Born: Robert Nelson (works of divinity), 1656, London; Jacques Define, French poet, 1738, Aigues-Perse, Auvergne; Thomas Day, author of Saudford and Merton, 1748, London.
Died: Nicolas Machiavel, Florentine statesman, 1527, Florence; Bishop John Fisher, beheaded on Tower Hill, 1535; Catherine Philips, poetess, 1664, Fleet Street, London; Matthew Henry, biblical commentator, 1714: Jean-Pierre de Bougainville, French poet, 1763; R. B. Haydon, artist, 1846, London.
Feast Day: St. Alban, protomartyr of Britain, 303. St. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, confessor, 431.
St. Alban has the honour of being regarded as the first British martyr. The bloody persecution of Dioclesian, which raged in other parts of the Roman empire with such terrible fury that Dioclesian declared the Christians exterminated, was kept in check in Gaul and Britain by Constantius, who governed those provinces with almost regal authority. But some few are alleged to have suffered, and among these St. Alban was first. He sheltered a priest, whose name was Amphibalus, who is said to have converted him; and when he could conceal him no longer, he assisted his escape by changing clothes with him. For this act Alban was brought before the governor, condemned, and beheaded.
The execution took place at Verulam, and in remembrance of the martyr, the name of Verulam was changed to St. Alban's. Ingulphus tells us, in his History of the Abbey of Croyland, that Offa, king of Mercia, 'founded a monastery of Black Monks at the city of Verulam, in honour of God and of St. Alban, the protomartyr of the English,' in the year 793. In time, this became one of the richest and most beautiful abbacies in England, and its superior was in 1154 invested by Pope Adrian IV. with the privilege of taking the first place among the mitred abbots in parliament. Of its original grandeur some idea, though but a faint one, may still be acquired by a survey of the church, which continues to be used as a parochial place of worship.
When we view the ancient and still surviving grandeur of the church of St. Alban's and its appurtenances, it becomes a curious reflection that great doubts now exist whether St. Alban himself ever had an existence.
BATTLE OF MORAT
On the 22nd of June 1476, was fought at Morat in Switzerland one of the most sanguinary battles on record. The defeated party was Charles Duke of Burgundy, the last of a series of independent princes, who, with a territory which now forms eastern France, had for four generations maintained themselves in great power and splendour. Philip des Commines tells us of the magnificence of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and of the luxurious opulence of his subjects, from personal observation. Up to the year 1475, he was an object of terror to the astute Louis XI, who had reason to dread that, if the duke succeeded in mastering Provence, the kings of France would not be able to hold intercourse with the rest of Europe, except by his permission. Everything seemed in a fair way to make Charles a dangerously powerful sovereign, when an infatuation overtook him, in consequence of a dispute arising from a trivial cause with his poor neighbours the Swiss.
Charles, having taken from them the town of Granson, imprudently advanced to meet them at the bottom of their own mountains, carrying with him all the plate, jewels, and other articles which he generally used at home. Most unexpectedly, a panic seized the mass of his army, and the Swiss gained a victory, attended by little slaughter, but by the seizure of an immense amount of valuables (April 2, 1476). The allies of the duke quickly showed by their coldness how slight a hold he had upon their friendship, and how critical another defeat would be: but he nevertheless persisted in his absurd war, and in less than three months came to another collision with the Swiss, in circumstances fully as unfavourable to himself as before.
The two armies, each about 30,000 strong, met in a straitened situation beside the lake of Morat, when once more the forces of the duke were defeated, but this time with immense slaughter. All the Burgundians who stood to fight, or could be overtaken by the cavalry of the enemy, were massacred; so that 'cruel as at Morat' became a proverb. The wretched duke escaped; but the mortification of defeat did not give him wisdom. He persisted in the war for a few months longer, and was slain in a final defeat at Nancy, in Lorraine (January 1477), along with the best of his remaining adherents.
The fall of the house of Burgundy was accomplished in less than a year. It naturally excited great wonder and much comment among surrounding states. Des Commines could not conceive what should provoke the displeasure of the Almighty against the duke, 'unless it was his self-love and arrogance,'-a sufficient reason for the fall of both princes and people, without the supposition of any miracle, as has been proved in many cases, and will yet be in many others.
