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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Letter from Alcuin to Charlemagne
By Alcuin (735–804)
 
(Written in the year 796)

I, YOUR Flaccus, in accordance with your entreaty and your gracious kindness, am busied under the shelter of St. Martin’s, in bestowing upon many of my pupils the honey of the Holy Scriptures. I am eager that others should drink deep of the old wine of ancient learning; I shall presently begin to nourish still others with the fruits of grammatical ingenuity; and some of them I am eager to enlighten with a knowledge of the order of the stars, that seem painted, as it were, on the dome of some mighty palace. I have become all things to all men (1 Cor. i. 22) so that I may train up many to the profession of God’s Holy Church and to the glory of your imperial realm, lest the grace of Almighty God in me should be fruitless (1 Cor. xv. 10) and your munificent bounty of no avail. But your servant lacks the rarer books of scholastic learning, which in my own country I used to have (thanks to the generous and most devoted care of my teacher and to my own humble endeavors), and I mention it to your Majesty so that, perchance, it may please you who are eagerly concerned about the whole body of learning, to have me dispatch some of our young men to procure for us certain necessary works, and bring with them to France the flowers of England; so that a graceful garden may not exist in York alone, but so that at Tours as well there may be found the blossoming of Paradise with its abundant fruits; that the south wind, when it comes, may cause the gardens along the River Loire to burst into bloom, and their perfumed airs to stream forth, and finally, that which follows in the Canticle, whence I have drawn this simile, may be brought to pass…. (Canticle v. 1, 2). Or even this exhortation of the prophet Isaiah, which urges us to acquire wisdom:—“All ye who thirst, come to the waters; and you who have not money, hasten, buy and eat: come, without money and without price, and buy wine and milk” (Isaiah iv. 1).  1
  And this is a thing which your gracious zeal will not overlook: how upon every page of the Holy Scriptures we are urged to the acquisition of wisdom; how nothing is more honorable for insuring a happy life, nothing more pleasing in the observance, nothing more efficient against sin, nothing more praiseworthy in any lofty station, than that men live according to the teachings of the philosophers. Moreover, nothing is more essential to the government of the people, nothing better for the guidance of life into the paths of honorable character, than the grace which wisdom gives, and the glory of training and the power of learning. Therefore it is that in its praise, Solomon, the wisest of all men, exclaims, “Better is wisdom than all precious things, and more to be desired” (Prov. viii. 11 seq.). To secure this with every possible effort and to get possession of it by daily endeavor, do you, my lord King, exhort the young men who are in your Majesty’s palace, that they strive for this in the flower of their youth, so that they may be deemed worthy to live through an old age of honor, and that by its means they may be able to attain to everlasting happiness. I, myself, according to my disposition, shall not be slothful in sowing the seeds of wisdom among your servants in this land, being mindful of the injunction, “Sow thy seed in the morning, and at eventide let not thy hand cease; since thou knowest not what will spring up, whether these or those, and if both together, still better is it” (Eccles. xi. 6). In the morning of my life and in the fruitful period of my studies I sowed seed in Britain, and now that my blood has grown cool in the evening of life, I still cease not; but sow the seed in France, desiring that both may spring up by the grace of God. And now that my body has grown weak, I find consolation in the saying of St. Jerome, who declares in his letter to Nepotianus, “Almost all the powers of the body are altered in old men, and wisdom alone will increase while the rest decay.” And a little further he says, “The old age of those who have adorned their youth with noble accomplishments and have meditated on the law of the Lord both day and night becomes more and more deeply accomplished with its years, more polished from experience, more wise by the lapse of time; and it reaps the sweetest fruit of ancient learning.” In this letter in praise of wisdom, one who wishes can read many things of the scientific pursuits of the ancients, and can understand how eager were these ancients to abound in the grace of wisdom. I have noted that your zeal, which is pleasing to God and praiseworthy, is always advancing toward this wisdom and takes pleasure in it, and that you are adorning the magnificence of your worldly rule with still greater intellectual splendor. In this may our Lord Jesus Christ, who is himself the supreme type of divine wisdom, guard you and exalt you, and cause you to attain to the glory of His own blessed and everlasting vision.  2
 
 
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