Born: Sir James Ware, antiquary, 1591, Dublin; Dr. William Derham, natural philosopher, 1657, Stowton, near Worcester.
Died: Prince William, son of Henry I of England, drowned in the White Ship, 1120; John Spotswood or Spotiswood, archbishop of St. Andrew's, Scottish ecclesiastical historian, 1639; Philippe Quinault, tragic dramatist, 1688, Paris; John Elwes, noted miser, 1789, Marcham, Berkshire; Dr. Joseph Black, eminent chemist, 1799, Edinburgh; John Londoun Macadam, improver of roads, 1836; George, Lord Nugent (poetry, biography, &c.), Lillies, Bucks; Marshal Soult, Duke of Dalmatia, 1850, SoultBerg; Vincenz Priessnitz, founder of hydropathy, 1351, Graefenberg.
Feast Day: St. Peter, martyr, bishop of Alexandria, 311. St. Conraal, bishop of Constanee, confessor, 976. St. Nicon, surnamed Metanoite, confessor, 998. St. Sylvester Gozzolini, abbot of Osimo, instituter of the Sylvestrin monks, 1267.
On the 26th November 1789, died John Elwes, Esquire, a striking example of the impotent poverty of wealth when it does not enlarge the understanding, or awaken the social affections, and, consequently, cannot purchase common comforts for its wretched possessor. Elwes was the son of a successful brewer in Southwark, named Meggot. Evil tendencies of mind are as hereditary as diseases of the body. Elwes's mother starved herself to death, and his paternal uncle, Sir Harvey Elwes, was a notorious miser, from whom, by one of those fortuitous turns of events that sometimes throws great wealth into the power of those who have least occasion for it, John Elwes derived his name and a vast fortnne.
If Elwes had been a mere miser, his name might well have been omitted from this collection; but the extraordinary man possessed qualities which, if they had not been suppressed by the all absorbing passion of avarice, entitled him to the love and esteem of his friends, and might have advanced him to the respect and admiration of his country men. In spite of his penurious disposition, he had an unshaken gentleness of manner, and a pliancy of temper not generally found in a miserable money accumulator. One day he was out shooting with a gentleman who exhibited constant proofs of unskilfulness; so much so, that at last, in firing through a hedge, he lodged several shot in the miser's cheek. The awkward sportsman, with great embarrassment and concern, approached to apologize, but Elwes anticipated apology by holding out his hand, and saying:
My dear sir, I congratulate you on improving; I thought you would hit something in time.
Those afflicted by a habitual love of money are seldom scrupulous respecting the means of increasing their stores; yet Elwes abstained from usury on principle, considering it an unjustifiable method of augmenting his fortune. And contrary to an ostentatious meanness, too generally prevalent at the present day, by which many indulge in luxuries at the expense of others, Elwes's whole system of life and saving was founded on pure self denial. He would walk miles in the rain, rather than hire a conveyance; and sit hours ill wet clothes, rather than incur the expense of a fire. He would advance a large sum to oblige a friend, and on the same day risk his life to save paying a penny at a turnpike. He would eat meat in the last stage of putrefaction, 'the charnel house of sustenance,' rather than allow a small profit to a butcher.
Like most of his class, Elwes was penny wise and pound foolish; not unfrequently losing the sheep for the half penny worth of tar. He suffered his spacious country mansion to become uninhabitable, rather than be at the cost of a few necessary repairs. A near relative once slept at his seat in the country, but the bedchamber was open to wind and weather, and the gentleman was awakened in the night by rain pouring in upon him. After searching in vain for a bell, he was necessitated to move his bed several times, till a place was at last found, where rain did not reach. On remarking the circumstance to Elwes in the morning, the latter said:
Ay! I don't mind it myself; but to those who do, that is a nice corner in the rain!
Elwes had an extensive property in houses in London, and as some of his houses were frequently without a tenant, he saved the price of lodgings by occupying any premises that might happen to be vacant. Two beds, two chairs, a table, and an old woman, were all his furniture, and with these, whenever a tenant offered, he was ready to remove at a moment's warning.
