Born: Mrs. Hester Chapone, moral writer, 1727, Twywell, Northamptonshire; Captain James Cook, celebrated voyager, 1728, Marton, Yorkshire; Dr. Andrew Combe, eminent physiologist, 1797, Edinburgh.
Died: Marcus Junius Brutus, assassin of Julius Caesar, 42 B.C., Philippi; Pope Eugenics II, 827; Michael Servetus, burned for heresy at Geneva, 1553; Rev. John Thomson, landscape painter, 1840, Duddingston, near Edinburgh; Madame Ida Pfeiffer, celebrated traveller, 1858, Vienna.
Feast Day: St. Frumentius, apostle of Ethiopia, bishop and confessor, 4th century. St. Abban, abbot in Ireland, about 500. St. Elesbaan, king of Ethiopia, confessor, 6th century.
The fate of this unfortunate man has evoked an amount of discussion and interest which were doubtless little anticipated by the civil and spiritual rulers of Geneva, when they consigned him to the flames as a heretic and blasphemer. The reputation of Calvin and his followers is deeply concerned in this transaction, which no one, even of his warmest admirers, will at the present day attempt to defend, however much they may try to palliate and excuse. As regards the Reformers, and the right claimed by them of making the Scriptures the sole rule of faith, and interpreting them according to the dictates of private judgment, the burning of Servetus must be pronounced one of the most impolitic acts which they could have perpetrated, seeing that by this proceeding they committed themselves to the same cruel and intolerant system which they denounced so strongly in the Church of Rome.
Servetus was a native of Villanueva, in the kingdom of Aragon, in Spain, and having been destined by his father for the legal profession, was sent to study at Toulouse. Here he devoted himself to theological rather than juristic studies, and the result was a book entitled De Trinitatis Erroribus, which he published when only twenty two. The heterodox views propounded in this work gave deep offence both to Protestants and Catholics, and so threatening to his safety was the hostile feeling excited, that the author deemed it prudent to change his name to Michel de Villeneuve, after his native town.
He commenced, too, about this time the study of medicine, in which he made great proficiency, and appears, from a passage in his writings, to have first propounded the theory of the circulation of the blood, which, in the following century, was experimentally demonstrated by Harvey. Such eminence did he attain in his profession, that he came to be regarded as one of the ablest physicians in France, and both practised and lectured with great success at Paris, Lyon, and other places. Having subsequently obtained the post of municipal physician to the town of Vienne, in Dauphine, he settled down there, and might have lived in tranquillity to the end of his days, were it not for an ardent missionary spirit which led him to fancy himself destined by Heaven for carrying out a sweeping reformation in religious doctrine and belief. With this view he composed, and had stealthily printed, his work entitled Restitutio Christianismi, in which the same views which he had already promulgated regarding the Trinity were advanced afresh. Large consignments of copies were forwarded to Lyon, Frankfort, and Geneva, and in consequence of a representation made by a citizen of Lyon, Guillaume Trie, residing at Geneva, Servetus was arrested at the instance of the ecclesiastical authorities of Vienne, and subjected to a close examination. That Calvin, who had been engaged in a correspondence with Servetus during the composition of the book in question, and been made the subject by the latter of a rather acrimonious attack, was the original mover in this transaction, is a doubtful point; but it would seem that he handed over to Trie various documents which he had received from Servetus, and which were now produced in evidence before the inquisitors.
They were, however, balked of their victim, who managed to escape by night from his confinement. For upwards of three months he remained concealed in France, and then took his way for Italy, with the intention of establishing himself at Naples as a physician. Through some unaccountable infatuation, the path which he chose was through Switzerland and Geneva, and in the latter town he arrived about the middle of July 1553. He dwelt in an inn there for about a month, and was on the eve of continuing his journey, when he was arrested in name of the Genevan Council, and committed to prison. A long list of charges, on the ground of heresy, drawn up by Calvin, who then exercised a paramount influence in Geneva, and had taken the initiative steps in procuring the arrest of Servetus by the state authorities, was produced in court against the unfortunate stranger.
