Born: The Princess Elizabeth (of York), 1466; Mary Queen of England, 1516, Westminster; Bernard de Bovier de Fontenelle, littèrateur, 1657, Rouen.
Died: The Emperor Herodias, 641; Elizabeth Plantagenet, of York, 1502; Rend Descartes, French philosopher, 1650, Stockholm; William Shenstone, poet, 1763, Hales Owen; Macvey Napier, editor of the Encyclopadia Britannica, 1847.
Feast Day: Saints Satnrninus, Dativus, and others, martyrs of Africa, 304. St. Severinus, 507. St. Theodora, empress, 867, (In the Anglo-Romish calendar) Cædmon, about 680.
Cædmon is the most ancient English poet whose name is known. He lived in Northumbria, near the monastery which, was then called Streaneshalch, but which has since been known by the name of Whitby. The name of its abbess, Hilda, is known to every one acquainted. with Northern legend and poetry.
It was a favourite custom of the Anglo-Saxons to meet together at drinking-parties, and there, in. the midst of their mirth, the harp was moved round, and each in his turn was expected to sing or chant some poem to the instrument-and these, as we may gather from the story, were often the composition of the singer, for the art of composing poetry seems to have been very extensively cultivated among our Saxon forefathers. Now the education of Cædmon, who was apparently the son of a small landholder, had been so much neglected that he had been unable either to compose, or to repeat or sing: and when on these occasions he saw the harp approach him, he felt so overwhelmed with shame that he rose from his seat and went home. An important part of the wealth of an Anglo-Saxon landholder at this time-the events of which we are speaking occurred in the latter half of the seventh century -consisted in cattle, and it was the duty of the sons or retainers of the family to guard them at night: for this could not be done by the agricultural serfs, as none but a freeman was allowed to bear arms. Now it happened on one of the occasions when Cædmon thus slunk from the fosstive beer-party (gebeorscipe) in disgrace, that it was his turn to guard the cattle, and proceeding from the hall to his post, he laid himself down there with a feeling of vexation and despondency, and immediately fell asleep.
In his slumber a stranger appeared to him, and, addressing him by his name, said, 'Cædmon, sing me something.' Cædmon answered, 'I know nothing to sing, or I should not have left the hall to come here so soon.''Nay,' said the stranger, 'but thou hast something to sing!' 'What must I sing?' said Coalmen. 'Sing the Creation,'was the reply. Cædmon immediately began to sing verses 'which he had never heard before,' and which are given in Anglo-Saxon in some of the old manuscripts. When he awoke, he was not only able to repeat the lines which he had composed in his dream, but he went on at will in the most excellent poetry. In the morning he presented himself before the reeve, or bailiff, of Whitby, and informed him of his miraculous gift of poetry, and the reeve took him to the abbess Hilda. Hilda and a number of high and pious ecclesiastics listened to his story, and witnessed his performance, after which they read. to him a short portion of the Scripture in Anglo-Saxon, and he went home, and on his return next morning he repeated it in Anglo-Saxon verse, excelling in beauty everything they had heard before. Such a heaven-horn poet was a prize not to be thrown away, and Cædmon yielded to Hilda's earnest solicitations, and became a monk of her house-for the early Auglo-Saxon nunneries contained monks and nuns in the same establishment. He was here employed by the pious abbess in translating into Anglo-Saxon verse the whole of the sacred history. Bede gives an affecting account of Cædmon's death, which took place about the year 680. He was regarded as a saint by the Anglo-Saxon Church, and his death is placed in the Anglo-Romish Calendar on the 11th of February, but there is no known authority for fixing it on that day.
