The various occupations in which Michael Scot engaged upon his return to
court were not without their due and, as we believe, designed effect.
The part he had taken in producing the Latin Averroës was soon forgotten
when it appeared that no immediate publication of these proscribed works
was intended by the Emperor. Scot now stood boldly before the world in no
suspicious character; distinguished only by his great learning and the
fidelity with which he discharged his offices of astrologer and physician
about the Imperial person.
This rehabilitation of his fame opened the way to further honours and
emoluments which Frederick soon began to seek on his servant’s behalf.
Scot had never quite lost character as a churchman, and the member of a
great religious Order, though his studies had carried him far from the
somewhat narrow and beaten track of an ordinary ecclesiastical education.
Like Philip of Tripoli, he was probably in holy orders, and even held a
benefice, while, as we see from the dedication of his _De Coelo et Mundo_
to Stephen of Provins, he was careful, even in the wildest heats of his
work on Averroës, to keep in touch with those who held high positions in
the Church. Soon after his return from Spain a resolute and repeated
attempt was made to secure for him some ecclesiastical preferment.
Honorius III. then sat in the Chair of St. Peter. In 1223 a dispensation
was granted by the Curia allowing Michael Scot to hold a plurality. At
the same time the Pope wrote to Stephen Langton the Primate of England,
desiring that Scot should be preferred to the first suitable place which
might fall vacant in that country. Honorius was then at peace with
the Emperor, and we may believe that it was in consequence of some strong
representation made by Frederick that he took such an interest in the
fortunes of this Imperial _protégé_.
The application to Canterbury was entirely in accordance with the habits
of the time; for England was then the constant resource of the Popes when
they wished to confer a favour on any of their clergy. Many and deep
were the complaints which this practice awakened among the priesthood
of the north. A like abuse of influence appeared in Scotland as well.
Theiner reports the case of a clerk named Peter, the son of Count George
of Cabaliaca, on whose behalf the Pope wrote in 1259 to the Canons of
St. Andrews, desiring that he might be reinstated in his benefice of
Chinachim (Kennoway in Fife) which he had forfeited as an adherent of
the Empire. It is only fair, however, to notice that there were
instances of the contrary practice. In 1218, for example, one Matthew,
a Scot, was recommended by Honorius to the University of Paris for the
degree of Doctor, that he might teach there in the faculty of Divinity.
It may seem remarkable that the Pope did not address his application
in Scot’s favour to St. Andrews rather than to Canterbury. We are to
recollect, however, that in 1223, the relations between Scotland and
the See of Rome were still somewhat strained. The North had not yet
forgotten what took place in 1217, when Gualo came thither as Legate to
lay the Interdict upon Scotland. Churches were closed by this severe
sentence; the sacraments forbidden; even that of extreme unction denied
to the people; the dead were buried without service, and all marriages
were celebrated in the churchyards. When the interdict was removed
in the following year, the duty of proclaiming that remission was
intrusted to the Prior of Durham and the Dean of York, who made a solemn
progress in the Kingdom to announce the Pope’s clemency. We may feel
sure that these events were not forgotten in five years by a proud and
independent nation like the people of Scotland, and Honorius must be
thought to have judged rightly in supposing his application on Scot’s
account had a better chance of being effected by the English than by the
Scottish Primate. Nothing indeed was overlooked that might give force
to the recommendation. The Pope accompanied his request with a generous
testimony to the scholar’s ability, saying that he was distinguished,
even among learned men, for his remarkable gifts and knowledge. Thus
everything seemed to promise that Michael Scot would soon enjoy a rich
English living; the _El dorado_ of the foreign clergy in those easy days
of sinecures secured by dispensations of plurality and non-residence.
Meanwhile, however, a much more favourable occasion offered itself to the
Pope for securing the interests of Frederick’s _protégé_, and one which
dispensed with any concurrence of the English Primate in the matter.
