THE LIFE OF THE EMPEROR CHARLES
Karolus gratia dei rex Francorum et Langobardorum ac patricius Romanorum Baugulfo abbati nec non et omni congregationi, fidelibus oratoribus nostris, in omnipotentis dei nomine amabilem direximus salutem.
Vitam et conversationem et ex parte non modica res gestas domini et nutritoris mei Karoli, excellentissimi et merito famosissimi regis, postquam scribere animus tulit, quanta potui brevitate conplexus sum, operam inpendens, ut de his quae ad meam notitiam pervenire potuerunt nihil omitterem neque prolixitate narrandi nova quaeque fastidientium animos offenderem; si tamen hoc ullo mode vitari potest, ut nova scriptione non offendantur qui vetera et a viris doctissimis atque disertissimis confecta monumenta fastidiunt. Et quamquam plures esse non ambigam, qui otio ac litteris dediti statum aevi praesentis non arbitrentur ita neglegendum, ut omnia penitus quae nunc fiunt velut nulla memoria digna silentio atque oblivioni tradantur, potiusque velint amore diuturnitatis inlecti aliorum praeclara facta qualibuscumque scriptis inserere quam sui nominis famam posteritatis memoriae nihil scribendo subtrahere, tamen ab huiuscemodi scriptione non existimavi temperandum, quando mihi conscius eram nullum ea veracius quam me scribere posse, quibus ipse interfui, quaeque praesens oculata, ut dicunt, fide cognovi et, utrum ab alio scriberentur necne, liquido scire non potui. Satiusque iudicavi eadem cum aliis velut communiter litteris mandata memoriae posterorum tradere quam regis excellentissimi et omnium sua aetate maximi clarissimam vitam et egregios atque moderni temporis hominibus vix imitabiles actus pati oblivionis tenebris aboleri. Suberat et alia non inrationabilis, ut opinor, causa, quae vel sola sufficere posset, ut me ad haec scribenda conpelleret, nutrimentum videlicet in me inpensum et perpetua, postquam in aula eius conversari coepi, cum ipso ac liberis eius amicitia; qua me ita sibi devinxit debitoremque tam vivo quam mortuo constituit, ut merito ingratus videri et iudicari possem, si tot beneficiorum in me conlatorum inmemor clarissima et inlustrissima hominis optime de me meriti gesta silentio praeterirem patererque vitam eius, quasi qui numquam vixerit, sine litteris ac debita laude manere; cui scribendae atque explicandae non meum ingeniolum, quod exile et parvum, immo poene nullum est, sed Tullianam par erat desudare facundiam. En tibi librum praeclarissimi et maximi viri memoriam continentem; in quo praeter illius facta non est quod admireris, nisi forte, quod homo barbarus et in Romana locutione perparum exercitatus aliquid me decenter aut commode Latine scribere posse putaverim atque in tantam inpudentiam proruperim, ut illud Ciceronis putarem contemnendum, quod in primo Tusculanarum libro, cum de Latinis scriptoribus loqueretur, ita dixisse legitur: "mandare quemquam", inquit, "litteris cogitationes suas, qui eas nec disponere nec inlustrare possit nec delectatione aliqua adlicere lectorem, hominis est intemperanter abutentis et otio et litteris." Poterat quidem haec oratoris egregii sententia me a scribendo deterrere, nisi animo praemeditatum haberem hominum iudicia potius experiri et haec scribendo ingenioli mei periculum facere quam tanti viri memoriam mihi parcendo
SINCE I have taken upon myself to narrate the public and private life, and no small part of the deeds, of my lord and foster-father, the most lent and most justly renowned King Charles, I have condensed the matter into as brief a form as possible. I have been careful not to omit any facts that could come to my knowledge, but at the same time not to offend by a prolix style those minds that despise everything modern, if one can possibly avoid offending by a new work men who seem to despise also the masterpieces of antiquity, the works of most learned and luminous writers. Very many of them, l have no doubt, are men devoted to a life of literary leisure, who feel that the affairs of the present generation ought not to be passed by, and who do not consider everything done today as unworthy of mention and deserving to be given over to silence and oblivion , but are nevertheless seduced by lust of immortality to celebrate the glorious deeds of other times by some sort of composition rather than to deprive posterity of the mention of their own names by not writing at all.
Be this as it may, I see no reason why I should refrain from entering upon a task of this kind, since no man can write with more accuracy than I of events that took place about me, and of facts concerning which I had personal knowledge, ocular demonstration as the saying goes, and I have no means of ascertaining whether or not any one else has the subject in hand.
In any event, I would rather commit my story to writing, and hand it down to posterity in partnership with others, so to speak, than to suffer the most glorious life of this most excellent king, the greatest of all the princes of his day, and his illustrious deeds, hard for men of later times to imitate, to be wrapped in the darkness of oblivion.
But there are still other reasons, neither unwarrantable nor insufficient, in my opinion, that urge me to write on this subject, namely, the care that King Charles bestowed upon me in my childhood, and my constant friendship with himself and his children after I took up my abode at court. In this way he strongly endeared me to himself, and made me greatly his debtor as well in death as in life, so that were I unmindful of the benefits conferred upon me, to keep silence concerning the most glorious and illustrious deeds of a man who claims so much at my hands, and suffer his life to lack due eulogy and written memorial, as if he had never lived, I should deservedly appear ungrateful, and be so considered, albeit my powers are feeble, scanty, next to nothing indeed, and not at all adapted to write and set forth a life that would tax the eloquence of a Tully [note: Tully is Marcus Tullius Cicero].
I submit the book. It contains the history of a very great and distinguished man; but there is nothing in it to wonder at besides his deeds, except the fact that I, who am a barbarian, and very little versed in the Roman language, seem to suppose myself capable of writing gracefully and respectably in Latin, and to carry my presumption so far as to disdain the sentiment that Cicero is said in the first book of the Tusculan Disputations to have expressed when speaking of the Latin authors. His words are: "It is an outrageous abuse both of time and literature for a man to commit his thoughts to writing without having the ability either to arrange them or elucidate them, or attract readers by some charm of style." This dictum of the famous orator might have deterred me from writing if I had not made up my mind that it was better to risk the opinions of the world, and put my little talents for composition to the test, than to slight the memory of so great a man for the sake of sparing myself.