The books thus read consisted of two parts,—the text, and the “glosses” or comments. A glance at the selection on page 60 will reveal the nature of the latter: they were summaries, explanations, controversial notes, and cross-references, written by more or less learned scholars, in the margin of the text. In the course of generations the mass of glosses became so great as fairly to smother the original work. The selection just referred to is not especially prolific in glosses; cases may be found in which the text of a page occupies only three or four lines, the rest of the space being completely filled with comments, and with explanations of the comments. Instances of books explained to death are not unknown in our own class-rooms!
The effect of this accumulation of comments was to draw the attention of both teachers and students more and more away from the text. There is evidence that in some instances the text was almost wholly neglected in the attempt to master the glosses. University reforms at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century sometimes involved the exclusion of this mass of “frivolous and obscure” comment from the lectures, and a return to the study of the text itself. See the introduction to the plan of studies for Leipzig, p. 48.
The selection from the Canon Law (p. 59 ff.) gives a good idea of the substance of a dictated mediaeval lecture. Concerning the “original” and more or less off-hand lecture we have the amusing account of Giraldus Cambrensis (c. 1146-1220), in his “most flattering of all autobiographies.” After recounting—in the third person—his studies at Paris in Civil and Canon Law, and Theology, he says:
He obtained so much favor in decretal cases, which were wont to be handled Sundays, that, on the day on which it had become known throughout the city that he would talk, there resulted such a concourse of almost all the doctors with their scholars, to hear his pleasing voice, that scarcely could the amplest house have held the auditors.
And with reason, for he so supported with rhetorical persuasiveness his original, wide-awake treatment of the Laws and Canons, and so embellished his points both with figures and flowers of speech and with pithy ideas, and so applied the sayings of philosophers and authors, which he inserted in fitting places with marvellous cleverness, that the more learned and erudite the congregation, the more eagerly and attentively did they apply ears and minds to listening and memorizing. Of a truth they were led on and besmeared with words so sweet that, hanging, as it were, in suspense on the lips of the speaker,—though the address was long and involved, of a sort that is wont to be tedious to many,—they found it impossible to be fatigued, or even sated, with hearing the man.
And so the scholars strove to take down all his talks, word for word, as they emanated