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totally unpoetical, as the fire and force of Petronius, with the great critical abilities he possessed, could never suffer him to admit. I, therefore, make not the least doubt, that, when he adopted one of Virgil's shadowy beings [insidiæque), he adopted also the other (iræque), deeming the latter equally fit to figure in the court of Pluto, as his great master had in the retinue of Mars. Hence, without hesitation, I would read,
Iræque, insidiæque, et lurida mortis imago. Wigan, Nov. 24.
Q. 1772, Nov.
LIV. Inquiry as to the real author of the book De Imitatione
MR. URBAN IT has long been matter of controversy, by whom the celebrated treatise “ De Imitatione Christi," usually attributed to Thomas à Kempis, was written. As the book, for its intrinsic merit, has been printed more than forty times* in the original Latin, and near sixty times been translated into modern languages, our pains may not be wholly misemployed in inquiring who was really the author of it.
Some of the first editions, it is said, as those of Brescia, in 1485, and Venice, in 1501, ascribe the work to St. Bernard. In an inventory of books, belonging to Monseigneur Compte d'Angouleme, and of Perigord, dated the first of January, 1467, there is mention of the Imitation of St. Bernard, in a very old letter; a proof it was at that time the general opinion, that this justly admired treatise came from the pen of that venerable personage; but no proof seems to be advanced for this supposition. St. Bernard was imagined to be the only man capable of such a work at that time. The name of St. Francis, which may be found in the Imitation. B. III. c. xxxviii. S s, is alone sufficient to refute this error.
But the most probable conjecture, at this distance of time, is, that Jean Gersen, abbot of Verceil was the true author, and that the book was composed between the years 1231
* See Hart's Amaranth. p. 22. Worthington's Kempis, p. 3. preface. VOL. II.
and 1240. M. Velare, the late Paris editor of a Latin and French edition, has favoured the public with a dissertation on this subject, in which he appears satisfactorily to prove, that the work was extant before the thirteenth century. As an evidence of this fact, it clearly appears, that the author belonged to the abbey of Verceil, from a copy of the Imitation, preserved in the monastery of St. Catherine of the Congregation of Mount Cassin.
It appears from two passages in the Imitation, that the author was a monk, “Vita boni monachi crux est, et dux paradisi, L. III. c. xlii. § 5; and, in L. III. c. viii. 5 51, he positively acquaints us with this circumstance, when he places himself in the number of those who had forsaken all terrestrial delights, to immure themselves in a cloyster, "quibus datum est, ut, omnibus abdicatis, seculo renun. cient, et monasticam vitam assumant.” Now Thomas à Kempis was not a monk, but a regular canon, of the order of St. Augustine. The Benedictines always esteem it their greatest happiness to be ranked among the monks; on the other hand, the regular canons think it no such blessing.
Another circumstance which may be adduced, is, that, about the period before mentioned, the abbot of Verceil was celebrated as a great master of the spiritual life, and intimately acquainted with the pious St. Francis of Assise, who died in 1226, and the master of St. Anthony of Padua, who died in 1231.
M. Velart assures us, that he has in his possession an ancient French translation of the book, reprinted at Anvers, by Martin Lempereur, about the year 1530. It appears to be the work of a priest of the diocese of Metz, who rendered it into that language from a translation in the German tongue, not being able, after much pains, to procure the Latin original. In a short preface, prefixed to the treatise, he tells us, that this version in German was made by the pious Ludolph of Saxony, who, according to Menchen, author of the Dictionary, flourished in 1330. Thus it plainly appears, that a translation of the Imitation was extant even previous to the birth of Kempis.
In the library of the King, at Paris, among different MSS. of the Imitation, there is one to be seen, which M. Mello, who died in 1761, and who was a connoisseur in ancient writings, used to say, appeared to be written about the
year 1300. At the end, in the same hand-writing, is the tract de tribus tabernaculis; but this MS. appears not to be the ori. ginal, from the faults which occur in it. We are, therefore,
perhaps, not mistaken, in placing the composition about the
A MS. examined in 1671, the eighth in the possession of the abbey of St. Benoit, in Podolirone, begins thus, "Incipit liber Johannis primus de contemptu mundi." The famous MS. of Arone, which has engaged the two learned Jesuits, Possevin and Bellarmin, to adopt the opinion that Gersen was the author, informs us of his office, in these words : "Incipiunt capitula libri primi abbatis Johannis Gersen." The name and office of the author is even repeated five times. From a copy printed at Venice, in 1501, we learn of what abbey he was principal. This copy belonged to the abbey of St. Catherine of the congregation of Mount Cassin. At the end are these words: “Johannis Gersen, Cancellarii Parisiensis, de contemptu mundi, libri quatuor finiunt." This note seems to be added by the printer; but a person better acquainted with the matter, remarks in the
“Hunc librum tion compilavit Johannes Gersen, sed D. Johannes; abbas Vercellensis, ut habetur usque hodie manuscriptus in eadem abbatia.” D. Constantin Cajetan saw this remark in 1615, and quotes it.
