Wandering Scholars, Minstrels, Etc.
Even as early as the Twelfth Century there were a few universities in Europe, and by the Thirteenth these had grown to such a number, including Oxford and Cambridge in England, and also in size (one or two might have as many as 35,000 students enrolled), that their faculties ranked in power and intrust in the general intellectual life second only to the Church. With few roads and fewer ships to travel by, students had to walk for weeks or months through the country to reach a desired school; and since many students, young men or grown men, would go to one school to sit under one or two famous masters and then to another, and usually distant, school to sit under others, any given student might pass one-third or one-half his time on the roads, begging or working his way along, or earning a week's lodging in some manor or castle by tales, recitations, and songs.
These wandering scholars, as they came to be called, developed in time an esprit de corps, had their unwritten rules, and by the end of the Middle Ages had become almost an organized fraternity. Like the Fellowship of Freemasons they had their legend, the core of which was a set of tales about a certain Golias, or Goliath, who was a sort of Paul Bunyan of scholarship, and very possibly was the germ out of which Rabelais's abounding fancy developed the first idea for his tales of Gargantua and Pantagruel. For this reason the wandering scholars called themselves "Disciples of Golias," or Goliards, or Gollerds, or Gollyers (the name is spelled in many forms); and they were often called vagans, though, as paragraphs below will show, that cognomen properly belonged to another fraternity
The Goliardi reached their apogee about 112S1130 A few scholars among them became famous not only as scholars in their own right but as heroes among the Disciples of Golias; Hugh, whom they called their Primate (they tended to be derisive of the Church hierarchy), was a canon of Orleans about l 14U; their "Archpoet was in the court of Frederiek Barbarossa (that Medici before the Medicis), was a knight, and was author of a literary masterpiece entitled Confession of Goluls (circa 1161-65). The great name of Walter Map, an Arehdeacon at Oxford under Henry II, occurs in many Goliardi MSS.
Men who have pictured the Middle Ages as a block of orthodox belief, solid with saints and a somewhat self-abasing piety, and without any Lucian or Voltaire anywhere in sight, will take a second thought after reading a history of the Goliardi, they and their writings together. They were free minds, witty, ironic, scornful of saints miracles, disgusted by relic worship, and arrogant to priests, monks, and other illiterates. They carried Latin over Europe and Britain; composed masterpieces in verse and prose: kindled a love for the other fine arts; were among the first to spread the good news of the new style of Gothic art and architecture at Paris; lit in remote places a lamp of learning; and helped to knit together the disrupted communities of Europe.
Helen Waddell, one of the most brilliant of modern women scholars, wrote a now famous book about them entitled Wandering Scholars in which her translations of Goliardi poems and songs are gem-like. For a shorter history and a fuller bibliography see chapter VI, in The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, by Charles Homer Haskins, one of the ripest works of American scholarship.
Also, it is rewarding to trace down references to the wandering scholars in the many works on the Middle Ages by the present doyen on that subject, Professor G. G. Coulton, whose autobiography, being published as these lines are written, it is a pious duty of every student of Medievalism to read: certainly, every Masonic student, because no Mason can ever quite fully understand the shape and color of the Fraternity when it first emerged in the early Middle Ages without a knowledge of such forces and influences as were at work in and around it as the Goliardi.
There was also in the Middle Ages another and different kind of society of wanderers. The old Latin vagus, wandering, appears in English speech as a root from which a constellation of words have had their rise, vagabond, vagary, vagrant, and Vwhmc among them; and other languages, also of Sanskrit-Latin origins, have the same words in their corresponding forms, and have had them for thousands of years, suggesting that always there is here and there a man who chooses to live on the road, not as a highway but as home and as a means of livelihood. The road was more of a temptation in the Middle Ages than now. Villages were isolated, towns were walled in; to the men in one community, men in another center only five miles away were "foreigners," and were viewed with suspicion, sometimes with alarm, we with our papers, telephone, radio, and automobiles do not suffer from village claustrophobia, and therefore cannot picture to ourselves how often a Medieval man was seized by a craving, almost a craze, to get away, to take to the road, to see the world. In consequence there arose that strangely romantic Society of Beggars, or Vagrants, who move and appear and reappear in Medieval romances and legends for a thousand years.
It became in time an organized secret society, with officers, assemblies, and (usually three) degrees, along with modes of recognition and a language, or patois, of its own.
This last was called " cant"; sometimes, "thieves' Latin." It had female side orders (what large and permanent society ever has not!), and like the Goliardi belongs to that mileu in which early Freemasonry took its shape. The Vagantes were the heroes, and points of reference, for Gay's great "Beggars' Opera." Cervantes wrote his novel Rinconete y Costidilla about them (Spain was a homeland of the Vagantes as it was of the Gypsies because they went along with the Spanish Church's worship of poverty and theological virtue of almsgiving). A modern Spaniard, Ibanez, wrote La Barraca about them.
They have a large role in Victor-Hugo's Notre Dame. A clear and concise account of them is available, for short reference, in Famous Secret Societies, by John Herron Lepper; Sampson, Low, Marston & Co.; London. Almost every one of the many, and often many-volumed, histories of the social life of the Middle Ages has at least one chapter about them.
A lawyer student will find them much in evidence among Medieval statutes, so many of which were so wrathfully butso ineffectually aimed at the liquidation of "sturdy beggars." (Adolf Hitler was a "house vagante" in Vienna for some three years.)
Men, women, and children of the Middle Ages were so fond of music, dancing, games, and feasts that they took (depending on the district) as many as from 50 to 150 holidays every year for merry-making, for processions, for which they had a passion, and for social occasions which called for musicians. Out of this developed the craft, or mystery, or profession of trained musicians. But since in any one small town or village there was not enough work to support a troupe of them they also, like the Goliardi, were gentlemen and ladies of the road, who went here and there upon invitation.
They must have become organized as early as the Twelfth Century, and had gilds, officers, and rites, traditions, rules and an apprenticeship of their own; they even had oaths, constitutions, and non-operative members, the last named being gentlemen who did not practice the calling for a livelihood but sought to be accepted because of the honor, or because they were patrons or students of the art. The oldest existing written charter is dated 1469.
For a detailed and charming history see The Worshipful Company of Musicians (2nd Edition); private circulation, London; 1905. (Worshipful was in almost as common and as familiar use throughout Medieval times as our own Mr. or Sir; it meant "respectable; accepted; recognized; entitled to respect," and in its early use by Freemasons had no significance peculiar to the Fraternity.)
Readers who belong to the senior brackets of age will recall the learned, brilliant, and much- loved J. J. Jusserand, France's Ambassador to Washington during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, and his work on pilgrims and wanderers of the Middle Ages; it is no longer as fresh as it was, nor is it as sparkling as the books by Waddell and Haskins and Coulton, but for all that is the best all-round story of the people of the Medieval highway. (See also The Medieval Mind, by Henry Osborn Taylor; II Idol Macmillan; 1927. Medieval Europe, by Lynn Thorn dike; George G. Harrap & Co.; London; 1920. Medieval Italy, by H. B. Cotterill; also published by Harrap; 1915.)
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