1902 Encyclopedia > Alcuin

Alcuin
English scholar and poet
(735-804)




ALCUIN, in Latin Albinus, surnamed Maccus, an eminent ecclesiastic and a reviver of learning in the 8th century, was born in Yorkshire about 735 (died 804). He was educated at York under the direction of Archbishop Egbert, as we learn from his own letters, in which he frequently calls that prelate his beloved master, and the clergy of York the companions of his youthful studies. He succeeded Elbert as director of the seminary, and in later life modelled after it his famous school at Tours. He survived Bede about seventy years; it is therefore hardly possible that he could have received any part of his education under him, as some writers of literary history have affirmed; and it is worthy of observation that he never calls Bede 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, though some say he was abbot of Canterbury. He was sent to Rome by Eanbald, the successor of Ethelbert, to procure the pallium, and, in returning, at Parma he met Charlemagne, who, as Alcuin had already visited the French court, was no stranger to his extraordinary merit. The emperor contracted so great an esteem and friendship for him that he earnestly urged and at length induced him to take up his residence at court and become his preceptor in the sciences. Alcuin accordingly instructed Charlemagne and his family in rhetoric, logic, mathematics, and divinity. He particularly distinguished himself by his writings in defence of the orthodox faith against the adoptionists, Felix, bishop of TJrgel, and Elipandus, archbishop of Toledo, convincing the former of his error after a six days' debate at Aix-la-Chapelle (799), and treating the latter in the most conciliatory manner; and on more than one occasion he was employed in important missions between Charlemagne and Offa, king of Mercia. "France," says one of our best writers of literary history, with some degree of truth, "is indebted to Alcuin for all the polite learning it boasted of in that and the following ages. The universities of Paris, Tours, Fulden, Soissons, and many others, owe to him their origin and increase, those of which he was not the superior and founder being at least enlightened by his doctrine and example, and enriched by the benefits he procured for them from Charlemagne." Alcuin, it is alleged, however, forbade the reading of the classical poets. In 790 he went to England in the capacity of ambassador, and returned to France in 792, never again to visit his native land. After Alcuin had spent many years in the most intimate familiarity with the greatest prince of his age, he at length, in 801, with great difficulty, obtained leave to retire from court to the abbey of St Martin at Tours, of which he had been appointed the head by Charlemagne in 796. Here he remained and taught till his death in 804. In his retirement he kept up a constant correspondence with Charlemagne, which displays, on the part of both, an ardent love of learning and religion, and great zeal and earnestness in contriving and executing noble designs for their advancement. Alcuin composed many treatises on a great variety of subjects, in a style much superior in purity and elegance to that of most writers of the age in which he flourished. His works were collected and published by Duchesne, in 1 vol. folio, Paris, 1617: a better edition is that of Froben, 2 vols, folio, Ratisbon, 1777. They consist of (1) Tracts upon Scripture; (2) Tracts upon doctrine, discipline, and morality; (3) Historical treatises, letters, and poems. It is not improbable that Alcuin was the writer of the famous Caroline Books, issued under the name of Charlemagne, which denounced as idolatrous every form of image-worship. A Life of Alcuin, by Lorenz, was published at Halle in 1829, and appeared in an English translation, by Slee, in 1837.








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