College of Metaphysics


The Book of Kells



1st Edition

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An Irish manuscript containing the Four Gospels, a fragment of Hebrew names, and the Eusebian canons, known also as the "Book of Columba", probably because it was written in the monastery of Iona to honor the saint. It is likely that it is to this book that the entry in the "Annals of Ulster" under the year 1006 refers, recording that in that year the "Gospel of Columba" was stolen.  According to tradition, the book is a relic from the time of Columba (d. 597) and even the work of his hands, but, on palæographic grounds and judging by the character of the ornamentation, this tradition cannot be sustained, and the date of the composition of the book can hardly be placed earlier than the end of the seventh or beginning of the eighth century. This must be the book which the Welshman, Geraldus Cambrensis, saw at Kildare in the last quarter of the twelfth century and which he describes in glowing terms (Topogr. Hibern., II, xxxviii). 
We next hear of it at the cathedral of Kells (Irish Cenannus) in Meath, a foundation of Columba's, where it remained for a long time, or until the year 1541. In the seventeenth century Archbishop Ussher presented it to Trinity College, Dublin, where it is the most precious manuscript (A. I. 6) in the college library and by far the choicest relic of Irish art that has been preserved. In it is to be found every variety of design typical of Irish art at its best. 
Some small portions at the beginning and end of the manuscript have been lost, but otherwise it is in a very good state of preservation. It was apparently left unfinished, since some of the ornaments remain only in outline. It is written in part black, red, purple or yellow ink, and it has  been thought that the hands of two scribes, neither of whom is known to us by name, are discernible in the writing and illumination of the manuscript. The most characteristic ornaments of the Book of Kells, as of other illuminated Irish manuscripts of the period, are the closely coiled spirals connected with each other by a number of curves and terminating in the so-called "trumpet pattern". Almost equally characteristic are the zoomorphic interlacements, colored representations of fanciful beings, or of men, animals, birds, horses, dogs, and grotesque, gargoyle-like human figures, twisted and hooked together in intricate detail. 
Other frequently occurring designs are a system of geometrical weaving of ribbons plaited and knotted together, and a simpler ornamentation by means of red dotted lines. The versatility and inventive genius of the illustrator surpasses all belief. Lines diverge and converge in endless succession, and the most intricate figures, in lavish abundance and with astounding variety of ornament, are combined and woven into one harmonious design. In spite of the extent of the work and its thousands of exquisite initials and terminals, there is not a single pattern or combination that can be said to be a copy of another. The artist shows a wonderful technique in designing and combining various emblems, the cross, vine, dragon, fish, and serpent. The drawing is perfection itself. It has been examined under a powerful magnifying glass for hours at a time and found to be, even in the most minute and complicated figures, without a single false or irregular line. Some of the most accomplished of modern draughtsmen have attempted to copy its elaborate designs, but, such is the delicacy of the execution, that they had to abandon the task as hopeless. In a space of one inch square were counted no less than 158 interlacings of white ribbon with a black border on either side. On the other hand, the pictures of the personages delineated are feeble and primitive and show but a limited knowledge of the human figure and its relative proportions. 
No words can describe the beauty and the extreme splendor of the richly colored initial letters, which are more profuse in the "Book of Kells" than in any other manuscript. The only thing to which they can be compared is a bed of many colored crocuses and tulips or the very finest stained glass window, which they equal in beauty of coloring and rival in delicacy of ornament and drawing. The artist possessed a wonderful knowledge of the proportion of color and the distribution of his material -- sienna, purple, lilac, red, pink, green, yellow, the colors most often used -- and he managed the shading and tinting of the letters with consummate taste and skill. It is remarkable that there is no trace of the use of silver or gold on the vellum. Sometimes the colors are laid on in thick layers to give the appearance of enamel, and are here and there as bright and soft and lustrous as when put on fresh more than twelve hundred years ago. 
Even the best photographic and color reproductions give but a faint idea of the beauty of the original. Especially worthy of notice is the series of illuminated miniatures, including pictorial representations of the Evangelists and their symbols, the Blessed Virgin and the Divine Child, the temptation of Jesus, and Jesus seized by the Jews. These pictures reach their culminating point in what is, in some respects, the most marvelous example of workmanship that the world has ever produced, namely the full page monogram XPI which occurs in the text of the Gospel of St. Matthew. It is no wonder that it was for a long time believed that the "Book of Kells" could have been written only by angels.
Sir Edward Sullivan

