The more fully and easily I advanced in the study of letters the more ardently I clung to them, and I became so enamored of them that, abandoning to my brothers the pomp of glory, together with my inheritance and the rights of the eldest son, I resigned from the Councils of War that I might be educated in the camp of Minerva. And since among all the weapons of philosophy I preferred the arms of logic, I exchanged accoutrements and preferred the conflicts of debate to the trophies of war. Thenceforward I walked through the various provinces engaging in debates wherever I had heard that the study of this art [logic] flourished, and thus became a rival of the Peripatetics.
At length [about 1100 A.D.] I reached Paris, where for some time this art had been prospering, and went to William of Champeaux, my instructor, distinguished at the time in this particular by his work and reputation as a teacher. Staying with him for a while, I was at first acceptable, but shortly after was very annoying to him, namely, when I tried to refute some of his opinions, and often ventured to argue against him and, not seldom, seemed to surpass him in debate.
In scholis militare—to wage war in the schools—was the phrase aptly used to describe this mode of debate. William of Champeaux was then the head of the cathedral school of Notre Dame and the leading teacher of logic in France. “Within a few months Abelard made his authority totter, and set his reputation on the wane. In six or seven years he drove him in shame and humiliation from his chair, after a contest which filled Christendom with its echoes.” By overcoming William in debate he established his own reputation as a teacher. At various times between 1108 and 1139 he taught in Paris, whither crowds of students came to hear him. His fame was at its height about 1117, shortly after his appointment to the chair which William himself had held. Few teachers have ever attracted a following so large and so devoted. His remarkable success in drawing to Paris students from all quarters is vividly described by a modern writer:
The pupil who had left Paris when both William and Abelard disappeared in 1113 would find a marvellous change on returning to it about 1116 or 1117. He would find the lecture hall and the cloister and the quadrangle, under the shadow of the great cathedral, filled with as motley a crowd of youths and men as any scene in France could show. Little groups of French and Norman and Breton nobles chattered together in their bright silks and fur-tipped mantles, with slender swords dangling from embroidered belts, vying with each other in the length and crookedness of their turned-up shoes. Anglo-Saxons looked on, in long fur-lined cloaks, tight breeches, and leathern hose swathed with bands of many colored cloth. Stern-faced northerners, Poles and Germans, in fur caps and with colored girdles and clumsy shoes,