12th December

Born: Nicholas Sanson, geographer, 1599, Abbeville; Samuel, Viscount Hood, British admiral, 1724, Butley, Somersetshire; Dr. Erasmus Darwin, poet and physiologist, 1731, Elston, near Newark; Sir William Beechey, artist, 1753; Archduchess Maria Louisa, second wife of Napoleon, 1791.

Died: Darius Nothus, of Persia, 405 B.C.; Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, political and philosophical writer, 1751, Battersea; Colley Cibber, dramatist, 1757, Islington; Sir Mark Isamhard Brunel, engineer of Thames Tunnel, 1849, London.

Feast Day: Saints Epimachus, Alexander, and others, martyrs, 250. St. Corentin, bishop and confessor, 5th century. St. Columba, abbot in Ireland, 548. St. Finian, or Finan, confessor, bishop of Clonard, in Ireland, 6th century. St. Cormac, abbot in Ireland. St. Valery, abbot, 622. St. Colman, abbot in Ireland, 659. St. Eadburge, abbess of Menstrey, in Thanet, 751.


An historical parallel has sometimes been drawn between Queen Catharine and the Empress Josephine: the one having been divorced by Henry VIII, in order that he might marry Anne Boleyn; and the other divorced by the Emperor Napoleon, in order that he might marry the Arch-duchess Maria Louisa. But, beyond these points of similarity, the parallel fails. Henry sought to throw a stigma on her of whom he was tired as a wife; Napoleon had political reasons only for what he did. Josephine bowed meekly to her fate; but Catharine felt keenly that she was an injured woman. A little has been said, in a former article, concerning a prophecy or fortune-teller's story to which Josephine gave credence; but something may be added here relating more nearly to Maria Louisa.

In 1809, Napoleon was approaching the zenith of his power. His conquests had made nearly all the sovereigns of Europe suppliants for his favour. Austria had long held out, but the terrible defeat at Wagram had brought her, too, into subjection. Napoleon's ambition, never satisfied, sought for still more and more of the adjuncts of imperial power. He had married a lady with no royal blood in her veins, and by this lady he had no child to inherit his imperial throne; thus a double reason was afforded to a man of his character for getting rid of his poor wife. And, in addition, the French themselves were uneasy at the future prospects of their country, in the event of the emperor dying without issue. M. Thiers, though a glorifier of Napoleon, does not hide the real character of the line of conduct adopted by him on this occasion. On the 26th of October 1809, Napoleon stated his views to the Chancellor Cambacérès:

He loved that old companion of his life, Josephine,' says the historian, 'though he was not scrupulously faithful to her, and it wrung his heart to part from her; but, as his popularity declined, he liked to suppose that it was not his fault, but the want of a future, which menaced his glorious throne with premature decay. To consolidate what he felt trembling under his feet, was his engrossing thought; if a new wife were chosen, obtained, placed in the Tuileries, and became the mother of a male heir, the faults which had set all the world against him might, perchance, be disarmed of their consequences. It was well, no doubt, to have an indisputable heir; but better, a hundredfold better, would it have been to be prudent and wise! However this may be, Napoleon, who, notwithstanding his want of a son, at the zenith of his glory and power after Tilsit, had been unable to bring himself to sacrifice Josephine, now at last resolved to do so; because he felt the empire shaken, and was about to seek, in a new marriage, the security which he ought to have derived from an able and moderate course of conduct.

Cambacérès ventured to urge that the proceeding was in various ways objectionable; but Napoleon haughtily silenced him. The emperor had long before secretly sounded Alexander concerning an alliance with the House of Russia. On the 9th of December, at a painful interview between Napoleon, Josephine, and her son and daughter by her first marriage, the separation was agreed upon-the inflexible will of the emperor overbearing all opposition. On the 15th, the civil contract of marriage was formally dissolved, in presence of most of the emperor's relations; and a conclave of obsequious bishops soon afterwards found arguments for annulling the spiritual or religious marriage. Meanwhile negotiations were going on between Napoleon and Alexander for the marriage of the former to the Princess Anna of Russia, the Emperor Alexander's sister. Austria and Saxony had each thrown out hints that an alliance with the great military conqueror would be acceptable; and as there was some hesitation on the part of Russia, Napoleon suddenly changed his plan, and, on the 5th of February 1810, demanded in marriage the youthful Archduchess Maria Louisa of Austria.

