Born: Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, naval commander, 1757.
Died: King Robert II of Scotland, 1390, Dundonald Castle, Ayrshire; Philip Melanethon, German Protestant scholar, 1560, Wittemburg; Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset, poet, Lord Treasurer of England, 1608; Queen Christina, of Sweden, 1689, Rome; Jean Gallois, French scholar and critic, 1707; Nicolas Saunderson, blind scholar and mathematician, 1739, Boxworth; Dr. Richard Price, calculator, 1791, Hackney; George, Lord Byron, poet, 1824, Missolonghi, Greece; John Carne, miscellaneous writer, 1844, Penzance; Professor Robert Jameson, naturalist, 1854, Edinburgh.
Feast Day: St. Ursmar, bishop and abbot, 713. St. Elphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, martyr, 1012. St. Leo IX., Pope 1054.
THE MARTYRDOM OF ST. ELPHEGE
The Danes, emboldened by success, had determined at no distant time to conquer England; and, as a measure of precaution, to anticipate any league that might be formed against them, they resolved on the murder of the king and Witan. Their plan was disclosed, and Ethelred and his nobles, panic-struck and frenzied, took refuge in the last resource of cowards, assassination. Orders were secretly sent over the country to exterminate the Danes, who were billeted on the different Anglo-Saxon families, on the next St. Brice's Day, Nov. 13, 1002. A massacre ensued which only finds a parallel in the Sicilian Vespers, the atrocities of St. Bartholomew's Day, and the barbarism of the French Revolution. The Danes vowed revenge, and for years after kept their vow with desolating rigour.
Under these circumstances, Elphege became Archbishop of Canterbury, A.D. 1006. He was an enthusiastic Benedictine monk. It is told of him that, in winter, he would rise at midnight, and, issuing unseen from his house, kneel, exposed to the night air while praying, barefoot, and without his great coat. Flesh he never touched, except on extraordinary occasions; his body was so attenuated, that, it is said, when he held up his hand,
It was so wan, and transparent of hue,
You might have seen the moon shine through.
In 1011, the marauding Danes appeared, for the second time, before Canterbury, and prepared for an assault. The nobles fled; but the good old archbishop buckled on his spiritual armour, and shewed a vigour of mind but little expected in one who had hitherto displayed only the virtues of the recluse. He exhorted the citizens; and they, encouraged by his example, for twenty days successfully repelled the assaults of the enemy. How the contest would have ended it is impossible to say, had not the city been betrayed by one Ælmier. While the plunder was going on with every circumstance of cruelty, the archbishop, trusting that his person would be respected, resolved to address the Danes, in the hope of moderating their excesses. He arrived at a spot where the carnage and cruelty were beyond all description. Women were exposed to worse than death, because they could not reveal the hiding-place of treasures which did not exist; and their children were tossed from spear-point to spear-point before their eyes, amid the laughter of incarnate fiends, or crushed beneath the waggon-wheels which bore away the plunder.
Eloquent from very anguish of heart, Elphege called upon them not to make war upon infants, and offered himself for death if they would but respect the women and spare the children. Instead of yielding to his entreaties, the Danes seized him, bound him, and by a refinement of cruelty dragged him to witness the destruction of his cathedral by fire. He knew that the church was filled with defenseless clergy, monks, and women. As the falling timbers and streams of melted lead drove them from the sanctuary, they were butchered amid shouts and merriment. Then to vary the sport, every tenth person was spared to become a slave. The archbishop himself was spared, his ransom being considered more profitable than his death. For seven months he was carried about with the army wherever they went, kept a close prisoner, and often in chains.
On the day before Easter, he received notice that unless his ransom were paid within eight days-and it was fixed at 3,000 pieces of silver-his life would be forfeited. Paid it was not, and the anger of the Danes became excessive. At one of their feasts, when the men had gorged themselves, as was their fashion, and drunk themselves half mad with south-country wine, the archbishop was sent for to make them sport. 'Money, bishop, money!' was the cry which greeted him on all sides, as he was hurried into the hall. Breathless from fatigue, he sat down for a short time in silence. 'Money, money!' was still the cry. 'Your ransom, bishop, your ransom!' Having recovered his breath, the archbishop rose with dignity, and all were silent to hear if he would promise money for his ransom. 'Silver and gold,' he said, 'have I none; what is mine to give I freely offer, the knowledge of the one true God.' Here someone snatched up one of the ox-bones with which the floor was plentifully strewed, and threw it at the defenceless old man. Amid shouts of laughter, the cowardly example was followed, till he sank, severely bruised, but not dead. Some one standing near-it is said in pity for the sufferings of Elphege-raised his battle-axe, and with one blow ended his mortal agony. From a feeling of remorse, the body was given up to his friends, without ransom, for burial, and was first interred in London with great pomp; and then, only ten years after, conveyed in the barge of a Danish king, and attended by a Danish guard of honour, to Canterbury, and deposited by the side of the illustrious Dunstan.
