Born: William Woollett, eminent engraver, 1735, Maidstone.
Died: Annius Severinus Boethius, philosopher and theologian, beheaded by Theatoric, 526, Pavia; Pope Sixtus II, 1590; James Thomson, poet, 1748, Riehmond; Dr. John Jortin, critic, 1770; Countess Craven (née Louisa Brunton), once a favourite actress, 1860.
Feast Day: St. Poemen or Pastor, abbot, about 451. St. Cæsarius, archbishop of Arles, confessor, 542. St. Syagrius, bishop of Autun, 600. St. Malrubius, hermit and martyr in Scotland, about 1040. St. Hugh of Lincoln, martyr, 1255. St. Joseph Calasanetius, confessor, 1648.
POPE SIXTUS V
Many of the popes have been of the humblest extraction. Pope Sixtus V was the son of a poor pig-dealer at Montalto-born there in 1521. It may fairly be said that no occupant of the Holy See has ever left a stronger mark upon his age. Elizabeth upon the throne of England, Henry IV upon that of France, and Sixtus V upon that of Rome, was a wonderful cluster of great sovereigns for one period. Having, as a cardinal, long appeared imbecile, he was elected by the concurrent voices of several who hoped to reign in his name, and knew they could not individually command a majority. It seemed, too, as if so feeble and sickly a man could not long postpone another election. When at length informed that he was pope, Sixtus threw by his staff, smoothed away his wrinkles, and joined the Te Deum with a voice so powerful as to make his electors tremble. He at the same time informed then that his ago was seven years less than had been supposed. Immediately there commenced an administration of extraordinary vigour. The banditti perished and disappeared before the sternness of his justice. He entered upon wonderful measures for the decoration of Rome. He excommunicated several Protestant princes; yet afterwards, it is said, coming to know Henry of France, and Elizabeth of England, conceived a respect for them both, and actually won one over to the Romish Church. Of Elizabeth, he characteristically remarked: 'She is a big-head-that queen. Could I have espoused her, what a breed of great princes we might have had!'
His severity to the vicious had something eccentric in it. While making adultery a capital crime, he extended the same punishment to a husband who did not complain. It seemed, too, as if a cruel disposition made him take a positive pleasure in the infliction of death. 'I wish justice to be done before dinner,' he said to the governor of Rome; 'so make haste, for I am very hungry.' On one occasion, when some friends of a Spanish gentleman-criminal pleaded that, if he must die, it should be by decapitation: 'No,' said Sixtus, 'he shall be hanged, but I will ennoble his execution by attending it myself.' He looked on attentively, and declared the affair had given him a good appetite. It was to him a recommendation for a judgeship, if the candidate had a severe countenance. He was full of jokes about his own severity. Some people pleading for mercy to a criminal of sixteen-alleging that the execution of so young a person was not according to law-the holy father only replied: 'I will give him ten of my own years to make him subject to the law;' and, of course, the lad suffered.
On the whole, he was one of the greatest of the popes, and no one can visit Rome without becoming aware how much it owes to him.
LANDING OF CÆSAR IN BRITAIN
Sunday, the 27th of August, 55 B.C., may, upon good grounds, be set down as the day on which Cæsar invaded the island of Britain. His own account of the event being vague and general, there has been room for discussion both as to the place where, and the day on which, the landing was effected. In a late volume, however, by a very pinstaking and ingenious inquirer, both points are tolerably well determined, as it also is that the Roman commander embarked on his expedition at the port since called Boulogne, using the adjacent lesser harbour of Ambleteuse for shipping his cavalry.
The day is thus ascertained. Cæsar himself tells that he proceeded on his expedition when little of summer remained-when the people of the south of Britain were engaged in their harvest-and we learn that he returned three weeks after, before the equinox. Thus, the day must have been in August. He further tells us that the full moon occurred on the fourth day after his landing. The full moon of August in that year is ascertained from astronomical tables to have been at 3 A.M. of the 31st. Hence Cæsar landed on the 27th. He had set out from Boulogne at midnight, with 8000 men in 80 transports, besides a few swift-moving war-galleys or triremes, and arrived at a point near the British coast about ten in the forenoon.
