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Although the use of surnames began to be very general about the period of the Norman conquest, yet it remained far from universal for many generations after that time. The reign of Henry II, so prolific in all kinds of literary and historical records, furnishes abundant examples of eminent men who neither possessed nor had yet assumed a specific appellation to denote themselves or their families. This observation applies to Peter the celebrated archdeacon of Bath, who is known to us by the addition of Blesensis, a patronymic derived from the city of Blois where he was born.
His history, like that of so many of our ancient worthies, is known to us principally from his own writings. Thus in his ninety-third letter he tells us that he was born in France, whilst we may infer from several others of his letters, [76. 77. 90. 93.] and also from the inscriptions "Petrus Blesensis," that he was a native of Blois.
His parents were respectable inhabitants of Bretagne, well known for their wealth and charity to the poor. A brother and sister, besides other relations, are mentioned in different parts of his works [see 36. 90. 93. 131. 123.] AVhen Peter was of an age to begin his studies, he resided some time at Paris, which was at that time the focus of all the literature of the west. Here he gave his attention to Poetry, Jurisprudence, and all the other branches of science, but apparently more especially to the oratorical art, in which, if we may judge by his works, lie displays a most intimate acquaintance with its principles.
He next passed some time at Bologna , but this was after his studies were complete, though there is no doubt that he availed himself of the facilities which that celebrated university afforded, for adding to his stores of learning, and improving the acquaintance which he had previously made.
After his return to Paris, he followed the usual bent of ecclesiastics, which was to resign all kinds of secular learning and to devote themselves to the cause of the Church. This pious resolution has deprived posterity of much historical and literary information, which we should have been glad to possess: particularly in the case of a man of such profound erudition and great powers of mind, who, like Julius Caesar, could, dictate, as he tells us, [Let. 90.] to four scribes at once.
In the contest between Alexander III and Octavian for the papacy, Peter sided with the former, and was made prisoner by the partisans of the latter on his way to Bologna, A. D. 1163. [Let. 48.] He also shewed his zeal in the cause of the Roman Church by soothing the anger of Henry II, who wished to withdraw from the Papal Revenue the payment of Peter's Pence [See Iuvect. Con. Depravat.]
The celebrated John of Salisbury, afterwards bishop of Chartres, was the preceptor of Peter, who on several occasions acknowledges his obligations to that polite and able scholar.
In the year 1167 he set out for Sicily, where he accepted the office of preceptor to the young prince, afterwards William II. [Let. 131.]
On his return to Normandy, he passed some years at the court of Henry II., with whom he was in great favour. But a desire of tranquillity and retirement induced him to leave the court, and attach himself to the household of Richard, abp. of Canterbury, by whom he was appointed to the office of chancellor. [Let. 38.100.]!
After the death of Henry II., Peter of Blois remained at the court of Eleanor the queen dowager, for whom he wrote several letters, as if in the capacity of her secretary. Although so eminent both as a divine and as a scholar, Peter never rose to any great elevation in the Church, and at the close of life found himself but badly provided with many of the comforts of old age, which so many less deserving Churchmen enjoyed in abundance. His archdeaconry of Bath was taken from him, and that of London, to which he afterwards removed, barely furnished him with the necessaries of life. In this strait, he addressed a letter  to Pope Innocent III., entreating that he might be provided with some other ecclesiastical benefice, by which he might better sustain the dignity of the archdeacon's office.
It was always Peter's wish to end his days in Normandy, his native country, and, after he had passed a long period of six and twenty years in the archdeaconry of Bath, he expressed his wishes in querulous language to the archbishop of Paris that he might, at least, die in France, if he could not be allowed to live there.
This aspiration, however, was breathed in vain: the old man died in England, in or soon after the year 1200.
In addition to these facts we learn from Harpsfeld [chap. 20] that Peter of Blois was never raised to the priest's office, but remained all his life in the subordinate rank of deacon. The same historian also informs us that he was successively archdeacon of Bath, of London, and of Canterbury: and that he wrote lives of Archbishop Wilfrid and of Saint Guthlac.
The Letters of Peter of Blois were first published in a folio volume, (sine anno et loco,) which is now become very rare, and the editor knows of no other copy than that which is preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. In the year 1519 the same Letters were again published, together with the Sermons and certain of the Opuscula, at Paris, by Jacobus Merlinus, doctor of theology, and in 1600 Joannes Busaeus published at Paris a third edition, but in consequence of his never having seen the previous publication of Merlin, he omitted the Sermons and portions of the Opuscula. To supply this deficiency in part, the same Busajus soon after published a small volume entitled Paralipomena, in which some of the omitted Opuscula are contained. At length in the year 1667 a most accurate and valuable edition of Petrus Blesensis was published in folio by Goussainville at Paris, containing 188 letters, 66 sermons, and 19 opuscula. But the earlier editions contained about 20 additional letters, which Goussainville omitted because there occurred no copies of them in the numerous manuscripts which he had collated.
Such was the state of things when, the present edition was first projected, and very few words will suffice to explain what has been accomplished towards rendering this edition superior to its