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JOHN OF SALISBURY I. EARLY LIFE AND STUDIES It is difficult to imagine a man who was held as a friend by Popes, Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, and Kings; who received the highest praise as a scholar from the learned Masters under whom he studied; and who wrote books that have been widely circulated and read from his time even up to the present. Such a man is indeed unique, but that the same individual should be revered despite the fact that he rebuked those in high places both civil and ecclesiastical, and whose personality was such that he was never, during his life nor after its cessation, a figure of controversy, makes him even more remarkable. Those that wrote about this man while he lived and down through the years seem to vie with each other to lend luster to his name. He has been called the most widely read man of his age1 and the most learned classical scholar of the period.2 We are told that his mind revealed encyclopedic learning and a catholic taste, and that his memory was more richly stored than any but the largest medieval libraries.3 His works are characterized as examples of taste and style and he is recognized as being the most accomplished Latin stylist of the twelfth century.4 In addition to his learning and written accomplishments, he has been acknowledged as a man of profound wisdom, firmly established in the fear and love of God.5 Another insight into his character is given by the eminent scholar C. C. J. Webb who calls this extraordinary medieval giant of learning, a man of deep yet sober piety and quiet humor . . . convinced that the highest function of knowledge is to be an instrument of the good life.6 Moreover, this outstanding product of the twelfth century is recognized as being the unrivalled master of the thumbnail sketch, witty and 1 The Historia Pontificalis, John of Salisbury's Memoirs of the Papal Court in Nelson's Medieval Texts, Translated by Marjorie Chibnall, London, 1956, xxxi. 2 The Letters of John of Salisbury, Edited by W. J. Miller, S. J. and H. E. Butler, Revised by C. N. L. Brooke, Vol. I, London, 1955, xlii. 3 Ibid. 4 The Historia Pontificalis, op. cit., xi. 5 Benedict of Peterborough, Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Rolls Series, 67. Also Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Edited by J. C. Robertson, 7 Vols., Rolls Series, 1875—85. 6 C. C. J. Webb, John of Salisbury, London, 1932, p. 177. 16 Franciscan Studies 195924I 242M. A. BROWN pointed, often charitable, occasionally unkind.7 His works are regarded as the finest monument of the literary and humanistic culture to come from the influence of Chartres, then at the zenith of its fame.8 These facts permit us to understand why he was the central figure of English learning of his time9 and why his works stand nearly alone in medieval literature for the wide circle of readers to whom they appeal.10 When the reign of Henry the First of England had reached about the middle of its course there was born at Old Salisbury, or Old Sarum, which was located on a neighboring hill to present-day Salisbury which has since been built up on the banks of the Avon, a boy who was known as Johannes Parvus, John Little or Short. Later the boy was to say in connection with his name: "Little in name, less in skill, least in worth."11 However, history rarely accords the above surname to him and he is commonly referred to as John of Salisbury. The date of his birth formerly has been calculated from his death in 1180, at which time it was believed that he was seventy years old. Thus, the date of his birth was set at nio. Further research makes it seem more probable to set his natal year between 1115 and 1120.12 From his own testimony we learn that in 1136 on the occasion of his going to Paris he was only an adolescens admodum.13 In regard to his lineage we have but meager facts, knowing nothing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 241-297
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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