21st May

Born: Philip II of Spain, 1527, Valladolid; Francis Egerton, Duke of Bridgewater, promoter of canal navigation in England, 1736; Bryan Edwards, historian of the West Indies, 1743, Westbury; John, Lord Lyndhurst, Chancellor of England, 1772, Boston, U.S.

Died: James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, 1650, Edinburgh; Cornelius Tromp, Dutch admiral, 1691, Amsterdam; Jacques Maboul, French preacher, 1723, ilea; Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, prime minister of Queen Anne, 1724; Sir John Hawkins, author of A history of Music, &c., 1789; Dr. Thomas Warton, poet, Professor of Poetry, Oxford, 1790, Trinity College, Oxford; Maria Edgeworth, novelist, 1849.

Feast Day: St. Hospitius, recluse in Provence, 881; St. Godrick, hermit, of Finkley, near Durham, 1170; St. Felix of Cantalicio, 1587.


Thomas Warton was but a sorry singer himself, little better than an elegant 'gatherer and disposer of other men's stuff,' but he did good service to English literature, chiefly by the impulse he gave to a better appreciation of our early poets.

Warton was an Oxford Fellow, of an easy temperament, polished manners, and romantic taste. When only twenty-one-in 1749-he rendered himself notorious and popular by his early poem, The Triumph of Isis, a defence of Oxford against certain strictures of Mason. His Observations on the Faerie Queen of Spenser appeared in 1754, and showed where his greatest strength lay. Three years later he was made Professor of Poetry, which office he filled very efficiently for ten years, indulging in many excursions into general literature, and working chiefly at a handsome and elaborate translation of Theocritus, which he published in 1770. But his greatest and most elaborate work was a History of English Poetry, which he brought down to the end of the Elizabethan age. The completion of this useful and laborious task has often been projected, and not seldom commenced, but never fully accomplished, but will at some future day, it is to he hoped, find some one who will do it justice, and supply a need, and merit the gratitude of a nation not-in this branch of literature -inferior to any.

Warton's Notes on Milton, though somewhat diffuse, possess great merit, and bear witness to extensive reading. This work, begun in 1785, the same year in which he was made Camden Professor of History and poet laureate, was not more fortunate than the History of Poetry, in that it was not completed when the author died.

Warton was a lounger in the pleasant fields of literature, and would have accomplished more had he undertaken less. He edited the works of poets, wrote biographies, histories of localities, comic scraps, papers in the Idler, and other periodicals, a history of Gothic architecture, of which the manuscript was lost, and produced a variety of heterogeneous matter; or at other times spent his life leisurely wandering in old cathedrals and by pleasant streams, or figuring at Johnson's literary club, or musing in his favourite haunts in his brother's garden at Winchester.

His Sonnets are the best of his poems, and that To the River Loden the most natural of these.

To the River Lodon
'Ah! what a weary race my feet have run
Since first I trod thy banks with alders crowned,
And thought my way was all thro' fairy ground,
Beneath thy azure sky and golden sun;
Where first my muse to lisp her notes begun!
While pensive Memory traces back the round,
Which fills the varied interval between;
Much pleasure, more of sorrow, marks the scene.
Sweet native stream! those skies and suns so pure
No more return, to cheer my evening road!
Yet still one joy remains, that, not obscure,
Nor useless, all my vacant days have flowed,
From youth's gay dawn to manhood's prime mature;
Nor with the muse's laurel unbestowed.


May 21, 1382, 'There was a great earthquake in England, at nine of the clock, fearing the hearts of many; but in Kent it was most vehement, where it sunk some churches and throw them down to the earth.' -Stow's Chronicles.

A song written at the time upon this earth-quake has been preserved, and must be considered as something of a curiosity. It treats the matter as a great warning to an over-careless people.

And also when this earth quoke,
Was none so proud he n'as aghast,
And all his jollity forsook,
And thought on God while that it last;
And as soon as it was over-past,
Men wox as evil as they dead are;
Each man in his heart may cast,
This was a warning to beware.
Forsooth, this was a lord to dread,
So suddenly made men aghast,
Of gold and silver they took none heed,
But out of their houses full soon they passed;
Chambers, chimneys, all tobrest [burst],
Churches and castles foul 'gan fare;
Pinnacles, steeples to ground it cast,
And all for warning to beware.
Sickerly I dare well say,
In such a plight this world is in,
Mony for winning would betray
Father and mother and all his kin.
Now [it] were high time to begin
To amend our lives and well to fare;
Our bag hangeth on a slipper pin,
But we of this warning beware.

The effect of an earthquake in producing serious feelings must of course depend on the strength of the shock. We may presume that the particular course which reformation is to take will depend. in great measure on the kinds of profligacy and folly which happen to be reigning at the time. A New England news-paper of 1727 announces that 'a considerable town in this province has been so awakened by the awful providence in the earthquake, that the women have generally laid aside their hoop-petticoats.' Many amongst us would probably be glad to stand a shock of not immoderate violence, if any such reformation could be expected from it.


