Born: Charles Francois Dupuis, astronomer, 1742, Trio Chateau, near Chaumont; George Jacques Danton, revolutionary leader, 1759, Arcis sur Aube.
Died: Ahulfeda, Mohammedan historian, 1331, Syria; Samuel Puffendorf, distinguished jurist, 1694, Berlin; Sir Godfrey Kneller, portrait painter, 1723; Dr. Philip Doddridge, eminent divine and author, 1751, Lisbon.
Feast Day: St. Evaristus, pope and martyr, 112. Saints Lucian and Marcian, martyrs, 250.
Danton, more than any man whom the French Revolution threw to the surface, realises the popular idea of a revolutionist. In person he was almost gigantic tall and muscular. His head was large, and covered with stiff black hair, and his eyebrows bushy. His features were bold and irregular, and were by some called ugly; but when lit up by the fire of his intellect, their coarseness disappeared in harmony. His voice was powerful in the out-bursts of his oratory, terrible and was likened to thunder and a lion's roar. Courage, audacity, and power were manifest in his bearing, and his career did not belie his appearance.
He was born in 1759 at Arcis sur Aube, of well to do farming people, and was educated for a lawyer. He went to Paris to finish his studies, and there commenced practice as a barrister. He sought the acquaintance of Mirabeau, Camille Desmoulins, Robespierre, Marat, and others, notable for their devotion to revolutionary ideas. He lived economically, and spent his days in the assembly and his nights at the clubs. He ventured to speak, and the discerning were not slow to perceive that in the orator a great power had arisen. Danton attached himself to the Girondists, and, says Lamartine, 'Madame Roland flattered him, but with fear and repugnance, as a woman would pat a lion.'
Daily he grew in popularity, and with Marat led the formidable club of Cordeliers. The court sought his influence by bribes, and in the pride of his strength he exclaimed: 'I shall save the king or kill him!' The revolution, however, was greater than Danton. He who would live in it was forced to run with it or be trampled in its path. After the flight of Louis to Varennes, he advocated his dethronement, and declared in the assembly that hesitation in pronouncing the throne vacant, would be the signal for general insurrection. When Prussia, in 1792, invaded France in vindication of royalty, and spread terror on every side, Danton, by his brave words, gave courage to the nation.
Legislators!' said he, 'it is not the alarm cannon that you hear: it is the pas de charge against our enemies. To conquer them, to hurl them back, what do we require? Il nous faut de l'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace: To dare, and again to dare, and without end to dare!
In a few weeks, fourteen republican armies were in the field, repelling the allied forces with a vigour and success which set Europe aghast. For the king's death Danton voted, but, like the Abbé Sieyes, assigned no reason. In his defiant style, he said:
The coalesced kings threaten us; we hurl at their feet, as gage of battle, the head of a king.
Under the Revolution, Danton was first a minister of justice, and then president of the Committee of Public Safety a body of six men, who were intrusted with absolute executive power, and who therefore bear the infamy of the Reign of Terror. In the course of events, Robespierre and Danton came face to face as rivals for the leadership of Paris, and in Paris, of France. Danton was luxurious, reckless, generous, and frank; on the other hand, Robespierre was ascetic, cold, severe, cautious, and uncompromising. In Robespierre's presence, Danton's power seemed to desert him, as if he were a bird and Robespierre a snake. Feeling that the contest was unequal, he resigned office, and, with his young wife, retired to rural privacy near his native town of Arcis. In domestic confidence, he asserted that the reason of his retreat was horror at the approaching fate of Marie Antoinette.
