Born: Dr. Edward Jenner, discoverer of vaccination, 1749, Berkeley; Henry William, Marquis of Anglesey, statesman, 1768.
Died: Heloise, 1163, Paraclete Abbey; Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1575, Lambeth; Catherine I of Russia, widow of Peter the Great, 1727; Dr. Samuel Clarke, theological writer, 1729, London; William Louth (biblical scholarship), 1732, Buriton; Samuel Boyse, poet, 1749, London; Alexis Claude Clairhaut, mathematician, 1756; Dr. William Heberden, medical writer, 1801, Windsor; Prince Talleyrand, 1838, Paris.
Feast Day: St. Possidius, 5th century; St. Maden, of Brittany; St. Maw, St Cathan, 7th century; St. Silave, 1100; St. Paschal Baylon, 1592.
The story of Heloise and Abelard is one of the saddest on record. It is a true story of man's selfishness and woman's devotion and self-abnegation. If we wished for an allegory which should be useful to exhibit the bitter strife which has to be waged between the earthly and the heavenly, between passion and principle, in the noblest minds, we should find it provided for us in this painful history. We know all the particulars, for Abelard has written his own confessions, without screening himself or concealing his guilt; and several letters which passed between the lovers after they were separated, and devoted to the exclusive service of religion, have come down to posterity.
Not alone the tragic fate of the offenders, but also their exalted worth and distinguished position, helped to make notorious the tale of their fall. Heloise was an orphan girl, eighteen years old, residing with a canon of Notre Dame, at Paris, who was her uncle and guardian. This uncle took great pains to educate her, and obtained for her the advantage of Abelard's instruction, who directed her studies at first by letters. Her devotion to study rendered her remarkable among the ladies of Paris, even more than her beauty. 'In face,' Abelard himself informs us, 'she was not insignificant; in her abundance of learning she was unparalleled; and because this gift is rare in women, so much the more did it make this girl illustrious through the whole kingdom.'
Abelard, though twice the age of Heloise, was a man of great personal attraction, as well as the most famous man of his time, as a rising teacher, philosopher, and divine. His fame was then at its highest. Pupils came to him by thousands. He was lifted up to that dangerous height of intellectual arrogance, from which the scholar has often to be hurled with violence by a hard but kind fate, that he may not let slip the true humility of wisdom. 'Where was found,' Heloise writes, 'the king or the philosopher that had emulated your reputation? Was there a village, a city, a kingdom, that did not ardently wish to see you? When you appeared in public, who did not run to behold you? And when you withdrew, every neck was stretched, every eye sprang forward to follow you. The women, married and unmarried, when Abelard was away, longed for his return!' And, becoming more explicit, she continues: 'You possessed, indeed, two qualifications-a tone of voice, and a grace in singing-which gave you the control over every female heart. These powers were peculiarly yours, for I do not know that they ever fell to the share of any other philosopher. To soften by playful instruments the stern labours of philosophy, you composed several sonnets on love, and on similar subjects. These you were often heard to sing, when the harmony of your voice gave new charms to the expression. In all circles nothing was talked of but Abelard; even the most ignorant, who could not judge of harmony, were enchanted by the melody of your voice. Female hearts were unable to resist the impression.' So the girl's fancies come back to the woman, and it must have caused a pang in the fallen scholar to see how much his guilt had been greater than hers.
It was a very thoughtless thing for Fulbert to throw together a woman so enthusiastic and a man so dangerously attractive. In his eagerness that his niece's studies should advance as rapidly as possible, he forgot the tendency of human instinct to assert its power over minds the most cultivated, and took Abelard into his house. A passionate attachment grew up between teacher and pupil: reverence for the teacher on the one hand, interest in the pupil on the other, changed into warmer emotions. Evil followed. What to lower natures would have seemed of little moment, brought to them a life of suffering and repentance. In his penitent confessions, no doubt conscientiously enough, Abelard represents his own conduct as a deliberate scheme of a depraved will to accomplish a wicked design; and such a terrible phase of an intellectual mind is real, but the circumstances in which the lovers were placed are enough to account for the unhappy issue. The world, however, it appears, was pleased to put the worst construction upon what it heard, and even Heloise herself expresses a painful doubt, long afterwards, for a moment, at a time when Abelard seemed to have forgotten her. 'Account,' she says, 'for this conduct, if you can, or must I tell you my suspicions, which are also the general suspicions of the world? It was passion, Abelard, and not friendship, that drew you to me; it was not love, but a baser feeling.'