In the same year which witnessed his application to Stephen Langton a
vacancy occurred in the Archbishopric of Cashel. The chapter of that see
proposed a candidate of their own to Honorius, probably the Bishop of
Cork, but the Pope saw his opportunity and named Michael Scot for the
vacant benefice. The obedient Chapter at once proceeded to elect him. The
consequence being to their apprehension a foregone conclusion, the Curia
issued another dispensation permitting this favourite of fortune to hold
the Archbishopric along with all his other benefices. So nearly did
Scot come to the possession of a high place in the Church, and an office
which would surely have altered his fame in the ages that were to come.
But those who thus took into their hands the shaping of the future for
Michael Scot were soon to learn that the man they had to deal with was
of another nature than their own; a very Scot in his scruples and the
conscientiousness with which he gave effect to them. Incredible as it
must then have seemed, remarkable as it would be even in our own day,
Michael Scot refused Cashel, and this for a reason which showed how
high was the conception he had formed of the pastoral office. His _nolo
episcopari_ proceeded on the ground that he was ignorant of the Irish
language. He would not, it seems, be a chief pastor without the power
to teach and feed the flock committed to his care. He would not consent
to be intruded upon a people to whom he must have proved unacceptable,
nor would he, in the too common fashion of the day, commit his duties in
Ireland to a suffragan, while enjoying ample revenues and a lordly title
It is somewhat startling to find a principle not unheard of in the
Scotland of our own century so clearly grasped and so conscientiously
followed by this _non-intrusionist_ countryman of ours six hundred years
ago. Yet Michael Scot did not stand alone in his sacrifice even in these
slack times, as may be seen by the case of his namesake, John Scot, who
was Bishop of Dunkeld during the pontificate of Clement III. This
earlier Prelate ruled a vast diocese which included the country of Argyll
as well as the more eastern parts of central Scotland. His conscience
became uneasy under the responsibility, and, unwilling to continue the
spiritual overseer of those whom from his ignorance of their language
he could not edify, he wrote to the Pope, desiring that Argyll might be
disjoined from Dunkeld, and that Ewaldus his chaplain, who knew Erse,
might have charge of the new diocese as its Bishop. This was actually
done in 1200, and the good Bishop died in great peace two years later.
‘How can I give a comfortable account to the Judge of the world at the
last day,’ so he had written to Clement, ‘if I pretend to teach those
who cannot understand me? The revenues suffice for two Bishops, if we
are content with a competency, and are not prodigal of the patrimony of
Christ. It is better to lessen the charge and increase the number of
labourers in the Lord’s Vineyard.’ In some such terms must Michael Scot
too have declined Cashel. His case, as well as that of Dunkeld, is enough
to show that ecclesiastical corruption, though widespread, was not, even
in those days, universal. May no Cervantes of the Church ever arise in
Scotland to laugh such sacred chivalry away!
The disappointment he nevertheless felt on this occasion may probably
have encouraged Scot in his attachment to the court and to his new duties
there as astrologer and physician, in which, as we have seen, he rose to
such acknowledged eminence. Frederick did not, however, lose sight of his
purpose to procure him preferment. The first application to Canterbury
having met with no response it was renewed four years later in 1227, by
Gregory IX., who in that year succeeded Honorius in the Chair of St.
Peter. This new Pontiff was destined to become the Emperor’s most bitter
and relentless foe, but as yet he remained on good terms with Frederick
and inclined to show him favour. He seems to have made no difficulty in
taking up the case of Michael Scot, and even added on his own account
a eulogy meant to forward the scholar’s claim; representing him as a
distinguished student, not only in Latin letters, but also of the Hebrew
and Arabic languages. So far as can be seen, however, the attempt
of 1227 shared the fate of that which had been made in 1223. Canterbury
gave no signs of acquiescence, and Michael Scot, for all his distinction,
remained without the preferment which his friends so constantly sought to
obtain for him.
There is reason to think that from this time a change took place in the
spirit of the philosopher. The natural chagrin he must have felt as it
became plain that no position he could accept would be offered to him in
the Church affected deeply his fine and sensitive nature. He soon passed
into a brooding and despondent mood, which remained unaffected by all the
praise and fame paid by the learned world as a tribute to his remarkable
talents and achievements. It is in this change of temper to a morbid
depression that we are to find the occasion and inspiring spirit of those
strange prophetical verses which bear his name and which differ so widely
from all the other productions of his pen.