In a letter written by M. du Cange to M. Dumont, Counsellor at Amiens, dated 17th August, 1671, he mentions, "That he had been at the conference relating to Thomas à Kempis, and, after the MS. he had seen, it might be asserted, without hazard of veracity, that the work was written by Gersen." This great man, says M. Velare, was so well con vinced of this matter, that he always cited it as the work of the truly pious Jean Gersen. The above passage is given from the original letter, which M. Daubigny communicated.
Many other pieces have appeared under the name of Kempis, all which are so manifestly inferior to the Imitation, that a person who has read them once will have little inclination to repeat the perusal. It appears, by the testimony of a person who resided thirty-four years in the monastery of Mount St. Agnes, that he transcribed the whole Bible: “ Scripsit bibliam nostram totaliter, et alios multos libros, pro domo et pro pretio. Insuper composuit varios tractatulos, ad ædificationem juvenum. He uses scripsit for the works which he transcribed, and composuit for those which he composed.
Thomas à Kempis lived, when a youth, at Daventry, in the house of Florentius, where; with other young men, for a subsistence, as printing was then either unknown, or in its infant state, he employed much of his time in transcripts of this kind. It is no improbable supposition, that,
from the frequent copies of the Imitation found in his writ. ing, he became at last to be esteemed the original composer. To detract as little as possible from his praise, though not the author of the Imitation, his piety and zeal must endear his name to the latest times, and, by his indefatigable pains, he has contributed greatly to spread a book of genuine piety. He died at an advanced period of life*, exempt from those corporeal infirmities to which aged persons are subject.
Sebastian Castalio, the learned editor of the bible so justly celebrated, who died in 1563, gave an edition of the Imitation in elegant Latin, which has been several times reprinted both in our own and foreign nations. It was formerly a book often put into the hands of our youth at Cambridge, when religious treatises were more in fashion than at present in both universities.
The Imitation of Christ early attracted the notice of our ceuntrymen. A translation of the three books, which, in the design of the writer, appears to comprehend the whole work, was published by a clerygyman named William Atkinson, prior to the reign of Henry VIII. but he omitted many passages, and in others, made considerable variations from the literal sense. The fourth book, which treats of the sacrament in a manner peculiar to the Romish church, was first rendered into Englislı by the Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, mother of Henry VII. a lady less distinguished for her high rank, than for those amiable
qualities which are an honour to the female sex, and whose beneficence and humility deserve general imitation. This fourth book was printed with the translation of Atkinson, just mentioned, and, if we mistake not, the name of Gersen is in the title page.
I met, by accident, lately, with a copy of the Imitation, printed at London in the black letter, before the year 1546, intitled, “ A boke newly translated out of Latyn into Englishe, called The Followenge of Christe.” The introduction begins thus;" Hereafter followethe a boke callyd, in Latyn, Imitatio Christi, that is to saye in Eng!yshe, The Followenge of Christe; wherein be contayned foure lytell bokes : which boké, as some men afferine, was fyrst made and compyled in Latyn, by the famoũs clerke, Mayster Johan Ger
* Payne's Kempis, preface. He was in the ninety-second year of his age when he died, and yet his eyes were oot dim, as was said of Moses. Dr. Worthington's preface.
Chauncellour of Paris.” But the name of the Chancellor of Paris was Gerson, not Gersen, and he died in 1429, long after the abbot of Verceil.
I am acquainted with a gentleman, who has, in his collection, a book of prayers, composed by Catherine Parr, Queen to King Henry VIII. and printed in the black letter, in the year 1545, the greater part of which is a translation of some select passages of the Imitation, with little alteration; but there is no reference either to the name of the author, or even the title of the book. The reader is referred to Strype, for a catalogue of the works of that truly pious and amiable princess.
The same friend is also possessed of a good translation of this book by Edward - Hake, printed in the black letter, in 1568, and dedicated to Thomas Duke of Norfolk. The translator has printed only three books, which he justly supposed to contain the whole of that excellent work, and to which, without naming any author, he has given the following title, “ The Imitation or following of Christ, and the Contemning of worldly Vanities; whereanto, as springing out of the same roote, we have adjoined another pretie Treatise, intitled, the perpetual Rejoice of the Godly even in this Lyfe."
In the reign of Elizabeth, M. Rogers attempted another version from the Latin, and dedicated it to the Lord Chancellor Bromley; but this work is different from the literal sense, though no small degree of time and assiduity was employed in the translation. It is also evident, that he followed the Latin version of Castalio, and not the original.
There have been several translations since, of different merit. Dr. Worthington, whose memory will ever be dear to his countrymen, from an high opinion of this spiritual treatise, did not think his labour ill employed in a translation. It was first printed in 1652, and again in 1677, and is to be valued for its simplicity and faithfulness.
Dean Stanhope, whose Christian's Pattern has procured a favourable reception in the world, as a translation of this treatise, may rather be considered as a loose paraphrast, than an exact translator. His work is more varied from the original than that by Rogers, already spoken of.
The last translation is by J. Payne, first printed in octavo, 1763, and since in duodecimo, which is equally distinguished for its fidelity and elegance, and is certainly the best that has yet appeared.
The merit of the Imitation is so generally acknowledged, as to make any encomium in this place altogether unneces