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of large sections of his realm to them. Beneath their authority the kingdoms were ruled by the same hierarchy of dukes and counts who had existed in Merovingian times. When any new land, such as Saxony or Lombardy, was added to the empire, it was ere long cut up into countships on the same pattern that already served for Austrasia and Neustria. Thus a regular ascending scale of grades lay between the count and the emperor. The count obeyed the duke, the duke the subking, the king his father the suzerain of all. In the conquered lands Franks were, as a rule, intrusted with the most important provincial governments : but Charles often gave countships in their own native districts to Lombards, Aquitanians, or even Saxons who had served him well and truly. The best security for the unity and peace of the empire was the never-ceasing activity of Charles himself, who incessantly perambulated his realm from end to end so long as life was in him. It was his own frequent visits to Saxony, Italy, or Bavaria, that were the best means of keeping those outlying provinces in loyalty and obedience. But he had also a regular system of travelling commissioners who were The Missi always moving round the realm, and reporting Pominici to him on the needs and requirements of the different provinces. The circuits of these Missi Dominici, or royal legates, as they were called, were fully settled by him only in 802, but he had been employing them less systematically at a far earlier date. His father and grandfather, Pippin the Short and Charles Martel, had been wont to send out occasionally travelling commissions (Missi discurrentes), but it was Charles the emperor who multiplied and systematised their activity. By his arrangements his emissaries, who were sometimes clerics, sometimes laymen, were appointed for a year's duty over a certain number of countships. They visited the assemblies of the inhabitants of the district, summoned to the count's Mallus,” and inquired into the state of the provinces. Complaints against the count himself or * See page 125.
the local bishop were brought before them, and they would send them up to the king or take account of them on the spot. We sometimes find Missi charged with other duties, such as the conduct of an embassy or a warlike expedition, but this terminal inspection of the local governors was their primary duty. As long as men of probity and strength were chosen, no better machinery for keeping together the wide empire of the Franks could have been devised. We have already mentioned in an earlier chapter the interest which Charles always showed in art and letters, an interest which had been very rare among the Frankish kings, whether of his own house or of the Merovings. Of all the two dynasties the ruffian Chilperich I. is—curiously enough— the only one who is recorded to have shown any literary tastes. Charles, however, atoned for the neglect of his predecessors. He collected learned men from all quarters: the Northumbrian Alcuin and the Lombards Peter of Pisa and Paul the Deacon were the best-known * Encourage. among them : at first his scholars were mostly ment of foreigners, but by the end of his reign he had “** seen a generation of learned Franks arise in response to his encouragement. Two of his proclamations, the Epistola de sitteris colendis and the Encyclica de emendatione librorum, set forth his purpose. He complains that the letters addressed to him by bishops and abbots from all parts of his realm are ‘very correct in sentiment but very incorrect in grammar,’ so that he has begun to fear whether his clergy have enough knowledge of Latin to understand the whole sense of the Scriptures. Wherefore he will have schools established in every monastery for the perfect teaching of the Latin tongue, ‘because it is useful that men of God should not only live by the rule and dwell in holy conversation, but should devote themselves to literary meditations, each according to his ability, that they may be able to give themselves to the duty of teaching others.” Under the fostering hand of Charles all the greater monasteries became centres of learning: we
owe to his care the preservation of many of the classical authors, for he was incessantly causing the old volumes, “almost worn out,’ as he says, “by the carelessness of our ancestors,’ to be fairly copied out and multiplied. Each monastery was urged to have its own treasures preserved by several copies, and to interchange them with those of its neighbours. He paid special attention to the books of the Old and New Testaments, was shocked at the diverse readings which he found to exist—due, as he asserts, to the extreme ignorance of copyists—and set Paul the Deacon to construct a new lectionary, corrected according to the best texts, and destined to be used in all the Churches in his Multiplication realm. It was not only to religious books that of books: he turned his attention: he had the old heroic epics of the Franks—the prototypes, we may suppose, of such works as the AWibelungenlied—collected and written out : unfortunately his pious