Born: John Picus, Count of Mirandola, 1463; Charles V. (of Spain), 1500, Ghent: George Frederick Handel, musical composer, 1684, Halle; James Quin, actor, 1693, Covent-garden; Robert Lord Clive, conqueror of Bengal, 1726; Charles Lamb, humorous essayist, 1775, London; Robert Lord Gifford, Master of the Rolls, 1779.
Died: Richard de la Pole, Francis Duke of Lorraine, and General de la Tremouille, killed at Pavia, 1525; Francis Duke of Guise, assassinated, 1563: James Earl of Derwentwater, beheaded, 1716: Joseph (of Portugal), 1777; Charles Buonaparte, 1785; Hon. Henry Cavendish, amateur chemist, 1810: John Keats, poet, 1821, Rome; Thomas Coutts, banker, 1822: John VI (of Portugal), 1826.
Feast Day: St Matthias, the Apostle, Colchis. Saints Montanus, Lucius, Flavian, Julian, Victoricus, Primolus, Rhenus, and Donation, martyrs at Carthage, 259. St. Pretextatus, archbishop of Rouen, martyr, about 585. St. Lethard, bishop of Senlis, 596, Canterbury. St. Ethel-belt, first Christian king of England, 616. Robert of Arbrissel, 111.
MEMORIALS OF HANDEL
George Frederick Handel, although a native of Germany (born at Halle, in Saxony, on the 24th of February, 1684), from having passed nearly the whole of his life in England, and produced in it all his great works, is almost claimed by its as an Englishman. When a child, he sacrificed his play-hours, and sometimes even his meals, to his passion for music, which was so successfully cultivated, that, when only ten years of age, he composed a set of sonatas, not without their value as pieces of music.
At the outset of his professional life in 1703, he had nearly been lost to the world. It was at Hamburg that he got embroiled with Mattheson, an able musician, who violently assaulted him. A duel ensued, and nothing but a score, buttoned under Handel's coat, on which his antagonist's weapon broke, saved a life that was to prove of inestimable value. Handel was never married: the charms of his music impressed many beau-ties and singers in his favour; but he showed no disposition to avail himself of their partialities. His thoughts were nearly all absorbed by his art, and a high sense of moral propriety distinctly marked his conduct through life.
Handel, as a composer, was great in every style. In sacred music, especially of the choral kind, he throws at an immeasurable distance all who preceded and followed him.
Handel first arrived in London in 1710, and was soon honoured by the notice of Queen Anne. Aaron Hill was then manager of the opera, and his Rinaldo was set to music by Handel, and produced in March, 1711. At the peace of Utrecht, he composed for that event a Te Deum and Jubilate: and a pension of £200 was the reward of this service. In 1714, when the Elector of Hanover was placed on the British throne, Handel, not having kept his premise to return to Hanover, durst not present himself at court: but he got over the difficulty by a pleasant stratagem: his friend, Baron Kilmansegge, contrived that he should meet the Ring, during a royal excursion on the Thames, with a band of wind instruments, playing the charming Water Music, written for the occasion: the composer was received again into favour, his pension was doubled; and many years after, when appointed to teach the Princesses, Queen Caroline, consort of George IL, added another £200, making altogether £600 per annum, no small income a century ago.
Next he became chapel-master to the Duke of Naiades, at Canons, and there he produced most of his concertos, sonatas, lessons, and organ fugues: besides his Aces and Galatea, for which Gay wrote the poetry. Then he carried out the conversion of the Italian Theatre into an Academy of Music: he was engaged as manager, and produced fifteen new operas: but the Italians virulently opposed 'the German intruder:' the cabal became insupportable, and the great composer and able manager retired with a loss of £10,000 and broken health. He next attempted operas at Covent Garden Theatre, but this speculation proved equally unfortunate. He next gave Lent oratorios, but with no better success: even his sublimest work, The Messiah, was ill attended and received in the metropolis, when first produced in 1741. These failures were caused by the hostility of the nobility, notwithstanding the patronage of the Royal family. He then took refuge in Ireland, where he began by performing The Messiah for the benefit of the city prison. He returned to London in 1742, renewed his oratorios at Covent Garden Theatre, and henceforth was uniformly successful: and he continued his oratorios with great profit nearly to the last day of his life.