Such compositions were indeed far from being uncommon in Italy. The
reputed prophecies of the Erythræan Sibyl were extant in the form of
an epistle supposed to be addressed to the Greeks under the walls of
Troy. This curious composition is said to have been rendered into the
Greek language from the Syriac by a certain Doxopatros. His version
was one of those volumes which had reached Sicily from the library of
Manuel Comnenus Emperor of Constantinople, and was then translated into
Latin during the twelfth century by Eugenio, admiral to King Roger. A
series of poets from Giovacchino di Fiora to Jacopone da Todi
then chose the prophetic lyre and made it resound with dark sayings
and predictions of misfortune and ruin. Especially worthy of study in
this connection are the verses ascribed to _Merlin_, which declare the
fate of many Italian cities. That Michael Scot gave his talents to
this kind of composition rests on evidence as convincing as any which
establishes the other events of his life. Pipini the chronicler says that
‘he was reputed to have the gift of prophecy, for he published verses in
which he foretold the ruin of certain Italian cities as well as other
circumstances.’ An earlier, indeed a contemporary, authority, Henry
Abrincensis, in a poem presented to Frederick II. in 1235 or the early
months of the following year, speaks of Michael Scot as ‘another Apollo,’
‘a prophet of truth’ possessed of ‘hidden secrets’ and the author of
‘certain predictions regarding thee, O Caesar.’
Quotations from the prophecies of Scot were made by Villani. The
lines referring to Florence may still be read in a manuscript of the
Riccardian Library in that city, and in another, preserved in
Padua, we find the following title: ‘Here begin certain prophecies
of Michael Scot, the most illustrious astrologer of Lord Frederick the
Emperor, which declare somewhat of the future, to wit, of certain Italian
cities.’ This shows that verses, bearing to have been composed by Scot,
were current at an early date, though the scribe of the Paduan manuscript
has forgotten to fulfil the promise he makes in his title, for that which
follows it is not the poetry of Scot but only a dull treatise on Latin
It is to Salimbene that we owe the preservation of these verses in their
most complete form. He must have taken much interest in them, as he is
careful to give, not only the original Latin, but an Italian translation
as well. From his pages then we shall borrow the text of these curious
lines. According to Salimbene they are these:
‘Regis vexilla timens, fugiet velamina Brixa,
Et suos non poterit filios, propriosque, tueri.
Brixia stans fortis secundi certamine Regis,
Post Mediolani sternentur moenia gryphi.
Mediolanum territum cruore fervido necis,
Resuscitabit viso cruore mortis.
In numeris errantes erunt atque silvestres.
Deinde Vercellus veniunt Novaria Laudum.
Affuerit dies, quod aegra Papia erit,
Vastata curabitur moesta dolore flendo.
Munera quae meruit diu parata vicinis,
Pavida mandatis parebit Placentia Regis.
Oppressa resiliet, passa damnosa strage,
Cum fuerit unita in firmitate manebit.
Placentia patebit grave pondus sanguine mixtum.
Parma parens viret, totisque frondibus uret
Serpens in obliquo tumido, exitque draconi.
Parma, Regi parens, tumida percutiet illum
Vipera Draconem, Florumque virescet amoenum.
Tu ipsa Cremona patieris flammae dolorem
In fine praedito, conscia tanti mali,
Et Regis partes insimul mala verba tenebunt.
Paduae magnatum plorabunt filii necem
Duram et horrendam, datam catuloque Veronae.
Marchia succumbet, gravi servitute coacta
Ob viam Antenoris quamque secuti erunt.
Languida resurget, catulo moriente, Verona.
Mantua, vae tibi, tanto dolore plena,
Cur ne vacillas nam tui pars ruet?
Ferraria fallax, fides falsa nil tibi prodiat,
Subire te cunctis cum tua facta ruent
Peregre missura quos tua mala parant
Faventia iniet tecum, videns tentoria pacem
Corruet in festem ducto velamine pacis.
