Born: Henry III of England, 1207, Winchester; Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, politician and philosophical writer, 1678, Battersea; Paul I, emperor of Russia, 1754.
Died: Michael II, the Stammerer, Greek emperor, 829; Pierre Corneille, great tragic dramatist, 1684, Paris.
Feast Day: The Festival of the Rosary. St. Plat, apostle of Tournay, martyr, about 286. St. Remigius, confessor, archbishop of Rheims, 533. St. Wasnulf or Wasnon, confessor, patron of Condé, about 651. St. Bavo, anchoret, patron of Ghent, 7th century. St. Fidharleus of Ireland, abbot, 762.
FESTIVAL OF THE ROSARY
The rosary, as is well known, is, in the Roman Catholic Church, a series of prayers, consisting of fifteen Pater Nosters and a hundred and fifty Ave Marias, which, for the convenience of worshipers, are counted on a string of beads. Each rosary, or string of beads, consists of fifteen decades, each of which decades contains one Pater Noster, marked by a large bead, and ten Ave Marias, marked by ten smaller beads. The festival of the rosary was instituted to implore the divine mercy in favour of the church and all the faithful, and return thanks for the benefits conferred on them, more especially for the victory of Lepanto, in 1571, over the Turks. This success, believed to be obtained through the intercession of the Virgin, who is so specially invoked in the devotion of the rosary, was ordered by Pius V to be annually commemorated under the title of St. Mary de Victoria. This epithet was, however, changed by his successor, Gregory XIII, into the title of the Festival of the Rosary. The victory of Prince Eugene over the Turks at Belgrade, in 1716, was ordered by Clement XII to be included in the benefits which this office specially commemorates.
THE MUSICAL SMALL-COALMAN
On 1st October 1714, was buried in Clerkenwell churchyard, Thomas Britton, a dealer in coal, whose life presents one of the most curious social anomalies that have ever been recorded. Whilst gaining his livelihood by the active exercise of a humble craft, occupying a habitation and wearing a garb corresponding in plainness to his trade, this singular man contrived by his various talents, and more especially his musical tastes, to assemble around him the most aristocratic company in London, and to be admitted into their society on equal terms, at a time when the principle of exclusion was far more rigidly maintained than it is now, between the upper and lower ranks of the community.
The house occupied by our small-coalman was situated in Aylesbury Street, Clerkenwell, and formed the corner-house of a passage leading by the Old Jerusalem Tavern into St. John's Square. On the ground-floor were the coal-stores, and above them a long narrow room, very low in the ceiling, and approached by a break-neck stair from the outside. In this modest saloon, Britton held his musical reunions, which were attended by the great and fashionable, and at which, among other eminent performers, the celebrated Handel did not disdain to exhibit his unequaled skill for the entertainment of the company.
The origin of these gatherings is ascribed to Sir Roger L'Estrange, a famous musical dilettante, who, along with other gentlemen, had been taken with the conversation and manners of Britton, so greatly beyond what might have been expected from his station in life. Nor were his guests confined to the male sex. Elegant ladies, from the most fashionable quarters of London, thronged to his humble mansion, and, in the pleasure which they experienced in listening to his concert, forgot the toils which they had undergone in ascending to the hall of performance. It has been said that Britton charged his guests with an annual subscription of ten shillings for the music, and a penny for each cup of coffee drunk. But this was certainly not the case at first, when the entertainment was entirely gratuitous, and no refreshments of any kind were given, though possibly some change may have been introduced at a later period.
In the Augustan age of Queen Anne, the passion for collecting old books and manuscripts began to develop itself among the nobility. Among the most noted bibliophilists of the aristocracy were the Duke of Devonshire, and the Earls of Oxford, Pembroke, Sunderland, and Winchelsea. A favorite Saturday pastime of these noblemen was to make their rounds through the various nooks of the city in which booksellers congregated, and then reassemble at noon at the shop of Christopher Bateman, a bookseller in Paternoster Row. About this time, Thomas Britton would make his appearance, having finished his round, and, depositing his sack of small-coal on the ledge of Mr. Bateman's window, would go in and join the distinguished company. Here his skill in old books and manuscripts was no less conspicuous than the correctness of his musical taste, and rendered him a most useful acquisition.
As has happened with many greater men, Britton did not escape the shafts of slander and malice, and it was variously asserted that his musical assemblies were merely pretexts for seditious meetings or magical incantations, and that he himself was an atheist or a Jesuit in disguise. There seems, however, to have been really nothing objectionable either in his principles or mode of life, his character being that of a simple and inoffensive, though learned and intelligent man. His death was brought about in a singular manner. A blacksmith, named Honeyman, who possessed the faculty of ventriloquism, and had almost frightened, by the exercise of it, the notorious Dr. Sacheverell into fits, was induced, as a practical joke, to play off his art upon Thomas Britton. Being introduced to the latter, he announced, as if by a supernatural messenger, speaking from a distance, the death of Britton, intimating, moreover, that his only chance of escape was to fall clown immediately upon his knees, and repeat the Lord's Prayer. The poor man, terrified out of his senses, did as he was told, and verified the prediction but too soon, as he took to his bed, and died in a few days.