Cædmon is, indeed, only known even by name through his story, as told by the historian Bede, who was almost his contemporary, or at least lived only a generation later, and it would have been perhaps no more thought of than other legends, but for a rather curious circumstance. The celebrated Archbishop Usher became possessed of an early manuscript of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which he afterwards gave to Junius, a distinguished Anglo-Saxon scholar, and it proved to be a paraphrase in Anglo-Saxon verse of some parts of the Scripture history, bearing so many points of resemblance to the works of Cædmon, as described by Bede, that Junius did not hesitate to print it under Cædmon's name (at Amsterdam, in 1655). One excellent edition, with an English translation, has since been printed by Mr. Benjamin Thorpe. The original MS. is now among Junius's manuscripts in the Bodleian library, at Oxford. The earlier part of this poetry, containing the history of the Creation and of the fall of man, is much more poetical than the rest, and may very probably be the same which, in Anglo-Saxon times, was ascribed to Cædmon, though it bears no name in the manuscript. The story of the temptation and fall is told with great dramatic effect, and in some circumstances bears such close resemblance to Milton's Paradise Lost, that it has been supposed that the latter poet must have been acquainted with the poetry of Cædmon, though the latter was printed by Junius in a very unreadable form, and without any translation.
PREMATURE DEATH OF DESCARTES
The death of this eminent philosopher was indirectly brought about by the means which he had taken to escape from the persecution of his enemies. After completing his travels, he determined to devote his attention exclusively to philosophical and mathematical inquiries, with the ambition of renovating the whole circle of the sciences. At the age of thirty-three he sold a portion of his patrimony, and retired into Holland, where he remained eight years so completely aloof from the distractions of the world, that his very place of residence was unknown, though he pre-served an intercourse of letters with many friends in France. Meanwhile with the increase of his fame arose a spirit of controversy against his writings.
Shrinking from the hostility of the church, he gladly accepted an invitation of Christina, Queen of Sweden, by whom he was treated with the greatest distinction, and was relieved from the observance of any of the humiliating usages so generally exacted by sovereigns of those times from all whom they admitted into their presence. The queen, however, probably from the love of differing from every one else, chose to pursue her studies with Descartes at live o'clock in the morning; and as his health was peculiarly delicate, the rigour of the climate, and the unseasonable hour, brought on a pulmonary disease, of which he very soon died, being then only in the fifty-fourth year of his age. The queen wished to inter him with great honour in Sweden; but the French ambassador interposed, and his remains were conveyed for sepulture amongst his countrymen in Paris. Thus fell one of the greatest men of his age, a victim to the absurd caprice of the royal patron who had afforded him shelter from the persecutions of the church.
Probably, no man has given a greater impulse to mathematical and philosophical inquiry than Descartes. He was the first who successfully applied algebra to geometry; he pointed out the important law of the sines; in an age in which optical instruments were extremely imperfect, he discovered the changes to which light is subjected in the eye by the crystalline lens; and he directed attention to the consequences resulting from the weight of the atmosphere. He was not only the greatest geometrician of the age, but by the clearness and admirable precision of his style, he became one of the founders of French prose. In his laborious experiments upon the animal frame, he recognised Harvey's researches on the circulation of the blood, and made it the basis of the physiological part of his work on Man. He is the author of what is emphatically called Modern Philosophy; his name has revived in some measure of late years, chiefly owing, among our-selves, to Dugald Stewart, and in France to the disposition of the philosophers to cast away their idols of the eighteenth century.
Shenstone has furnished an inn-window quatrain which is oftener heard from the lips of our generation than any of his dulcet pastoral verses:
Whoe'er has travelled life's dull round,
Where'er his stages may have been,
Must sigh to think he still has found
His warmest welcome at an inn.
Dr. Percy, who more than once visited 'the wailing poet of the Leasoues,' told Miss Hawkins that he always thought Shenstone and found him a man unhappy in his temper. In his taste for rural pleasures he was finical to a ludicrous degree of excess. In the purchase of a cow, he regarded nothing but the spots on her hide; if they were beautiful, all other requisites were disregarded. His man-servant, whose office it was to shew his grounds, had made a grotto, which Shenstone approved. This was always made the test of the visitor's judgment: if he admired William's grotto, his master thought him worth accompanying round the place, and, on a signal from the man, appeared; but if it was passed with little notice, he kept out of the way.
