Born: Robert I of Scotland, 1274, Lochmaben; Lalande, French mathematician, 1732, Bourg en Bresse.
Died: Emperor Anthemius, murdered at Rome, 472; Jack Cade, leader of a peasant rebellion in England, killed near Lewes, 1450; Charles Macklin, comedian, 1797, London; General Alexander Hamilton, Vice-president of United States, killed in a duel, 1804.
Feast Day: St. Pius I, pope and martyr, 157; St. James, bishop of Nisibis, confessor, 350; St. Hidulphus, bishop and abbot, 707; St. Drostan, abbot of Dalcongaile, about 809.
A rare and remarkable instance of length of days, combined with an arduous and successful theatrical career, is exhibited in the great age of Macklin, who died in his one hundred and seventh year. Born two months before his father was killed, fighting for King James at the battle of the Boyne, in 1690, Macklin died in 1797, thus witnessing the extremities of two centuries, and nearly having lived in three. As an actor, he was distinguished for his performance of Shylock, Sir Archy, in his own comedy of Love-fl-la-Mode, and other parts in which sarcasm forms the leading trait of character. His writings display the same sarcastic tone, and his best performances seem to have been reflections of his own personal disposition. Even his repartees were generally of the severe kind. For instance, on a dignitary of the church, who had a doubtful reputation for veracity, telling Macklin that a tradesman in the parish had called him a liar, the actor asked: 'What reply did you make I told him,' said the clergyman, 'that a lie was one of the things I dared not commit' 'And why, doctor,' retorted Macklin, 'why did you give the fellow so mean an opinion of your courage?
Macklin's shrewdness, knowledge of the world, long experience of life, and liberal ideas rendered his conversation peculiarly pleasant and instructive, when he was not in the sarcastic mood. Nor was he unaware of his failing in the latter respect.
Alluding to it on one occasion, he said: 'It takes a long time for a man to learn the art of neutralising in conversation. I have, for a great part of my life, been endeavouring at it, but was never able to act up to it as I wished. I could never sit still hearing people assert what I thought wrong, without labouring to set them right, not considering how difficult it is to correct the errors of others, when we are so wedded to our own. But this folly generally attaches to men of inexperience and lively imagination: your dull fellows know better; they have little but neutrality to trust to, and soon find out the policy of it.' Macklin's recollections of the very different manners and customs that prevailed in the earlier part of the last century, were very interesting. Then, the east and west of London were as totally distinct, as two cities one hundred miles apart. The merchant then scarcely ever lived out of the city, his residence being invariably attached to his counting-house; his credit, in a great degree, depending upon the observance of this long-established practice.
The first emigration of the city merchants westwards, was about 1747, and then only as far as Hatton Garden; and even this removal was ventured upon by such only as had already realised large fortunes, and possessed reputations for wealth beyond any shadow of doubt. 'The lawyers, too,' said Macklin, 'lived mostly in the Inns of Court, or about Westminster Hall, and the players all resided in the vicinity of the theatres, so that they could attend rehearsal without inconvenience, or expense of coach-hire. But I do not know how the change has been effected; we, the actors, are all now looking out for high ground, squares, and genteel neighbour-hoods, no matter how far distant from the theatres, as if local selection could give rhythm to the profession, or genteel neighbourhoods instantaneously produce good-manners.'
Macklin's last appearance on the stage, was in his hundredth year, in the character of Shylock. Even at that very great age, he was physically capable of performing the part with considerable vigour; but his mental powers were almost gone. In the second act, his memory totally failing him, he with great grace and solemnity came forward, and apologised to the audience. For a few years afterwards, he scarcely felt the infirmities of advanced age. He lived then, as he always had been accustomed to do, much from home; taking long walks, and frequenting a tavern in Duke's Court, every evening, where, though still by no means unready at putting down an impudent questioner by a biting sarcasm, he used to relate, with tolerable distinctness, many interesting anecdotes to gratified listeners. As his infirmities increased, he wandered feebly about the vicinity of Covent Garden, and often visited the theatre, more, apparently, from the force of habit, than from any amusement he derived from the performance. On these occasions, however full the house might be, the pit audience always made room for him in his accustomed seat-the centre of the last row, next to the orchestra.
Mr. Kirkman relates a conversation the had with Macklin, less than a year before he died, which forms an interesting and not mipleasing picture of faculties still shrewd and vivacious, though fast fading into decay. As a specimen of the conversation of a man upwards of one hundred and six years old, it is probably unique.
Kirkman. Are you not pleased when your friends come and converse with you?
Macklin. I am always very happy to see my friends, and I should be very happy to hold a-a-a-see there now
Kirkman. A conversation you mean, sir?