Bononia renuens ipsam vastabitur agmine circa
Sed dabit immensum, purgato agmine, censum.
Mutina fremescet sibi certando sub lima
Quae dico tepescet tandem trahetur ad ima.
Pergami deorsum excelsa moenia cadent
Rursus, et amoris ascendet stimulus arcem.
Trivisii duae partes offerent non signa salutis
Gaudia fugantes vexilla praebenda ruinae.
Roma diu titubans, longis terroribus acta
Corruet, et mundi desinet esse caput.
Fata monent, stellaeque docent, aviumque volatus,
Quod Fridericus malleus orbis erit.
Vivet Draco magnus cum immenso turbine mundi.
Fata silent, stellaeque tacent, aviumque volatus
Quod Petri navis desinet esse caput.
Reviviscet Mater: malleabit caput Draconis.
Non diu stolida florebit Florentia florum.
Corruet in feudum dissimulando vivet.
Venecia aperiet venas, percutiet undique Regem.
Infra millenos ducenos sexque decennos
Erunt sedata immensa turbina mundi
Morietur Gripho, aufugient undique pennae.’
It would be difficult to determine how much of the original composition
of Scot these verses preserve, and how much they owe to later hands.
We cannot be mistaken, however, in remarking their uniform tone of
melancholy and apprehension, with the burden of its constantly recurring
‘corruet,’ or in taking this as a true index to the state of the author’s
Pipini records two other prophecies of Michael Scot which serve to
confirm this observation in a high degree. The astrologer, he says,
forecast the manner of the Emperor’s death, which was to take place _ad
portas ferreas_, at certain gates of iron, in a town named after Flora.
This prediction was generally understood of Florence; the rather perhaps
that the church of Santo Stefano there was called _ad portam ferream_;
and Frederick accordingly avoided coming to that city. During his
last campaign in 1250, however, he fell sick at the town of Fiorentino
or Firenzola in Apulia, and lay in a chamber of the castle. His bed
stood against a wall recently built to fill up the ancient gateway of
the tower, while within the wall there still remained the iron staples
on which the gate had been hung. Uneasy at the progress of his disease,
and hearing something of these particulars, the Emperor fell into deep
thought and then exclaimed, ‘This is the place where I shall make an end,
as it was told me. The will of God be done; for here I shall die,’ and
soon afterwards he breathed his last.
The other prediction which the chronicler attributes to Scot relates to
the occasion of his own death. This, he said, would take place by the
blow of a stone falling on his head. His calculations were so exact as
even to furnish him with the precise weight of this instrument of fate.
Being in church one day, with head uncovered at the sacring of the Mass,
a stone, agreeing in all particulars with his prediction, was shaken from
the tower by the motion of the bellrope and wounded Scot to death.
There is much in these tales which lies apart from the course of a sober
biography; belonging rather to that legendary and mystic fame of the
philosopher which we shall immediately proceed to consider. Something,
however, in which all these prophecies agree deserves our attention here,
and that is their sombre and menacing character. ‘Ruinam predixit,’
says Pipini, referring to Scot’s verses on the Italian cities, and his
thoughts, whether engaged with Frederick’s fate or his own, seem at
this time to have followed the same dark and ominous course. Death and
destruction now filled all his mind, much as if he had been a Highlander
gifted with the fatal power of the _Taisch_: a seer to whom all things
looked darkly, and all men wore a shroud, longer or shorter, to mark the
time and the manner of their end.
With Michael Scot’s account of his own fate Pipini joins another curious
matter, that of the _cervilerium_. This was a plate or cap of steel
meant to be worn under the ordinary covering of the head as an additional
defence, and the chronicle says that Scot invented and wore it that he
might be safe from the danger he foresaw. Taking this together with the
prophecies, both general and personal, we can find no better explanation
than that which bids us see in the whole what indicates a case of
ecstatic melancholy such as would seem to be the sad heritage of not a
few finer natures sprung of the stock from which Michael Scot descended.