On the 11th of February, 1765, a petition was presented to King George III, by the master peruke-makers of the metropolis, setting forth the distresses of themselves and an incredible number of others dependent on them, from the almost universal decline of their trade, in consequence of gentlemen so generally beginning to wear their own hair. What business remained to their profession was, they said, nearly altogether taken from them by French artists. They had a further ground of complaint in their being obliged to work on Sunday, which they would much rather have spent in their religious duties, 'learning to fear God and honour the king [a bit of flattery].' Under these circumstances, the distressed peruke-makers prayed his majesty for means of relief. The king-though he must have scarcely been able to maintain his gravity-returned a gracious answer. But the public, albeit but little converted from the old views regarding the need of protection to industry, had the sense to see the ludicrous side of the petition, and some one quickly regaled them by publishing a petition from the Body Carpenters, imploring his majesty to wear a wooden leg, and to enjoin all his servants to appear in the royal presence with the same graceful decoration.
The foolish excesses in which the politicians of the last century occasionally indulged, were strangely exemplified upon the acquittal of Admiral Koppel, February 11th, 1779, after a trial of thirty days, on charges of misconduct and incapacity exhibited against him by Sir Hugh Palliser. In the evening, a courier brought to London the news of Keppel's acquittal, couched in the most honourable terms for him, and most ignominious to his antagonist. Public feeling was much excited in favour of Keppel. Palliser himself was fain to make his escape out of Portsmouth (where the trial took place), at five in the morning, in a hired post-chaise, to avoid insults and outrage from the mob, and sheltered himself in the Admiralty. The news spread rapidly through London, and by eleven at night most houses were illuminated, both in London and Westminster. Guns were discharged by the servants of some of the great lords in the Opposition, and squibs and crackers thrown plentifully by the populace. The ministers, and some of the Scots, were sullen, and would not exhibit lights; yet the mob was far more temperate than usual, the Opposition having taken no pains to inflame them, nor even to furnish them with any cri de guerre.
Late at night, as the people grew drunk, an empty house in Pall Mall, recently inhabited by Sir Hugh Palliser, and still supposed to belong to him, was attacked; the windows were broken, and at last, though some guards had been sent for, the mob forced their way into it, and demolished whatever remained. The windows of Lord Mulgrave and Captain Hood were likewise broken, and some others accidentally that were not illuminated. It happened at three in the morning that Charles Fox, Lord Derby, and his brother, Major Stanley, and two or three other young men of quality, having been drinking at Almack's till that late hour, suddenly thought of making the tour of the streets, and were joined by the Duke of Ancaster, who was very drunk, and, what shewed that it was no premeditated scheme, the latter was a courtier, and had actually been breaking windows.
Finding the mob before Palliser's house, some of the young lords said, 'Why don't you break Lord George Germaine's windows?' The populace had been so little tutored, that they asked who he was, and receiving some further encouragement, they quickly proceeded to break Lord George's windows. The mischief pleasing the juvenile leaders, they marched to the Admiralty, forced the gates, and demolished Palliser's and Lord Lilburne's windows. Lord Sandwich, exceedingly terrified, escaped through the garden with his mistress, Miss Reay, to the Horse Guards, and there betrayed a most manifest panic. The rioters then proceeded to Lord North's, who got out on to the top of his house; but the alarm being now given, the Guards arrived, and prevented any further mischief.--Walpole's Last Journals, vol. ii., pp. 342-344.
The coast of Sussex appears to have been greatly frequented by smugglers in the middle of the last century, and their affrays with Custom-house officers were at that time very desperate. In the year 1749, there was sent to Chichester a special commission, with Sir Michael Forster as president, to try seven smugglers for the murder of two Custom-house officers; an act perpetrated under circumstances of atrocity too horrible to be related. They were convicted, and, with the exception of one who died the night before the execution, they were all executed and hanged in chains, in different parts of Sussex. The state of public feeling regarding these culprits made it necessary that a company of foot-guards and a troop of horse should attend to prevent all chances of rescue. Seven more were tried and convicted at the following assizes at East Grinstead, for highway robbery and for the barbarous murder of a poor fellow named Hawkins, who was suspected of giving information against them, and who was literally flogged to death. Six of them were executed. Most of them belonged to a celebrated set called the Hawkhurst gang, who were the terror of the counties of Kent and Sussex. Three more were tried at the Old Bailey, also with sixty others, who had broken open the Custom-house at Poole, and taken away a quantity of tobacco, which had been seized and deposited there. They were executed at Tyburn. A place called Whitesmith was celebrated as a nest of smugglers long after this time; and about 1817, one of the outstanding debts in the overseers' books was due to a well-known smuggler of Whitesmith, for 'two gallons of gin to be drunk in the vestry.' There were places of deposit for the smuggled goods, most ingeniously contrived, in various parts of Sussex. Among others, it is said, was the manorial pond at Fulmer, under which there was dug a cavern, which could hold 100 tubs of spirits: it was covered with planks, carefully strewed over with mould, and this remained undiscovered for many years.
