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HIS work is not an endeavour to delineate the
history of monasticism in England, but to examine it under its two great phases, the Benedictine and Franciscan, and to trace the influence it exerted upon the art, literature, and social life of the country during its development.
The career of Glastonbury Abbey, the oldest monastery in England, is selected, to be described collaterally with this investigation, in order that a picture may be given of the interior life of the cloister, with its glories and its sorrows, as it was played out in that celebrated institution.
A complete history of the monastic orders in England would be a great acquisition to literature. This want, felt by Coleridge, who advised Southey to write such a work, still exists; and should the effort to trace a few results of monasticism upon English life and culture only induce some one with sufficient leisure and ability to undertake the more important task, the author will not have laboured in vain.
As regards my own investigation, I may here take the opportunity of mentioning that it has already
appeared in the pages of the "Dublin University Magazine," from which it has been carefully condensed and revised. I may also present my thanks to certain gentlemen for their kindness in affording me at the outset the most valuable help of a word of direction. I am indebted to Sir Frederick Madden, late of the MSS. department of the British Museum, for assistance in examining the illuminated MSS. of the Harleian and Cottonian collections; and to Mr. Duffus Hardy, of the Public Record Office, for much useful information. My thanks are also due to the Court of Governors of Sion College, for the use of their most valuable ecclesiastical library, and to the Rev. W. H. Milman, the librarian, for his kind attentions. It is no small privilege to sit in the same room where Fuller laboured, and use the same books he used when writing his celebrated “Church History."
I may also mention the great assistance I have received from the researches of Mr. Thomas Wright, who, though personally unknown to me, has proved a valuable helper. The labours of the antiquary are seldom estimated at their true value, often contemned; but it is from those labours alone that the historian can infuse life into his creation. It is after all the antiquary, with his garments, utensils, dress, and débris of an extinct existence, who makes the dead dry facts of history start into real life, clad in the flesh and inspired with the breath of vitality, like the bones in the valley of the prophet's vision.