After a long and protracted trial, in which the magistrates and churches of Zurich, Berne, Basel, and Schaffhausen were consulted, and an unsuccessful demand also made by the authorities of Vienne for the delivery of the prisoner to them, sentence of capital punishment by burning was pronounced on 26th October, and executed the following day. The scene of this memorable event was the eminence of Champel, situated a little distance to the south of Geneva, and commanding a most enchanting view of the lake and surrounding mountains. To the end Servetus maintained, with unflinching constancy, his Unitarian opinions, rejecting firmly the pertinacious exhortations of the reformed pastor, Farel, who attended him to the stake. His last words were: 'Jesus, thou. Son of the eternal God, have mercy upon me!'
In passing judgment on the chief actors in this tragedy, we must bear in mind that the principles of religious toleration, as now recognised, were in the sixteenth century not only almost unknown, but reprobated as dangerous and atheistic. Next to professing and disseminating religious error, was the guilt of those who permitted it to exist, and having the power of punishing heretics, refrained from its exercise. Toleration and indifference were, with our earnest minded and devout ancestors, convertible terms. And it was argued that if treason and disrespect to earthly powers incurred the severest penalties, much more ought these to be inflicted on the guilty parties who, by their maintenance of false doctrine, had both imperilled souls, and done despite to the majesty of Heaven. Such sentiments were not peculiar to the Roman Catholics, but were equally shared by the adherents of the Reformed doctrines, who denounced the cruel persecutions of the papists, not on the ground of religious liberty, but on that of impiety in destroying the holders of the true faith. All sects, and even that to which Servetus belonged, agreed in the duty of exterminating heretics and unbelievers by the sword. Viewed in this light, we can therefore by no means regard Calvin as the unwarranted murderer of Servetus, seeing that he had the approval of the most eminent divines and writers of his day for the deed which was perpetrated under his sanction. But, abstractedly considered, it was a most foul and unjust action, and has left an indelible stain on the memory of the great reformer.
An offence was committed, in the first instance, against the law of nations, by assuming jurisdiction over an absolute stranger, a citizen of another country, and who was merely passing through the city of Geneva. No moral or political offences were imputed to the prisoner, who seems, through his whole life, to have been of the most unblemished behaviour, and however offensively he might express himself, had never committed a greater transgression than claiming the right of interpreting the Scriptures according to the dictates of his own judgment. That he was sincere in his belief, is evident from the constancy with which he maintained his principles to the last. And the injustice of refusing to allow him the aid of an advocate though such an interdiction was in accordance with the laws of the state and the strong personal animus by which Calvin seemed to be inspired in his procedure towards Servetus, must ever excite the utmost indignation and regret.
The personal character of this victim of intolerance has been variously represented by the partisans and enemies of Calvin the former depicting him as a man of weak intellect, arrogant and overbearing, but withal cowardly and subservient, and displaying in his conduct a total absence of truth and candour; whilst by the latter he is held up to admiration, as possessing every quality which contributes to form a hero and martyr.
Neither of these portraits is correct. It must be admitted that in his defence before the inquisitors at Vienne, he made many statements which, whatever palliation might be made for him on the plea of self defence, were indubitably false; and that when defending himself before the council of Geneva, he was most intemperate in his abuse of Calvin. But, on the other hand, there can be no doubt of his sincerity in the pursuit of truth, however much opinions may differ as to his having attained that object. His moral purity was unimpeachable, and in point of learning, industry, and scientific skill, he must be admitted to have fallen little, if at all, behind the most distinguished men of his century.
Among the many travellers who at different times have journeyed over and explored the various countries of our globe, the name of Madame Ida Pfeiffer deserves to be recorded as one of the most extraordinary and peculiar of the class. The mere fact of a woman accomplishing such an amount of travel, would in itself be an unprecedented circumstance; but when we reflect, in addition, that by herself, unattended, and but scantily provided with funds, she forced her way through savage and inhospitable lands, where in some cases the foot of the European had never before trod, and where she experienced every imaginable species of danger and privation, our wonder and interest are heightened tenfold, and we experience a lively curiosity to know something of the personal history of so undaunted and adventurous a wanderer. This feeling is in nowise diminished by the perusal of the various narratives of her journeys, written in the most simple, unpretending style possible, without making the least pretence to scientific or politico economical knowledge, but displaying, nevertheless, a fund of shrewd observation and sound common sense, combined with great dramatic and descriptive interest.
