain from giving vent Avith a loud voice, to that prophetic spirit which he had so deeply imbibed. “Since,” said he, “thou hast aspired to the kingdom by the death of thy brother, hear the word of God; thus saith the Lord God: the sin of thy abandoned mother, and of the accomplices of her base design, shall not be washed out but by much blood of the wretched inhabitants; and such evils shall come upon the English nation as they have never suffered from the time they came to England until then.” Nor was it long after, that is, in his third year, that seven piratical vessels came to Southampton, a port near Winchester, and having ravaged the coast fled back to the sea: this I think right to mention because many reports are circulated among the English, concerning these vessels.

A quarrel between the king and the bishop of Rochester had arisen from some unknown cause; in consequence of which he led an army against that city. It was signified to him by the archbishop, that he should desist from his fury, and not irritate St. Andrew, under whose guardianship that bishopric was; for as he was ever ready to pardon, so was he equally formidable to avenge. This simple message being held in contempt, he graced the intimation with money, and sent him a hundred pounds, as a bribe, that he should raise the siege and retire. He therefore took the money, retreated, and dismissed his army. Dunstan, astonished at his avarice, sent messengers to him with the following words, “Since you have preferred silver to God, money to the apostle, and covetousness to me; the evils which God has pronounced will shortly come upon you; but they will not come while I live, for this also hath God spoken.” Soon after the death of this holy man, which was in the tenth year of his reign, the predictions speedily began to be fulfilled, and the prophecies to have their consummation. For the Danes infested every port, and made descents on all sides with great activity, so that it was not known where they could be opposed. But Siric, the second archbishop after Dunstan, advised that money should repel those whom the sword could not: thus a payment of ten thousand pounds satisfied the avarice of the Danes. This was an infamous precedent, and totally unworthy the character of men, to redeem liberty, which no violence can ever extirpate from a noble mind, by money. They now indeed abstained a short time from their incursions; but as soon as their strength was recruited by rest, they returned to their old practices. Such extreme fear had seized the English, that there was no thought of resistance: if any indeed, mindful of their ancient glory, made an attempt to oppose, or engage them, they were unsuccessful, from the multitude of their enemies, and the desertion of their allies. The leader of revolt was one Elfric, whom the king had appointed to command the fleet: he, instead of trying his fortune, as he ought, in a naval conflict, went over, on the night preceding the battle, a base deserter to the enemy, whom he had apprised, by messengers, what preparations to make; and though the king, for this perfidious crime, ordered his son’s eyes to be put out, yet he returned again, and again deserted. All Northumbria being laid waste, the enemy was met in battle and worsted. London was besieged, but honourably defended by its citizens. In consequence, the besiegers, after suffering severely and despairing of taking the city, retired; and devastating the whole province to the eastward, compelled the king to pay a sum of money amounting to sixteen thousand pounds. Moreover, hostages being given, he caused their king Anlaf to come to him, stood for him at the font, and soothing him with royal munificence, bound him by an oath that he should never return into England again. The evil however was not thus put to rest. For they could never provide against their enemies from Denmark, springing up afresh, like the heads of the hydra. The province in the west of England, called Devonshire, was laid waste; the monasteries destroyed; and the city of Exeter set on fire: Kent was given up to plunder; the metropolitan city and seat of the patriarchs, burnt; the holy patriarch himself, the most reverend Elphege, carried away and bound in chains: and at last, when required to plunder his tenants in order to ransom himself, and refusing to do so, he was stoned, struck with a hatchet, and glorified heaven with his soul. After he was murdered, God exalted him; insomuch, that when the Danes, who had been instrumental to his death, saw that dead wood besmeared with his blood miraculously grew green again in one night, they ran eagerly to kiss his remains, and to bear them on their shoulders. Thus they abated their usual pride, and suifered his sacred corpse to be carried to London. There it was honorably buried; and when taken up, ten years afterwards, free from every taint of corruption, it conferred honour on his cathedral at Canterbury. To the present moment both its blood remains fresh, and its