Two pictures of Britton were painted by his friend Woolaston. One of these, which was deposited in the British Museum, represents him in his blue frock, with the small coal-measure in his hand, as he appeared when he went through the town crying his wares. He has also been fortunate enough to secure transmission to posterity in the following lines by Prior:
Though doomed to small-coal, yet to arts allied, Rich without wealth, and famous without pride, Music's best patron, judge of books and men, Beloved and honored by Apollo's train. In Greece or Rome sure never did appear So bright a genius in so dark a sphere!
More of the man had probably been saved had Kneller painted, and had Vertue graved.
'I remember,' says Mrs. Piozzi, in her Tour in Italy, 'Dr Johnson once said that nobody had ever seen a very strange thing, and challenged the company to produce a strange thing; but I had not then seen Avvocato B-, la Wyerhere, at Milan, and a man respected in his profession, who actually chews the cud like an ox. He is apparently much like another tall stout man, but has many extraordinary properties, being eminent for strength, and possessing a set of ribs and sternum very surprising, and worthy the attention of anatomists.
His body, upon the slightest touch, even through all his clothes, throws out electric sparks; he can reject his meals from his stomach at pleasure; and did absolutely, in the course of two hours, go through, to oblige me, the whole operation of eating, masticating, swallowing, and returning by the mouth a large piece of bread and a peach. With all this conviction, nothing more was wanting; but I obtained, besides, the confirmation of common friends, who were willing likewise to bear testimony of this strange accidental variety. What I hear of his character is, that he is a low-spirited nervous man; and I suppose his ruminating moments are spent in lamenting the peculiarities of his frame.'
This human chewer of the cud was not such a singular being as Mrs. Piozzi imagined. Fabricius ab Aquapendente records two similar cases coming under his own observation. One was a monk, who rejoiced in another bovine characteristic, his forehead being adorned with a pair of horns. The other ruminant was not so ornamented himself; but was the son of a one-horned parent; he was a Paduan nobleman, and Fabricius had the satisfaction of dissecting him, and proving the falseness of Bartholin's theory, that human ruminants possessed double stomachs. Lynceus tells us of Anthony Recchi, who was obliged to retire from the dinner-table to ruminate undisturbed, and who declared that the second process of mastication 'was sweeter than honey, and accompanied with a delightful relish.' His son inherited the same faculty, but with him it was under better control, he being able to defer its exercise till a convenient opportunity. Sennert knew a man similarly qualified, and accounted for it by attributing it to the fact of his having been fed on milk warm from the cow, in consequence of the death of his mother at his birth. Pyer believed that two of his country-men acquired the habit from learning to imitate the calves and sheep with which their vocation associated them. Blumenbach says he knew two men who ruminated their vegetable food, and found great enjoyment in the feat, while one of them had the power of doing so or not as he felt inclined.
In the Philosophical Transactions for 1691, there is an account by 'the experienced and learned Frederick Slare, M.D.' of a ruminating man living at Bristol, described as a person of mean parents but of tolerable sense and reason, who had followed the practice from his earliest years, and always found a temporary deprivation of the faculty the sure precursor of illness. He used to commence ruminating about a quarter of an hour after a meal, and the process usually occupied him for an hour and a half, and was attended with greater gratification than the first mastication!, after which food always lay heavy in the lower part of the throat.
Under the date of October 1, 1767, we find the following in the Annual Register:
We have the following extraordinary account from Winbourne, in Dorsetshire. A few days ago died here Roger Gill, shoemaker, and one of our singing-men, aged about sixty-seven, remarkable for chewing his meat or cud twice over, as an ox, sheep, or cow. He seldom made any breakfast in his latter days; he generally dined about twelve or one o'clock, eat pretty heartily and quickly, without much chewing or mastication. He never drank with his dinner, but afterwards about a pint of such malt liquor as he could get; but no sort of spirituous liquor in any shape, except a little punch, but never cared for that. He usually began his second chewing about a quarter or half an hour, sometimes later, after dinner; when every morsel came up successively, sweeter and sweeter to the taste. Some-times a morsel would prove offensive and crude, in which case he spat it out. The chewing continued usually about an hour or more, and some-times would leave him a little while, in which case he would be sick at stomach, troubled with the heartburn, and foul breath. Smoking tobacco would sometimes stop his chewing, but was never attended with any ill consequences. But on the 10th of June last, the faculty entirely left him, and the poor man remained in great tortures till the time of his death.
Similar cases have been recorded by Messrs Tarbes, Percy, Lawrent, Cullerier, Riche, and Copland. The latter published a full account of a case of rumination in The London Medical and Physical Journal (1819-20), and observes in his Medical Dictionary, published in 1858, 'since the publication of that case, two others, one of them in a medical man, have been treated by me, and I have reason to believe that instances of partial or occasional rumination are not so rare in the human subject as is generally supposed.'