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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, May 15, 1932

Whitsunday, Lyons

Your plans for The Oaks,In early 1932, when the Blisses returned briefly to the United States, they somewhat surprisingly took the first steps to leave Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University and to create a research center and fellowship program. They met with Edward Forbes and Paul Sachs, directors of the Fogg Art Museum, in Cambridge and Washington, D.C., and then presented a plan to Harvard University president Lawrence Lowell on March 10. On that day, Sachs sent a telegram to the Blisses: “Presented matter President today. He deeply appreciative in thorough accord and writing you care Majestic.” On March 28, Robert Woods Bliss replied: “We should have been glad to hear of your talk with Mr. Lowell. The letter we received from him on board was most satisfactory, and I am writing him to-day in acknowledgment . . . . Our day with you and Forbes in Washington was a most happy and satisfactory one in every way, and we shall look back upon it with the greatest pleasure, as we do to our visit with you in Cambridge.” Paul Sachs to Mildred Barnes Bliss and Robert Woods Bliss, March 10, 1932, and Robert Woods Bliss to Paul Sachs, March 28, 1932, Dumbarton Oaks History files, Paul Sachs folder, Dumbarton Oaks Archives. dearest Mildred, have been much in my mind since you told me about them, and this morning, in the state of exaltation which the approach of a Pontifical Mass induces in me, an idea has come into my head, before I so much as had time to say Veni Sancte Spiritus. The Pentecost functioning.

I take it you want to make the Oaks a place of work for students, with a library. What sort of library? General art libraries there are many in the U.S., and very well equipped. Doubtless there is one already in Washington, which you wouldn’t wish to duplicate, even without considering the huge expense involved.

Now, my labours in the field of Byzantine and Medieval Archaeology have impressed me deeply with the necessity, if any progress in these studies is to be made, of two things: (1) direct study of the works of art, supplemented by good photographs (owned by the student) and (2) direct study of the historical-literary sources. These sources, in so far as they have been printed at all (and most of them have, though by no means all) are only available, in full, in the great XVIIe and XVIIIe century collections of the Bollandists,The Bollandists, an association of scholars, philologists, and historians, formerly all Jesuits, who since the early seventeenth century studied hagiography. Their most important publication was the Acta Sanctorum (Lives of the Saints). They are named after the Belgian Jesuit and founding hagiographer Jean Bolland or Bollandus (1596–1665). the Annals of Baronius,The Annales ecclesiastici a Christo nato ad annum 1198 (Ecclesiastical Annals from Christ’s Birth to 1198), a twelve-volume history of the first twelve centuries of the Christian Church that was authored by the Italian cardinal and ecclesiastical historian Caesar Baronio or Baronius (1538–1607). Muratori,Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672–1750), an Italian historian noted for his discovery of the Muratorian fragment, the earliest known list of New Testament books. Thillemont [sic],Louis-Sébastien Le Nain de Tillemont (1637–1698), a French ecclesiastical historian. the Scriptores Byzantini,The so-called Scriptores Byzantini, a multivolume, edited collection of the writings of medieval Greek authors on ecclesiastical history. Royall Tyler was most likely familiar with either the French edition, Corpus Byzantinae Historiae (Paris, 1645–1711), or the German edition, Corpus scriptorum historiae byzantinae (Bonn, 1828–1897). Du CangeCharles du Fresne, sieur du Cange (1610–1688), a French philologist and medieval and Byzantine historian. etc. etc. To a considerable extent, though not completely, they have been reproduced, in the XIXe cent., in Migne’s Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca,The Patrologia Latina (Patrologiae cursus completes, Series Latina), a 217-volume edited collection of the Latin writings of the Christian Church Fathers and other ecclesiastical writers published by the French priest Jacques Paul Migne (1800–1875) between 1844 and 1855, with indices published between 1862 and 1865. Similarly, the Patrologia Graeca (Patrologiae cursus completus, Series Graeca) is a 166-volume edited collection of Greek writings published between 1857 and 1866 by Migne. and in the German (Bonn) Scriptores ByzantiniCorpus scriptorum historiae byzantinae, edited by Immanuel Bekker and Ludwig Schopen, 50 vols. (Bonn, 1828–1855 and 1878–1897). and the Documenta [sic] Germaniae Historica.The Monumenta germaniae historica, a comprehensive series of edited sources for the study of German history from the end of the Roman Empire to 1500. The series began in 1826. But the fact is that modernity, although Migne and the German editors did noble work, has never been able to rival XVIIe cent, scholarship, chiefly French—with valuable Italian contributions—and the German historians of yesterday earned their reputation by exploiting the work of such giants as Du Cange and Baronius.