Handel died on a Good Friday (according to his own wish), April 13, 1759, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Late in life he was afflicted with blindness: but he continued to perform and even composed pieces, and assisted at one of his oratorios only a week before his death.
Handel will long be remembered for his munificent aid to the Foundling Hospital in London. In 1749, he gave a performance of his own compositions, by which the charity realized five hundred guineas, and every subsequent year he superintended the performance of The Messiah in the Foundling Hospital Chapel, which netted altogether £7,000: he also presented an organ, and bequeathed to the charity a fair copy of the score and parts of the oratorio of The Messiah.
The memory of Handel has been preserved by a series of performances of his works under the roof which covers his dust. At a century from his birth, in 1784, was given the first Commemoration, zealously patronized by George III, who was so fond of music that he was accustomed to write out the programmes of his own concerts. Handel's 'Abbey Commemoration' was repeated annually till 1791: these performances benefiting different metropolitan charities to the amount of £50,000. In 1834, took place another Commemoration in the Abbey. Festivals of Handel's music have since been given by the Sacred Harmonic Society, and in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, upon a very grand scale.
We possess in England many memorials of the genius and character of this excellent man. Roubiliac's first and last works in this country were his statue of Handel, for Vauxhall Gardens, and his monumental statue of the great composer in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey. His auto-graphs are highly treasured: in the Queen's library are the original MISS. of nearly all Handel's works, filling eighty-two folio volumes; and his MS. scores and letters are preserved in the board-room of the Foundling Hospital. Portraits of Handel are numerous: he was painted by Thornhill, Kyte, Denner, Wolfand, Itudson, and Grafoui. The portrait by Denner was in Handel's own possession, and is most trustworthy, though Walpole describes Hudson's portrait as 'honest similitude;' it is at Gopsal, the seat of Earl Howe. The statue of Handel from Vauxhall is now in the possession of the Sacred Harmonic Society; and a cast of Handel's features, taken after death by Roubiliae for the Abbey statue, is carefully preserved, as are a few impressions from the mould. A harpsichord and book-case, which once belonged to the great composer, are also treasured as relics. He lived many years in the house No. 57, on the south side of Brook-street, four doors from Bond-street, and here he gave rehearsals of his oratorios.
Handel was fond of society, enjoyed his pipe over a cup of coffee, and was a lively wit in conversation. He was very fond of Mrs. Cibber, at whose house, on Sunday evenings, he often met Quin, the comedian. One evening Handel, having delighted the company by playing on the harpsichord, took his leave. After he was gone, Quin was asked by Mrs. Cibber whether he did not think Mr. Handel had a charming hand? 'A hand, madam! you mistake, it is a foot.' 'Poh! poll! ' said she, 'has he not a fine finger?' 'Toes, madam! 'In fact, his hand was so fat, that the knuckles, which usually appear convex, were, like those of a child, dieted or dim-pled in: however, his touch was so smooth, that his fingers seemed to grow to the keys. They were so curved and compact when he played, that no motion, and scarcely the fingers them-selves, could be perceived. In performing on the organ, his command of the instrument was amazing, as was the fulness of his harmony, and the grandeur and dignity of his style. He wore an enormous white wig, and when things went well at the oratorios, it had a certain nod or vibration, which denoted his pleasure and satisfaction. Without this signal, nice observers were certain that he was out of humour. At the close of an air, the voice with which he used to cry out 'Chorus!' was formidable indeed. Handel died possessed of £20,000, which, with the exception of £10,000 to the fund for decayed musicians, he chiefly bequeathed to his relations on the Continent.
MRS. MIDNIGHT'S ANIMAL COMEDIANS
'The town,' as Beau Tibbs would say, was regaled, in 1753, with a new pleasure, under the appellation of Mrs. Midnight's Animal Comedians. With incredible labour and patience, a number of dogs and monkeys had been trained to go through certain scenic representations, which were generally acknowledged to be a marvellously good imitation of the doings of human actors. The performance took place in a small theatre, which was fitted up with appropriate scenery, decorations, &c., and was, we believe, well attended. A representation of the stage as it appeared from the pit, is reproduced on the preceding page from a contemporary print, in which, however, there are compartments exhibiting other performances by the animal comedians.