Sir Edward Sullivan, lord chancellor of Ireland, was born at Mallow, co. Cork, on 10 July 1822.  He was the eldest son of Edward Sullivan by his wife Anne Surflen, née Lynch. His father, a local merchant, realised a substantial fortune in business and was a friend of the poet Moore. Sullivan received his earliest education at a school in his native town, and later on was sent to the endowed school at Midleton, an institution in which many distinguished Irishmen, Curran and Barry Yelverton among them, had been trained. In 1841 he entered Trinity College, Dublin. His career at the university was distinguished. He obtained first classical scholarship in 1843, and graduated B.A. in 1845. He was also elected auditor of the college historical society in 1845, in succession to William Connor Magee (afterwards bishop of Peterborough and archbishop of York), and gained the gold medal for oratory. In 1848, after two years of preliminary study at chambers in London, Sullivan was called to the Irish bar, where his well-trained and richly stored mind, his great readiness, indomitable tenacity, and fiery eloquence very quickly brought him into notice. Within ten years of his call to the bar (1858) he was appointed a queen's counsel, and two years later, during the viceroyalty of Lord Carlisle, became one of the three serjeants-at-law. In 1861 he was appointed law adviseran office subordinate to the attorney and solicitor general, which has since been abolishedand in 1865 became for a brief period solicitor-general for Ireland in Lord Palmerston's last administration. In this capacity he was called on to deal with the fenian conspiracy. In 1865 he was returned in the liberal interest to represent his native town in parliament. From 1866 to 1868, while his party was in opposition, he applied himself mainly to his profession, and acted, about this period, in conjunction with James Whiteside, as leading counsel for the plaintiff in the celebrated Yelverton trial.

In December 1868, on the return of the liberal party to power, Sullivan became  attorney-general for Ireland in Mr. Gladstone's first administration. He took an activenext to the prime minister, the leadingpart in the conduct of the Irish Church Bill in the House of Commons. His services on this occasion, the debating ability he displayed in the stormy discussions which the bill provoked, and his knowledge and grasp of the details of a most intricate subject, raised him to a high place in the estimation of the House of Commons, and earned him the complete confidence of his leader. He retired from parliament in 1870 to become master of the rolls in Ireland. Until 1882 he was mainly engrossed by his judicial duties; but he was also an active member of the privy council. His advice was often sought on critical occasions by the Irish government. Mr. Gladstone placed much reliance on his judgment and knowledge of Ireland, and it was mainly at his instance that the important step of arresting Charles Stewart Parnell was adopted by the government in 1881.  In December 1881 Sullivan was created a baronet on the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone, in recognition of his services both as a judge and as a confidential adviser of the servants of the crown in Ireland; and shortly afterwards the premature death of Hugh Law opened the way for his elevation to the Irish chancellorship, to which he was appointed in 1883. In this capacity he displayed governing qualities of the highest order, and during the troubled period of Lord Spencer's second viceroyalty he may be said to have been the mainspring of the Irish government in the measures taken to stamp out the Invincible conspiracy. He enjoyed his office for a comparatively brief period, dying suddenly at his house in Dublin on 13 April 1885.

In the list of Irish chancellors of the nineteenth century Sullivan is one of the most eminent. But he was more distinguished as a statesman than as a judge. His thorough knowledge of Ireland, combined with the courage, firmness, and decision of his character, qualified him to be what during the period of his chancellorship he wasan active champion of law and order throughout the country. Sullivan was also a man of varied accomplishments and scholarly tastes. Through life he was an ardent book-collector, and at his death had amassed one of the most valuable private libraries in the kingdom. Part of this library, when sold by auction in 1890, realised 11,000l..  Besides being a sound classical scholar, he was a skilled linguist, and familiar with German, French, Italian, and Spanish literature.

Sullivan married, on 24 Sept. 1850, Bessie Josephine, daughter of Robert Bailey of Cork, by whom he had issue four sons and one daughter

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