In the field of archaeology, which interests us particularly, the work of the XVIIe cent, scholars is of enormous value, and it has been very little exploited. For many years I used to assume that when Diehl, for instance, gave a reference to Agnellus of Ravenna,Agnellus of Ravenna gives a history of the churches of Ravenna in the Liber pontificalis ecclesiae Ravennatis (830–846). or to the Miracula S. Demetrii Thessalonikie [sic],The Miracula Sancti Demetrii, a seventh-century account of the miracles of Saint Demetrios written in part by John, Archbishop of Thessaloniki. he had read the text. Certain apparent contradictions bothering me, however, I started myself looking up the texts—and what I found took my breath away. With infrequent exceptions, modern “scholars” have not read the texts to which they refer and on which they base their dating of monuments. They copy references given in the work of other scholars, often misunderstanding and garbling references which, even at first hand, were hastily and uncritically made, so that what results is an unbelievable House that Jack Built. It really is unusual to find that the references to sources given, even by a relatively scrupulous writer like Dalton,Ormonde Maddock Dalton (1866–1945), keeper of the British and medieval antiquities department at the British Museum, London, between 1921 and 1928. His two publications—Catalogue of Early Christian Antiquities and Objects from the Christian East in the Department of British and Mediaeval Antiquities and Ethnography of the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1901) and Byzantine Art and Archaeology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911)—served as early standard works on these subjects, owing to their scholarship and the lack of other accessible publications in these fields. rest on a careful reading of the text. If they don’t consider it necessary to look at the monuments they discuss, it isn’t surprising that they should omit to read the texts to which they refer.

There are various reasons for this. The collections in which the sources are to be found are printed in the original Latin and Greek—and pretty queer Latin and Greek at that, often. They are huge and bulky: Migne’s Patrologia runs into several hundred quarto volumes. In order to get at the few but priceless facts they contain for the archaeologist, it is necessary to eat huge quantities of often dreary bondieuserie“Excessive religious pieties.” (though now and then one gets a superb story). But whatever the difficulties, there is no doubt about it that progress can only be made in this field by going back to these sources. The number of books, actually, is not colossal—though greater than you might suppose, it is as nothing compared to the mass of stuff, so much of it practically valueless, that has been turned out on the subject in the last few generations. They, for the most part, are not even very rare or dear, because as they are so bulky, and written in Greek and Latin, private persons rarely buy them. The great European Libraries already have them—and few of the American libraries have as yet realised their essential importance. Thus when old private libraries, formed in the days when people lived in big houses and weren’t afraid of big books, appear on the market, there isn’t always much competition for the kind of book we’re talking about.

Now, my suggestion to you for The Oaks is that you should make your library there a collection of the vital sources, and not attempt to acquire the thousands and thousands of costly “Art Books” which your students can in any case consult at lots of other libraries. It would be a contribution to the equipment of scholarship in America of enormous value, and I don’t think the idea has occurred to anyone else, though once one has thought of it, it is as simple as Columbus’s egg.Columbus’s egg refers to any brilliant idea or discovery that seems simple or easy after the fact. The expression refers to the story of how Christopher Columbus, having been told that discovering the Americas was no great accomplishment, challenged his critics to make an egg stand on its tip; and, after they gave up, he did it himself by tapping the egg on the table so as to flatten its tip.

If the idea appeals to you, I, and I’m sure Hayford (though of course I won’t mention it to a soul until I hear from you) would be delighted to help you find the books.The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection does not own the seventeenth-century edition of the Corpus byzantinae historiae recommended by Royall Tyler. But it does own the a 50-volume Corpus scriptorum historiae byzantinae (Bonn, 1828–1897); the 221-volume Patrologia latina (Paris, 1844–1864) and the 161-volume Patrologia graeca (Paris, 1857–1866); and the 17-volume Berlin edition and 11-volume Hannover edition of the Monumenta germaniae historica. In the course of getting together what little I have at Antigny, I have had occasion to review the field, and I know pretty well what to get and what to avoid—for there are many, many snares; the XVIIe and XVIIIe cents. produced lots of literary pirates, who sloppily reprinted the good editions in order to undersell them, etc.