soundness unimpaired, and it is considered a miracle, that a carcass should be divested of life, and yet not decay. That I may not be tedious in mentioning severally all the provinces which the Danes laid waste, let it be briefly understood, that out of thirtytwo counties, which are reckoned in England, they had already overrun sixteen; the names of which I forbear to enumerate on account of the harshness of the language. In the meantime, the king, admirably calculated for sleeping, did nothing but postpone and hesitate, and if ever he recovered his senses enough to raise himself upon his elbow, he quickly relapsed into his original wretchedness, either from the oppression of indolence, or the adverseness of fortune. His brother’s ghost also, demanding dire expiation, tormented him. Who can tell how often he collected his army ? how often he ordered ships to be built ? how frequently he called out commanders from all quarters ? and yet nothing was ever effected. For the army, destitute of a leader and ignorant of military discipline, either retreated before it came into action, or else was easily overcome. The presence of the leader is of much avail in battle; courage manifested by him avails also; experience, and more especially, discipline avail much; and as I have said, the want of these, in an army, must be an irreparable injury to its countrymen, as well as a pitiable object of contempt to an enemy. For soldiers are a kind of men, who, if not restrained before the battle, are eager to plunder; and if not animated during it, are prone to flight. When the ships, built for the defence of the sea-coast, were lying at anchor, a tempest suddenly arising dashed them together, and rendered them useless by the destruction of their tackling: a few, fitted from the wrecks of the others, were, by the attack of one Wulnod, whom the king had banished, either sunk, or burnt, and consequently disappointed the expectations of all England. The commanders, if ever they met to confer, immediately chose difierent sides, and rarely or never united in one good plan; for they gave more attention to private quarrels, than to public exigences: and, if in the midst of pressing danger, they had resolved on any eligible secret design, it was immediately communicated to the Danes by traitors. For besides Elfric, the successor of Elfere who had murdered the late king, there was one Edric, a man infamously skilled in such transactions, whom the king had made governor of the Mercians. This fellow was the refuse of mankind, the reproach of the English; an abandoned glutton, a cunning miscreant; who had become opulent, not by nobility, but by specious language and impudence. This artful dissembler, capable of feigning anything, was accustomed, by pretended fidelity, to scent out the king’s designs, that he might treacherously divulge them. Often, when despatched to the enemy as the mediator of peace, he inflamed them to battle. His perfidy was sufficiently conspicuous in this king’s reign, but much more so in the next; of which I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. Ulf kytel, earl of the East Angles, was the only person who, at that time, resisted the invaders with any degree of spirit; much that although the enemy had nominally the victory, yet the conquerors suffered much more than the conquered: nor were the barbarians ashamed to confess this truth, while they so frequently bewailed that victory. The valour of the earl was more conspicuously eminent, after the death of Ethelred, in that battle which mowed down the whole flower of the province; where, when he was surrounded from the rear, deeming it disgraceful to fly, he gave fresh confidence to the king by his blood; but this happened some time after. At this juncture, that the measure of king Ethelred’s misery might be full, a famine ravaged all England, and those whom war had spared perished from want. The enemy over-ran the country with such freedom, that they would carry off their booty to their ships through a space of fifty miles, without fearing any resistance from the inhabitants. In the midst of these pressing evils, the expedient of buying off hostilities by money was again debated and adopted; for first twenty-four, and soon after, thirty thousand pounds were given to the Danes: with what advantage, succeeding times will show. To me, indeed, deeply reflecting upon the subject, it seems wonderful, how a man, as we have been taught to suppose, neither very foolish, nor excessively heartless, should pass his life in the wretched endurance of so many calamities. Should any one ask me the reason of this, I could not easily answer, except by saying, that the revolt of the generals proceeded from the haughtiness of the king. Their perfidy has been spoken of before: I now hasten to instances of his violence, which was so intolerable, that he spared not even his own relations. For, besides the English, whom he despoiled of their hereditary possessions without any cause, or defrauded