We hear the same sad note in the strange jingle he wove so long before
in the preface of his _Physionomia_: ‘Nos ibimus ibitis, ibunt. Omnia
pereunt, praeter amare Deum,’ and one would fain hope that in his
frequent fits of depression Scot may have indeed found rest in what
he thus declares to be the only abiding portion of the soul. The wild
account of his illness at Cordova, and of the dreams which then visited
him is not to be neglected in this connection. Perhaps the cloud then
first fell which in after-years returned upon him with such redoubled
gloom. Thus the traits of Scot’s youth fit well the picture we are now
constrained to form, and the whole gives promise that here at last we
may have touched upon the man himself as he was, physically, mentally,
and spiritually. A slight worn body spent with arduous study, like a
sheath which the sword has almost broken through; a soul possessed with
the sense of Divine things, yet sad, and subject to strange illusions;
a conscience morbidly awake and painfully scrupulous; a mind to which
almost every branch of knowledge was familiar, and not incapable of
striking out here and there in a path of its own: if these be not Michael
Scot, scholar in the court and courtier in the schools, then it may
safely be said that no indications exist which can ever reveal to us this
striking personality as he lived and moved in the world.
We seem to see in him a Pascal of the thirteenth century; and this all
the more that Michael Scot resembled that great genius not only in the
mystical and superstitious side of his nature but in his devotion to
mathematical science. How piquant is the contrast between this mighty
and gifted child of the mist and the northern hills and those sunny
southern lands of grape and fig, of white cliff, marble column and
laughing summer sea, where most of his life was spent. No wonder that
those among whom Michael Scot lived found him somewhat of a mystery at
all times, and, especially in these later days of his burdened spirit,
took him for a Mage, weaving his dark sayings into regular prophecies.
The Latin races have never been famous for their power to comprehend the
northern character. How much less was it likely they should in the case
of one who seems to have presented every feature of that racial type
in its extremest form? In our own day this incapacity takes the way of
accusing as madness all that it cannot fathom of Celtic or Teutonic ways.
In the times of Scot the same impatience found a more modest expression.
He was incomprehensible, therefore he must be inspired; gifted with the
prophet’s divine and incommunicable fire.
We may take it for granted that much of Michael Scot’s dissatisfaction
and depression upon his disappointment in seeking ecclesiastical
preferment arose from the feeling that he had made a great sacrifice in
vain. The best years of his life, and the most strenuous labours of his
mind, had been given to his version of Averroës not without the hope that
he was here laying the foundation of a great literary and philosophic
fame. Moved by a prudence, which was not altogether selfish since it
concerned the Emperor’s reputation and policy quite as much as his own,
he had submitted to necessity, and saw his translation suppressed for the
sake of avoiding offence. The sacrifice was great and doubtless keenly
felt, and when in spite of this policy he found himself still without
the position he had confidently hoped for, with what bitterness must the
reawakening of his literary ambition have been attended. Near ten years
had been lost since his return from Spain, and still Scot’s Averroës
slept, unknown to the schools, in the honourable but unprofitable
seclusion of the Imperial closet. With the death of these hopes of
preferment, however, all reason for this unfortunate reserve came to an
end so far as Scot was concerned. As soon as he had once made up his mind
to think no more of a great ecclesiastical career he was free to urge
his master with all insistence to carry out their long-cherished plan,
and secure undying fame for both by publishing the new Aristotle in the
Universities of Europe.
Nor was there anything in the policy of the time which made Frederick
unwilling to further a project which he had all along designed. From the
moment of his elevation to the See of Rome Gregory IX. had displayed a
firm and unbending temper towards the Emperor. Frederick felt the first
instances of his harshness in 1227, when, returning sick and feeble from
the baths of Pozzuoli, he found himself excommunicated because he had not
sailed to Palestine with the Crusade. This severe sentence was renewed
in 1228. Frederick reached the Holy Land that year, but only to meet a
mutinous spirit, encouraged among the Crusaders there by the Pope’s
orders. On his return in 1229 the sharp edge of discipline was again
drawn against him, and we need not wonder if such repeated severity at
last convinced the Emperor that there was no hope of living at peace with
Rome, nor any reason to study further accommodations with one who seemed
determined to be his enemy. The moment had now come when restraints,
long submitted to for the sake of policy, being removed, Frederick might
well bethink him of his former plans so long held in reserve, and take
measures to carry out his purpose of enriching the learned world with the
prohibited books of Averroës.