Robespierre was of far too suspicious and envious a temper to allow an adversary to escape so quietly. Danton likewise had associates who keenly felt his absence from the field of action. He was recalled from Arcis to Paris. He met Robespierre, and was accused by him of embezzling the public money. He retorted by calling Robespierre a sanguinary tyrant. This dispute fixed his doom. His wife and friends urged him to fly. 'Whither fly?' answered he. 'If freed France cast me out, there are only dungeons for me elsewhere. One carries not his country with him at the sole of his shoe.' He heard of the arrest of his friends, and that his own warrant was made out, yet he would not move, saying: 'They dare not, they dare not!' But he forgot that he had Robespierre the merciless, the inflexible, to deal with. He was denounced by St. Just as a traitor, and on the night of the 31st March 1794, was arrested. Brought up for trial on the 2nd of April, he was asked by Fouquier Tinville his name and place of abode. 'My name,' said he,' is Danton; a name tolerably well known in the Revolution. I am thirty five years old. My abode will soon be in nothingness, but my name shall live in the pantheon of history.' He defended himself with wild and scornful words, but was silenced on the ground that he was inciting the people to revolt. No witnesses were called against him, and his own witnesses were refused to be heard. As a matter of course, he was declared guilty.
In prison he affected indifference. 'They think to do without me,' said he; 'they deceive themselves. I was the statesman of Europe. They do not suspect the void which this head leaves' (pressing his cheeks between the palms of his large hands). 'As to me, I laugh at it. I have enjoyed my moments of existence well; I have made plenty of noise upon earth; I have tasted well of life let us go to sleep!' In the cart in which Ire was taken to execution, he had thirteen companions, and among them Camille Desmoulins, the sprightliest spirit of the Revolution, who could not believe that he would be allowed to die. He wriggled to get free from the cords which bound him until his clothes came off, crying at the same time: 'Generous people! unhappy people! you are deceived, you are undone, your best friends are sacrificed! Recognise me! save me! I am Camille Desmoulins!' 'Be calm, my friend,' prayed Danton; 'heed not that vile rabble!' At the foot of the scaffold, Danton was heard to ejaculate: '0 my wife, my well beloved, I shall never see thee more!' then, interrupting himself 'Danton, no weakness!' He was the last to suffer. His last words were to Samson, the executioner: 'You will shew my head to the people it is well worth shewing!' As it fell, Samson caught the head from the basket, and carried it round the scaffold amidst the howls of the people.
Danton died on the 5th April 1794. Robespierre triumph was brief; his own head fell on the 28th of July.
SIR GODFREY KNELLER
Sir Godfrey Kneller was the favourite painter of portraits in England, from Charles II's time to the reign of George I.
He was born at Lubeck in 1648. After having been some time a painter, he came to England in the ordinary course of his travels. When here, by a series of accidents, he was employed to paint Charles II and the Duke of Monmouth, and gave such satisfaction, by his portraits of these personages, that he found it profitable to remain in the country.
Horace Walpole maintains that Kneller, had he chosen to turn his attention to high art, would have made an artist of the first class: as it was, he only painted portraits, and some of those in a very inferior manner. The reason which they assigned for his choice of portrait painting above other branches of art, was that of a man who cared more for his rank on this earth than his rank in the universe. 'Painters of history,' he observed, 'make the dead live, and do not begin to live themselves till they are dead. I paint the living, and they make me live.'
Certainly, so they did. Kneller lived in magnificent style, lost £20,000 by the South Sea Affair, and died in possession of £2000 a year. His accumulation of wealth bears witness to his popularity. He had the honour of painting ten crowned heads. These were Charles II, James II and his queen, William and Mary, Anne, George I, Louis XIV, Peter the Great, and the Emperor Charles VI. Besides these, he painted many other illustrious personages; among whom were Addison, Bishop Burnet, John Locke, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Pope, Newton, &c. He painted the beauties of Hampton Court for King William, and likewise perpetuated on canvas the members of the Kit Cat Club. These celebrated portraits of the most distinguished Whigs of that day were painted for Jacob Tonson, the secretary of the club. Mr. Christopher Cat, pastry cook, of King Street, Westminster, and keeper of the tavern where the club met, was thus immortalised.
James was sitting to Kneller at the very minute that the news reached him of the arrival of the Prince of Orange. The picture was for Pepys, who had been a favourite and faithful servant. James told the painter to proceed with his work, that his good friend Pepys might not be disappointed.
Kneller was knighted in 1692 by William, and made a baronet in 1715 by George I. He was always a vain man, a weakness for which his friend, Pope, incessantly ridicules him in his letters. The poet furnished an inscription (by no means a brilliant specimen of his genius) to Sir Godfrey's monument in Westminster Abbey, for the erection of which the latter himself bequeathed the sum of £300.