Later. I’ve just returned from Pontifical Mass, sublime as ever. I prayed that your plans for The Oaks may be fulfilled.

Well, to resume: American scholarship will have to get down to work at the sources some day, and it will be an immense boon if the instrument is at hand. For reasons which I’ve often gone over, I don’t believe in a photographic reference library. Hard though the saying may sound, each scholar has got to have his own photos., at any rate of the material illustrating the particular problem he is at work on, and merely to be able to consult photos. in a public collection is totally insufficient, and might be a snare and a delusion. Efforts should be concentrated on making photos available for the student to acquire, all over the world, and giving him the addresses of the photographers. With the literary sources it is a different matter: no private individual can hope to own them; access to a library specialising in them would be priceless. In the purely historical field, GibbonEdward Gibbon (1737–1794), an English historian and politician whose work—The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788—was known for its use of primary sources. used the sources I refer to, and loudly acknowledged his debt. The Germans have used them—and, sometimes, have admitted theirs. No “art historian” has yet made anything like full use of them. The idea of encouraging students in this field to do so seems to me a fine one—and if you wished to give the foundation the name that best expresses its purpose (as here suggested) you might call it, or the body of students using it, the Du Cange Society, after the XVIIe French scholarCharles du Fresne, sieur du Cange (1610–1688), a French philologist and medieval and Byzantine historian. whom I, after having tested the genuineness of most of his tribe, believe to have been the greatest scholar who ever lived, a man of unequalled learning, and a man who never pretended to know anything he didn’t know, and indeed always puts in a word of warning to the reader when he approaches the limits of his knowledge. Even if he had done nothing but his Glossarium Mediae et infimae Latinitatis (3 Vols. in-fol.)Charles du Fresne, sieur du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, 3 vols. (Paris, 1678). which is still, today, the basis of all Western Medieval research, he would be head and shoulders above everyone else; and there is besides his Greek Glossary,Glossarium ad scriptores mediae et infimae graecitatis, 2 vols. (Paris, 1688). and his Familiae Byzantinae,Historia Byzantinaduplici commentario illustrateprior familias ac stemmata imperatorum Constantinopolitanorum, cum eorundem Augustorum nomismatibus, & aliquot iconibus, praeterea familias Dalmaticas & Turcicas complectitur: alter descriptionem urbis Constantinopolitanae, qualis extitit sub imperatoribus ChristianisI. Familiae Byzantinae (Paris, 1680). and his Edition of Joinville,Histoire de S. Louys IX du nom roy de France, ecrite par Jean sire de Joinville senéchal de Champagne: enrichie de nouvelles observations & dissertations historiques. Avec les établissemens de S. Louys, le conseil de pierre de Fontaines, & plusieurs autres pieces concernant ce regne, tirées des manuscrits. par Ch. du Fresne, sieur du Cange, conseiller du roy, tresorier de France, & general des finances en la generalité de Picardie (Paris, 1668). Jean de Joinville (1225–1317) was a chronicler of medieval France, and, at the request of Queen Jeanne of Navarre, he wrote the Histoire de Saint Louis (King Louis IX of France), which he completed in 1309.—and how many more.

Perhaps my Pentecostal inspiration has run away with me, dearest Mildred. Anyway, I’m going to send this off to you now, without keeping it for afterthoughts.

I’m leaving tonight for Paris—London—Oxford, going straight through, to spend 2 days with BillI haven’t visited him at all at Oxford yet. Then 2 days each in London (Salter) and Paris, then Geneva and then back to Bpest—about the end of the month, for 6 weeks or so, then, I hope, Antigny for a month.

I hear that our Vol. IL’art byzantin. won’t be actually out till after June 1st.

Love and Blessings to you, dearest Mildred, and to Robert.

R. T.

Associated Things: L'art byzantin