of their property for supposititious crimes: besides the Danes, whom, from light suspicion only, he ordered to be all butchered on the same day throughout England; which was a dreadful spectacle to behold; each one compelled to betray his dearest guests, now become dearer from the tenderest connexions of affinity, and to cut short their embraces with the sword: yet besides all this, I say, he was so inconstant towards his wife, that he scarcely deigned her his bed, and degraded the royal dignity by his intercourse with harlots. She too, a woman, conscious of her high descent, became indignant at her husband, as she found herself endeared to him neither by her blameless modesty nor her fruitfulness; for she had borne him two children, Elfred and Edward. She was the daughter of Richard, earl of Normandy, the son of William, who, after his father, presided over that earldom for fifty-two years, and died in the twenty-eighth year of this king. He lies at the monastery of Fescamp, which he augmented with certain revenues, and which he adorned with a monastic order, by means of William, formerly abbot of Dijon. Richard was a distinguished character, and had also often harassed Ethelred: which, when it became known at Rome, the holy see, not enduring that two Christians should be at enmity, sent Leo, bishop of Treves, into England, to restore peace: the epistle describing this legation was as follows: — “John the fifteenth, pope of the holy Roman church, to all faithful people, health. Be it known to all the faithful of the holy mother church, and our children spiritual and secular, dispersed through the several climates of the world, that inasmuch as we had been informed by many of the enmity between Ethelred, king of the West-Saxons, and Richard the marquis, and were grieved sorely at this, on account of our spiritual chikben; taking, therefore, wholesome counsel, we summoned one of our legates, Leo, bishop of the holy church of Treves, and sent him with our letters, admonishing them, that they should return from their ungodliness. He, passing vast spaces, at length crossed the sea, and, on the day of the Lord’s nativity, came into the presence of the said king; whom, having saluted on our part, he delivered to him the letters we had sent. And all the faithful people of his kingdom, and senators of either order, being summoned, he granted, for love and fear of God Almighty, and of St. Peter, the chief of the apostles, and on account of our paternal admonition, the firmest peace for all his sons and daughters, present and future, and all his faithful people, without deceit. On which account he sent Edelsin, prelate of the holy church of Sherborne, and Leofstan, son of Alfwold, and Edelnoth, son of Wulstan, who passed the maritime boundaries, and came to Richard, the said marquis. He, peaceably receiving our admonitions, and hearing the determination of the said king, readily confirmed the peace for his sons and daughters, present and future, and for all his faithful people, with this reasonable condition, that if any of their subjects, or they themselves, should commit any injustice against each other, it should be duly redressed; and that peace should remain for ever unshaken and confirmed by the oath of both parties: on the part of king Ethelred, to wit, Edelsin, prelate of the holy church of Sherborne; Leofstan, the son of Alfwold; Edelnoth, the son of Wulstan. On the part of Richard, Roger, the bishop; Rodolph, son of Hugh; Truteno, the son of Thurgis.’ Done at Rouen, on the kalends of March, in the year of our Lord 991, the fourth of the indiction. Moreover, of the king’s subjects, or of his enemies, let Richard receive none, nor the king of his, without their respective seals.”

After the death of this John, Gregory succeeded; after whom came John XVI.; then Silvester, also called Gerbert, about whom it will not be absurd, in my opinion, if I commit to writing those facts which are generally related about him. Born in Gaul, from a lad he grew up a monk at Flory; afterwards, when he arrived at the double path of Pythagoras,! either disgusted at a monastic life or seized by lust of glory, he fled by night into Spain, chiefly designing to learn astrology and other sciences of that description from the Saracens. Spain, formerly for many years possessed by the Romans, in the time of the emperor Honorius, fell under the power of the Goths. The Goths were Arians down to the days of St. Gregory, when that people were united to the Catholic church by Leander bishop of Seville, and by king Recared, brother of Hermengildus, whom his father slew on Easter night for professing the true faith. To Leander succeeded Isidore, celebrated for learning and sanctity, whose body purchased, for its weight in gold, Aldefonsus king of Gallicia in our times conveyed to Toledo. The Saracens, who had subjugated the Goths, being conquered in their turn by Charles the Great, lost Gallicia and Lusitania, the largest provinces of Spain; but to this day they