Born: William Camden, English historical antiquary, 1551, London; William, Earl of Shelburne, first Marquis of Lansdowne, statesman, 1737; Rev. Robert Hall, Baptist preacher, 1764, Arnsby; John Galt, novelist, 1779, Irvine, Ayrshire; Sir John Malcolm, author of History of Persia, &c., 1769.
Died: Leonardo da Vinci, painter, 1520, Fontainebleau; Sir Horace Vero, Lord Tilbury, military commander, 1635, London; James Sharpe, Archbishop of St. Andrew's, assassinated, 1679; Sir George Mackenzie, at one time King's Advocate for Scotland, miscellaneous writer, 1691, Oxford; Antoine Yves Goguet, author of a work on the Origin of Laws, 1758; William, Earl of Shelburne, first Marquis of Lansdowne, statesman, 1805; Hester Lynch Salusbury, Madame Piozzi, 1821, Clifton; William Beckford, author of Vathek, 1844, Bath.
The life of this holy man presents a long detail of troubles which he underwent as Patriarch of Alexandria, in consequence of his strenuous opposition to the heresies introduced by Arius, and through the injustice of several of the degenerate successors of the Emperor Constantine. It is not necessary in this place to cite the particulars of the story; suffice it, that Athanasius was six times driven from his see, had to take refuge in deserts from the wrath of his enemies, was often placed on trial under false charges, seldom knew any peace during nearly forty years, yet never swerved for a moment from the primitive orthodoxy, and finally died in his charge at Alexandria, with the esteem of all who truly knew him, and has ever since been one of the most venerated fathers of the church. There must have been a vast amount of quiet energy in St. Athanasius. He always bore himself meekly; but he never yielded. The creed which bears his name, embodies his view of the mystery of the Trinity, but is believed to have been compiled in the fifth century.
The Rogation Days are the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Holy Thursday, or Ascension Day. It is said that Claudius Mamercus, Bishop of Vienna, about the year 452, ordered these days to be observed as public fasts, with solemn processions and supplications, on the occasion of some great public calamity. The arrangement, meeting with approbation, was imitated and repeated, till at length it became a law in the Latin Church that they should be observed annually, with processions and supplications, to secure a blessing on the fruits of the earth, and the temporal interests of men. These three days are called Rogation Days, the week Rogation Week, and the Sunday preceding, Rogation Sunday, from the Rogations or Litanies chanted in the processions. The Church of England, at the Reformation, discontinued the public processions, but ordered these days to be observed as private fasts. There is no special office, or order of prayer, or even a single collect appointed in the prayer-book for the Rogation Days; but in the book of Homilies we find a Homily, divided into three parts, specially designed for the improvement of these three days.
The Gange Days are the same as the three Rogation Days, and were so called from the ancient custom of perambulating the boundaries of the parish on those days, the name being derived from the Saxon word gangen, to go. In Roman Catholic times, this perambulation was a matter of great ceremony, attended with feastings and various superstitious practices. Banners, which the parish was bound to provide, hand-bells, and lights enlivened the procession. At one place the perambulators would stop to feast; and at another assemble round a cross to be edified with some godly admonition, or the legend of some saint or martyr, and so complete the circuit of the parish. When processions were forbidden, the useful part of these perambulations was retained. By the injunctions of Queen Elizabeth it was required that, in order to retain the perambulation of the circuits of parishes, the people should once in the year, at the time accustomed, with the curate and substantial men of the parish, walk about the parishes, as they were accustomed, and at their return to the church make their common prayers. And the curate in these perambulations was at certain convenient places to admonish the people to give thanks to God, as they beheld his benefits, and for the increase and abundance of the fruits upon the face of the earth. The 104th Psalm was appointed to be said on these occasions, and the minister was to inculcate such sentence as, 'Cursed be he which translateth the bounds and doles of his neighbour.'
The writer recollects one of these perambulations in his earlier days. The vicar of the parish was there; so were the 'substantial men,' and a goodly number of juveniles too; but the admonitions, the psalm, and the sentences, were certainly not. It was a merry two days' ramble through all sorts of odd places. At one time we entered a house by the door, and left it by a window on the opposite side; at another, men threw off their clothes to cross a canal at a certain point; then we climbed high walls, dived through the thickest part of a wood, and left everywhere in our track the conspicuous capitals, It. P. Buns and beer were served out to those who were lucky enough, or strong enough, to get them. And at one spot a large flat stone was pointed out, which had a hole in the middle; and the oracles of the day assured us that the parson used to have his head thrust into that hole, with his heels uppermost, for refusing to bury a corpse found there.