It was then not easy to find him, or to know what part of the town might be his residence. Colonel Timms, his nephew, and heir to his entailed estates, was on one occasion anxious to see Elwes. After some inquiries, he learned accidentally that his uncle had been seen going into an uninhabited house in Great Marlborough Street. No gentleman, however, had been seen about there, but a pot boy recollected observing all old beggar go into a stable and lock the door after him. Colonel Timms knocked at the door, but no one answering, sent for a blacksmith, and had the lock forced. The lower part of the building was all closed and silent; but, on ascending the staircase, moans were heard, apparently proceeding from a person in great distress. Entering a room, the intruders found, stretched out on an old pallet bed, seemingly in death, the wretched figure of Elwes. For some time he remained insensible, till some cordials were administered by a neighbouring apothecary; then he sufficiently recovered to be able to say that he had, he believed, been ill for two or three days, and that there was an old woman in the house, but for some reason or other, she had not been near him; that she had been ill herself, but that she had recovered, he supposed, and gone away. On Colonel Timms and the apothecary repairing to the garret, they found the old woman stretched lifeless on the floor, having apparently been dead for two days.
When his inordinate passion for saving did not interfere, Elwes would willingly exert himself to the utmost to serve a friend. He once extricated two old ladies from a long and troublesome ecclesiastical suit, by riding sixty miles at night, and at a moment's warning. Such wonderful efforts would he make with alacrity, and at an advanced age, to serve a person for whom o motives or entreaties could have prevailed on him to part with a shilling. In this, and all his long journeys, a few hard boiled eggs, a dry crust carried in his pocket, the next stream of water, and a spot of fresh grass for his horse, while he reposed beneath a hedge, were the whole of the travelling expenses of both man and beast. The ladies asked a neighbouring gentleman how they could best testify their thanks for such a service. Send him sixpence, was the reply, for then he will be delighted by gaining twopence by his journey.
So lived John Elwes, encouraging no art, advancing no science, working no material improvement on his estates or country, diffusing no blessings around him, bestowing no benevolence upon the poor and needy, and shewing few signs of parental care or affection. He never was married, but was the father of two natural children, to whom he bequeathed the greater part of his disposable property. Education he despised, and would lay out no money upon it. The surest way, he constantly affirmed, of taking money out of people's pockets, is by putting things into their heads. And no doubt he felt it so, for this strange man was a prey to every sharper who could put a scheme into his head by which he imagined that money might be got. Elwes has been compared to a great pike in a fishpool, which, ever voracious and unsatisfied, clutches at everything, until it is at last caught itself. With a mind incapable of taking comprehensive ideas of money-matters, and a constant anxiety to grasp the tangible results of his speculations, Elwes either disdained or was too indolent to keep regular accounts, and the consequence was that £150,000 of bad debts were owing to him at his death.
As we approach the last scene of all, the cruel tyranny of avarice, over its wretched slave, becomes more and more appalling. Comfortably domiciled in his son's house, Elwes fears that he shall die in poverty. In the night he is heard struggling with imaginary robbers, and crying:
I will keep my money! I will! Don't rob me! Oh don't!
A visitor hears a footstep entering his room at night, and naturally asks, 'Who is there?' On which a tremulous voice replies:
Sir, I beg your pardon, my name is Elwes, I have been unfortunate enough to be robbed in this house, which I believe is mine, of all the money I have in the world of five guineas and a half, and half a crown.
A few days after, the money is found, where he had hidden it, behind a window shutter. And a few days more, Elwes is found in bed, his clothes and hat on, his staff in his hand. His son comes to the bedside, and the father whispers John:
I hope I have left you as much as you wished.
The family doctor is sent for, and, looking at the dying miser, says:
That man, with his original strength of constitution, and life long habits of temperance, might have lived twenty years longer, but for his continual anxiety about money.
This notice of Elwes cannot be better concluded than in the following summary of his character, by his friend and acquaintance of many years, Mr. Topham. In one word, his Elwes public character lives after him pure and without stain. In private life, he was chiefly an enemy to himself. To others, he lent much; to himself, he denied everything. But in the pursuit of his property, or in the recovery of it, I have it not in my remembrance one unkind thing that ever was done by him.