possess the southern parts. As the Christians esteem Toledo, so do they hold Hispalis, which in common they call Seville, to be the capital of the kingdom; there practising divinations and incantations, after the usual mode of that nation. Gerbert then, as I have related, coming among these people, satisfied his desires. There he surpassed Ptolemy with the astrolabe, and Alcandraeus in astronomy, and Julius Firmicus in judicial astrology; there he learned what the singing and the flight of birds portended; there he acquired the art of calling up spirits from hell: in short, whatever, hurtful or salutary, human curiosity has discovered. There is no necessity to speak of his progress in the lawful sciences of arithmetic and astronomy, music and geometry, which he imbibed so thoroughly as to show they were beneath his talents, and which, with great perseverance, he revived in Gaul, where they had for a long time been wholly obsolete. Being certainly the first who seized on the abacus from the Saracens, father with the royal diadem and the principality of Boetica, and contracted an alliance with Ingnndis, daughter of Wigebert, king of Austrasia. Ingundis was persecuted, and at length killed by her husband’s mother, on account of her Catholic faith. Leander, archbishop of Seville, easily persuaded Hermenegild to resent the treatment of his bride, and assisted him in an attempt to dethrone his father. Hermenegild was taken and sentenced to death for his rebellion. The inflexible constancy, with which he refused to accept the Arian communion, from which he had been converted by Leander, as the price of his safety, procured for him the honour of being enrolled among the saints of the Romish church. — Hardy, he gave rules which are scarcely understood even by laborious computers. He resided with a certain philosopher of that sect, whose good will he had obtained, first by great liberality, and then by promises. The Saracen had no objection to sell his knowledge; he frequently associated with him; would talk with him of matters at times serious, at others trivial, and lend him books to transcribe. There was however one volume, containing the knowledge of his whole art, which he could never by any means entice him to lend. In consequence Gerbert was inflamed with anxious desire to obtain this book at any rate, “for we ever press more eagerly towards what is forbidden, and that which is denied is always esteemed most valuable.” Trying, therefore, the effect of entreaty, he besought him for the love of God, and by his friendship; offered him many things, and promised him more. When this failed he tried a nocturnal stratagem. He plied him with wine, and, with the help of his daughter, who connived at the attempt through the intimacy which Gerbert’s attentions had procured, stole the book from under his pillow and fled. Waking suddenly, the Saracen pursued the fugitive by the direction of the stars, in which art he was well versed. The fugitive too, looking back, and discovering his danger by means of the same art, hid himself under a wooden bridge which was near at hand; clinging to it, and hanging in such a manner as neither to touch earth nor water. In this manner the eagerness of the pursuer being eluded, he returned home. Gerbert, then quickening his pace, arrived at the sea-coast. Here, by his incantations, he called up the devil, and made an agreement with him to be under his dominion for ever, if he would defend him from the Saracen, who was again pursuing, and transport him to the opposite coast: this was accordingly done.

Probably some may regard all this as a fiction, because the vulgar are used to undermine the fame of scholars, saying that the man who excels in any admirable science, holds converse with the devil. Of this, Boethius, in his book. On tales of their countryman, and attribute them to cardinal Benno; but there is nothing of this kind in his work published by Goldastus, and in Brown’s Fasciculus, the Consolation of Philosophy, complains; and affirms, that he had the discredit of such practices on account of his ardent love of literature, as if he had polluted his knowledge by detestable arts for the sake of ambition. “It was hardly likely,” says he, “that I, whom you dress up with such excellence as almost to make me like God, should catch at the protection of the vilest spirits; but it is in this point that we approach nearest to a connection with them, in that we are instructed in your learning, and educated in your customs.” So far Boethius. The singular choice of his death confirms me in the belief of his league with the devil; else, when dying, as we shall relate hereafter, why should he, gladiator-like, maim his own person, unless conscious of some unusual crime ? Accordingly, in an old volume, which accidentally fell into my hands, wherein the names and years of all the popes are entered, I found written to the following purport, “Silvester, who was also called Gerbert, ten months; this man made a shameful end.”

