Born: Edward Bird, eminent 'genre' painter, 1772, Wolverhampton; Henry Clay, American statesman, 1777; Jolla George, Earl of Durham, statesman, 1792, Durham.
Died: Seneca, Roman philosopher, ordered to death by Nero, 65, Rome; Jacques-Benique Bossuet, Bishop of Condom, orator, philosopher, and historian, 1704, Meaux; Dr. George Cheyne, eminent physician, 1742, Bath; William Kent, painter, sculptor, and architect, 1748, Burlington House, Chiswick; Pietro Metastasio, Italian poet, 1782, Vienna; Dr. Edward Young, poet, 1765, Welwyn.
Feast Day: St. Victor, of Braga, martyr. St. Julius, Pope, 352. St. Sabas, the Goth, martyr, 372. St. Zeno, bishop of Verona, 380.
LUCIUS ANNÆUS SENECA
Lucius Annæus Seneca, the Roman philosopher, was born B.C. 6. His life may be considered as an ineffectual protest against the corruption of his time. At length the tyranny and excesses of the emperors were indulged in unchecked, where only a few opposed what the majority were not sorry to reap the fruits of.
Seneca was educated in all that was to be learned, and became a pleader at the bar. This vocation he had to abandon through the jealousy of Caligula, who deemed himself an able orator. Nevertheless, the emperor took occasion to banish him to Corsica; where he remained, till recalled by Agrippina to educate her son Nero. After being Nero's tutor, he became his minister, and endeavoured to restrain his excesses. Suspecting danger, he asked to be allowed to surrender to his master all his wealth, and to go into studious retirement. But the tyrant refused this request; and taking hold of the first pretext, ordered him to put an end to himself. This he did like a philosopher, before his wife and friends. First his veins were opened. Then he took a draught of poison. But still dying slowly, he was put into a warm bath; and at last, it is said, suffocated in a stove.
His manner of life was abstemious and noble. His philosophy was somewhat eclectic - a fusion of all the existing systems, though the stoical predominated. His style was somewhat florid and ostentatious, yet both the style and the philosophy are frequently admirable, and often filled with such a spirit as we are apt to think Christianity alone has inculcated.
We subjoin, in illustration, an extract from his essay On Anger, which is a fair specimen of this spirit:
Verily, what reason is there for hating those who fall into the hands of the law? or into sins of any kind? It is not the mark of a wise man to hate those that err: indeed, if he does, he himself should hate himself. Let him think how much of what he does is base, how many of his actions call for pardon. Will he hate himself then? Yet a just judge does not give one decision in his own case, another in a stranger's. No one is found who can absolve himself. Whoever says he is innocent, looks at the proof rather than his conscience. How much more human is it to shew a mild, kind spirit to those who do wrong; not to drive them headlong, but to draw them back! If a man wander out of his path through ignorance of the country, it is better to set him right again, than to urge him on further.
DR. GEORGE CHEYNE
Dr. George Cheyne, a physician of considerable eminence in his day, was born in Aberdeenshire, and educated at Edinburgh under the celebrated Doctor Pitcairne. After a youth passed in severe study and prudent abstinence, Cheyne came to London, with the determination of entering on practice. On his first arrival, being a stranger, and having to make friends, he was compelled to conform to the general style of life, which was to be described as free. The consequence of the sudden change from abstemiousness to epicurean indulgence, was, that Cheyne increased daily in bulk, swelling to such an enormous size, that he weighed no less than thirty-two stones; and was compelled to have the whole side of his carriage made open to receive him.
With this increase of size came its natural concomitants, shortness of breath, habitual lethargy, and a crowd of nervous and scorbutic symptoms. In this deplorable condition, having vainly exhausted the powers of medicine, he determined to try a milk and vegetable diet, the good effects of which speedily appeared. His size was reduced almost to a third; and he recovered his strength, activity, and cheerfulness, with the perfect use of all his faculties.