THE FOUNDER OF MERTON COLLEGE
A codicil to the will of Walter de Merton, leaving the residue of his property to his college, bears date October 26, 1277. This ecclesiastic was one of the four lord chancellors to whom Oxford is so largely indebted. These were Walter de Merton, who founded Merton College; William de Wykeham, the founder of New College; William of Waynflete, who founded Magdalen College; and Thomas Wolsey of Ipswich, the founder of Christ church College. Walter de Merton may be said to have exercised the most influence of the four upon Oxford, because it was he who introduced the collegiate system; the others only elaborated and extended it. In the same way Merton College must be considered the most interesting, if not the most beautiful, because it was the germ whence the rest were developed. The foundation of this establishment appears to have been a scheme to which Chancellor Merton gave his whole heart. There were, doubtless, halls of greater antiquity, but they consisted only of lodgings for the scholars. The scheme of Walter provided a chapel, with residence for chaplains, and accommodation for a warden having charge of the scholars, within the same premises. The endowments speak of a strong influence exerted on behalf of his favourite project, for the lands forming great part of the revenue are widely scattered, marking, it would seem, the gifts of numerous nobles. There are lands and houses and chancels of churches beyond the Tyne, pertaining to Merton College.
Following the rule, that the affix to a Christian name denoted a birthplace, Walter's biographers have mentioned Merton, in Surrey, as the place of his nativity. This is, however, conjectural; and there is equal probability that he was born at Basingstoke, where it is certain his parents lived, died, and were buried. In his after days, he founded a hospital in Basingstoke to the memory of his father and mother. The day of his death, and the place at which it oocurred, are as uncertain as those of his birth; but his will directed that he should be buried in his cathedral of Rochester. The intermediate events of his life are scarcely better known. He was lord chancellor of England more than once; but whether he received the seals of office twice or thrice, is not quite apparent. Bishop Hobhouse considered he was chancellor twice during the reign of Henry III; and it is certain that he fulfilled the duties of the chancellor ship for the two years preceding the coronation of Edward I. When that event took place, Walter retired from office, and accepted the see of Rochester. A view of his life is a commentary upon his times. Scholar and ecclesiastic, he was chosen by the most powerful nobles in the land, who would not so trust each other, to hold the highest post.
THE TWO BIG BENS
No other bell ever underwent such a career of misfortune as that which was intended for use in the new Houses of Parliament. From the time when that immense structure was commenced, it was resolved that both the clock and the hour bell should be the largest ever seen in this country; but it was not till 1844 that the late Sir Charles Barry solicited tenders for their construction. Through a course of wrangling, which it would be of little use here to elucidate, fifteen years elapsed before the clock was finished and actually at work in its place; this was in 1859. The clock is not only the largest but one of the most accurate we possess. The ponderous weights hang down a shaft 160 feet deep, and require winding up only once a week. The pendulum, 15 feet long, weighs 680 pounds; and so delicate is its action, that a small weight of only one ounce, placed on a particular part of the apparatus, will alter the rate of the clock one second per week. On the four sides of the clock tower are dial rooms, each a large apartment, traversed by mechanism which communicates motion from the clock to the hands. Each of the four clock dials is 221 feet diameter; and the mere cast iron framework of each dial weighs no less than 4 tons. The hour figures are 2 feet high and 6 feet apart, and the minute marks are 14 inches apart. The outer point of the minute hand makes a sudden leap of 7 inches every half minute. The hands weigh more than two hundredweight the pair; the minute hand being 16 feet long, and the hour hand 9 feet. In order to render the dials visible at night, each dial face is glazed with enameled or opalised glass, with 60 gas jets behind it.
