Born: Pierre Bayle, celebrated critic and controversial writer, author of Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, 1647, Carla-en-Coanté, Foix; Sir David Wilkie, painter, 1785, Manse of Cults, Fifeshire.
Died: Cardinal Reginald Pole, eminent ecclesiastic, 1558; Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of Durham, 1559; Jacob Böhme, or Böhm, celebrated mystical writer, 1624, Alt-Seidenberg, Upper Lusatia; Dr. T. F. Dibdin, author of numerous bibliographical works,1847; Charles Heath, line-engraver, 1848; Captain George William Manby, inventor of apparatus for saving life in shipwrecks, 1854, near Yarmouth; Professor Edward Forbes, eminent naturalist, 1854, Edinburgh; Frank Stone, artist, 1859.
Feast Day: The Dedication of the Churches of Saints Peter and Paul, at Rome. Saints Alphsus, Zachmus, Romanus, and Barulas, martyrs, about 304. St. Hilda or Hild, abbess, 680. St. Ode, abbot of Cluni, confessor, 942.
CARDINAL REGINALD POLE
Cardinal Pole was, among many such, the most remarkable man of his time. The unyielding uprightness with which he preserved his conduct true to his convictions, made him many enemies among those he opposed. By his faithful and energetic adherence, during the reigns of Henry and Edward, to the papal see, even, as it must have seemed to many, at the expense of the liberty of his country, as well as by the active share which he took in the retrogressive measures of Mary, he rendered himself unpopular with the English people. But ever adorning the nobility of his birth, with the additional lustre of nobility of mind, he merited respect by his singular learning, his parity of conscience, his uniform consistency, his genuine piety, and the most refined and amiable manners.
Reginald Pole was the son of Richard Pole, Lord Montague, cousin-german to Henry VII; his mother was Margaret, daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, brother to Edward IV. Born in 1500, he was educated for the church from his earliest years, first by the Carthusians, at Sheen, in Surrey, and afterwards by the Carmelites of Whitefriars. He entered Magdalen College, Oxford, as a noble-man, at the age of twelve. He early obtained various preferments, among others the Deanery of Exeter. He resided abroad several years, under Henry VIII's patronage; after which, returning to England, he retired into seclusion to prosecute, uninterrupted, his devotional studies.
Pole's first great trial was his rupture with Henry. After fruitless endeavours, often renewed on the king's part, to induce the churchman to acquiesce in Catharine's divorce, and the rejection of the papal supremacy, and equally vain attempts, and as often reiterated on the side of Pole, to avoid coming to any decision, he was finally induced to declare his opinion, and as he expressed it fully, with the utmost honesty, and with considerable eloquence, he was duly placed under ban, and a price set on his head. Pole kept clear of the danger, and Henry had to content himself with depriving him of all his preferments, and his two brothers and aged mother of their lives.
In the same proportion as the affections of Henry were alienated from the uncompromising counsellor, the Roman see took him into favour. He was created a cardinal, and employed on several important trusts. He actively exerted himself in the formation of a league which should have for its object the restoration of England to the Catholic faith; and, in 1546, along with two other cardinals, he represented the pope at the Council of Trent. In 1549, Pole was elected to the popedom; but as the election was tumultuous, he refused to accept its decision. Upon this the conclave proceeded to elect him again, and this decision also, somewhat arrogantly, he set aside, saying: 'God was a God of light and not of darkness,' and bidding them wait for the morning. The Italians, disconcerted, proceeded once more to an election, and this time the friends of the cardinal were outvoted.
Soon after this, Pole obtained leave to retire from all public offices; but Mary succeeding to the English throne, he accepted the appointment of legate to her court; and being at once freed by parliament from the charge of treason, on which he had been banished, took his seat in the House of Peers. He applied himself with zeal to the furtherance of that cause to which he had always firmly clung, and saw his efforts successful. How far he was instrumental in promoting the cruel persecutions which have invested the reign of Mary with such horror, cannot now be very clearly ascertained, but the general mildness and rectitude of his character warrant us in forming the belief that these atrocities met, at least on his part, with no zealous encouragement.
Gardiner, ambitious to succeed Cranmer as archbishop of Canterbury, endeavoured to hinder Pole from obtaining the vacant office; but dying in the midst of his schemes, the cardinal was consecrated soon afterwards, in February 1556. The reigning pope opposed Pole's promotion, but the queen's support rendered the opposition futile. Brighter times seemed to await him. But falling sick, he only survived to receive the, to him, fatal news of the death of Mary, and followed his mistress in the short space of sixteen hours.
Pole was buried at Canterbury. His funeral was magnificent, but his epitaph was humble, being only: Depositum, Cardinalis Poli.
Jacob Böhme, or, as commonly written in English, Behmen, is one of the many notable men bred under the tutelage of St. Crispin, and in various particulars he resembles his brother-craftsman, George Fox, the first of the Quakers.
Böhme was born near Görlitz, in Upper Lusatia, in 1575. His parents being poor, and unable to give him much education, he was employed when a child to herd cattle, and in his twelfth year was apprenticed to a shoemaker. It chanced one day, he relates, when his master and mistress were from home, that a stranger in mean apparel, but with a grave and reverent countenance, came into the shop, and taking up a pair of shoes, desired to buy them. Jacob had never been trusted as a salesman, and knew not what money to ask; but as the stranger was importunate, he named a price which he felt sure would bear him harmless on the return of his master. The stranger took the shoes, and going out of the shop a little way, stood still, and with a loud and earnest voice called:
Jacob, Jacob, come forth!