And by a regular adherence to a milk and vegetable regimen, he lived to a good age, dying at Bath in his seventy-second year. He wrote several works that were well received by the medical and scientific world, two of which - An Essay on, Health and Long Life, and The English Malady, or a Treatise of Nervous Diseases, -contained the results of his own experience, and, as may be supposed, met with considerable ridicule from the free-living doctors and critics of the day. On the publication of the first work, Winter, a well-known physician of the period, addressed the following epigram to Cheyne:
Tell me from whom, fat-headed Scot,
Thou didst thy system learn;
From Hippocrate thou hadst it not,
Nor Celsus, nor Pitcairne.
Suppose we own that milk is good,
And say the same of grass;
The one for babes is only food,
The other for an ass.
Doctor! one new prescription try,
(A friend's advice forgive;)
Eat grass, reduce thyself, and die,
Thy patients then may live.
To which Cheyne made the following reply:
My system, doctor, is my own,
No tutor I pretend;
My blunders hurt myself alone,
But yours your dearest friend.
Were you to milk and straw confined,
Thrice happy might you be;
Perhaps you might regain your mind,
And from your wit get free.
I can't your kind prescription try,
But heartily forgive;
'Tis natural you should wish me die,
That you yourself may live.
KENT AND HIS ST. CLEMENT'S ALTAR-PIECE
William Kent was a distinguished mediocrity in a mediocre time. The favour of the Earl of Burlington and some other men of rank, enabled him, without genius or acquired skill, to realize good returns, first for pictures, afterwards as an architect. It is fully admitted that he was deficient in all the qualities of the artist, that his portraits were without likeness, his ceilings and staircases coarse caricatures of Olympus-that he was, in short, wholly a bad artist. And yet, in a worldly point of view, Kent, to the discredit of the age, was anything but a failure.
Amongst a few pictures which Kent had interest to get bought and introduced into London churches, was one which the vestry of St. Clement's in the Strand-Johnson's church-had unhappily placed above their communion-table. It was such a muddle, in point of both design and execution, that nobody could pretend to say what was the meaning of it. The wags, at length getting scent of it, began to lay bets as to what it was all about; some professing to believe one thing and some another. The Bishop of London became so scandalised at what was going on, that-probably feeling as much bewildered as anybody-he ordered the picture to be taken down.
Then came in Wag-in-chief, William Hogarth, professing to clear up the mystery, or at least to solve several dubious points in it, by an engraving representing the picture; which engraving being placed under the piece, might, he said, enable the vestry to restore it to its place, and so save 'the sixty pounds which they wisely gave for it.' On this engraving he had letters with references below for explanation. Thus, said he, No. 1 is not the Pretender's wife and children, as our weak brethren imagine. No. 2 is not St. Cecilia, as the connoisseurs think, but a choir of angels playing in concert.' The other explanations betray the fine secretive humour of Hogarth: 'A, an organ; B, an angel playing on it. C, the shortest joint of the arm; D, the longest joint. E, an angel tuning a harp; F, the inside of his leg, but whether right or left is not yet discovered. G, a hand playing on a lute; II, the other leg, judiciously omitted to make room for the harp. J and K, smaller angels, as appears from their wings.'
Kent must have writhed under this play upon his precious work; but the sixty pounds secured in his pocket would doubtless be a sort of consolation.
The 'Third Night' of Young's Complaint is entitled 'Narcissa,' from its being dedicated to the sad history of the early death of a beautiful lady, thus poetically designated by the author. Whatever doubts may exist with respect to the reality or personal identity of the other characters noticed in the Night Thoughts, there can be none whatever as regards Narcissa. She was the daughter of Young's wife by her first husband, Colonel Lee. When scarcely seventeen years of age, she was married to Mr. Henry Temple, son of the then Lord Palmerston. Soon afterwards being attacked by consumption, she was taken by Young to the south of France in hopes of a change for the better; but she died there about a year after her marriage, and Dr. Johnson, in his Lives of the Poets, tells us that 'her funeral was attended with the difficulties painted in such animated colours in Night the Third.' Young's words in relation to the burial of Narcissa, eliminating, for brevity's sake, some extraneous and redundant lines, are as follows:
While nature melted, superstition raved; That mourned the dead; and this denied a grave. For oh! the curst ungodliness of zeal! While sinful flesh relented, spirit nursed In blind infallibility's embrace, Denied the charity of dust to spread O'er dust! a charity their dogs enjoy. What could I do? What succour? What resource? With pious sacrilege a grave I stole; With impious piety that grave I wronged; Short in my duty; coward in my grief! More like her murderer than friend, I crept With soft suspended step, and muffled deep In midnight darkness, whispered my last sigh. I whispered what should echo through their realms, Nor writ her name, whose tomb should pierce the skies.'