He found himself in front of a bold coast, covered by enemies who could throw their javelins from the higher ground to the shore. The description answers to the well-known high chalk-cliffs between Sandgate and the South Foreland. He necessarily made a lateral movement to find a more favourable place of lauding, and wind and tide enabled him to do so. The question is, was it eastward to Deal, or westward towards Hythe. It has very generally been assumed that he took the former course, and landed at Deal. But Mr. Lewin spews that the tide which enabled Cæsar to make this movement did not go in that direction. High water at Dover on the 27th of August, 55 B. c., was at 7.31 A.M. Four hours later, the tide would begin, as it now does, to move westward, and would so continue for seven hours. Cæsar, therefore, in his shift of place that afternoon, went westward-namely, towards Hythe. There we find in Romney Marsh precisely such a plain as that on which he describes himself as having landed. Mr. Lewin conjectures that the name Romney may have been affixed to the place in commemoration of its having been the site of the first encampment made by the Romans on the British shore.
It is well known that Cæsar met with greater difficulty in landing and making good his first footing on the island than he expected. The truth is, although we, as well as he, are apt to forget or be ignorant of it, that the southern Britons were a people well advanced in a native civilisation at the time of Cæsar's invasion. 'In the first place,' says Mr. Lewin, 'there was a crowded population, which is never found in a state of barbarism. Even in literary attainments the Britons were in advance of the Gauls, for the priests are universally the depositaries of learning, and the Gauls were in the habit of sending their youth to Britain, to perfect themselves in the knowledge of Druidism. Then there was great commercial intercourse carried on between Britain and Gaul, not to mention that a partial trade existed between Britain and more distant nations, as the Phoenicians. It was only about a century after this that London, by its present name, was a city crowded with merchants and of world-wide celebrity. The country also to the south had been cleared of its forests, and was under the plough... But I do not know a greater confirmation of British advancement than the circumstance mentioned by Cæsar, that when he made war upon the Veneti, to the west of Gaul, the Britains sent a fleet of ships to their assistance.'
BURNING OF MILTON'S BOOKS BY THE HANGMAN
Milton was all his life a liberal, in the best sense of the word, resisting with his powerful pen the encroachments of unwarrantable power, whether political or ecclesiastical. When the restoration of Charles II became imminent, Milton's position was perilous. Amongst other books, his Iconoclastes and his Defensio pro Populo Anglican, contained sentiments which Charles and his court could not be expected to tolerate.
In 1660, just before Charles's return, Milton added another to his many works against monarchy, in a letter addressed to General Monk, under the title of The Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth; and he also combated the reasonings of one Dr. Matthew Griffith, in Brief Notes upon a Late Sermon, titled The Fear of God and the King.
All would not do, however; the people were wearied of the Commonwealth, and welcomed Charles home again. Milton felt that he could not safely appear in public at this crisis. He quitted his home in Petty France, and sought an asylum with a friend in Bartholomew Close. Many writers have said that his friends got up a mock-funeral for him, to keep him well out of sight; and that when this fact came to the ears of Charles, the 'Merry Monarch' laughed heartily, and 'applauded his policy in escaping the punishment of death by a seasonable show of dying.' Whether this were or were not the case, no very diligent search appears to have been made for him. 'There were among the royalists,' says Mr. Keightley, 'men of humanity who could feel compassion for him, who was deprived of nature's prime blessing [Milton had then been quite blind about seven years], and men of taste who were capable of admiration for exalted genius? But, although Milton escaped, his books did not.
On the 16th of June 1660, the House of Commons passed a resolution, that his majesty should be:
humbly moved to call in Milton's two books [the Iconoelastes and the Defensio], and that of John Goodwin [The Obstructors of Justice], written in justification of the murder of the late king, and order them to be burned by the common hangman; and that the attorney-general do proceed against them by indictment or otherwise.
On the 27th of August following, as many copies of the three offending books as could be met with, were publicly burned, in conformity with this resolution. During the intervening ten weeks a proclamation appeared, in which it was stated that 'the said John Milton and John Goodwin are so fled, or so obscure themselves, that no endeavours used for their apprehension can take effect, whereby they may be brought to legal tryal, and deservedly receive condign punishment for their treasons and offences.' As has just been said, however, there is reason to believe that the search was purposely allowed to slacken; and within three days after the burning of the books, an act of indemnity relieved the poet from any further necessity for concealment.