A Monk of Fife
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Pages (PDF): 272
Publication Date: 1895
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Being the Chronicle written by Norman Leslie of Pitcullo. A fictitious narrative purporting to be written by a young Scot in France in 1429–1431.
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It is not of my own will, nor for my own glory, that I, Norman Leslie, sometime of Pitcullo, and in religion called Brother Norman, of the Order of Benedictines, of Dunfermline, indite this book. But on my coming out of France, in the year of our Lord One thousand four hundred and fifty-nine, it was laid on me by my Superior, Richard, Abbot in Dunfermline, that I should abbreviate the Great Chronicle of Scotland, and continue the same down to our own time. He bade me tell, moreover, all that I knew of the glorious Maid of France, called Jeanne la Pucelle, in whose company I was, from her beginning even till her end.
Obedient, therefore, to my Superior, I wrote, in this our cell of Pluscarden, a Latin book containing the histories of times past, but when I came to tell of matters wherein, as Maro says, “pars magna fui,” I grew weary of such rude, barbarous Latin as alone I am skilled to indite, for of the manner Ciceronian, as it is now practised by clerks of Italy, I am not master: my book, therefore, I left unfinished, breaking off in the middle of a sentence. Yet, considering the command laid on me, in the end I am come to this resolve, namely, to write the history of the wars in France, and the history of the blessed Maid (so far at least as I was an eyewitness and partaker thereof), in the French language, being the most commonly understood of all men, and the most delectable. It is not my intent to tell all the story of the Maid, and all her deeds and sayings, for the world would scarcely contain the books that should be written. But what I myself beheld, that I shall relate, especially concerning certain accidents not known to the general, by reason of which ignorance the whole truth can scarce be understood. For, if Heaven visibly sided with France and the Maid, no less did Hell most manifestly take part with our old enemy of England. And often in this life, if we look not the more closely, and with the eyes of faith, Sathanas shall seem to have the upper hand in the battle, with whose very imp and minion I myself was conversant, to my sorrow, as shall be shown.
First, concerning myself I must say some few words, to the end that what follows may be the more readily understood.
I was born in the kingdom of Fife, being, by some five years, the younger of two sons of Archibald Leslie, of Pitcullo, near St. Andrews, a cadet of the great House of Rothes. My mother was an Englishwoman of the Debatable Land, a Storey of Netherby, and of me, in our country speech, it used to be said that I was “a mother’s bairn.” For I had ever my greatest joy in her, whom I lost ere I was sixteen years of age, and she in me: not that she favoured me unduly, for she was very just, but that, within ourselves, we each knew who was nearest to her heart. She was, indeed, a saintly woman, yet of a merry wit, and she had great pleasure in reading of books, and in romances. Being always, when I might, in her company, I became a clerk insensibly, and without labour I could early read and write, wherefore my father was minded to bring me up for a churchman. For this cause, I was some deal despised by others of my age, and, yet more, because from my mother I had caught the Southron trick of the tongue. They called me “English Norman,” and many a battle I have fought on that quarrel, for I am as true a Scot as any, and I hated the English (my own mother’s people though they were) for taking and holding captive our King, James I. of worthy memory. My fancy, like that of most boys, was all for the wars, and full of dreams concerning knights and ladies, dragons and enchanters, about which the other lads were fain enough to hear me tell what I had read in romances, though they mocked at me for reading. Yet they oft came ill speed with their jests, for my brother had taught me to use my hands: and to hold a sword I was instructed by our smith, who had been prentice to Harry Gow, the Burn-the-Wind of Perth, and the best man at his weapon in broad Scotland. From him I got many a trick of fence that served my turn later.
But now the evil time came when my dear mother sickened and died, leaving to me her memory and her great chain of gold. A bitter sorrow is her death to me still; but anon my father took to him another wife of the Bethunes of Blebo. I blame myself, rather than this lady, that we dwelt not happily in the same house. My father therefore, still minded to make me a churchman, sent me to Robert of Montrose’s new college that stands in the South Street of St. Andrews, a city not far from our house of Pitcullo. But there, like a wayward boy, I took more pleasure in the battles of the “nations”—as of Fife against Galloway and the Lennox; or in games of catch-pull, football, wrestling, hurling the bar, archery, and golf—than in divine learning—as of logic, and Aristotle his analytics.
Yet I loved to be in the scriptorium of the Abbey, and to see the good Father Peter limning the blessed saints in blue, and red, and gold, of which art he taught me a little. Often I would help him to grind his colours, and he instructed me in the laying of them on paper or vellum, with white of egg, and in fixing and burnishing the gold, and in drawing flowers, and figures, and strange beasts and devils, such as we see grinning from the walls of the cathedral. In the French language, too, he learned me, for he had been taught at the great University of Paris; and in Avignon had seen the Pope himself, Benedict XIII., of uncertain memory.
Much I loved to be with Father Peter, whose lessons did not irk me, but jumped with my own desire to read romances in the French tongue, whereof there are many. But never could I have dreamed that, in days to come, this art of painting would win me my bread for a while, and that a Leslie of Pitcullo should be driven by hunger to so base and contemned a handiwork, unworthy, when practised for gain, of my blood.
Yet it would have been well for me to follow even this craft more, and my sports and pastimes less: Dickon Melville had then escaped a broken head, and I, perchance, a broken heart. But youth is given over to vanities that war against the soul, and, among others, to that wicked game of the Golf, now justly cried down by our laws, as the mother of cursing and idleness, mischief and wastery, of which game, as I verily believe, the devil himself is the father.
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