All Young's biographers have told the same story, from Johnson down to the last edition of the Night Thoughts, edited by Mr. Gilfillan, who, speaking of Narcissa, says, 'her remains were brutally denied sepulture as the dust of a Protestant.'
Le Tourneur translated the Night Thoughts into French about 1770, and, strange to say, the work soon became exceedingly popular in France, more so probably than ever it has been in England. Naturally enough, then, curiosity became excited with respect to where the unfortunate Narcissa was buried, and it was soon discovered that she had been interred in the Botanic Garden of Montpellier. An old gatekeeper of the garden, named Mercier, confessed that many years previously he had assisted to bury an lean lady in a hollow, waste spot of the garden. As he told the story, an English clergyman came to him and begged that he would bury a lady; but he refused, until the Englishman, with tears in his eyes, said that she was his only daughter; on hearing this, he (the gate-keeper), being a father himself, consented.
Accordingly, the Englishman brought the dead body on his shoulders, his eyes 'raining' tears, to the garden at midnight, and he there and then buried the corpse. The dismal scene has been painted by a French artist of celebrity; and there cannot be many persons who have not seen the engravings from that picture, which are sold as souvenirs of Montpellier. About the time this confession was made, Professor Gouan, an eminent botanist, was writing a work on the plants in the garden, into which he introduced the above story, thus giving it a sort of scientific authority; and consequently the grave of Narcissa became one of the treasures of the garden, and one of the leading lions of Montpellier.
A writer in the Evangelical Magazine of 1797 gives an account of a visit to the garden, and a conversation with one Bannal, who had succeeded Mercier in his office, and who had often beard the sad story of the burial of Narcissa from Mercier's lips.
Subsequently, Talma, the tragedian, was so profoundly impressed with the story, that he commenced a subscription to erect a magnificent tomb to the memory of the unfortunate Narcissa; but as the days of bigotry in matters of sepulture had nearly passed away, it was thought better to erect a simple monument, inscribed, as we learn from Murray's Handbook, with the words:
PLACANDIS NARCISSAE MANIBUS
The Handbook adding, 'She was buried here at a time when the atrocious laws which accompanied the Revocation of Nantes, backed by the superstition of a fanatic populace, denied Christian burial to Protestants.'
Strange to say, this striking story is almost wholly devoid of truth. Narcissa never was at Montpellier; she died and was buried at Lyons. That she died at Lyons, we know from Mr. Herbert Crofts's account of Young, published by Dr Johnson; that she was buried there, we know by her burial registry and her tombstone, both of which are yet in existence. And by these we also learn that Young's 'animated' account of her funeral in the Night Thoughts is simply untrue. She was not denied a grave:
'Denied the charity of dust to spread O'er dust;'
nor did he steal a grave, as he asserts, but bought and paid for it. Her name was not left unwrit, as her tombstone still testifies.
The central square of the Hotel de Dieu at Lyons was long used as a burial-place for Protestants; but the alteration in the laws at the time of the great Revolution doing away with. the necessity of having separate burial-places for different religions, the central square was converted into a medical garden for the use of the hospital. The Protestants of Lyons being of the poorer class, there were few memorials to remove when the ancient burying-ground was made into a garden. The principal one, however, consisting of a large slab of black marble, was set up against a wall, close by an old Spanish mulberry-tree. About twenty years ago, the increasing growth of this tree necessitated the removal of the marble slab, when it was found that the side that had been placed against the wall contained a Latin inscription to the memory of Narcissa. The inscription, which is too long to be quoted here, leaves no doubt upon the matter. It mentions the names of her father and mother, her connexion with the noble family of Lichfield, her descent from Charles II, and the name of her husband, and concludes by stating that she died on the 8th of October 1736, aged eighteen years.