The ancient custom of perambulating parishes in Rogation week had a two-fold object. It was designed to supplicate the Divine blessing on the fruits of the earth; and to preserve in all classes of the community a correct knowledge of, and due respect for, the bounds of parochial and individual property. It appears to have been derived from a still older custom among the ancient Romans, called Terminalia, and Ambarvalia, which were festivals in honour of the god Terminus and the goddess Ceres. On becoming a Christian custom the heathen rites and ceremonies were of course discarded, and those of Christianity substituted. It was appointed to be observed on one of the Rogation days which were the three days next before Ascension Day. These days were so called from having been appropriated in the fifth century by Mamercus, Bishop of Vienna, to special prayer and fasting on account of the frequent earthquakes which had destroyed, or greatly injured vegetation.
Before the Reformation parochial perambulations were conducted with great ceremony. The lord of the manor, with a large banner, priests in surplices and with crosses, and other persons with hand-bells, banners and staves, followed by most of the parishioners, walked in procession round the parish, stopping at crosses, forming crosses on the ground, 'saying or singing gospels to the corn,' and allowing 'drinkings and good cheer; 'which was remarkable, as the Rogation days were appointed fasts. From the different practices observed on the occasion the custom received the various names of processioning, rogationing, perambulating, and ganging the boundaries; and the week in which it was observed was called Rogation week; Cross week, because crosses were borne in the processions; and Grass week, because the Rogation days being fasts, vegetables formed the chief portion of diet.
At the Reformation, the ceremonies and practices deemed objectionable were abolished, and only 'the useful and harmless part of the custom retained. 'Yet its observance was considered so desirable, that a homily was prepared for the occasion; and injunctions were issued requiring that for 'the perambulation of the circuits of parishes, the people should once in the year, at the time accustomed, with the rector, vicar, or curate, and the substantial men of the parish, walk about the parishes, as they were accustomed, and at their return to the church make their common prayer. And the curate, in their said common perambulations, was at certain convenient places to admonish the people to give thanks to God (while beholding of his benefits), and for the increase and abundance of his fruits upon the face of the earth, with the saying of the 103rd Psalm. At which time also the said minister was required to inculcate these, or such like sentences, Cursed be he which translateth the bounds and doles of his neighbour; or such other order of prayers as should be lawfully appointed.'
In strict accordance with these directions, we find that 'the judicious Richard Hooker,' who is allowed by all parties to be a faithful exemplar of a true English Churchman, duly observed the custom of perambulation. 'He would by no means,' says his biographer, 'omit the customary time of procession, persuading all, both rich and poor, if they desired the preservation of love, and their parish rights and liberties, to accompany him in his perambulation, and most did so; in which perambulation he would usually express more pleasant discourse than at other times, and would then always drop some loving and facetious observations to be remembered against the next year, especially by the boys and young people; still inclining them and all his present parishioners to meekness, and mutual kindnesses, and love; because love thinks not evil, but covers a multitude of infirmities.'
Those engaged in the processions usually had refreshments provided for them at certain parts of the parish, which, from the extent of the circuit of some parishes, was necessary; yet the cost of such refreshment was not to be defrayed by the parish, nor could such refreshment be claimed as a custom from any particular house or family. But small annuities were often bequeathed to provide such refreshments. In the parish of Edgcott, Buckinghamshire, there was about an acre of land, let at £3 a year, called 'Gang Monday Land,' which was left to the parish officers to provide cakes and beer for those who took part in the annual perambulation of the parish. At Clifton Reynes, in the same county, a bequest of land for a similar purpose directs that 'one small loaf, a piece of cheese, and a pint of ale, should be given to every married person, and half a pint of ale to every unmarried person, resident in Clifton, when they walked the parish boundaries in Rogation week.' A certain estate in Husborne Crawley, Bedfordshire, has to pay £4 on Rogation Day, once in seven years, to defray the expense of perambulating, and keeping up the boundaries of the parish.
Although perambulations were not to be at the cost of parishes, yet they were justified in maintaining the ancient circuit, though opposed by the owners of property over which they proceeded. Burns cites an instance in which this case was tried against the parishioners of Rudham, who, in their perambulation, had broken down two gates and a fence; and the court decided in favour of the parishioners, stating: 'parishioners may well justify the going over any man's land in the perambulation, according to their usage, and abate all nuisances in their way.'
This necessity or determination to perambulate along the old track often occasioned curious incidents. If a canal had been cut through the boundary of a parish, it was deemed necessary that some of the parishioners should pass through the water. Where a river formed part of the boundary line, the procession either passed along it in boats, or some of the party stripped and swam along it, or boys were thrown into it at customary places. If a house had been erected on the boundary line, the procession claimed the right to pass through it. A house in Buckinghamshire, still existing, has an oven only passing over the boundary line. It was customary in the perambulations to put a boy into this recess to preserve the integrity of the boundary line.