QUEEN CHRISTINA OF SWEDEN
Gustavus Adolphus, the heroic king of Sweden, was succeeded at his death in 1632 by his daughter Christina. This princess, having reigned as gloriously as her father had fought, having presided at the treaty of Westphalia, which gave peace to Germany, astonished Europe by abdicating at the age of twenty-seven. It was certainly a strange event, yet one that might not have been discreditable to her, if she had not had the weakness to repent of it.
The design of Queen Christina in quitting the Swedish throne was that she might have freedom to gratify her taste for the fine arts. She knew eight languages; she had been the disciple of Descartes, who died in her palace at Stockholm. She had cultivated all the arts in a climate where they were then unknown. She wished to live amongst them in Italy. With this view, she resolved also to accommodate her religion to her new country, and became a Roman Catholic.
Self-denying and self-repudiating acts do not always leave the character the sweeter. It is fully admitted that Christina was not improved by descending into private life. There remains one terrible stain upon her memory, the murder of her equerry, Monaldeschi, which she caused to be perpetrated in a barbarous manner in her own presence, during her second journey in France. During the thirty-five years of her ex-queenship, her conduct was marked by many eccentricities, the result of an almost insane vanity.
George Gordon, Lord Byron, born in London, January 22nd, 1788, the chief of the English poets of his day-endowed with rank, fortune, brilliant intellect, fed full of literary fame, an object of intense interest to the mass of enlightened society,-what more seemed necessary to make an enviable fate? and yet, as we all know, no man seemed in his time more unhappy - perhaps really was so. An explanation of all this is only to be found in some elements of his own nature. He was, we must remember, the son of a man of almost insane profligacy, by a woman whose violent temper often appeared to approach frenzy. The genius of Byron was as much distemper as ability.
He was unlucky in a congenital malformation of the limbs, which he could only conceal by careful padding; it was such a defect as a man of well-balanced mind would have been little affected by. With him, we may fear, it was a source of misanthropical bitterness, poisoning all the springs of happiness. Early extravagances led him into a marriage, which proved another source of misery, not from any demerit in his partner, for she was in reality an excellent woman, but from the want of congeniality between the pair. Twelve months after the union, one only after the birth of a daughter, Lady Byron formed the resolution of separating from him, his conduct being such that only on the supposition of his insanity (which her lawyers negatived), could she have excused it. Byron then, in the very zenith of literary fame, and only six-and-twenty, became an exile from his native country.
He spent the remainder of his life at Venice, at Ravenna, at Pisa, finally at Genoa, never ceasing to write actively, till passing to Greece, for the purpose of throwing himself into the service of its patriots, he was struck down by fever at Missolonghi, and died when little over six-and-thirty.
The freakish, mysterious life of Byron, his egotistical misanthropical poetry, so expressive of an unsatisfied and unhappy mind, latterly his giving himself to the composition of works trenching on the indecent and immoral, caused him to be the subject of intense curiosity and infinite discussion in his own day and for some years after. The melancholy tone of his poetry infected all young persons of a susceptible nature, and more particularly those who attempted verse. He set a fashion of feeling, which only died out with its generation. We can now estimate his productions more coolly, and assign them their true place, as not poetry of the highest order; and we can now better judge of the faults of the man.
If Lady Byron's lawyers had been more enlightened in psychology, they would have saved their client from throwing off her unfortunate husband. A lawyer only inquires if there appear in the general actions a knowledge of right and wrong; he knows nothing of the infinite shades of unsoundness which often mingle with the strains of a character able to pass muster in this respect. In Byron there was an eccentricity of feeling which can only be interpreted as a result of unhealthiness of brain, obviously derived from his parents. The common sense of the multitude understands these matters in a rough sort of way, and is never at a loss to judge of those who, apparently fit to conduct their own affairs, have yet an undeclared queerness, which is apt to shew itself in certain circumstances.
There is something extremely touching in the references which Byron made in certain of his poems to the infant daughter whom he never saw after she was a month old. The third book of Childe Harold, written in 1816, begins with a kind of dedication to Ada:
Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child?
Ada! sole daughter of my house and heart!
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,
And then we parted, not as now we part, But with a hope.
And with Ada it ends:
My daughter! with thy name this song began-
My daughter! with thy name thus much shall end
I see thee not,-I hear thee not,-but none
Can be so wrapt in thee; thou art the friend
To whom the shadows of far years extend;
Albeit my brow thou never shouldst behold,
My voice shall with thy future visions blend,
And reach into thy heart, when mine is cold,-
A token and a tone, even from thy father's mould.
'To aid thy mind's development,-to watch
Thy dawn of little joys -to sit and see
Almost thy very growth,- to view thee catch
Knowledge of objects,- wonders yet to thee!
To hold thee lightly on a gentle knee,
And print on thy soft cheek a parent's kiss,-
This, it would seem, was not reserved for me;
Yet this was in thy nature:-as it is,
I know not what is there, yet something like to this.
She was but eight years old at the time of her father's lamented and premature death. At the age of nineteen, in 1835, she was married to Lord King, who subsequently became Earl of Lovelace, and to whom she bore three children. It is said that she did not resemble her father in features-still less did she in the tendencies of her mind, which were wholly to scientific and mathematical studies. She had a presentiment that she would die at the same age as her father, and it was fulfilled, her decease taking place in November 1852, when she was several months less than thirty-seven.