The demand was eagerly responded to by the court of Vienna, and the lady herself seems to have urged no objection. M. Thiers states that the emperor, Francis II, delighted at the prospect, nevertheless desired that the wishes of his daughter should be consulted, and sent M. Metternich to tell her the news.

The young princess was eighteen, of a good figure, excellent health, and a fair German complexion. She had been carefully educated, had some talent, and a placid temper; in short, the qualities desirable in a mother. She was surprised and pleased, far from being dismayed, at going into that France where, but lately, the revolutionary monster devoured kings; and where a conqueror, now mastering the revolutionary monster, made kings tremble in his turn. She accepted with becoming reserve, but with much delight, the brilliant lot offered to her. She consented to become the consort of Napoleon, and mother to the heir of the greatest empire in the world.

A marriage by proxy took place in Vienna on the 11th of March; a civil marriage at St. Cloud on the 1st of April; and a final spiritual marriage at the Tuileries on the 2nd.

Maria Louisa became a mother in due course, and Napoleon seems to have had no particular affection for her in any other light. She was a princess of neutral or negative qualities, kind in private life, but a little embarrassed when her husband wished her to take the lead in splendid court-ceremonies. Poor Josephine, of course, was not likely to be brought into her society. There was nearly thirty years' difference in their ages (Josephine was born June 24th, 1763, and Maria Louisa December 12th, 1791); and still more difference in their antecedents. Both empresses were alike in this, they ceased to be empresses while Napoleon was still alive; though Maria Louisa succeeded still in retaining a certain rank, being made Duchess of Parma by the allies, after the fall of Bonaparte.


Mark Isambard Brunel was born at Hacqueville, a few miles from Rouen, in 1769-that notable year which gave to the world Napoleon and Wellington, Humboldt and envier. Like so many other inventors, Brunel displayed from childhood a passion for construction. His father, who was a prosperous farmer, determined to make him a priest; but Mark shewed no inclination whatever for literary studies, devoting his attention to drawing, mathematics, and mechanics, and amusing himself in making boats, clocks, and musical instruments, while a carpenter's shop was to him a paradise. There was little gained by contending with such impulses, and Brunel, having been allowed in 1786 to enter the navy, made several voyages to the West Indies. In 1793, his ship was paid off, and happening shortly afterwards to visit Paris, he imprudently, in a moment of excitement, made a royalist speech at a political club, and was counselled to seek safety in flight. He escaped to Rouen, and sailed for New York, where he was naturalised as an American citizen. He found easy and abundant employment as an engineer; and was appointed to make a survey for a canal between Lake Champlain and the Hudson, to design and build a theatre in New York, and to plan the defence and fortification of that city. There was every reason for him to remain in the United States, but whilst at Rouen he had made the acquaintance of Sophia Kingdom, an English lady, for whose sake he abandoned his professional prospects. In 1799, he accordingly recrossed the Atlantic, settled in England, and married.

The story of Brunel's life,for years hereafter, is comprised in a list of inventions over which he bestowed a world of pains and anxiety, but from which he reaped little beyond a bare subsistence. One of the most useful was a plan for making block-pulleys for ships by machinery. It was adopted by the government in 1803, and he was employed to carry it into execution in the dock-yard at Portsmouth. The ingenuity of the contrivance was not less remarkable than the accuracy and economy with which its operations were performed. It comprises, so to speak, sixteen different machines, all driven by the same steam-power; seven of which cut and shape logs of elm or ash into the shells of blocks of any required size, while nine fashion stems of lignrun-vitae into pulleys or sheaves, and form the iron pin, on the insertion of which the block is complete. Four men with this machine turn out as many blocks as fourscore did formerly; and although 1500 blocks are required in the rigging of a single ship of the line, the supply has never failed even in time of war; and sixty years' experience has suggested scarcely an improvement on Brunel's original design.

