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the year, as Alban Butler has done, in order to impound every stray saint, would be a most thankless task; but it would be difficult to name a more admirable subject than the life of St. Bernard, or of St. Dominic.
The saint, however, was the least part of Becket. Miracles and virtues were the normal requisites for canonization; and a rigorous inquiry was instituted on both points, as to the claim of a candidate for the highest honor the church could bestow. Martyrdom, indeed, if suffered solely for the cause of Christ, afforded a sufficient presumption of virtue. "The cause of Christ" was a phrase which, in the hands of plenipotentiary interpreters, was likely to be conveniently malleable. There was a postern-gate to the calendar, which was opened by a golden key. We do not mean to deny the policy of the elevation of Thomas à Becket, but there is room to doubt if, without the convenient title of martyrdom, his virtues would have earned it for him. Nor would we insinuate, that in his case the dignity of saint was bought; for the court of Rome needed no great bribe to sharpen its clear perception of the vast advantages to be gained from the measure.
But the present generation cares little about Becket's claim to be considered as a saint; the interest we now take in his life and character arises chiefly from their Protean variety. He figures in every shape. From the accountant, we follow him through the successive stages of scholar, diplomatist, divine, judge, statesman, courtier, warrior, hierarch, exile, and martyr, up to the posthumous eminence of saint. How so promising a case as this has escaped the hero-mongers, we have often wondered; the more, as his career was not without its dubious passages. To a class of writers, who find in every divergence of practice from profession only fresh evidence of a higher law of consistency, of which these aberrations are the effect, there are tempting opportunities in Becket's life. We cannot call him a bad man. He was certainly no hypocrite in the worst sense, perhaps in any sense; and yet, without the aid of a comfortable theory, it is troublesome to get over one or two of his actions. We are sure, at all events, that it must be easier to bring him out of the fire unsinged, than to whitewash the soul of Mirabeau, or to swallow the cant of Cromwell. To make him a hero, you will need but a drop of that elixir which has virtue enough to prove the scribes and Pharisees no hypocrites, and VOL. LXIV. NO. 134.
to convict the father of lies himself of hatred to his own offspring.
The work of Dr. Giles, which stands at the head of our article, professes to be "gathered from the contemporary historians." It accordingly bears the character of a compilation or collection, and does not pretend to be a finished work of art. It is cumulative, rather than constructive, in its execution. The author has not aimed at success in that most difficult part of a biographer's task, which is wholly posterior to the collection of materials; we mean, what the French call the rédaction. To combine and group one's mateials so skilfully as to present a full portrait of a great man of former times, and to define his comparative brightness among the other luminaries of his age, is one of the rarest, as it is one of the highest, of literary achievements. Giles is fully aware of the "patchwork nature" of his work, and humbly disclaims more than the name of a faithful compiler or epitomist. His modesty, we think, need not have asked so little. Yet when he hopes that he has succeeded in giving us "a portrait of the great man whose life is the subject of the narrative," we should rather say, that he has done a great deal to smooth the way for a more ambitious attempt by another. An inventory of mouth, nose, and eyes is no portrait; nor is even such a description of a thief as would betray him to a sharp police-man a portrait. We find in Dr. Giles's work enough to recognize Becket by; but much more is wanting to present him in all his lineaments to the imagination. We have certainly no wish to detract from our author's real merit. He has shown great diligence in searching out, among the English and Continental collections, all manuscripts and notices of manuscripts relating to his subject. He has taken great pains to translate from the Latin the narratives and letters which compose the bulk of his book, and, to the best of our judgment, with general correctness; though not always with perfect accuracy or the utmost simplicity, and with an occasional fastidiousness quite fragrant of the delicacy of a boarding-school. Though we do not wish to contest his profession of an entire love of truth, his book betrays his cloth, and an unconscious leaning to the side of the churchman, martyr, and saint is quite apparent. His remarks, too, though often judicious and instructive, are sometimes tinctured with that professional instinct to "im
prove" an event, which is called "preaching." Yet, on the whole, the work is well arranged, and is a valuable contribution to historical and biographical literature. We hope that some one will take these scattered rays and collect them into a focus. The epistolary collections above named, which Dr. Giles is about to republish, and to which we hope he will add the letters of Peter of Blois, will be of great assistance to the future biographer of Becket. Our purpose, at present, in a very cursory review of the leading incidents in the life of this extraordinary man, is chiefly to indicate the richness of a mine which has been less explored by the biographer and the dramatist than it merits.
The life of Thomas à Becket may be divided into three parts, the first period ending with his elevation to the chancel lorship, the second, with his election to the primacy, and the last, with his death; though the biography of every saint has also a sort of post mortem chapter, to record his miracles, his honors, and his receipts. His parents, Gilbert and Matilda by name, have been raised to a distinction which the worthy pair could never have dreamed of. But they were needed to shore up a theory. There was some ground for supposing Gilbert to be a Saxon, and Matilda a Saracen or Syrian. Such data needed only the aid of a fertile brain, to be made to bear much fruit. From his father's race, it seems, Thomas à Becket inherited a necessary hostility to the Norman Henry, and from his Saracen mother, an impetuous temper. His Saxon birth, it is said, made him the man of the people; his infidel origin made him odious in the eyes of supplanted ecclesiastics, who were as tenacious of Christian as of Norman blood. Granting for a moment the hybrid origin of our hero, it will account but poorly for his quarrel with his master, who, though untainted by Eastern parentage, had more of other blood than of Norman in the mixed current that flowed in his veins. As to Oriental impetuosity, the anger of Henry was a tempest; and if violence comes from the maternal side, his mother was half Norman and half Saxon.
