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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
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CHARLEMAGNE'S MANNER OF LIFE

A
LTHOUGH Charlemagne was a great warrior, and fought many battles, he was also very fond of study and books. He therefore invited learned men to come and live at his court, and got them to teach him and his subjects all they knew. There were two schools in his palace, one for grown people and one for the children, and Charlemagne himself is said to have studied diligently.

Thus he learned to speak Latin and Greek, read many old books, collected the poems of his time, and compared different copies of the same book so as to see that they were quite correct. In those days, you must know, books [74] were not printed as they are now; each book was simply a manuscript—was literally written out by hand. Charlemagne was also very fond of music, and during his reign the first organ was introduced into France, where, we are told, a woman actually died of joy the first time she heard it played. Chralemagne liked church singing, made the priests use the Gregorian chants, and it is even said that he composed a hymn himself, which is still used whenever a man is ordained or made a priest.

Like most men of his time, Charlemagne handled the sword with far greater ease than the pen, but he was so desirous to learn to write well, that he always kept waxen tablets and a stylus under his pillow or in his bosom, so that he could practice writing whenever he had a spare moment or was too wakeful to sleep.

Many amusing stories are told of Charlemagne and of his studies. Once, for instance, when he found fault with Alcuin—the most learned man of his time—for which has four legs, often stumbles; how much more man, who has but one tongue!"

This same learned man established many schools, which Charlemagne visited from time to time to examine the pupils. We are told that on such occasions he used to place the good scholars at his right hand, and the bad ones at his left, telling them that God would judge them in the same way on the Last Day, and reward good but punish evil.

Once, when the king noticed that the children of the com- [75] mon people worked much harder and made far better progress than those of the rich, he spoke angrily to the lazy ones, saying: "Because you are rich, and are sons of the principle men in my kingdom, you think your birth and your wealth sufficient for you, and that you stand in no need of these studies which would do you so much honor. You think only of dress, play,, and pleasure; but I swear to you I attach no importance to your riches, or to this nobility which brings you so much consideration, and if you do not quickly regain by assiduous study the time you have lost in frivolities, never, no, never, will you obtain anything from Charles!"

Charlemagne was so anxious to make the best of his time, that he had some one read aloud to him even while he dined. Although a king, he ate nothing but plain, wholesome food, and seldom drank anything but water. His dress, also, was very simple, and made of strong materials which could stand sun and rain, while his courtiers often wore silks and satins.

One day, after they had been trying to persuade him to don rich garments also, Charlemagne suddenly rose from the table and proposed that they should all go hunting without delay to make any change in their apparel. Then he led his courtiers through brush and bogs until their fine clothes were all torn and muddy, and did not pause when a sudden shower came on, drenching all to the skin.

On reaching home once more, Charlemagne gave orders that all should appear at court on the morrow, wearing the same clothes;a nd many of his elegant courtiers presented a very sorry figure on the next day! Charlemagne, after [76] gazing at them a moment in silence, burst out laughing, and cried: "How do you look! Your fine clothes are all ruined. Now just see my garments, they are none the worse for the wetting we had!" It was in this way that he proved to them that plain attire is always best for an active life.

Charlemagne was also very fond of bathing, especially in the hot springs at Aix-la-Chapelle (sha-pĕl'), where he often invited a hundred of his soldiers to bathe with him, astonishing them all by his feats in swimming. Near these springs he finally built his favorite palace, adorned with rich marbles brought from Italy, and in the same town he erected a beautiful cathedral, where he was buried. Another reason for establishing his capital at Aix-la-Chapelle was his desire to keep the near-by Saxon tribes in order, for every time he was called away to the opposite side of his kingdom by war or business, they were likely to rise in rebellion.

To keep track of all that was going on in his vast kingdom, and to make sure that all his subjects should obtain justice, Charlemagne divided the country into districts, over which certain counts and dukes held sway. Then, too, he regularly sent out messengers two by two, to visit every part of his kingdom, listen to all complaints, and come ad report to him all they had seen and heard. Thus, if any of his officers proved cruel or unjust, he was sure to hear of it sooner or later, and could punish them.

Besides, every year Charlemagne held two great assemblies out in the open air. Any one who wished to speak to him, but was afraid to enter the palace, could then approach him freely, and make known his request or [77] complaint. These assemblies also made his laws, which were divided into sixty-five chapters, and called "Capitularies." as

Charlamgne attended to little things just as carefully as he did to more weighty matters, and even examined the books of his farmers, making them sell all the eggs he could not use, and keep strict account of every penny received or expended. He was always industrious, spending little time in pleasure, and thinking always of his people's welfare. He not only built a bridge across the Rhine,—as we have seen,—but also began a canal which was finished only recently.

He built roads, established markets in various cities, made the people use the same measures and weights, and encouraged them to be industrious and thrifty. It is also said that Charlemagne's foot became the standard of length for the whole country, and that the width of his thumb—a space just one twelfth the length of his foot—was used as an inch. In France, the latter measure is therefore called a thumb (pouce), and nearly everywhere people still measure by the foot, although many of those who use this measure daily have never heard that it is ascribed to this king.


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