Macklin. Ay, a conversation. Alas, sir! you see the wretched state of my memory; see there now, I could not recollect that common word-but I cannot converse. I used to go to a house very near this, where my friends assemble. . . . It was a-a-a a company]; no that 's not the word, a-a-club, mean. I was the father of it, but I could not hear all; and what I did hear, I did not a-aunder-under-understand; they were all very attentive to me, but I could not be one of them. Indeed, I found, sir, that I was not fit to keep company, so I stay away.
Kirkman. But I perceive with satisfaction, sir, that your sight is good.
Macklin. 0, sir! my sight like everything else begins to fail too; about two days ago, I felt a-aa-there now- I have lost it; a pain just above my left eye.
Kirkman. I think you appear at present free from pain.
Macklin. Yes, sir, I am pretty comfortable now; but I find my, my-a-a-my strength is all gone. I feel myself going gradually.
Kirkman. But you are not afraid to die?
Macklin. Not in the least, sir. I never did any person any serious mischief in my life; even when I gambled, I never cheated: I know that a-a-a -see there now- death, I mean, must come, and I am ready to give it up.
Kirkman. I understand you were at Drury Lane Theatre last night.
Macklin. Yes, sir, I was there.
Kirkman. Yes, sir, the newspapers of this morning take notice of it.
Macklin. Do they?
Kirkman. Yes, sir;-the paragraph runs thus: 'Among the numerous visitors at Drury Lane Theatre last night, we observed the Duke of Queensberry and the veteran Macklin, whose ages together amount to one hundred and ninety-six'
Macklin. The Duke of who?
Kirkman. The Duke of Queensberry, sir.
Macklin. I don't know that man. The Duke of Queensberry! The Duke of Queensberry! Oh! ay, I remember him now very well. The Duke of Queensberry old! Why, sir, I might be his father I* Ha, ha, ha! Kirkman. Well, sir, I understand that you went to the Haymarket Theatre to see the Merchant of Venice.
Macklin. I did, sir.
Kirkman. What is your opinion of Mr. Palmer's Shylock?
Macklin. Why, sir, my opinion is, that Mr. Palmer played the character of Shylock in one style. In this scene there was a sameness, in that scene a sameness, and in every scene a sameness: it was all same, same, same!-no variation. He did not look the character, nor laugh the character, nor speak the character of Shakspeare's Jew. In the trial-scene, where he comes to cut the pound of flesh, he was no Jew. Indeed, sir, he did not hit the part, nor did the paint hit him.
Macklin seems to have been mainly indebted for his long life to a vigorous constitution. He never was an abstemious man. His favourite beverage was ale, porter, or white wine thickened to the consistence of a syrup with sugar. For many years before he died, his loss of teeth compelled him to eat only fish, hash, and other spoon-meats. For the last ten years of his existence, he had no fixed hour for meals. He ate when he was hungry, at any hour of the day or night, drank when he was thirsty, and went to bed or arose just as he felt inclined, without any reference to time. There can be no doubt that the constant care and attention of his devoted wife, combined with her thorough knowledge of his disposition, constitution, and temper, was partly the cause of the prolongation of his life.
Although the name of Alexander Hamilton is not so popularly familiar as several others concerned in the construction of the American Union, yet there is scarcely another which so closely interests the profounder students of that momentous passage in the world's history. Of Hamilton's share in that work, Guizot testifies, 'that there is not one element of order, strength, and durability in the constitution which he did not powerfully contribute to introduce into the scheme and cause to be adopted.'
Hamilton's father was a Scotsman, and his mother a member of a Huguenot family, banished from France. He was born in 1757, on the island of Nevis; and whilst a youth serving as clerk in a merchant's office, a hurricane of more than ordinary violence occurred, and Hamilton drew up an account of its ravages, which was inserted in a West Indian newspaper. The narrative was so well written, and excited so much attention, that the writer was deemed born for something better than mercantile drudgery, and was sent to New York to prosecute his education. The dispute between Great Britain and the colonies had begun to grow very warm, and Hamilton soon distinguished himself by eloquent speeches in advocacy of resistance.
With the ardour of youth he commenced the study of military tactics, and turned his learning to good account in the first action between the British and Americans at Lexington in 1775. In the course of the unhappy war which followed, Hamilton was Washington's most trusted and confidential aid. At the conclusion of hostilities he commenced practice at the bar, became secretary of the treasury under President Washington, and a leading actor in all those intricate, delicate, and perplexing discussions, which attended the consolidation of the thirteen independent colonies into one nation.
Hamilton was the most conservative of republicans. He opposed the ultra-democratic doctrines of Jefferson, he was an ardent admirer of the English constitution, and he beheld the course of the French Revolution with abhorrence and dismay. But all the blessings which lay in store for America in the treasury of Hamilton's fine intellect, were lost by a cruel mischance ere he had attained his forty-seventh year. With the feelings of an upright man, he had expressed his sense of the profligacy of Aaron Burr, who thereon challenged him to a duel. Hamilton had all reasonable contempt for such a mode of settling differences, but fearing, as he wrote, that 'his ability to be in future useful either in preventing mischief or effecting good was inseparable from a conformity to prejudice in this particular,' he weakly yielded. With every precaution of secrecy, he met his adversary at Weehardken, near New York. Colonel Burr fired, and his ball entered. Hamilton's side, who fell mortally wounded, his pistol going involuntarily off as he staggered to the ground. After a day of agony, he expired on the 11th of July 1804. Never, except at Washington's death, was there such mourning in America.
