ALCUIN (ALCHUINE), a celebrated ecclesiastic and man of learning in the 8th century, who liked to be called by the Latin name of ALBINUS, and at the Academy of the palace took the surname of FLACCUS, was born at Eboracum (York) in 735. He was related to Willibrord, the first bishop of Utrecht, whose biography he afterwards wrote. He was educated at the cathedral school of York, under the celebrated master AElbert, with whom he also went to Rome in search of manuscripts. When AElbert was appointed archbishop of York in 766, Alcuin succeeded him in the headship of the episcopal school. He again went to Rome in 780, to fetch the pallium for Archbishop Eanbald, and at Parma met Charlemagne, who persuaded him to come to his court, and gave him the possession of the great abbeys of Ferrieres and of Saint-Loup at Troyes. The king counted on him to accomplish the great work which was his dream, namely, to make the Franks familiar with the rules of the Latin language, to create schools and to revive learning.
From 781 to 790 Alcuin was his sovereign’s principal helper in this enterprise. He had as pupils the king of the Franks, the members of his family and the young clerics attached to the palace chapel; he was the life and soul of the Academy of the palace, and we have still, in the Dialogue of Pepin (son of Charlemagne) and Alcuin, a sample of the intellectual exercises in which they indulged. It was under his inspiration that Charles wrote his famous letter de litteris colendis (Boretius, Capitularia, i.p. 78), and it was he who founded a fine library in the palace. In 790 Alcuin returned to his own country, to which he had always been greatly attached, and stayed there some time; but Charlemagne needed him to combat the Adoptianist heresy, which was at that time making great progress in the marches of Spain. At the council of Frankfort in 794 Alcuin upheld the orthodox doctrine, and obtained the condemnation of the heresiarch Felix of Urgel. After this victory he again returned to his own land, but on account of the disturbances which broke out there, and which led to the death of King AEthelred (796), he bade farewell to it for ever. Charlemagne had just given him the great abbey of St Martin at Tours, and there, far from the disturbed life of the court, he passed his last years. He made the abbey school into a model of excellence, and many students flocked to it; he had numerous manuscripts copied, the calligraphy of which is of extraordinary beauty (v. Leopold Delisle in the Memoires de l’Academie des Inscriptions, vol. xxxii., 1st part, 1885) . He wrote numerous letters to his friends in England, to Arno, bishop of Salzburg, and above all to Charlemagne. These letters, of which 311 are extant, are filled chiefly with pious meditations, but they further form a mine of information as to the literary and social conditions of the time, and are the most reliable authority for the history of humanism in the Carolingian age. He also trained the numerous monks of the abbey in piety, and it was in the midst of these pursuits that he was struck down by death on the 19th of May 804.
Alcuin is the most prominent figure of the Carolingian Renaissance, in which have been distinguished three main periods: in the first of these, up to the arrival of Alcuin at the court, the Italians occupy the chief place; in the second, Alcuin and the Anglo-Saxons are dominant; in the third, which begins in 804, the influence of the Goth Theodulf is preponderant. Alcuin transmitted to the ignorant Franks the knowledge of Latin culture which had existed in England since the time of Bede. We still have a number of his works. His letters have already been mentioned; his poetry is equally interesting. Besides some graceful epistles in the style of Fortunatus, he wrote some long poems, and notably a whole history in verse of the church at York: Versus de patribus, regibus et sanctis Eboracensis ecclesiae. We owe to him, too, some manuals used in his educational work; a grammar and works on rhetoric and dialectics. They are written in the form of dialogues, and in the two last the interlocutors are King Charles and Alcuin. He wrote, finally, several theological treatises: a treatise de Fide Trinitatis, commentaries on the Bible, &c. The complete works of Alcuin have been edited by Froben: Alcuini opera, 1 vol. in 4 parts (Regensburg, 1777); this edition is reproduced in Migne’s Patrolog. lat. vols. c. and ci. The letters have been published by Jaffe and Dummler in Jaffe’s Bibliotheca rerum germonicarum, vol. vi. pp. 132-897 (1873). E. Dummler has also published an authoritative edition, Epistolae aevi Carolini, vol. ii. pp. 1-481, in the Monumenta Germaniae, and has edited the poems in the same collection: Poetae latini aevi Carolini, vol. i. pp. 169-341.
AUTHORITIES.—Monnier, Alcuin et Charlemagne (Paris, 1863); K. Werner, Alkuin und sein Jahrhundert (Paderborn, 1876); J. Bass Mullinger, The Schools of Charles the Great and the Restoration of Education in the 9th Century (London, 1877); Aug. Molinier, Les Sources de l’histoire de France, vol. i. p. 191; G, Monod, Etudes critiques sur les sources de l’histoire carolingienne, part i. (Paris, (1898); C. J. B. Gaskoin, Alcuin: His Life and his Work (London, 1903). See further U. Chevalier, Repertoire des sources, &c., biobibliographie, s.v. Alcuin; Wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1904), i, p. 186.
Source: 1911 encyclopedia.
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