JOHN LOUDOUN MACADAM
Though neither a soldier nor a statesman, and laying no claim to distinction on the score either of literary or scientific achievement, the practical abilities of Macadam have, nevertheless, added a word to the English language, and earned for him the tribute of a grateful remembrance as one of the most important of our public benefactors. The traveller as he bowls smoothly along the even and well kept turnpike road, whether in gig, stage coach, or chaise, may bless fervently the memory of the great road reformer of the nineteenth century, whose macadamized highways have tended so much to increase the comfort as well as diminish the dangers of vehicular locomotion. The means employed were of the simplest and most efficacious kind, and with an improvement on the original idea, have rendered the public roads throughout the British islands, if not superior, at least second to one in the world.
John Loudoun Macadam was born at Ayr on the 21st September 1756. His father was a landed proprietor, who died when John was about fourteen, and the young man was thereupon sent to the office of an uncle, a merchant in New York. Here he remained for a number of years, and on the war of independence breaking out, established for himself a lucrative business as an agent for the sale of prizes. The termination of hostilities, however, in favour of the colonists, found him nearly penniless, and he returned to his native country. For some time after this he resided in the neighbourhood of Moffat, and subsequently removed to Sauchrie, in Ayrshire, where for thirteen years he acted as deputy lieutenant of the county, and a member of the commission of the peace. Being here engaged in the capacity of trustee on certain roads, his mind was first led to revolve some scheme for a general amelioration of the system of highways throughout the kingdom, and he continued for many years to study and experiment on the subject. Having been appointed, in 1798, agent for victualling the navy in the western ports of Great Britain, he took up his abode at Falmouth, but afterwards removed to Bristol. In 1815, he was appointed surveyor of the Bristol roads, and here he first seriously set himself to work to carry into actual operation the improvements which he had been pondering over for so many years.
The main feature of his plan was to form a bed of fragments of stone granite, whinstone, or basalt one of which should be too large to pass through an iron ring two and a half inches in diameter. The stratum or bed of such materials was to be from six to twelve inches in thickness, and it was left to be brought into compactness and smoothness by the action of the vehicles passing over it. Though now approaching sixty years of age, Mr. Macadam set himself with all energy to carry out this scheme, and before he died, he had the satisfaction of seeing his system of road making generally adopted, though the only reward he reaped for his labours was a grant of £2000 from parliament, and the repayment of a large sum, amounting to several thousands more, which he proved before a committee of the House of Commons to have been expended by him from his own resources in perfecting his plan. He died at Moffat on 26th November 1836, in the eighty first year of his age, leaving behind him the reputation of one of the most honourable and disinterested of men.
The great drawback from the virtues of Mr. Macadam's plan, lies in the difficulty of obtaining a smooth surface. Without a firm substructure, the subjacent materials are apt to work up amongst those of the macadam bed. It is also found that carriages encounter a prodigious friction from these materials, until they have been somewhat beaten down; and that, even then, the wheels will be found to have left great longitudinal indentations or hollows, with rough ridges between, altogether at issue with true smoothness. The first objection was overcome by the great engineer Telford, who suggested a causewayed substructure as a basis for the bed of small stones. The second difficulty can be to a large extent overcome, by causing a heavy roller to pass in the first place over the bed of macadamized fragments, so as to jam them down into a compact cake, on which the carriages may then pass with comparative facility. But though this plan commends itself to the simplest common sense, and is very generally practised in France, the idea of its advantages seems never yet to have dawned upon the British intellect. Accordingly, the macadamized road is still, with us, a martyrdom to horses; and it is not too much to say, that the thoroughfares of London present, during a third part of all time, frictional difficulties ten times more than there is any just occasion for, and require four times the amount of renewal and expense which is strictly necessary.
THE HOTTENTOT VENUS
Early in the present century, a poor wretched woman was exhibited in England under the appellation of the Hottentot Venus. With an intensely ugly figure, distorted beyond all European notions of beauty, she was said by those to whom she belonged to possess precisely that kind of shape which is most admired among her countrymen, the Hottentots. Mr. Bullock, proprietor of a Museum in which many exhibitions were held in those days, was applied to in 1810 by a Mr. Dunlop, surgeon of an African ship, to purchase a beautiful camelopard skin. On account of the high price asked, the negotiation broke off; but at a second interview, Dunlop informed Mr. Bullock that he had brought a Hottentot woman home with him from the Cape, whom he had engaged to take back again in two years; that she was an object of great curiosity; and that a person might make a fortune in two years by exhibiting her.