The history of the mariner's compass in Western Europe furnishes a curious illustration of the danger of forming conclusions upon negative evidence-that is, of supposing a thing did not exist at any time, merely because no known contemporary writer mentions its existence. It had been long believed that this instrument, so important an agent in the progress of man's civilization, had been invented in Italy about the year 1302, by one Flavio Gioia. When the celebrated orientalist, Jules Klaproth, discovered that it had been known to the Chinese from a very early period; that there were reasons for believing that an implement made on the same principles, and for the same object, had been in use among that people at a date prior to the Christian era; but that they certainly had the mariner's compass, in a rather rude form, it is true, before the end of the eleventh century of our chronology; it was immediately concluded that the people of Europe had derived the knowledge of this invention direct from the Chinese.

Subsequent to this discovery, other orientalists have found evidence in a contemporary Arab writer, that this instrument was in use among the Mahometan sailors in the Mediterranean so early as the year 1242; and it was therefore concluded that the Christians of the West derived the mariner's compass from the Chinese, not directly, but indirectly through the Arabs. The more extensive researches into the literature of Western Europe have, however, shown that neither of these suppositions is correct, but that the principles of the mariner's compass were known among our forefathers at a date considerably earlier than the one last mentioned.

A French poet, named Guyot de Provins, wrote a satire on the vices of his time, which is known by the title of La Bible de Guyot de Provins, and which is supposed to have been completed in the year 1205. In speaking of the pope, he uses words which are literally translated as follows: 'I wish he resembled the star which never moves. The mariners who take it for their guide, observe it very carefully, and go and come directing their way by it; they call it the polar star. It is fixed and motionless; all the others move, and change, and vary their position; but this star moves not. They have a contrivance which never deceives them, through the qualities of the magnet. They have an ugly brown stone, which attracts iron; they mark the exact quarter to which the needle points, which they have rubbed on this stone and afterwards stuck into a straw. They merely put it in water, in which the straw causes it to swim: then the point turns directly towards the star, with such certainty that it will never fail, and no mariner will have any doubt of it. When the sea is dark and foggy, that neither star nor moon can be seen, they place a lighted candle beside the needle, and have then no fear of losing their way; the needle points direct to the star, and the mariners know the right way to take. This is a contrivance which cannot fail. The star is very fair, and very bright; and so I wish our holy father (the pope) were.'

Another French poet, supposed to have been contemporary with Guyot de Provins, has left us a short amatory poem on his mistress, whom he compares to the polar star, which, he says, when they can see it, serves them as a safe guide; and he adds: 'Its position is still known for their route, when the weather is quite dark, to all those who employ the following process: they insert a needle of iron, so that it is almost all exposed to view, into a bit of cork, and rub it on the brown stone of the magnet (the loadstone). If this be placed in a vessel full of water, so that nobody thrusts it out, as soon as the water becomes motionless, to what-ever side the point turns, there without any doubt is the polar star.'

The use of this rude kind of mariner's compass must have been generally known, to allow of its being referred to in this manner by the popular poets; and the Bible of Guyot de Provins, at least, was so well known, that Dante's preceptor, Brunette Latino, when he tells in one of his letters how, during a visit to England, he had seen one of these instruments, borrows the words of the poet to describe it. One or two other Latin writers of the same age also allude to it, though rather obscurely.

But a still more curious account has been recently brought to light by the researches of Mr. T. Wright, who has found descriptions of the mariner's compass in two different works by Alexander Neckam, one of the most learned English scholars of the latter half of the twelfth century. He is said to have died in 1217, but one, at least, of the works alluded to was probably compiled when he was young; both of these passages had remained concealed in the obscurity of mediaeval manuscripts until they were published by Mr. Wright. They reveal the fact that already, in the twelfth century, the English navigators used a compass, which was so far an improvement upon that described above by writers of the thirteenth century, that the needle was placed on a pivot as at present, instead of being thrust into a straw or a bit of cork, and made to swim in a basin of water. Neckam speaks of this needle as one of the necessary parts of a ship's furniture.

It is thus quite evident that the mariner's compass, instead of being invented by an Italian at the beginning of the fourteenth century, was well known to English sailors as far back as the twelfth; and, in fact, that we find them using it earlier than any other people in Europe. M. D'Avezac, the eminent geographer, who pointed out the exact meaning and importance of these passages from Alexander Neckam', in several communications to the Society of Geography of Paris, suggests, and we think with great appearance of truth, that the real invention of Flavio Gioia was that of placing the needle permanently in a box, instead of putting it in water, or placing it on a pivot raised permanently for the occasion; and he conjectures that its modern Italian and French name, bussola, boussola, is derived from the box in which it was thus placed, and which was probably made of box-wood.

It appears, therefore, to be established beyond doubt, that the invention of the mariner's compass, instead of being borrowed from the Chinese or Arabs, was one which developed itself gradually and independently in Western Europe. M. D'Avezac has further shown that the card of the compass (called in French the rose des vents, and in the mediaeval Latin stella maris) was in use at the close of the thirteenth century; and that, so early as the year 1268, a French writer, Pierre de Maricourt, describes the variation of the compass, and that allowance was made for it, though this is commonly supposed not to have been observed before the end of the fifteenth century.

It is worthy of note that in England the French and Italian name was never adopted; but we have preserved our original word, 'needle,' which as we have seen, appears at first to have been the only permanent part of the instrument, the other parts being, when it had to be used, made or taken for the occasion.