The attachment of the lovers had long been publicly known, and made famous by the songs which Abelard himself penned, to the utter neglect of his lectures and his pupils, when the utmost extent of the mischief became clear at last to the unsuspicious Fulbert. Abelard contrived to convey Heloise to the nunnery of Argenteuil. The uncle demanded that a marriage should immediately take place; and to this Abelard agreed, though he knew that his prospects of advancement would be ruined, if the marriage was made public. Heloise, on this very account, opposed the marriage; and, even after it had taken place, would not confess the truth. Fulbert at once divulged the whole, and Abelard's worldly prospects were for ever blasted. Not satisfied with this, Fulbert took a most cruel and unnatural revenge upon Abelard, the shame of which decided the wretched man to bury himself as a monk in the Abbey of St. Dennis. Out of jealousy and distrust, he requested Heloise to take the veil; and having no wish except to please her husband, she immediately complied, in spite of the opposition of her friends.
Thus, to atone for the error of the past, both devoted themselves wholly to a religious life, and succeeded in adorning it with their piety and many virtues. Abelard underwent many sufferings and persecutions. Heloise first became prioress of Argenteuil; afterwards, she removed with her nuns to the Paraclete, an asylum which Abelard had built and then abandoned. But she never subdued her woman's devotion for Abelard. While abbess of the Paraclete, Heloise revealed the undercurrent of earthly passion which flowed beneath the even piety of the bride of heaven, in a letter which she wrote to Abelard, on the occasion of an account of his sufferings, written by himself to a friend, falling into her hands. In a series of letters which passed between them at this time, she exhibits a pious and Christian endeavour to perform her duties as an abbess, but persists in retaining the devoted attachment of a wife for her husband. Abelard, somewhat coldly, endeavours to direct her mind entirely to heaven; rather affects to treat her as a daughter than a wife; and seems anxious to check those feelings towards himself which he judged it better for the abbess of the Paraclete to discourage than to foster. Heloise survived Abelard twenty-one years.
We have endeavoured to state the bare facts of this tragic history, and feel bound, in conclusion, to warn the reader that Pope's far-famed epistle of Heloise to Abelard conveys a totally erroneous notion of a woman who died a model of piety and universally beloved. She ever looked up to her husband with veneration, appreciating him as a great scholar and philosopher. She gave up everything on his account; and though once, when a mere girl, she was weak when she should have been strong, there is none of that sensuality traceable in her passionate devotion which is Pope's pet idea, and which he pursues with such assiduity. Perhaps the best passage in Pope's poem is one in which he represents Heloise as describing the melancholy of her convent's seclusion. We subjoin it as a specimen of the poem, without being very vain of it.
The darksome pines, that o'er you rocks reclined;
Wave high, and murmur to the hollow wind;
The wandering streams that shine between the hills,
The grots that echo to the tinkling rills;
The dying gales that pant upon the trees,
The lakes that quiver to the curling breeze;-
No more these scenes my meditation aid,
Or lull to rest the visionary maid.
But o'er the twilight groves and dusky eaves,
Long sounding isles, and intermingling graves,
Black Melancholy sits, and round her throws
A death-like silence and a dread repose:
Her gloomy presence saddens all the scene,
Shades every flower, and darkens every green;
Deepens the murmur of the falling floods,
And wreathes a browner horror on the woods.