But, after all, Becket's Saxon descent is questionable. There is some positive evidence to the contrary. Fitzstephen, his friend and biographer, expressly calls his father Gilbert "a Norman by origin" (ortu Normannus); and another of Dr. Giles's authorities reckons Gilbert and his wife (whom, however, he calls Rose) among the emigrants
from Rouen to London. The termination in et is indicative of French nativity; and though Thierry regards the name of Becket as only Beck with an affix, the town of Bec in Normandy is perhaps as good evidence of foreign_extraction.* The best evidence for Becket's Saxon blood is found in a letter, quoted by Lyttleton, in which he says that his father and ancestors had been citizens of London. But emigration from Normandy to England had begun at least as far back as the time of Edward the Confessor. In fact, there was even then a rage at court for Norman words and fashions. Gilbert must have been a man of some consideration, if, as we are informed, he was sheriff (vicecomes) of London.
The history of Matilda, our saint's mother, is one of the prettiest legends which have come down to us from the Middle Ages. According to the story, she was the daughter of a Saracen or Turkish chief, named Amurath. She fell
The first few lines of Thierry's ninth book, in which he introduces Becket, are an ingenious piece of mosaic.
"Among the throng of Englishmen who, for want of the means of subsistence, attached themselves to the rich Normans, in the capacity of esquires and attendants (gens de service), was, in the time of King Henry the First, a man of London, called by the historians Gilbert Becket. It appears that his true name was Beck, and that the Normans, among whom he lived, added to it a familiar diminutive and made it Becket, as the Saxons in the first years of the twelfth century called it Beckie. Gilbert Beckie or Becket followed his lord of foreign race to the crusade, and went to seek his fortune in the kingdom of Jerusalem."
No authority is adduced to prove that Gilbert was ever a dependent on a Norman lord. On the contrary, nearly all the testimony in the case goes to show that he enjoyed an easy competence. Brompton is cited in attestation of his Saxon birth His words are, Anglicus et Londoniarum incola civitatis." One would infer, that this was the chronicler's assertion; whereas it is Gilbert's supposed answer to a supposed question put to him by a Saracen maiden, into whose father's hands he is supposed to have fallen. But if the words indicate the chronicler's opinion, the adjective Anglicus is an answer to an inquiry about Gilbert's country, and proves nothing as to his race. The other authority, the Vita Quadripartita, we have not been able to consult. The passage, however, agrees with Brompton, as Dr. Giles quotes the same words from the Quadripartite Compilation. The conjecture about the diminutive is supported by two lines from two old ballads, in one of which "Young Beckie," and in the other "Young Beichan," are named. One of these ballads is downright Scotch, and the other is sprinkled with Scotch words. We are bound to infer, therefore, according to Thierry's reasoning, that "Annie" proves the Saxon origin of Ann, and "Susie," which actually occurs in one of the ballads, a similar fact as to Susan, though both are Scripture names. The lord of foreign race seems to be a sheer invention. The legend which relates the journey of Gilbert to the Holy Land, so far from attaching him to the person of a superior, declares that he took a serving-man named Richard with him.
in love with Gilbert Becket, who, on his way to the Holy Sepulchre, had been captured by her father and reduced to slavery. The slave, however, having gained the favor of the parent, unknowingly stole away also the heart of the child. The heart-sick maiden, unlike patience on a monument, told her love, and offered to become a Christian, if he would pledge himself to take her to wife. He seems to have been more anxious himself to join the company of believers than to have her do so; for, on the first opportunity, he made his escape by night to Christian territory, without taking leave of Amurath or his daughter. The candid damsel followed. Finding in the land of the Christians a ship about to transport some merchants, who knew her language, to England, she embarked with them, and on her arrival set out at once for the metropolis, whither she found her way by repeating her only English word, "London, London." After straying awhile about the streets, the laughing-stock of the crowd, she was recognized by Gilbert's serving-man, Richard, who had accompanied his master to the Holy Land. The judicious Gilbert, not deeming it wise to take her to his own house, placed her with a widow, who lived hard by, and went to take ghostly counsel of six bishops, who happened to be in session at St. Paul's. They saw the hand of God in this thing, and advised him to marry the girl, if she would be baptized. To this she assented, still insisting on matrimony as the quid pro quo. The rite was performed, and the pair were married. The next morning, our whimsical husband was seized with a violent desire to revisit Palestine. But he was unwilling to leave his young wife alone in a land of strangers. His uneasiness aroused her curiosity, and she soon drew from him the secret. Like a true heroine, as she was, she besought him to obey his conscience. Leaving Richard behind, he set out for the Holy Land, where he made a short stay of three years and a half. When he returned, he found in his house a beautiful boy, who called him father, and himself Thomas Becket. So endeth the tale of the loves of Gilbert and Matilda.
Of this pleasant bit of romance, Dr. Giles seriously remarks, "There seems no reason to doubt the facts which it relates." We think, on the contrary, that it has more than one internal mark of improbability. What Fitzstephen says, and omits to say, is strong evidence against it. He simply