« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
realm had of late grown very loose, and allied himself yet
realms. Gerberga, the widow of Carloman, fled with her child and a handful of followers to Lombardy, where Desiderius was now in a state of mind which made him glad to receive any enemy of Charles's, and more especially one who had such a plausible claim to a share in the Frankish kingdom. Once more, then, all the lands between the mouth of the Rhine and the mouth of the Rhone, and from the Main to the Bay of Biscay, were united under a single character of king. And this was a king such as none of those Charles. realms had ever seen before—a heroic figure, whose like we have not met in all the three centuries with which we have had to deal. Theodoric the Ostrogoth alone deserves a mention by his side, and Theodoric had a smaller task and less success than the great Charles. For the first time since we began to tell the tale of the Dark Ages we have come upon a man whose form and mind, whose plans and method of life, have been so well recorded that we can build up for ourselves a clear and tangible image of him. Charles the Hammer, king Pippin, Leo the Isaurian, and even the good Theodoric himself, are but shadowy figures, whose outlines we can but dimly seize, but Charles stands before us firm and masterful, a living man, whom we can understand and admire. ‘He was tall and stoutly built,’ writes his chronicler, Einhard; “his height just seven times the length of his own foot. His head was round, his eyes large and lively, his nose somewhat above the common size, his expression bright and cheerful. Whether he stood or sat his form was full Charles's of dignity; for the good proportion and grace of person and his body prevented the observer from noticing * that his neck was rather short and his person rather too fleshy. His tread was firm, his aspect manly; his voice was clear, but rather high-pitched for so splendid a body. His health was excellent; only for the last four years of his life he suffered from intermittent fever. To the very last he
consulted his own goodwill rather than the orders of his
and would often say that church fasts were bad for his health."
There were never more than four dishes on his table, besides
aloud and singing to the harp, and took much pains in instructing others in those accomplishments. All the liberal arts were dear to him, and he loved learned men, and summoned them from all quarters of the world. To study grammar he sent for the deacon Peter of Pisa. In most other arts he had as his preceptor Alcuin, the Englishman, the most learned of all men, with whom he studied rhetoric and dialectic, and spent much time in acquiring a knowledge of astronomy; for he was curious about the times and motions of the stars. He invented German names for the twelve months of the year, and the twelve winds. He tried, too, to learn the art of the scribe," and used to keep paper and notebooks under his pillow in bed, to practise his fingers at odd moments in forming the characters; but he began too late in life to get very forward in this undertaking. Moreover, he loved building, and designed the splendid cathedral of Aachen, glorious with lamps and candlesticks of gold and silver, and doors and railings of solid bronze. When he was erecting it, and could not get marble columns near at hand, he had them brought all the way from Ravenna and Rome. He was a great churchgoer, and always took care that the service in his presence should be conducted with decorum. He used to pray both in Frankish and in Latin, being equally skilled in both tongues. For he had a great power of acquiring languages, and spoke Latin excellently. Greek he learnt, but understood it better than he spoke it. He had a free and fluent power of speech, and always expressed his meaning in the clearest way. He slept lightly, and would often rise three or four times in the night. When he was dressing for the work of the morning he would have not only his friends in his chamber, but would bid the count of the palace bring in litigants before him, and give a decision from his chair just as if he was in a court of law. Charles had one lamentable failing—he was too careless of the teachings of Christianity about the relation of the sexes.
1 We know that he could at least sign his name.
He divorced his first wife over-lightly, and when his third wife died he took to himself three concubines at once, who bore him many bastard children. There were scandals at his court, and two of his own daughters were known to be living in open sin with two of his courtiers. Charles treated their offence lightly, and never visited them with any rebuke. Not so his son, Lewis the Pious, who regarded his sisters' shame as so heinous that he banished them when he came to the throne. It was the shortcomings of the great king in respect of sexual morality which prevented the Church from decreeing the beatification of its protector after his death. The spirit of the times was well shown by the strange vision of the monk Wettin of Reichenau, who, falling into a trance and wandering through the other world, saw Charles in Purgatory, kept in purifying flames for a space, till this sin should be purged from his soul. So much do the chronicles tell us concerning the person and the manner of life of Charles the Great; but there are other points which impress us more than they did the contemporary observer. Considering that he was so far in advance of his age in the cultivation of literature, art, science, and architecture, that in administration and organisation of his realm he so far surpassed all that had lived before him, and that he rose in most sof his conduct to such a high conception, alike of his kingly office and of his personal responsibility for all his actions, it is disappointing, though not surprising, to find that in some matters he was not above the standard of his time. We have already alluded to his loose living, but a worse failing was his occasional liability to outbursts of inhumanity. The most Savage of them was his massacre of 4500 unarmed prisoners of war at Verden, in 782. If the majority of his wars were defensive, or at least necessary, there were a few—notably the Lombard war—in which aggressive ambition was the main operating cause, but this was a small failing in the unscrupulous eighth century. On the whole we stand amazed at the magnanimity of the man, and are so much struck with his splendid