DAY, THE DIVER
On the 22nd of June 1774, a man named John Day lost his life in a manner singularly exhibiting the great ignorance with. respect to the simplest physical facts which prevailed at the period. Day, an ignorant but ingenious millwright, fancied that he had invented a plan by which he could remain below water, at any depth, and without any communication with the air, for at least twenty-four hours; returning to the surface whenever he thought proper. As no useful purpose could be promoted by this assumed discovery, Day thought of turning it to account as a means of making money by betting, and accordingly placed himself in communication with one Blake, a well-known sporting character of the period. A contract was soon entered into between Blake and Day, the former engaging to furnish funds for constructing Day's diving machine, and to pay him ten per cent. on the amount of all bets gained by it.
Day's plan, if it had no other merit, had that of simplicity. His machine was merely a water-tight box, or compartment, attached to an old vessel by means of screws. After entering the box, and carefully closing the hole of entrance, the vessel was to be sunk, and Day, being provided with a wax taper and a watch, would at the time appointed disengage his box from the vessel by drawing the screws, and thus rise to the surface. Granting that a man could live, let alone a taper burn, without a constant supply of fresh air, nothing could be easier than Day's proposed plan; but, at the present time, it must be a very young and ill-informed child that does not perceive the glaring absurdity of the proposition.
So confident, however, were the partners in this strangest of gambling speculations, that Blake at once commenced accepting bets that he would not, within the space of three months, cause a man to be sunk 100 feet deep under water, without any communication with air, for twelve hours; the man, at the exact termination of that time, rising to the surface of his own accord, and by his own exertions. While Blake was busy making his bets, Day on his part was as actively engaged at Plymouth in constructing his machine. He then seems to have acquired, from the shipwrights he employed, some idea of the difficulty of his undertaking, as far as regards the great pressure of water at a considerable depth. This caused delay, as he was induced to make his diving-box larger and stronger than he at first intended, and the three months elapsed before all was ready. Blake consequently lost his bets; but he paid them cheerfully, hoping for better luck the next time.
Soon afterwards, the machine being finished, Blake went down to Plymouth to superintend the first trial of the affair. A place in Plymouth Sound, twenty-two fathoms (132 feet) in depth, having been selected, the vessel was towed thither; and Day, provided with a bed, a watch, a taper, some biscuits, and a bottle of water, entered the box which was to be his tomb. The box was then tightly closed according to his directions, and the vessel to which it was attached sank to the bottom, from whence neither it nor the unfortunate man ever arose.
Thus a clever, enterprising, but ignorant man perished, through want of a knowledge possessed by almost every child at the present day. Nor was the ingenious country millwright alone ignorant that fresh air is the first necessity of life. A pretentious monthly periodical of the time, The British Magazine of Arts, Sciences, and Literature, though it assigns four probable reasons for Day's failure, never alludes to the most patent and prominent one-the want of fresh air.
A BALLOON DUEL
Perhaps the most remarkable duel ever fought took place in 1808. It was peculiarly French in its tone, and could hardly have occurred under any other than a French state of society. M. de Grandprè and M. le Pique had a quarrel, arising out of jealousy concerning a lady engaged at the Imperial Opera, one Mademoiselle Tirevit. They agreed to fight a duel to settle their respective claims; and in order that the heat of angry passion should not interfere with the polished elegance of the proceeding, they postponed the duel for a month-the lady agreeing to bestow her smiles on the survivor of the two, if the other was killed; or at all events, this was inferred by the two men, if not actually expressed. The duellists were to fight in the air.
Two balloons were constructed, precisely alike. On the day denoted, De Grandprè and his second entered the car of one balloon, Le Pique and his second that of the other; it was in the garden of the Tuileries, amid an immense concourse of spectators. The gentlemen were to fire, not at each other, but at each other's balloons, in order to bring them down by the escape of gas; and as pistols might hardly have served for this purpose, each aeronaut took a blunderbuss in his car. At a given signal the ropes that retained the cars were cut, and the balloons ascended. The wind was moderate, and kept the balloons at about their original distance of eighty yards apart. When about half a mile above the surface of the earth, a preconcerted signal for firing was given. M. le Pique fired, but missed. M. de Grandpr'e fired, and sent a ball through Le Pique's balloon. The balloon collapsed, the car descended with frightful rapidity, and Le Pique and his second were dashed to pieces. De Grandpr'e continued his ascent triumphantly, and terminated his aerial voyage successfully at a distance of seven leagues from Paris!