The service he thus rendered to the navy he endeavoured to repeat for the army, in devising machinery for the manufacture of shoes, in which pins took the place of thread, so that the rubbish supplied by rascally contractors might be superseded. The peace of 1815 removed the pressing necessity for great numbers of soldiers' shoes, and it was reserved for American enterprise to develop into commercial practice shoe-making by machinery. The circular-saw, worked by the steam-engine, was brought to its present high degree of force and efficiency by Brunel, and the saw-mill in Chatham dock-yard was erected under his care. He devised a machine for twisting cotton and forming it into balls; another for hemming and stitching; another for knitting; another for copying letters; another for ruling paper; another for nail-making; another for making wooden boxes; a hydraulic packing press; besides new methods and combinations for suspension-bridges, and a process for building wide and flat arches without centerings. He was employed in the construction of the first Ramsgate steamer, and was the first to suggest the use of steam-tugs to the Admiralty. At the playful request of Lady Spencer, he produced a machine for shuffling cards. The cards were placed in a box, a handle was turned, and in a few seconds the sides flew open, and presented the pack divided into four parts, thoroughly mixed. This enumeration may give some idea of the versatility of Brunel's inventive powers, but he lacked mercantile faculty whereby to turn them to pecuniary advantage. In 1821, he was actually imprisoned for debt, and was only released by a vote of £5000 from government.

In the construction of an engine with carbonic acid gas for the motive-power, Brunel, assisted by his son, spent nearly fifteen years and £15,000 in experiments. They overcame most of the mechanical difficulties-they obtained an intense power at a low temperature-and the hopes of the scientific and commercial worlds were alike strongly excited; but in the end they had to confess a failure, and admit, 'that the effect of any given amount of caloric on gaseous bodies was not greater than that produced by the expansion of water into steam;' and that, therefore, 'the practical application of condensed gases, including common air, was not so advantageous as that derived from the expansive force of steam.'

The great enterprise by which Brunel became popularly distinguished, was the Thames Tunnel. Two or three attempts had been made to connect the shores of Essex and Kent by a subaqueous passage, but all had failed. One day, when Brunel was passing through the dock-yard at Chatham, his eye was caught by a piece of ship-timber perforated by the destructive worm-the Teredo Navalis; and the study of its mode of operation suggested the construction of a cast-iron shield, which should bore like an auger by means of strong hydraulic screws, while as fast as the earth was cut away, bricklayers should be at hand to replace it with an arch. He patented the plan, and revived the project of a road under the Thames. In 1824, a Thames Tunnel Company was formed, and in 1825, the work commenced, and was pursued through many difficulties from explosions of gas and irruptions of water, until 1828. At the beginning of that year about 600 feet were completed, when, on the 12th of January, the river broke through, six men were drowned, and Brunel's son, also so distinguished in after-days as an engineer, only escaped by being washed up the shaft. The tunnel was emptied, but the funds of the company were exhausted. In an 'Ode to M. Brunel,' Hood wrote:

Other great speculations have been nursed,
Till want of proceeds laid them on the shelf:
But thy concern was at the worst
When it began to liquidate itself.

For seven years, until 1835, work was suspended, when, at the solicitation of the Duke of Wellington, government advanced the company, on loan, £246,000. At last the entire 1200 feet, from Wapping to Rotherhithe, were completed, and on the 25th of March 1843 the tunnel was opened to the public. Brunel was knighted by the Queen, and his fame was borne to the ends of the earth. As an engineer, the work reflected great credit on him, but commercially it was a failure. It cost well-nigh £500,000, and the tolls produce annually something less than £5000, a sum barely sufficient to keep the tunnel in repair. If it were possible to complete the original design, and open it as a carriage-way, the revenue would be enormously increased; but in order to do so, it is estimated that £180,000 would be required to construct the necessary approaches.

Brunel died in 1849, in his eighty-first year, leaving behind him a son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who fully inherited his father's genius. Brunel was a little man, with a head so large, that an Irishman once said, 'Why that man's face is all head!' Many amusing anecdotes are told of his blunders during his moods of inventive abstraction; as, for instance, caressing a lady's hand, who sat next him at table, thinking it his wife's; forgetting his own name, and handing in other people's cards at houses he visited; and getting into wrong coaches, and travelling long distances ere he discovered his mistake. At other times he shewed rare presence of mind. Once when inspecting the Birmingham railway, trains, to the horror of the bystanders, were observed to approach from opposite directions. Brunel, seeing retreat to be impossible, buttoned his coat, brought the skirts close round him, and placing himself firmly between the two lines of rail, the trains swept past, and left him unscathed.


