The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

X. English Scholars of Paris and Franciscans of Oxford

§ 3. Peter of Blois

As a representative of literature and learning, Peter of Blois is only a pale reflection of John of Salisbury. Born at Blois, he was probably educated at Tours; he learnt and taught at Bologna and Paris, settled in England about 1175 as secretary to Richard of Dover, archbishop of Canterbury, and was successively archdeacon of Batch (c. 1177) and of London (c. 1204). He was repeatedly entrusted with diplomatic duties by Henry II, and the Letters ascribed to him purport to have been originally collected at the request of the king. But some of them—for example, those on the capture of Damietta in 1219—could not possibly have been written during the life of the king, who died in 1189, or during that of Peter of Blois, who died in or before 1212. Peter of Blois, on his appointment as secretary to the archbishop in 1175, obviously made a diligent study of the Letters of John of Salisbury, who had edited his Letters soon after 1170, while Peter did not begin to edit his own until 1181, the year after John of Salisbury’s death. Many of Peter’s Letters are enriched with quotations from the classics, but most of those quotations are borrowed from John of Salisbury. Thus, in a letter to the archdeacon of Nantes, we have a list of ancient grammarians, and a second list of ancient historians. Both of these are borrowed from John of Salisbury; but, while John of Salisbury modestly refers his readers to Tacitus, without professing to have read that author, Peter of Blois pretends to have “frequently looked into” Tacitus,—an author never mentioned by such well-informed contemporaries as Giraldus Cambrensis and Ralph of Diceto. Criticised for his constant quotations, he defends a manner of composition which places him “like a dwarf on the shoulders of giants”; but this very comparison is tacitly taken from John of Salisbury, who honestly quotes it from Bernard of Chartres. It is improbable that Peter was ever an actual pupil of the scholar to whom he owed so much of his borrowed erudition; but, curiously enough, he held preferment at Chartres, and also at Salisbury. His brief Sermons call for no comment. Of his few poems the longest deals with the sacraments in twenty-six chapters of riming hexameters; while two others, written in a different metre, have for their themes the life of the clergy, and the conflict between the flesh and the spirit.