Such is the magnificent clock, for which suitable bells were sought to be made. The original scheme was for 'a clock that would strike the hours on a bell of eight to ten tons, and chime the quarters upon eight smaller bells.' It was afterwards decided that there should be only four bells for the chimes, in addition to the great hour bell. In the four corners of the bell room these bells are placed; the first with a weight of 4' tons, and yielding the musical note B; the second, weight 2 tons, and note E; the third, weight l½ ton, and note F#; and the fourth, weight l¼ ton, and note G#. By varying the order in which these are struck, they produce four chimes or partial melodies, at the four divisions of each hour; and at the full or completed hour, the whole sixteen sounds form a simple but beautiful melody in the key of E major. These four bells were made and hung nearly in the manner first designed; but the fifth the king of the belfry, that was to hang in the vacant space between them has not been so fortunate. It was to have been about 9 feet in diameter, 9 inches thick at the sound bow, and to weigh 14 tons nearly three times the weight of the great bell of St. Paul's Cathedral; it was to be struck by a hammer of a ton weight, and was then to yield the note E, one octave lower than the E of the chimes, and forming a musical chord with the whole of them.
The bell was designed by Mr. E. B. Denison, who, as an amateur, has displayed considerable skill in the theory of clock and bell work. After much disputing between commissioners, architects, and others, it was cast in August 1856, at Stockton on Tees, in Yorkshire. The mould was six weeks in preparation. The metal was melted in two furnaces, each containing ten tons. Eighteen out of the twenty tons of molten metal were poured into the mould, producing a bell about 8 feet high and 9½ in diameter at the mouth. When turned and trimmed and finished, it weighed about 15 tons a little more than had at first been intended. The ponderous mass was then carefully conveyed to London, and placed for a time at the foot of the clock tower, where it was visited by multitudes of persons. Every Saturday it was struck a certain number of blows, that the quality and loudness of the sound might be tested.
On one occasion, the E was found to be a dull and uncertain sound; and this leading to a close scrutiny, it was found that, owing to a flaw in the metal, the bell was practically useless, and would ultimately be broken by the blows of the hammer. It was deemed a fortunate circumstance that the discovery was made before the bell had been raised into the tower. Officially, the bell was to have been named 'St. Stephen;' but a random sobriquet used in the Times, 'Big Ben,' caught the taste of the public; and in October 1857, it was known all over the country that 'Big Ben was cracked.' There then ensued another series of disputations, accusations, and counter accusations. Another bell was cast by another bell-founder; it was somewhat less in weight than the former, but was made to yield the same tone. In October 1858, it was raised into its place, a task requiring very perfect appliances; for the weight, raised to a height of nearly 200 feet, was not less than 25 tons, or 56,000 pounds including bell, cradle, chains, and tackle.
Thus was Big Ben the second cast on the 10th of April, taken out of the mould on the 24th, sent to Westminster on the 31st of May, tried as to tone by Dr. Turle on the 18th of June, and finally raised to his destined place in October. During November, Big Ben underwent a long series of blows with hammers weighing from 4 to 7 hundredweight each. The clock was put up in its place, and for some time the inhabitants of the metropolis heard the chime bells every quarter of an hour, and Big Ben every hour. But another misfortune arose: Ben the second cracked like Ben the first. Then ensued an accusation, a bitter controversy, and a lawsuit; and then fragments of Big Ben were analysed by Professor Tyndall and Dr. Percy; while Professor Airey tried to ascertain whether the bell might still be used, though cracked. The subject of Big Ben became almost ludicrous. Not only was the deep E of the bell not to be heard, but the other four were silenced also, and the clock was stopped; insomuch that Earl Derby, in June 1860, said in the House of Lords.
We all know the circumstances under which we have been deprived of the doubtful advantage of hearing the tones of the great bell; but when a clock ceases to address itself to the sense of hearing, that is no reason it should decline to present itself to the sense of sight. One of the hands has disappeared altogether, and the other stands at twelve; so that it has the merit of being right at least once in the twelve hours. The earl spoke of the 'doubtful' advantage of hearing the bell. It appears that the tone, when very slowly repeated, had a melancholy and depressing effect on many persons, and was not much liked by those who were attending parliament, or the courts in Westminster Hall. Earl Grey, speaking after the Earl of Derby, 'rejoiced that the great bell had been cracked, and trusted no attempt would be made to make the clock speak to their ears again in the old tones.'
The two Big Bens cost the country nearly £4000, all expenses included. One was broken up and remelted; the other was condemned on account of faults and fissures; and the lowest or deepest of the four chimes or quarter bells, was thenceforward used as the hour bell.