This plan not only promised to fulfil a long cherished desire and mortify
an implacable foe, it must also have presented itself in the light of
a welcome concession made to a deserving servant of the Crown. Michael
Scot had laboured long to form the works in question. His interest, as
well as every other reason, now demanded that they should lie no longer
concealed. The fame he was certain to gain by this publication would
be the best consolation, perhaps the only one now possible, for his
disappointments in the ecclesiastical career. To employ him actively in
the matter may well have appeared not only just, considering his previous
interest in it, but the best cure for a spirit sadly disordered and
depressed. We need not wonder that Frederick at last fully formed his
resolution, or that he chose Michael Scot as the means of carrying out a
publication that was now definitely determined on.
An imperial circular announced to the learned the nature and origin
of these new versions. This letter was designed to secure for
them such general interest and attention as was due to works of the
first importance. Opening with the avowal of his devotion to the
cause of letters, a confession which he supported by quoting from the
_Metaphysica_, Frederick touched upon the manifold cares of state which
the conduct of his affairs in the Empire involved. He added that he had
never allowed these to occupy his whole attention, but had still devoted
part of his time to the pursuits of learning. His mind, he said, had been
particularly attracted to the works of Aristotle with the commentaries of
the Arabian philosophers, especially those concerning mathematics, and
the books called _Sermoniales_. Finding that they were inaccessible to
Latin scholars, owing to their obscurity and the foreign tongues in which
they were written, he had commissioned learned men to translate these
works, desiring them to preserve in their versions the exact style as
well as sense of the original. The treasures thus procured he would not
keep in obscurity, but designed to publish them for the general good. He
addressed himself to the most famous schools of Christendom as the proper
means of obtaining the diffusion of this wisdom among those who were able
to profit by it.
Which then were the universities intended by the Emperor? That of Naples
certainly in the first place, for it was his own creation. Bologna,
also, we may believe, judging by the estimation in which we know him
to have held that still more ancient seat of learning. Copies of
Frederick’s letter are indeed extant, which actually bear the address,
‘To the Masters and Scholars of Bologna.’ Nor can we think that he
forgot Paris, the great centre of European culture. At least one text
has preserved this the most natural of all directions:—‘To the Doctors
of the Quadrivium at Paris.’ Thus far then the course of Scot’s
journey on this important business is plain. In it he but reversed the
progress he had made in early years, revisiting in the contrary order the
scenes of his former studies. His own remarkable fame, the widespread
curiosity concerning the books he brought, and his official character as
Frederick’s Ambassador of Letters, must have secured him everywhere a
cordial and distinguished reception.
There is reason to think that his travels did not end when he had reached
Paris. Tradition says he crossed the Channel and visited both England and
Scotland, where his medical skill was highly appreciated. It is indeed to
an English author that we owe the knowledge of this journey performed by
Michael Scot. The words of Roger Bacon are of capital importance here,
not only telling us of Scot’s travels, but showing the nature of the
work he carried with him in that progress, and the enthusiasm with which
these books were received. ‘In the days of Michael Scot,’ he says, ‘who,
about the year 1230, made his appearance with certain books of Aristotle
and commentaries of learned men concerning physics and mathematics, the
Aristotelian philosophy became celebrated in the Latin Schools.’ At
the time of which he speaks, Bacon, born in 1214, may probably have been
at Oxford pursuing his studies. It is not necessary to dwell upon the
support which this brings to the tradition of Scot’s visit to England.
We may take it as almost certain that Oxford was one of the universities
where he appeared and was made welcome.
The tradition that he thereafter pursued his journey to Scotland rests
rather upon arguments derived from the probability of the case than from
direct evidence. Scot had been a lifetime absent from his native land,
and, finding himself so near it, a strong impulse must have urged him to
revisit the scenes of his boyhood. Nor is it easy to account for the fact
that his fame, though he spent so much of his time abroad, attained, and
yet retains, such a currency in the North, except upon the supposition
that he did actually yield to this attraction and thus once more made
himself a familiar figure in the land of his birth.