son Lewis destroyed this invaluable corpus of Frankish poetry, because he deemed it heathenish. He is also found setting his scholars to work on the compilation of grammars—both Latin and German—biographies, and even of works of secular history. It is, no doubt, to his inspiration that we owe the sudden expansion and multiplication of the Frankish chronicles. Our historical sources, down to his time, are few, bald, and jejune; soon after his accession they become full, satisfactory, and numerous. The tenth century, in spite of all its troublous times, is far better known to us than the ninth. Charles kept the best of his scholars about his Court, and treated them as familiar friends. When he was settled down at Aachen for the winter, and was at rest from wars, he gathered them about him to discuss all manners of subjects, from astronomy to logic. The literary circle assumed old classical names. Alcuin called himself Flaccus, Charles was addressed as King David, other scholars styled themselves Homer, Mopsus, and Damaetas. Their discussions were often fruitless, and sometimes childish, but it was something new in Western Christendom to find a whole group of scholars busied in discussions of any sort whatever. After looking back at the blank darkness of the seventh century, we find the court of Charles the Great a very centre of light and wisdom. In it lay the promise of great things in the future, a promise for which we have looked in vain in any period of the preceding ageS. It was not only in literature that Charles busied his leisure hours. He was a great admirer of music, both secular and ecclesiastical. His ear was charmed by the Gregorian chants which he heard at Rome, and he took back with him Italian choirmasters to teach the churchmen of the north the Sonorous cadences of the sainted Pope. He was also a mighty builder. At Aachen he reared a great palace for himself and a magnificent cathedral. The former has perished, but enough survives of the latter to show the exact extent to which Romanesque architecture had developed by his time. So much was he set on making it the most magnificent basilica to the north of the charles Alps, that when he found his own workmen un- as builder. able to carry out his ideas, he sent for ancient columns and marbles from distant Rome and Ravenna. His own coffin was a splendid Roman sarcophagus, probably procured from Italy. He constructed palaces in two other Austrasian towns besides Aachen, the old royal seats of Nimuegen and Engelheim, for he was Austrasian to the core, and always made the land of his ancestors his favourite dwelling. He built a bridge at Mainz five hundred yards long, the first effort of Frankish engineering in that class of structure. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 813, and never renewed. Another piece of work which testifies to his interest in engineering was a canal to join the Rhine and Danube, by means of their tributaries, the Altmühl and the Rednitz. But to follow Charles into every department of his activity during his long life and reign would require many volumes. Here it must suffice to say that after all these achievements he died at his chosen abode at Aachen, on the 28th of January 814, carried off at a ripe old age by a pleurisy caught in the Death of winter cold. He was buried in the cathedral Charles, 814 that he himself had built, and over his tomb was placed a golden shrine, with his image and the inscription :-‘SUB Hoc CONDITORIO SITUM EST CORPUs KAROLI MAGNI ET ORTHODOXI IMPERATORIS, QUI REGNUM FRANCORUM NOBILITER AMPLIAVIT, ET PER ANNOS XLVII FELICITER REXIT.’ It was but a short epitaph considering the mighty deeds of him who lay beneath, but no length of words could have done justice to his greatness. A far better memorial was left to him in the hearts of his subjects; his name survived in the mouths of all the races that had served him, as the type of power, wisdom, and righteousness. All Western Europe looked back to him for seven hundred years as the common pride of Christendom, the founder of that “Holy Roman Empire’ which satisfied their ideal of governance. His figure looms out, though often with outlines blurred and distorted, from dozens of the legends and romances which shadowed forth the aspirations of the Middle Ages. Within a hundred years of his death it was currently believed that he had conquered Spain and Byzantium, and carried his arms as far as Palestine. So great was the impression he had left behind him, that the world thought nothing too impossible for him to have achieved. Perhaps the notion that his reign had been a kind of Golden Age was partly produced by the contrasting years of trouble and civil strife that followed his death. But the tendency to look back to his time as a period of unexampled splendour and righteousness was no delusion, but a just recognition of the fact that he had given the Western world a glimpse of new and high ideals, such as it had never known under the brutal rule of twelve generations of barbarian kings, nor in those earlier days when it was still held together in the iron grasp of the Caesars of ancient Rome.