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

§ 7. Nigel Wireker

Another of Map’s contemporaries, Nigel Wireker, precentor of Christ Church, Canterbury (d. 1200), was the witty author of the Speculum Stultorum, a long elegiac poem on the adventures of the donkey “Burnellus,” or “Brunellus,” a diminutive of “Brown” (just as “donkey” is a diminutive of “dun”). The name is borrowed from the scholastic logic of the day, in which it represents any particular horse or ass, as opposed to the abstract idea of either of those animals.

The author himself explains that the ass of his satire is a monk who, discontented with his condition, wants to get rid of his old stump of a tail, and obtain a new and longer appendage by becoming a prior or an abbot. Brunellus, then, finding his tail too short, consults Galen on his malady, and is, ultimately, sent off to Salerno with a satirical prescription, which he is to bring back in glass bottles, typical of the vanity and frailty of all human things. On his way there and back he is attacked by merchants and monks and mastiffs, and is thus robbed of all his scanty goods, and half of his diminutive tail. Ashamed to return home, and having an immense capacity for patient labour, he resolves on becoming a member of the English school in the university of Paris. Then follows a satire on the idleness and extravagance of some of the English students at that seat of learning. After spending seven years in studying the liberal arts and thus “completing” his education, he finds on leaving Paris that he has even forgotten the name of the place. However, he succeeds in recalling one syllable, but that is enough, for he has learnt in his time that “the part may stand for the whole.” Passing from the liberal arts to theology, the hero of the story tries all the monastic orders in their turn, and ends in resolving to found an order of his own. Meeting Galen once more, he begins discussing the state of the church and the general condition of society, and urges Galen to join his new order, when, suddenly, his old master, Bernard, appears on the scene, and compels him to return to his first allegiance as an ordinary monk. Chaucer, in The Nonne Preestes Tale, recalls one of the stories he had “rad in daun Burnel the Asse.”