In the churchyard at Patcham is an inscription on a monument, now nearly illegible, to this effect:
Sacred to the memory of DANIEL SCALES, who was unfortunately shot, on Tuesday evening, Nov. 7, 1796
Alas ! swift flew the fatal lead,
Which pierced through the young man's head.
He instant fell, resigned his breath,
And closed his languid eyes in death.
And you who to this stone draw near,
Oh! pray let fall the pitying tear.
From this sad instance may we all
Prepare to meet Jehovah's call.
The real story of his death is this: Daniel Scales was a desperate smuggler, and one night he, with many more, was coming from Brighton, heavily laden, when the Excise officers and soldiers fell in with them. The smugglers fled. in all directions; a riding officer, as such persons were called, met this man, and called upon him to surrender his booty, which he refused to do. The officer knew that 'he was too good a man for him, for they had tried it out before; so he shot Daniel through the head.'
A COWED AMBASSADOR
In a grave work by Archbishop Parker, entitled The Defence of Priestes Marriages, 4to, there occurs unexpectedly an amusing anecdote:
'It chanced that there came a French ambassador to the king's highness, King Henry the Eighth, with letters, I trove, from the French king, not long before that sent to him from the holy father of Rome. This ambassador, sitting at the council-table, began to set up a stout countenance with a weak brain, and carped English exceedingly fast; which he thought should have been his only sufficient commendation of them all that were at the table, that he could speak so readily. The matter of his talk was universal; but the substance was much noting the gluttony of Englishmen, which devoured so much victual in the land; partly magnifying the great utility of the French tongue, which he noted to be almost throughout the world frequented. And in his conference he marvelled of divers noblemen that were present, for that they could not keep him talk, or yet so much as understand him to perceive his great wit. 'Among the number of the lords, there sat the old honourable Captain, the Lord Earl of Shrewsbury, looking at his meat, and gave neither ear nor countenance to this fade man, but gave others leave to talk, and sat as he might, shaking his head and hands in his palsy, which was testimony enough whether he were not in his days a warrior lying abroad in the field, to take air of the ground. This French ambassador was offended with him, and said, 'What an honour it were for yonder nobleman, if he could speak the French tongue! Surely it is a great lack to his nobility.' One of the lords that kept him talk, asking leave of this mounsire to report part of the communication to the Lord Shrewsbury, made report thereof, yet in his most courteous manner, with [as] easy and favourable rehearsal as might touch a truth. 'When he heard it, where before his head, by the great age, was almost grovelling on the table, he roused himself up in such wise, that he appeared in length of body as much as he was thought ever in all his life before. And, knitting his brows, he laid his hand on his dagger, and set his countenance in such sort, that the French hardie ambassador turned colour wonderfully.' Saith the French [fellow] so?' saith he; 'marry, tell the French dog again, by sweet St. Cuthbert, If I knew that I had but one pestilent French word in all my body, I would take my dagger and dig it out, before I rose from the table. And tell that tawny [varlet] again, howsoever he hath been hunger-starved himself at home in France, that if we should not eat our beasts, and make victual of them as fast as we do, they would so increase beyond measure, that they would make victual of us, and eat us up!'
'When these words were reported again to the French guest, he spoiled no more victual at the dinner after that, but drank wondrous oft . . his eyes were never off him [the Earl of Shrewsbury] all that dinner while after.'