It was considered a good joke by the village lads, who, therefore, became ambitious of the honour, and, as they approached the house, generally settled by lot who should be the hero for the year. On one occasion, as the procession entered the house, they found the mistress just about to bake, and the oven full of blazing fagots. The boys, on seeing the flame issuing from the oven-mouth, exclaimed Tom Smith is the boy to go into the oven!' Poor Tom, expecting to be baked alive, uttered a fearful scream, and ran off home as fast as his legs could carry him. Another boy was made to scramble over the roof of the oven, and the boundary right was thus deemed sufficiently maintained.
A more ludicrous scene occurred in London about the beginning of the present century. As the procession of churchwardens, parish officers, etc., followed by a concourse of cads, were perambulating the parish of St. George's, Hanover-square, they came to the part of a street where a nobleman' s coach was standing just across the boundary line. The carriage was empty, waiting for the owner, who was in the opposite house. The principal churchwarden, therefore, himself a nobleman, desired the coachman to drive out of their way. 'I won't!' said the sturdy coachman; 'my lord told me to wait here, and here I'll wait, till his lordship tells me to move!' The churchwarden coolly opened the carriage door, entered it, passed out through the opposite door, and was followed by the whole procession, cads, sweeps, and scavengers.
The last perambulation I witnessed was in 1818, at a small village in Derbyshire. It was of rather a degenerate character. There was no clergyman present, nor anything of a religious nature in the proceedings. The very name processioning had been transmuted (and not inaptly) into possessioning. The constable, with a few labourers, and a crowd of boys, constituted the procession, if such an irregular company could be so called. An axe, a mattock, and an iron crow, were carried by the labourers, for the purpose of demolishing any building or fence which had been raised without permission on the 'waste ground,' or for which the 'acknowledgment' to the lord of the manor had not been paid. At a small hamlet, rejoicing in the name of 'Wicked Nook,' some unfortunate rustic had unduly built a pig-sty. Poor grunty was turned adrift, and his luckless shed levelled to the ground. A new cottage, or mud hut, not much better than the pig's shed, was allowed to remain, on the cottager' s wife proffering the 'acknowledgment.' At various parts of the parish boundaries, two or three of the village boys were 'bumped' -that is, a certain part of the person was swung against a stone wall, a tree, a post, or any other hard object which happened to be near the parish boundary. This, it will scarcely be doubted, was an effectual method of recording the boundaries in the memory of these battering-rams, and of those who witnessed this curious mode of registration.
The custom of perambulating parishes continued in some parts of the kingdom to a late period, but the religious portion of it was generally, if not universally, omitted. The custom has, however, of late years been revived in its integrity in many parishes, and certainly such a perambulation among the bounties of creation affords a Christian minister a most favourable opportunity for awakening in his parishioners a due sense of gratitude towards Him who maketh the 'sun to shine, and the rains to descend upon the earth, so that it may bring forth its fruit in due season.'
On Monday in Rogation week was held, in the town of Shaftesbury or Shaston, in Dorsetshire, a festival called the Bezant, a festival so ancient, that no authentic record of its origin exists.
The Borough of Shaftesbury stands upon the brow of a lofty hill, having an extensive view over the vale of Blackmore. Until lately, from its situation, it was so deficient in water, that its inhabitants were indebted for a supply of this necessary article of life to the little hamlet of Enmore Green, which lies in the valley below. From two or three wells or tanks, situate in the village, the water with which the town was provided was carried up the then precipitous road, on the backs of horses and donkeys, and sold from door to door.
The Bezant was an acknowledgment on the part of the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough, to the Lord of the Manor of Mitcomhe, of which Enmore Green forms a part, for the permission to use this privilege; no charter, or deed, however, exists among their archives, as to the commencement of the custom, neither are 'there any records of interest connected with its observance, beyond the details of the expenses incurred from year to year.
On the morning of Rogation Monday, the Mayor and Aldermen accompanied by a lord and lady, appointed for the occasion, and by their mace-bearers carrying the Bezant, went in procession to Enmore Green. The lord and lady performed at intervals, as they passed along, a traditional kind of dance, to the sound of violins. The steward of the manor meeting them at the green, the mayor offered for his acceptance, as the representative of his lord,-The Bezant,-a calf's head, uncooked,-a gallon of ale, and two pennyloaves, with a pair of gloves edged with gold lace, and gave permission to use the wells, as of old, for another year. The steward, having accepted the gifts, retaining all for his own use, except the Bezant, which he graciously gave back, accorded the privilege, and the ceremony ended. The procession returned as it came, and the day, which was one of universal enjoyment to all classes of the population, was brought to a conclusion, according to the hospitable fashion of our country, in a dinner given by the Corporation to their friends.