On discovering this inscription, M. Ozanam, the director of the Hotel de Dieu, searched the registry of Protestant burial, still preserved in the Hotel de Ville of Lyons, and found an entry, of which the following is a correct translation:
Madam Elizabeth Lee, daughter of Colonel Lee, aged about eighteen years, wife of Henry Temple, English by birth, was buried at the Hotel de Dieu at Lyons, in the cemetery of per-sons of the Reformed religion of the Swiss nation, the 12th of October 1736, at eleven o'clock at night, by order of the Prevot of the merchants. Received 729 livres, 12 sols.
Signed, Para, Priest and Treasurer.
From this document, the authenticity of which is indisputable, we learn the utter untruthfulness of Young's recital. True, Narcissa was buried at night, and most probably without any religious service, and a considerable sum charged for the privilege of interment, but she was not denied the 'charity their dogs enjoy.' Calculating according to the average rate of exchange at the period, 729 livres would amount to thirty-five pounds sterling. Was it this sum that excited a poetical indignation so strong as to overstep the bounds of veracity? We could grant the excuse of poetical licence, had not Young declared in his preface that the poem 'was real, not fictitious.' The subject is not a pleasing one, and we need not carry it any further; but may conclude in the words of Mr. Cecil, who, alluding to Young's renunciation of the world in his writings, when he was eagerly hunting for church preferment, says: ' Young is, of all other men, one of the most striking examples of the sad disunion of piety from truth.'
RODNEY'S NAVAL VICTORY
The victory achieved by Admiral Rodney over the French fleet in the West Indies, on the 12th of April 1782, was brilliant in itself, but chiefly remarkable for the service which it rendered to Britain at a critical time. The English military force had been baffled in America; France, Spain, and Holland were assailing her in the weakness to which her contest with the colonies had reduced her; the very coasts of Britain were insulted by the cruisers of her many enemies. There was at the best before her a humiliating peace. Rodney's victory came to hold up her drooping head, and enable her to come respectably out of the war.
The French fleet, consisting of thirty vessels, under Count de Grasse, was placed at Martinique. It designed to make a junction with the Spanish fleet, that the two might fall with full force upon Jamaica. It became of the first importance for the British fleet under Sir George Rodney to prevent this junction. With a somewhat greater number of vessels, but less aggregate weight of metal, he followed the French for three or four days, fighting a partial and inconclusive action on the 9th of April; finally bringing it to a general action on the morning of the 12th, in a basin of water bounded by the islands of Guadaloupe, Dominique, Saintes, and Marigalante.
The battle began at seven in the morning, and consisted throughout the day of a close hand-to-hand fight, in which the English ships poured destruction upon the largely manned vessels of the enemy. A little after noon, the English admiral made a movement of a novel character; with four vessels he broke through the enemy's line near the centre, and doubled back upon it, thus assailing it on both sides, and throwing all into confusion.
The French admiral's vessel, the Ville de Paris, was a superb one of 110 guns, a present from the French capital to Louis XV at the close of the preceding war. An English 74, the Canada, grappled with it, and in a two-hours' combat reduced it nearly to a wreck. It finally surrendered to Sir Samuel Hood, commander of the English van, when only two men besides the admiral were left unhurt. The whole affair was a series of hand-to-hand conflicts, in which the English displayed all their characteristic audacity and perseverance. When evening came with the abruptness peculiar to the tropical regions, the French obtained some advantage from it, as it permitted some of their vessels to escape. Seven, however, remained in the hands of the victors. The killed and wounded on that side reached the astounding amount of nine thousand, while that of the English was under one thousand. Rodney also had the glory of carrying the French commander as his prisoner to London.
The British nation, on receiving intelligence of this great victory, broke out in a tumult of joy which had scarcely had a precedent since the acquittal of the seven bishops. Rodney, who previously had been in rather depressed personal circumstances, was made a peer, and pensioned.