When Charles I had been put to death by the Revolutionists, on the 30th January 1649, the nation was governed, for four or five years, by the parliament, more or less under the control of the successful military leaders. Circumstances gave these military leaders more and more influence; for, owing to the contentions of Royalists, Presbyterians, Levellers, Covenanters, Fifth - Monarchy Men, Antinomians, and other parties, the civil power was very much distracted. Cromwell soon gained an ascendency over all the other active men of the day, on account both of his military successes, and of the force of his character generally. After the battle of Worcester (September 3rd, 1651), and the flight of Charles II, Cromwell made gradual strides towards supreme power. The parliament grew jealous of him and the army, and he jealous of their preference for the navy. At length, on April 20th, 1653, he forcibly dissolved that celebrated parliament, known in history as the Long Parliament: a most violent proceeding, which made him practically dictator over the whole kingdom.

Cromwell, in his self-assumed capacity as 'captain-general and commander-in-chief of all the armies and forces raised and to be raised within this commonwealth,' summoned a sort of parliament, by an order dated June 6: the parliament or council to consist of persons nominated by him, and not elected by the people. A hundred and forty of these summonses were issued, and all but two of the persons summoned attended. Bulstrode expressed wonder, when recording these events, that so many persons of good-fortune and education accepted the summons from such a man as Oliver. Mr. Carlyle comments on Bulstrode's perplexity, and on the constitution of the assembly generally, in one of his most characteristic passages:

My disconsolate friend, it is a sign that Puritan England, in general, accepts this action of Cromwell and his officers, and thanks them for it, in such a case of extremity; saying, as audibly as the means permitted: Yea, we did wish it so! Rather mournful to the disconsolate official mind! Lord Clarendon, again, writing with much latitude, has characterised this convention as containing in it 'divers gentlemen who had estates, and such a proportion of credit in the world as might give some colour to the business;' but consisting, on the whole, of a very miserable beggarly sort of persons, acquainted with nothing but the art of praying; 'artificers of the meanest trades,' if they even had any trade: all which the reader shall, if he please, add to the general guano-mountains, and pass on, not regarding. The undeniable fact is, these men were, as Whitelock intimates, a quite respectable assembly; got together by anxious 'consultation of the godly clergy,' and chief Puritan lights in their respective counties; not without much earnest revision, and solemn consideration in all kinds, on the part of men adequate enough for such a work, and desirous enough to do it well. The list of the assembly exists; not yet entirely gone dark for mankind. A fair proportion of them still recognisable to mankind. Actual peers one or two: founders of peerage families, two or three, which still exist among us-Colonel Edward Montague, Colonel Charles Howard, Anthony Ashley Cooper. And better than kings' peers, certain peers of nature; whom, if not the king and his pasteboard Norroys have had the lack to make peers of, the living heart of England has since raised to the peerage, and means to keep there-Colonel Robert Blake, the Sea-King, for one. 'Known persons, I do think, of approved integrity, men fearing God; and perhaps not entirely destitute of sense any one of them! Truly it seems rather a distinguished parliament-even though Mr. Praise-God Barebone, the leather merchant in Fleet Street, be, as all mortals must admit, a member of it.
The fault, I hope, is forgivable? Praise-God, though he deals in leather, and has a name which can be misspelt, one discerns to be the son of pious parents; to be himself a man of piety, of understanding, and weight-and even of considerable private capital, my witty funky friends! We will leave Praise-God to do the best he can, I think.-And old Francis Rouse is there from Devonshire; once member for Truro; provost of Eton College; whom by-and-by they make speaker; whose psalms the northern kirks will sing. Richard, mayor of Hursley, is there, and even idle Dick Norton; Alexander Jaffray of Aberdeen, Laird Swinton of the College of Justice in Edinburgh; Alderman Ireton, brother of the late Lord Deputy, colleague of Praise-God in London. In fact, a real assembly of the notables in Puritan England; a parliament, parliamentum, a real speaking apparatus for the now dominant interest in England, as exact as could well be got -much more exact, I suppose, than any ballot-box, free hustings, or ale-barrel election usually yields. Such is the assembly called the Little Parliament, and wittily Barebones' Parliament. Their witty name survives; but their history is gone all dark

This was, indeed, a little parliament of only five months' duration. Hume casts unsparing ridicule on its proceedings; Carlyle praises it, saying that its mission was 'to introduce Christianity into private life.' It failed. 'No wonder,' says Carlyle. Fearful impediments lay against that effort of theirs: the sluggishness, the half-and-half-ness, the greediness, the cowardice, the general opacity of ten million men against it-alas, the whole world, and what we call the devil and all his angels, against it!! Considerable angels, human and others.'