The Bezant, which gave its name to the festival, is somewhat difficult to describe. It consisted of a sort of trophy, constructed of ribbons, flowers, and peacock' s feathers, fastened to a frame, about four feet high, round which were hung jewels, coins, medals, and other matters of more or less value, lent for the purpose by persons interested in the matter, and many traditions prevailed of the exceeding value to which, in earlier times, it sometimes reached, and of the active part which persons of the highest rank in the neighbourhood took in its annual celebration.
Latterly, however, the festival sadly degenerated, and in the year 1830, the Town and the Manor passing into the hands of the same proprietor, it ceased altogether, and is now one of those many ancient observances, not without their interest to the antiquary, which are numbered with the past. If this had not happened, however, the necessity for it no longer exists. The ancient Borough is no longer indebted to the lord of the manor for its water, for, through the liberality of the Marquis of Westminster, its present owner, the town is bountifully supplied with the purest water, from an artesian well sunk at his expense.
Mr. Beckford succeeded at an early period of life to immense wealth. He possessed great talents, and had cultivated and refined his mind to a singular degree. While still a mere youth, he surprised the world with his striking eastern tale of Vathek. The recluse nature of his life, in the indulgence of tastes equally magnificent and capricious, made him the subject of much remark and discussion. It seemed nothing to him to take down a palace with which he was dissatisfied, and to build up a new one. The dash of whim which foreigners attribute to the English character, appeared in him to reach the highest point compatible with sanity.
The memoirs of Mr. Beckford, published after his death, convey an anecdote, representing his whimsical character as not unsusceptible of having a certain 'method in it,' and that to a very fair purpose.
'I once,' said he, 'shut myself up at Fonthill to be out of the way of a lady-an ungallant thing to any lady on earth but her with whom it occurred. You must well remember the late Duchess of Gordon, as she was the continual talk of the town for her curious mercenary ways, and mode of entrapping men with her brood of daughters. I could have served no other lady so, I hope-I never enjoyed a joke so much. At that time everybody talked of Mr. Beckford' s enormous wealth-everything about me was exaggerated proportionately. I was in consequence a capital bait for the Duchess-so she thought; I thought very differently. She had been told that even a dog kennel at Fonthill was a palace-my house a Potosi. What more upon earth could be desired by a managing mother for a daughter? I might have been aged and imbecile - no matter, such is fashion' s philosophy. I got a hint from town of her intention to surprise me with her hard face at Fonthill -a sight I could gladly dispense with. I resolved to give her a useful lesson.
Fonthill was put in order for her reception, with everything I could devise to receive her magnificently-not only to receive her, but to turn the tables upon her for the presumption she had that I was to become the plaything of her purposes. The splendour of her reception must have stimulated her in her object. I designed it should operate in that manner. I knew her aim-she little thought so. My arrangements being made, I ordered my major-domo to say, on the Duchess' s arrival, that it was unfortunate-everything being arranged for her Grace' s reception, Mr. Beckford had shut himself up on a sudden, a way he had at times, and that it was more than his place was worth to disturb him, as his master only appeared when he pleased ; forbidding interruption, even if the King came to Fonthill. I had just received a large lot of books-nothing could be more opportune. I had them removed to the rooms of which I had taken possession. The Duchess conducted herself with wonderful equanimity, and seemed much surprised and gratified at what she saw, and the mode of her reception just as I desired she should be, quite on tiptoe to have me for a son-in-law. When she got up in the morning, her first question was, 'Do you think Mr. Beckford will be visible today?'
'I cannot inform your Grace-Mr. Beckford' s movements are so very uncertain-it is possible. Would your Grace take an airing in the park-a walk in the gardens?'
'Everything which Fonthill could supply was made the most of, whetting her appetite to her purpose still more. My master of the ceremonies to the Duchess did not know what to make of his master, the Duchess, or his own position. 'Perhaps M.r Beckford will be visible tomorrow?' was the Duchess's daily consolation. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, came and went-no Mr. Beckford. I read on, determined not to see her. Was it not serving a woman of such a coarse nature quite right?
'She remained seven or eight days, magnificently entertained, and then went away without seeing him. She was very angry, and said of him in her rage things too scandalous to have escaped any woman' s lips but her own. Think of such a woman' s vengeance-such a woman as the Duchess was, who never suffered anything to stand in the way of her objects!'