At his death in 1838, Talleyrand had reached the age of eighty-four. He had figured as a bishop before the Revolution, made a narrow escape in that crisis of the national history, was Napoleon's minister for foreign affairs under both the Consulate and Empire, was the leading Frenchman in arranging the Restoration, and did not forsake public life under either the restored Bourbons or Louis Philippe. The character of the age in which he had lived was strongly brought before our thoughts when, on taking the oath to the new system of things in 1830, he said-' This is the thirteenth-I hope it will be the last.' He is generally reputed as the very type of the statesman of expediency and the slippery diplomat; and yet there is reason to believe that Talleyrand, all through, acted for the best in behalf of his country. It is true, he had an extraordinary amount of that sagacity which, in the midst of general enthusiasm, can coolly calculate chances; which is, accordingly, never carried away; which plays with the passions and sentiments of men. But he was not necessarily on this account a wicked politician. He was even honest in certain great crises-for example, when he counselled Napoleon to moderation after obtaining the purple, and lost his favour by discommending the invasion of Spain, which he truly prophesied would be found 'the beginning of the end.' Being out of the immediate service of the Emperor, he was perfectly at liberty to move for the change of dynasty in 1814, and he continued faithful to the new one in the trying crisis of the ensuing year.
The reputation of Talleyrand has arisen more from his words than his actions. He could justly appreciate the ardour of other people, and make cool, witty remarks upon them. Hence it was thought that he had no heart, no generous feeling. He could point out the evil con-sequences of openness and zeal; hence it was thought that he had no probity or faithfulness. But he was in reality a kind-hearted man, and generally acted correctly. All we can truly say is just this, that in the various difficult matters he was concerned in, he could see the inevitable consequences of being the simpleton or the enthusiast; and that, being a wit, he loved to put his reflections on these things into epigrammatic form, thus unavoidably giving them an air of heartlessness. The generality of men, repining at the useful self-command they saw he could exercise, took their revenge by representing him as a monster of cold-heartedness and treachery-which was far from being his actual character. Their in-justice was supported by a sang-froid which was constitutional with Talleyrand, but which was merely external.
The bon mots of Talleyrand had a great celebrity. There was something cynical about them, but they were also playful. When told that the Duke of Bassano was come back with Napoleon from Russia, he remarked, with an expression of doubt on his countenance, 'Those bulletins are always lying-they told us all the baggage had been left behind.' Such a fling at a stupid statesman many might have made. But what are we to say of the depth of such of his sayings as that the execution of the Duc D'Enghien was 'worse than a crime-it was a blunder'? There we see the comprehensive and penetrating intellect, as well as the epigrammatist. After all, as often happens with men's good things, some are traced to earlier wits. For instance, his saying that language was given to man 'not to express his thoughts, but to conceal them,' is traced back to South, the English divine. So also his reply to the question 'What had passed in the council?' 'Trois heures,' had a prototype in a saying which Bacon records of Mr Popham, the Speaker of the House of Commons,' who, being asked by Queen Elizabeth what had passed in the lower house, answered, 'Please your majesty, seven weeks.' It is not easy even for a Talleyrand to be original.
Some of his acts were practical witticisms, as when, at the death of Charles X, he appeared in a white hat in the republican quarters of Paris, and in the quartier St. Germain put on a crape; or, when asked by a lady for his signature in her album, he inscribed it at the very top of a page, so that there might be no order for ten thousand francs written over it.
Not long before the death of Talleyrand, an able English writer, speaking of his brilliant apothegms, said, 'What are they all to the practical skill with which this extraordinary man has contrived to baffle all the calamities of thirty years, full of the ruin of all power, ability, courage, and fortune? Here is the survivor of the age of the Bastile, the age of the guillotine, the age of the prison-ship, the age of the sword. And after baffling the Republic, the Democracy, the Despotism, and the Restoration, he figures in his eightieth year as the Ambassador to England, the Minister of France, and retires from both offices only to be chief counsellor, almost the coadjutor of the king. That where the ferocity of Robespierre fell, where the sagacity of Napoleon fell, where the experience of the Bourbons fell, this one old man, a priest in a land of daring spirits-where conspiracy first, and soldiership after, were the great means of power-should survive all, succeed in everything, and retain his rank and influence through all change, is unquestionably among the most extraordinary instances of conduct exhibited in the world.'