Taking these compartments as evidence on the subject, we find that there was a Monkeys' Entertainment, two of these animals being seated in full dress at a table with wine and cake, while another of the same species attended with a plate under his arm. Two dogs, accoutred like soldiers, hewed their agility by jumping over a succession of bundles of sticks. Three personated Harlequin, Pero (?), and Columbine, the last attired in a prodigious hoop. Two monkeys, in cloaks and cocked hats, were exercised upon the backs of a couple of dogs. Another monkey, mounted on dog-back, went through a series of quasi-equestrian performances, mounting and dismounting with the greatest propriety. There was also a grand Ballot Dance of dogs and monkeys in the formal dresses of the period, powdered hair, &c. In the original a 'lady' has just been brought in in a sedan. Certainly, however, the principal performance was a Siege, of which also a copy here appears. The stage in this instance presented the exterior of a fortified town. Monkeys manned the walls, and fired at a multitude of canine besiegers. The army of dogs, under their brave commanders, came forward with unflinching courage, and, a couple of ladders being planted, they mounted the ramparts with the greatest agility, and entered the city sword in hand, disregarding such casualties as the fall of two or three of the storming party into the ditch.
The simial defenders, as we may suppose, gave a determined resistance: but all was in vain against canine courage, and soon the flag of the assailants waved upon the battlements. When the smoke cleared away, the besieged and besiegers were observed in friendly union on the top of the fore-wall, taking off their hats to the tune of God save the King, and humbly saluting the audience. Tradition intimates to us that Mrs. Midnight's Animal Comedians were for a season in great favour in London: yet, strange to say, there is no notice of them in the Gentleman's Magazine, or any other chronicle of the time which we have been able to consult.
FISH AND FISH PIES IN LENT
The strictness with which our ancestors observed Lent and fast-days led to a prodigious consumption of fish by all classes: and great quantities are entered in ancient household accounts as having been bought for family use. In the 31st year of the reign of Edward III., the following sums were paid from the Exchequer for fish supplied to the royal household :
Fifty marks for five lasts (9,000) red herrings, twelve pounds for two lasts of white herrings, six pounds for two barrels of sturgeon, twenty-one pounds five shillings for 1300 stock-fish, thirteen shillings and ninepence for eighty-nine congers, and twenty marks for 320 mulwells.
The cooks had many ways of preparing the fish. Herring-pies were considered as delicacies even by royalty. The town of Yarmouth, by ancient charter, was bound to send a hundred herrings, baked in twenty-four pies or pasties, annually to the king: and Eustace de Corson, Thomas de Berkedich, and Robert de Withen, in the reign of Edward I., held thirty acres by tenure of supplying twenty-four pasties of fresh herrings, for the king's use, on their first coming into season.
'Lampreys were the favourite dish of the mediaeval epicures: they were always considered a great delicacy. So great was the demand for this fish in the reign of King John, as to have induced that monarch to issue a royal licence to one Sampson, to go to Nantes to purchase lampreys for the use of the Countess of Blois. The same king issued a mandate to the sheriffs of Gloucester (that city being famous for producing lampreys), forbidding them, on their first coming in, to be sold for more than two shillings a piece. In the reign of Edward III., they were some-times sold for eightpence or tenpence a piece, and they often produced a much higher price. In 1341, Walter Dastyn, sheriff of Gloucester, received the sum of £12, 5s. 3d. for forty-four lampreys supplied for the king's use.'
The corporation of Gloucester presented to the sovereign every Christmas, as a token of their loyalty, a lamprey-pie, which was sometimes a costly gift, as lampreys at that season could scarcely be pro-cured at a guinea a piece. (See Fish, how to choose, how to dress. Printed at Launceston.) The Severn is noted from its lampreys, and Gloucester noted for its peculiar mode of stewing them; indeed, a Gloucester lamprey will almost excuse the royal excess of Henry I, who died at Rouen, of an illness brought on by eating too freely of this choice fish, after a day spent in hunting.
In addition to these favourite dishes, the choice 'vianders' of the fourteenth century paid epicurean prices for delicious morsels of the whale, the porpoise, the grampus, and the sea-wolf. These animals, being then considered as fish, were held as allowable food in Lent: it is lamentable to think how much sin they thus occasioned among our forefathers, before they were discovered to be mammalian. The flesh of the porpoise was cooked in various ways: a manuscript in the British Museum contains a receipt for making puddynge of porpoise' (Hari. MSS., No. 279): and we find it served at table as late as the time of Henry VIII., and in the north to a later period.