Hamilton was a man under middle height, spare, erect, and of a most dignified presence. His writings in The Federalist are read by political philosophers with admiration to this day. He wrote rapidly, but with precision and method. His habit was to think well over his subject, and then, at whatever time of night, to go to bed and sleep for six or seven hours. On awaking, he drank a cup of strong coffee, sat down at his desk, and for five, six, seven, or even eight hours continued writing, until he had cleared the whole matter off his mind.
HURLING THE WHETSTONE: THE COUTEAU RODOMONT
Our ancestors, with a strong love for practical jokes, and an equally strong aversion to false-hood and boasting, checked an indulgence in such vices, when they became offensive, by very plain satire. A confirmed liar was presented with a whetstone, to jocularly infer that his invention, if he continued to use it so freely, would require sharpening. Hence, to 'win the whetstone,' was equivalent to being proclaimed the greatest liar in the company.
Annexed is a cut representing a man offering the whetstone to 'a pack of knaves,' being one of a series of twenty copper-plates of foreign execution (probably Dutch or Flemish) without date or name, but evidently of the time of Charles I, preserved in the Bridgewater Library. It is thus described in Mr. Payne Collier's catalogue thereof: 'Hurling the whetstone,' was a phrase apparently equivalent to 'throwing the hatchet,' and the latter is derived from the tale of a man who was so incredibly skilful, that he was able to throw a hatchet at a distant object, and sever it; perhaps 'hurling the whetstone' was an exaggeration of a similar kind, easily connected with the hatchet. Underneath the preceding engraving are the following lines
The whettstone is a knave that all men know,
Yet many on him doe much cost bestowe:
Hee 's us'd almost in every shoppe, but whye?
An edge must needs be set on every lye.
Shakspeare has an illustrative allusion to this satirical custom. In As You Like It (Act I. sc. 2), the entrance of the fool, Touchstone, is greeted by Celia as a lucky event, 'fortune's work, who, perceiving our natural wits too dull to reason, hath sent this natural' for our whetstone: for always the dulness of the fool is the whetstone of his wits.' In Troilus and Cressida (Act V. sc. 2), the same idea occurs when Thersites satirically alludes to the duplicity of Cressida in the words:
Now she sharpens;-'well said, whetstone.'
Ben Jonson has a more direct allusion to it, when he makes one of his characters declare of another, he will lie cheaper than any beggar, and louder than most clocks; for which he is right properly accommodated to the whetstone, his page!' thus branding both master and man as liars by collusion. A confirmed slanderer, whose allegations were his own invention, was sometimes publicly exposed with the whetstone hanging round his neck in the pillory, or on the stool of repentance.
The form of the old whetstone differed in some points from the modern one, as may be seen in our engraving on the preceding page, from one preserved in the British Museum. It is supplied with a loop for suspension at one end, and thus could be readily hung to the girdle of a butcher or artisan whose tools required sharpening, and might be as easily attached to the neck of any convicted liar.
Boasters, who occupied the time, or exhausted the patience of the company at a social gathering, were silenced in France and Germany by having delivered to them a wooden knife, called couteau rodomont, and rodomont messer, from the word rodomontado, applied to a rambling boastful narrative. They were kept at taverns, and placed beside the president of the table, and he stopped the troublesome speaker by ringing the bell in theblade, or blowing a whistle concealed in the handle of the knife, and then delivering it into the hands of the offender to guard until a greater boaster was found; this ceremony being greeted by peals of laughter, and words of mockery. Our engraving depicts one of these curious carving knives, made at Nuremberg in the early part of the sixteenth century, bearing upon the bell the arms of the emperor, and on the blade descriptive verses from the pen of the renowned cobbler-poet, Hans Sachs. The rhymes are of the homeliest description, and allude as well to the folly as the immorality of falsehood. The utility of the implement is enforced in a couplet which runs along the back of the blade, and may be thus translated:
Though made from wood, this knife is good,
To cut short tales from the lying brood.
This knife was probably made about 1550. Sachs was born in 1494, and lived till 1576; he wrote abundantly, and on all subjects, in the early part of his century, and reckons his works in 1561 at 'a sum-total of six thousand and forty-eight pieces, great and small.' During the whole of his life he continued to work at his trade, although he found leisure enough to spin out a greater mass of rhyme than was ever produced by one man, if Lope de Vega, the Spaniard, be excepted. Very many of Sachs's poems were called forth by temporary circumstances; several are satirical; and those which he levelled at the Church of Rome, from the popularity of their style, did much in aid of the Reformation.