Gerbert, returning into Gaul, became a public professor in the schools, and had as brother philosophers and companions of his studies, Constantine, abbot of the monastery of St. Maximin, near Orleans, to whom he addressed the Rules of the Abacus; and Ethelbald bishop, as they say, of Winteburg, who himself gave proof of ability, in a letter which he wrote to Gerbert, on a question concerning the diameter in Macrobius,! and in some other points. He had as pupils, of exquisite talents and noble origin, Robert, son of Hugh surnamed Capet; and Otho, son of the emperor Otho. Robert, afterwards king of France, made a suitable return to his master, and appointed him archbishop of Rheims. In that church are still extant, as proofs of his science, a clock constructed on mechanical principles: and an hydraulic organ, in which the air escaping in a surprising manner, by the force of heated water, fills the cavity of the instrument, and the brazen pipes emit modulated tones through the multifarious apertures. The king himself, too, was well skilled in sacred music, and in this and many other respects, a liberal benefactor to the church: moreover, he composed that beautiful sequence, “The grace of the Holy Spirit be with and the response, “He hath joined together Judah and Jerusalem;” together with more, which I should have pleasure in relating, were it not irksome to others to hear. Otho, emperor of Italy after his father, made Gerbert archbishop of Ravenna, and finally Roman pontiff. He followed up his fortune so successfully by the assistance of the devil, that he left nothing unexecuted which he had once conceived. The treasures formerly buried by the inhabitants, he discovered by the art of necromancy, and removing the rubbish, applied to his own lusts. Thus viciously disposed are the wicked towards God, and thus they abuse his patience, though he had rather that they repent than perish. At last, he found where his master would stop, and as the proverb says, “in the same manner as one crow picks out another crow’s eyes,” while endeavouring to oppose his “attempts with art like his own.

There was a statue in the Campus Martins near Rome, I know not whether of brass or iron, having the forefinger of the right hand extended, and on the head was written, “Strike here.” The men of former times supposing this should be understood as if they might find a treasure there, had battered the harmless statute by repeated strokes of a hatchet. But Gerbert convicted them of error by solving the problem in a very different manner. Marking where the shadow of the finger fell at noon-day, when the sun was on the meridian, he there placed a post; and at night proceeded thither, attended only by a servant carrying a lanthorn. The earth opening by means of his accustomed arts, displayed to them a spacious entrance. They see before them a vast palace with golden walls, golden roofs, every thing of gold; golden soldiers amusing themselves, as it were, with golden dice; a king of the same metal, at table with his queen; delicacies set before them, and servants waiting; vessels of great weight and value, where the sculpture surpassed nature herself In the inmost part of the mansion, a carbuncle of the first quality, though small in appearance, dispelled the darkness of night. In the opposite corner stood a boy, holding a bow bent, and the arrow drawn to the head. While the exquisite art of every thing ravished the eyes of the spectators, there was nothing which might be handled though it might be seen: for immediately, if any one stretched forth his hand to touch any thing, all these figures appeared to rush forward and repel such presumption. Alarmed at this, Gerbert rejtressed his inclination: but not so the servant. He endeavoured to snatch off from a table, a knife of admirable workmanship; supposing that in a booty of such magnitude, so small a theft could hardly be discovered. In an instant, the figures all starting up with loud clamour, the boy let fly his arrow at the carbuncle, and in a moment all was in darkness; and if the servant had not, by the advice of his master, made the utmost despatch in throwing back the knife, they would have both suffered severely. In this manner, their boundless avarice unsatiated, they departed, the lantern directing their steps. That he performed such things by unlawful devices is the generally received opinion. Yet, however, if any one diligently investigate the truth, he will see that even Solomon, to whom God himself had given wisdom, was not ignorant of these arts: for, as Josephus relates, he, in conjunction with his father, buried vast treasures in coffers, which were hidden, as he says, in a kind of necromantic manner, under ground: neither was Hyrcanus, celebrated for his skill in prophecy and his valour; who, to ward off the distress of a siege, dug up, by the same art, three thousand talents of gold from the sepulchre of David, and gave part of them to the besiegers; with the remainder building a hospital for the reception of strangers. But Herod, who would make an attempt of the same kind, with more presumption than knowledge, lost in consequence many of his attendants, by an eruption of internal fire. Besides, when I hear the Lord Jesus saying, “My father worketh hitherto, and I work;” I believe, that He, who gave to Solomon power over demons to such a degree, as the same historian declares, that he relates there were men, even in his time, who could eject them from persons possessed, by applying to the nostrils of the patient a ring having the impression pointed out by Solomon: I believe, I say, that he could give, also, the same science to this man: but I do not affirm that he did give it.