Surprised and fascinated, the boy obeyed, and the old man, taking him by his right hand, and fixing his bright and piercing eyes upon him, said:
Jacob, thou art little, but shalt be great, and become another man, such a one as the world will wonder at; therefore be pious, fear God, and reverence His Word. Read diligently the Holy Scriptures, wherein thou East comfort and instruction; for thou must endure much poverty, and suffer persecution; but be courageous and persevere, for God loves and is gracious unto thee!
-whereon he departed, and was by Jacob seen no more.
The strange messenger and his prediction made a deep impression on the boy's mind. He grew serious beyond his years, and at one time was 'for seven days surrounded with a divine light, and stood in the highest contemplation, and in the kingdom of joys.' He was raised above all frivolity, and in his sacred zeal rebuked his master for light and profane speech. At nineteen he married, and set up as shoemaker in Görlitz on his own account.
Years passed away, four sons were born to Böhme, and he was known only in Görlitz as a pious cobbler, with a taste for reading. Meanwhile he was the subject of remarkable experiences. On one occasion, in his twenty-fifth year, when gazing on a dazzling light produced by the sun's rays breaking on a tin vessel, he fell into a trance, in which he again felt himself encompassed with celestial light, and filled with more than mortal joy. Thereafter when he walked abroad in the fields, there was opened in him a new sense whereby he discerned the essences and uses of plants. He commenced writing, but merely for his own satisfaction, living in peace and silence, and speaking to few persons of the mysteries which were opened to him. A volume, called The Aurora, which he had in this manner privately composed, he lent to a friend, who made a copy of the work. The treatise found its way to Richter, primate of Görlitz, who denounced it from his pulpit, and had Böhme summoned before the senate, which advised him to leave off scribbling and stick to his last. Strange to say, he took the advice, and for seven years let his pen lie idle.
At the mature age of forty-two, however, the prophetic impulse came irresistibly upon him; not from any desire to speak, he says, but because the spirit was strong upon him he resumed his writing, printed The Aurora, and followed it up with thirty other publications, great and small. Richter again exerted his influence to silence the unlicensed shoemaker, and the magistrates begged him, for the sake of peace, to leave Görlitz, which, with much good-nature, he did. He had now many friends who recognised his genius, who encouraged him to write, and who read all he produced with avidity. Amongst these admirers was Balthasar Walter, a physician of Dresden, who had travelled through Syria, Egypt, and Arabia in search of magical lore, and after six years of fruitless wandering, had returned home to find more than he sought in the humble shoemaker's booth. He and others would bring Böhme plants, and Böhme would handle them, and instantly reveal their properties. Then they would try him with a Greek or an oriental word, and from the sound he would pronounce its signification.
Once when Walter uttered the word idea, Jacob sprang up in transport, and declared that the sound presented to him the image of a heavenly virgin of surpassing beauty. He was cited before the Elector of Saxony, who had six doctors of divinity and two professors of mathematics to examine the poor shoemaker. They plied him with many and hard questions, but Böhme had an answer for them all. The elector was so pleased with his demeanour, that he led Böhme aside, and sought from him some information for himself. One of the examiners, Dr. Meisner, is reported to have said: Who knows but God may have designed him for some extra ordinary work? And how can we, with justice, pass judgment against what we understand not? Certainly he seems to be a man of wonderful gifts in the Spirit, though we cannot at present, from any sure ground, approve or disapprove of many things he holds. After this trial and charitable acquittal, Böhme returned to Görlitz, where he died on Sunday, 18th November 1624. Early in the morning of that day, he called his son Tobias, and asked him whether he did not hear sweet music. Tobias said, No. Then said Böhme: 'Open the door, that you may hear it.' In the afternoon he asked the time, and was told three o'clock. 'My time,' he said, 'is not yet; three hours hence is my time.' When it was near six, he took leave of his wife and son, blessed them, and said: 'Now I go hence into paradise!' and bidding his son turn him, he heaved a sigh, and departed.
Böhme was a little man, withered, and with almost a mean aspect. His forehead was low, and his temples prominent; his nose was large and hooked, his eyes blue and quick, his beard short and scanty, his voice thin and gentle, and his speech and manners modest and pleasing. His writings are voluminous, but they were nearly all composed in the last seven years of his life. They form a wonderful melange of alchemy, astrology, soothsaying, theology, and mystical conceptions concerning things supernal and infernal. He wrote slowly, but steadily, and without revision, and his style is diffuse, immethodical, and obscure. The verdict of a cursory reader of Böhme is commonly one of perplexity or disgust, yet he has never lacked patient students, who have professed to find in his pages a wisdom as profound as unique. Amongst these have been many Germans, and in latter days, Schelling, Hegel, Frederick Schlegel, Novalis, and Tieck. In England, William Law, the author of A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, was an ardent disciple of Böhme's; and Henry More, the Platonist, and Sir Isaac Newton, were his reverent admirers. Böhme's works have been translated from the German into Dutch, French, and English, but have long ago ceased to he printed; nevertheless, there exists a demand for them, and second hand booksellers have seldom one of his volumes long in stock.
Sir David Brewster, in his Life of Sir Isaac Newton, observes that Newton, at one period of his life, was a believer in alchemy, and devoted much time to the study and practice of its processes. The Rev. William Law has stated that there were found among Sir Isaac's papers large extracts from Jacob Böhme's works, written with his own hand; and that he had learned, from undoubted authority, that Newton, in the early part of his life, had been led into a search for the Philosopher's Tincture, treated of by Böhme. It would appear that Sir Isaac actually set up furnaces, and spent several months in quest of the tincture.