restricted access The Twelfth Century. An unsigned review of The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, by Charles Homer Haskins
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[ 175 The Twelfth Century An unsigned review of The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, by Charles Homer Haskins Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP; London: Milford, 1927. Pp. viii + 437. The Times Literary Supplement, 1332 (11 Aug 1927) 542 ProfessorHaskins–who,incidentally,hasbeenDeanoftheGraduateSchool of Arts and Sciences in Harvard University – is not only a well-known specialist in medieval history, but has had long experience in lecturing to young undergraduates unacquainted with his subject.1 We have the right to expect from him both original and accurate scholarship and ability in popular exposition. In this volume we are not disappointed. Professor Haskins is a modest person, and in his preface he hastens to admit that the book covers more ground than his own – or, indeed, we may add, than any one person’s – first-hand knowledge. In some chapters he is able to speak with his own authority; where he cannot we may be sure that he speaks with the support of the best authority. To those who do not know Mr. Haskins’s own work the fact that he has had, in the chapter dealing with philosophy, the assistance of Professor Étienne Gilson is sufficient testimony.2 The twelfth century was a time of very various activity; and Professor Haskins limits himself to the “Latin Side.”3 That is, he refrains from discussing vernacular literature or the Provençal tradition. What he is himself interested in, we suspect, is medieval law, for his chapter on “The Revival of Jurisprudence” is especially brilliant and interesting. But within his limits we can say that he touches on everything with interest and in a way to arouse interest; whether it be Latin poetry, or the Arabic influence, or the universities. His chapters on the Latin language – he defends the medieval Latinity – and on Latin poetry, both devotional and secular, are wholly admirable, and will tempt readers of Remy de Gourmont’s Le Latin Mystique or Professor Phillimore’s Hundred Best Latin Hymns to explore the bibliography which he has appended.4 No one has more clearly, in a few pages, exposed the twelfth-century anomaly – and yet the essential congruity – of the finest religious verse and the most brilliant, blasphemous 1927 176 ] verse. To the present generation of versifiers, so deficient in devotion and so feeble in blasphemy, the twelfth century might offer an edifying subject of study. Our only reservation against Professor Haskins’s book is one which is often applicable to works of popularization: that where we already have some acquaintance with the subject we have little to learn from him. For instance, his review of twelfth-century philosophy is excellent. It is accurate and well balanced. Yet we fail to learn from it what are the important gifts of thought of Anselm, or Abelard, or John of Salisbury;5 and of Hugh and Richard of St. Victor we learn only that they were writers of mystical feeling, with a strong tendency toward allegory or symbolism.6 Any one of these writers alone is still capable of rousing a keen enthusiasm in whoever will take the trouble to read him; but all of these writers together are quite incapable of stimulating the slightest interest. The trouble, of course, is not with either Mr. Haskins’s knowledge or Mr. Haskins’s powers of exposition; it is with the method. When a scholar of such qualifications has written so readable a book, and when, moreover, every chapter of this book is garnished with a very complete and highly useful bibliography, and when the writer is manifestly inspired with a real enthusiasm for his subject, it may be captious and ungrateful to hint that the method is wrong. But we feel that Professor Haskins’s book, like many books by American scholars, is affected in its form by the needs of his own more juvenile students, rather than by the needs of the mature literate public. For a student beginning a course of study of medieval history Mr. Haskins’s book is admirably formed; such a student must perforce study the twelfth century, and if the student has any possibility of feeling for the medieval mind he will be led by this book to further studies. But for that general awakening of interest in the later Middle Ages of which there are signs to-day, this book is not quite what we want. It deals with the twelfth century in extension, emphasizes the multitude and variety of its interest and achievements. But the twelfth century...