But leaving these matters to my readers, I shall relate what I recollect having heard, when I was a boy, from a certain monk of our house, a native of Aquitaine, a man in years, and a physician by profession. “When I was seven years old,” said he, “despising the mean circumstances of my father, a poor citizen of Barcelona, I surmounted the snowy Alps, and went into Italy. There, as was to be expected in a boy of that age, having to seek my daily bread in great distress, I paid more attention to the food of my mind than of my body. As I grew up I eagerly viewed many of the wonders of that country and impressed them on my memory. Among others I saw a perforated mountain, beyond which the inhabitants supposed the treasures of Octavian were hidden. Many persons were reported to have entered into these caverns for the purpose of exploring them, and to have there perished, being bewildered by the intricacy of the ways. But, as hardly any apprehension can restrain avaricious minds from their intent, I, with my companions, about twelve in number, meditated an expedition of this nature, either for the sake of plunder, or through curiosity. Imitating therefore the ingenuity of Daedalus, who brought Theseus out of the labyrinth by a conducting clue, we, also carrying a large ball of thread, fixed a small post at the entrance. Tying the end of the thread to it, and lighting lanterns, lest darkness, as well as intricacy, should obstruct us, we unrolled the clue; and fixing a post at every mile, we proceeded on our journey along the caverns of the mountain, in the best manner we were able. Every thing was dark, and full of horrors; the bats, flitting from holes, assailed our eyes and faces: the path was narrow, and made dreadful on the lefthand by a precipice, with a river flowing beneath it. We saw the way strewed with bare bones: we wept over the carcasses of men yet in a state of putrefaction, who, induced by hopes similar to our own, had in vain attempted, after their entrance, to return. After some time, however, and many alarms, arriving at the farther outlet, we beheld a lake of softly murmuring waters, where the wave came gently rolling to the shores. A bridge of brass united the opposite banks. Beyond the bridge were seen golden horses of great size, mounted by golden riders, and all those other things which are related of Gerbert. The mid-day beams of Phoebus darting upon them, with redoubled splendour, dazzled the eyes of the beholders. Seeing these things at a distance, we should have been delighted with a nearer view, meaning, if fate would permit, to carry off some portion of the precious metal. Animating each other in turn, we prepared to pass over the lake. Our efforts, however, were vain: for as soon as one of the company, more forward than the rest, had put his foot on the hither edge of the bridge, immediately, wonderful to hear, it became depressed, and the farther edge was elevated, bringing forward a rustic of brass with a brazen club, with which, dashing the waters, he so clouded the air, as completely to obscure both the day and the heavens. The moment the foot was withdrawn, peace was restored. The same was tried by many of us, with exactly the same result. Despairing, then, of getting over, we stood there some little time; and, as long as we could, at least glutted our eyes with the gold. Soon after returning by the guidance of the thread, we found a silver dish, which being cut in pieces and distributed in morsels only irritated the thirst of our avidity without allaying it. Consulting together the next day, we went to a professor, of that time, who was said to know the unutterable name of God. When questioned, he did not deny his knowledge, adding, that, so great was the power of that name, that no magic, no witchcraft could resist it. Hiring him at a great price, fasting and confessed, he led us, prepared in the same manner, to a fountain. Taking up some water from it in a silver vessel, he silently traced the letters with his fingers, until we understood by our eyes, what was unutterable with our tongues. We then went confidently to the mountain, but we found the farther outlet beset, as I believe, with devils, hating, forsooth, the name of God because it was able to destroy their inventions. In the morning a Jew-necromancer came to me, excited by the report of our attempt; and, having inquired into the matter, when he heard of our want of enterprise, “You shall see,” said he, venting his spleen with loud laughter, “how far the power of my art can prevail.” And immediately entering the mountain, he soon after came out again, bringing, as a proof of his having passed the lake, many things which I had noted beyond it: indeed some of that most precious dust, which turned every thing that it touched into gold: not that it was really so, but only retained this appearance until washed with water; for nothing effected by necromancy can, when put into water, deceive the sight of the beholders. The truth of my assertion is confirmed in a circumstance which happened about the same time.

William of Malmesbury

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29 January, 2015
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