One matter of great interest is at least certain. Scot’s death occurred
just at this time, when he was in the very height of his fame and
influence, and probably while he was still in the North. The account, so
often repeated and reprinted, which makes him live almost to the close
of the century need not occupy our attention more than a moment. Already
incredible from the time when Jourdain discovered that Scot’s version of
Alpetrongi had been produced in 1217, such a notion becomes more than
ever impossible since we have been able to carry the time of his mature
literary activity back to the year 1210. Vincent of Beauvais, writing
about 1245, talks of ‘old Michael Scot’ in such a way as to suggest that
he had by that time been long in his grave. But the convincing evidence,
though hitherto little noticed, is to be found in the poem of Henry
d’Avranches, from which we have already quoted some lines in another
connection. This author remarks regarding Michael Scot:
‘Thus he who questioned fate, to fate himself submitted,’
which shows that the time of his death must have been earlier than 1235,
the date when Abrincensis composed his poem.
The question is thus reduced to the narrow limit of five years; since
Bacon says Scot was alive and busy in his great mission in 1230. Within
this period he must have passed away, and probably his death happened
nearer the earlier than the later date; considering the tone in which
Henry d’Avranches speaks of the departed sage. He may well therefore have
died while on the borders of Scotland. This idea agrees curiously with
the fact that Italy has no tradition of his burial-place, while on the
other hand northern story points to his tomb in Melrose Abbey, Glenluce,
Holme Coltrame, or some other of the great Cistercian foundations of
that country. Satchells, who visited Burgh-under-Bowness in 1629, found
a guide named Lancelot Scot, who took him to the parish church, where
he saw the great scholar’s tomb, and found it still the object of
mysterious awe to the people there. The resting-place of Michael
Scot will never now be accurately known, but there is every reason
to suppose that it lies not far from that of his birth, in the sweet
Borderland, amid the green hills and flowing streams of immemorial story.
Here then we leave the life that has been the subject of our study, and
not without the tribute of a certain envy paid to so happy a fate as that
of Michael Scot. Like another and far greater man, whose sepulchre also
was not known among his people, Scot died in the fulness of his powers
and fame, while yet his sight was not dim, nor his natural force abated.
He was denied indeed the entry to those broad kingdoms of knowledge which
later times enjoy, but we may truly think of him as one who stood in his
own day upon a height from which something of that fair land of promise
could at least be divined, and manfully did his part in leading the
progress of the human mind onward to those more perfect attainments now
within the reach of every patient scholar.
We may recollect in closing this inquiry that the _Abbreviatio Avicennae_
was published in 1232 at Melfi. This treatise, though it came in the
Latin version from the hand of Scot, did not fall within the scope of the
publication made so widely in 1230; since the Emperor’s object at that
time was to acquaint the world with the commentaries of Averroës. The
manner in which the _Abbreviatio_ saw the light was somewhat remarkable.
Henry of Colonia was the scholar selected by Frederick for the work of
transcribing it from the imperial copy. A regular diploma passed the
seals authorising him to do this work, and from that writ we find that
he completed it at Melfi, on the vigil of St. Laurence in the house of
Master Volmar the imperial physician. We may surely see in these
facts a further likelihood that by this time Scot was already dead.
Another holds his place as court-physician, another wields his pen, or
at least furnishes the copy from which the world at large first came to
know one of his most important and characteristic works. May we not take
it then, that in ordering this diploma to be drawn, Frederick desired to
show his concern at hearing he had lost so faithful and able a servant,
and his anxiety that no time should elapse before the publication of his
remaining works? Thus regarded, the _Abbreviatio_ was a wreath laid on
the grave; a tribute to the translator’s memory, while in itself it was a
seal set to the fame of Michael Scot as in his day the chief exponent of
the mighty Aristotle, and one who by these labours succeeded in directing
for many ages the course of study in the European Schools.