SITTING BELOW THE SALT
One of the customs of great houses, in former times, was to place a large ornamental salt-vat (commonly but erroneously called salt-foot) upon the table, about the centre, to mark the part below which it was proper for tenants and dependents to sit. The accompanying illustration represents a remarkably handsome article of this kind which belonged to Archbishop Parker, and has since been preserved in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, along with other plate presented to that institution by the venerable pre-late, who was at one time its Master. The Corpus Christi salt-vat is an elegant fabric of silver and gold, beautifully carved externally, and twice the size of our illustration.
The salt-cellar of Bishop Fox, 1517, which is preserved in Corpus Christi College, Oxford, is a beautiful specimen of the goldsmiths' work of the period. It is silver-gilt, covered with ornaments elaborately chased, one of the chief figures being the pelican, which was the bishop's emblem.
This practice of old days, so invidiously distinguishing one part of a company from another, appears to have been in use throughout both England and Scotland, and to have extended at least to France. It would be an error to suppose that the distinction was little regarded on either hand, or was always taken good-humouredly on the part of the inferior persons. There is full evidence in old plays, and other early productions of the press, that both parties were fully sensible of what sitting below the salt inferred. Thus, in Cynthia's Revels, by Ben Jonson, we hear of a character who takes no notice of any ill-dressed person, and never drinks to any-body below the salt. One writing in 1613 about the miseries of a poor scholar in the houses of the great, says, 'he must sit under the salt-that is an axiom in such places.' Even, strange to say, the clerical preceptor of the children had to content himself with this inferior position, if we are to trust to a passage in Bishop Hall's satires
A gentle squire would gladly entertain
Into his house some trencher-chapelaine,
Some willing man that might instruct his sons,
And that could stand to good conditions:
First, that he lie upon the truckle bed
Whiles his young maister lieth o'er his head;
Second, that he do, on no default,
Ever presume to sit above the salt;
Third, that he never change his trencher twice, &c.
So also we find in an old English ballad the following sufficiently pointed allusion
Thou art a carle of mean degree,
The salt it doth stand between me and thee;
But, an' thou hadst been of a gentle strain,
I would have bitten my gant again.
A Scotch noble, again, writing in 1680 about his family and its old neighbours, introduces a derogatory allusion to the self-raised son of one of those against whom he had a spite, as coming of a family who, in visiting his (the noble's) relatives, 'never came to sit above the salt-foot.'
THE BURIAL OF HELOISE
The connexion of Heloise with Abelard, their separation, their subsequent lives, spent in penitence and religious exercises, not unmingled with human regrets, have employed a hundred pens. Heloise, surviving Abelard twenty-one years, was deposited in the same grave within Paraclete's white walls. The Chronique de Tours reports that, at the moment when the tomb of Abelard was opened for the body of Heloise, Abelard held out his hand to receive her. The author of a modern life of Abelard tells this tale, and, the better to support it, gives instances of similar miracles; as, for example, that of a senator of Dijon, who, having been interred twenty-eight years, opened his arms to embrace his wife when she descended into the same tomb. These, being French husbands, may be supposed to have been unusually polite; but that posthumous conjugal civilities are not necessarily confined to that nation, is shown by an anecdote told of the sainted Queen Margaret of Scotland. When, many years after her death, this royal lady was canonized, it was necessary to remove her body from a place in Dunfermline Abbey, where it lay beside her husband, King Malcolm, to a place more convenient for a shrine. It was found that the body was so preternaturally heavy that there was no lifting it, The monks were nonplused. At length, one suggested that the queen refused to be moved without her husband. Malcolm was then raised, and immediately the queen's body resumed its ordinary weight, and the removal was effected.
The bodies of Abelard and Heloise, after several migrations, were finally removed in 1800 to the cemetery of Pere la Chaise, near Paris.