Mr. Bullock, however, did not close with the offers made to him, and the black woman was sold for it appears to have been virtually a sale by the surgeon to another person. Then came forth the advertisements and placards concerning the Hottentot Venus. She was exhibited on a stage two feet high, along which she was led by her keeper, and exhibited like a wild beast; being obliged to walk, stand, or sit, as he ordered her. The exhibition was so offensive and disgraceful, that the attorney general called for the interference of the lord chancellor on the subject. He grounded his application on the fact, that the poor creature did not appear to be a free agent, and that she was little other than a slave or chattel.
She and her keeper both spoke a kind of low Dutch, such as is known on the Hottentot borders of Cape Colony. It was observed, on one occasion, while being exhibited, that on her not coming forward immediately when called, the keeper went to her, and holding up his hand menacingly, said something in Dutch which induced her to come forward. She was often heard, also, to heave deep sighs in the course of the exhibition, and displayed great sullenness of temper. A Dutch gentleman, on one occasion, interrogated her how far she was a willing participator in the exhibition; but her keeper would not allow her to answer the questions. The publicity given to the matter in the Court of Chancery, soon caused the disappearance of the Hottentot Venus from the public gaze, but of the subsequent history of the poor woman herself we have no information.
WILLIAM OF WYKEHAM
Manners makyth the Man,William of Wykeham, probably one of the most popular characters in English history, was born of humble parents in the obscure Hampshire village from which he derives his surname. Nicholas Uvedale, the lord of the manor, attracted by the child's intelligence, sent him to school at Winchester. When still a youth, William became his patron's secretary, and being lodged in a lofty tower of Winchester Castle, there acquired the enthusiastic admiration of Gothic architecture, which laid the foundation of his future fortune. The young secretary visited the neighbouring churches, cathedrals, and castles; he measured, studied, and compared their various beauties and defects; then considered how such stately edifices had been erected; and figured in his own imagination others of still finer and grander proportions. So, when introduced by his patron to King Edward III, he was qualified to assist that monarch in planning and directing the building of his palatial castle at Windsor. Wykeham thus became the king's favourite and secretary; and subsequently applying himself to politics, he was made keeper of the Privy Seal; then entering the church, e became bishop of Winchester, and soon afterwards lord chancellor of England.
Quotly William of Wykeham
William, however, had nearly lost the favour of the king. When Windsor Castle was completed, the architect caused to be placed over the great gate, the words, THIS MADE WYKEHAM. The inscription was considered to be an arrogant assumption to himself, of all the honour and glory resulting from the great undertaking. The king, at first, was displeased, but William soon satisfied the monarch by the following explanation. In the inscription, the word Wykeham was, according to the idiom of the English language, in the accusative case, and, accordingly, the inscription did not mean that Wykeham made this building, but that the construction of the building made Wykeham, raising him from a poor lad to be the king's favourite architect. And when the heralds were busying themselves to find suitable arms for Wykeham, he gave them as his motto, MANNERS MAKYTH MAN; thereby meaning that a man's real worth is to be estimated, not from the outward and accidental circumstances of birth and fortune, but from the acquirements of his mind and his moral qualifications.
The biography of William of Wykeham, being part of the history of England, is matter beyond our scope. Ever sensible that the education and manners which he acquired at Winchester had made a man of him, he founded Winchester school, for the benefit of future generations. As a necessary adjunct and accessory to the school, he founded New College at Oxford. The publication of the charter of foundation of the latter establishment, bears date the 26th of November 1379.
During his long term of fourscore years, William devoted himself to acts of benevolence and charity. The immense fortune he acquired was expended with equal munificence. He contributed greatly to the promotion of sound education in England, while his skill as an architect was matched by an extraordinary aptitude for civil and ecclesiastical business. His talents and benevolence were not confined to scholastic and ecclesiastical edifices alone; he constructed roads and bridges, and regulated traffic on highways. He was buried in his own oratory in Winchester Cathedral, and whether the result of care or accident, it is pleasing to have to relate that Wykeham's tomb, of white marble, has never been desecrated. Many other tombs have suffered dilapidation in that cathedral, and other places, during the many political and religious changes that have occurred since Wykeham was interred; but his revered effigy, in pontifical robes, seems as if scarcely a few days had elapsed since it left the hand of the sculptor.