Cromwell found his Little Parliament often going beyond his wishes in reform; and at length a bill to abolish tithes, because the clergy were lazy. and another to abolish the Court of Chancery, raised such a storm against them that Cromwell was glad to get rid of them. By a sort of party-manoeuvre, on December 12th, the parliament voted its own death, in a resolution: 'That the sitting of this parliament any longer, as now constituted, will not be for the good of the commonwealth; and that therefore it is requisite to deliver up unto the Lord-general Cromwell the powers which we received from him.' The minority insisted on maintaining 'a house,' and continued the sittings with a new speaker. But General Harrison entered with a few soldiers, and asked what they were doing. 'We are seeking the Lord,' said they. 'Then you may go elsewhere,' said he: 'for to my certain knowledge, He has not been here these many years.' Thus the 'Barebones' Parliament' died: four days afterwards, Oliver Cromwell became Protector.


The following lines are inscribed upon a tomb in Lambeth churchyard:

Know, stranger, are thou pass; beneath this stone,
Lye John Tradescant, grandsire, father, son;
The last dy'd in his spring; the other two
Lived till they had travelled Art and Nature through,
As by their choice collections may appear,
Of what is rare, in land, in sea, in air;
Whilst they (as Homer's Iliad in a nut)
A world of wonders in one closet shut.
These famous antiquarians that had been
Both Gardeners to the Rose and Lily Queen,
Transplanted now themselves, sleep here; and when
Angels shall with their trumpets waken men,
And fire shall purge the world, these hence shall rise
And change this garden for a paradise.

The grandsire of the above epitaph came of Flemish origin. After travelling through Europe and in the East, he settled in England; and was at one time gardener to the Duke of Buckingham, and afterwards to Charles I. He formed a large 'physic garden' at South Lambeth, and was the means of introducing many plants into this country. So ardent was he in the acquisition of rarities, that he is said to have joined an expedition against the Algerine corsairs, in order to obtain a new sort of apricot from North Africa, which was known thence as the Algier apricot. He was also an enthusiastic collector of curiosities, with which he filled his house, and earned for it the popular name of 'Tradeskin's Ark.' He died at an advanced age, in 1652 or 1653.

His son, another John Tradescant, followed in his father's footsteps. In 1656, he published a catalogue of his collection under the title of Museum Tradescantianum. From this we learn that it was indeed a multifarious assemblage of strange things-stuffed animals and birds, chemicals, dyeing materials, idols, weapons, clothes, coins, medals, musical instruments, and relics of all sorts. We here enumerate a few of the strangest articles-'Easter eggs of the patriarchs of Jerusalem; two feathers of the phoenix tayle; claw of the bird Roc, who, as authors report, is able to truss an elephant; a natural dragon above two inches long; the Dodad, from the isle of Mauritius, so big as not to be able to fly; the bustard, as big as a turkey, usually taken by greyhounds on Newmarket Heath; a cow's tail from Arabia; half a hazel-nut, with seventy pieces of household stuff in it; a set of chessmen in a peppercorn; landskips, stories, trees, and figures, cut in paper by some of the emperors; a trunnion of Drake's ship; knife wherewith Hudson was killed in Hudson's Bay; Anna Bullen's night-vail; Edward the Confessor's gloves.'

In Ashmole's diary, under date 12th December 1659, occurs this entry:

Mr Tradescant and his wife told me they had long been considering upon whom to bestow their closet of curiosities when they died, and at last resolved to give it unto me.

Tradescant died in 1672, and bequeathed his house to Ashmole, who, after some litigation with his friend's widow, took possession of the ark in 1674. The collection was left by Ashmole to the university of Oxford, and was the nucleus of the museum bearing his name.

In May 1747, Sir W. Watson visited the long neglected garden of Tradescant, and found it entirely grown over with weeds, with which, however, a few of the old gardener's favourites yet struggled for life. Among them were 'two trees of the arbutus, the largest which I have seen, which from their being so long used to our winters, did not suffer by the severe colds of 1729 and 1740, when most of their kind were killed throughout England.'