The maiden name of this celebrated traveller was Reyer, and she was the third child of a wealthy merchant in Vienna, where she was born in October 1797. Being the only girl in a family of six, she freely shared in childhood in the sports of her brothers, and was encouraged in such tendencies by her parents, who allowed her to dress in boy's clothes, and take part in all sorts of rough games and pranks. This state of matters continued till her father's death, when Ida was about nine years old. A few months after this event, her mother, thinking she had worn the male attire long enough, obliged her to change her trousers for petticoats, an order which occasioned her such grief and indignation, that she actually made herself ill, and by the doctor's advice she was allowed to resume her former costume, and continued to wear it till the age of thirteen. For a time she maintained the character of an incorrigible hoyden. Considering the pianoforte as too much of a feminine instrument, she resisted long being taught its use, and would actually often cut her fingers, or burn them with sealing wax, to unfit them for practising. Had she been allowed, she would have gladly made herself a proficient on the violin. While she was still a very young girl, a young man was received into Madame Reyer's house as tutor to the family, and it was not long before a warm attachment sprang up between him and Ida.
Influenced by this new feeling, she abandoned her old masculine tendencies, and devoted herself assiduously to the acquisition of female accomplishments, useful and ornamental. The object of her attachment was in every way worthy of her, of unblemished character and manners, and greatly beloved by the whole family, her mother included. Having obtained subsequently a good. situation in the Austrian civil service, he made a formal offer of his hand; but through some unaccountable caprice, her mother positively refused her consent, and even regarded the young man from that time forward with feelings of the deepest aversion. Ida inherited a considerable fortune from her father, and it was probably with the idea of her contracting a splendid alliance that she was thwarted in her present wishes. But though many other eligible suitors proffered themselves, she would listen to none of them, and the result was a sad series of domestic contentions. 'Worn out at last by importunity, she consented to receive the proposals of Dr. Pfeiffer, an advocate of considerable celebrity in Lemberg, but twenty four years older than herself, and a widower with a grown up son. He was a man of the highest honour and integrity, almost too much so, as would seem from his subsequent history; and though. there was never any profound feeling of sympathy between him and his wife, he treated her throughout with the most uniform kindness and attention. But his resolute denunciation of abuses stirred him up many enemies, and he was obliged to resign his appointment of counsellor at Lemberg, and remove to Vienna, where from being looked on by the authorities with suspicion, as an enemy of existing institutions, the same star of ill fortune pursued him, and he was soon reduced to great straits. His generosity also was excessive, rendering him the dupe of numerous individuals, who borrowed large sums of money from him, including his wife's fortune, which was lent to a friend in pecuniary embarrassment, and entirely lost. The distress to which his family was subjected in consequence of these acts of improvidence is thus stated by Madame Pfeiffer.
'Heaven only knows what I suffered during eighteen years of my married life not, indeed, from any ill treatment on my husband's part, but from poverty and want! I came of a wealthy family, and had been accustomed, from my earliest youth, to order and comfort; and now I frequently knew not where I should lay my head, or find a little money to buy the commonest necessaries. I performed household drudgery, and endured cold and hunger; I worked secretly for money, and gave lessons in drawing and music; and yet, in spite of all my exertions, there were many days when I could hardly put anything but dry bread before my poor children for their dinner. I might certainly have applied to my mother or my brothers for relief, but my pride revolted against such a course. For years I fought with poverty, and concealed my real position: often was I brought so near to despair, that the thought of my children alone prevented me from giving way. At last the urgency of my necessities quite broke my spirit, and I had recourse several times to my brothers for assistance.'
Perseverance and self denial enabled Madame Pfeiffer to struggle through her difficulties, give her two sons a good education, and see them. prosperously established in the world. She was now at liberty to indulge that darling wish of her heart, the desire of seeing strange countries, which had haunted her from girlhood, but which circumstances had hitherto prevented her from gratifying. The feeling may indeed be regarded as eccentric, which could prompt the mother of a family, at the age of forty five, and almost wholly inexperienced in travelling, to set forth on such an expedition. But she quitted no duties at home to embark on it, and as she had so bravely fulfilled these in the day of privation and trial, she may well be excused for following her own inclinations afterwards, when the doing so involved no dereliction of maternal or conjugal obligations. The funds which she possessed were by no means ample, but adversity had taught her economy, and her own nature was one that shrank not from hardship and privation. Her first journey was a visit to the Holy Land, which she accomplished in 1842, proceeding down the Danube to the Black Sea and Constantinople, thence to Syria and Palestine, and returning by way of Egypt, Sicily, and Italy.
An account of her tour was published the following year under the title of a Journey of a Viennese Lady to the Holy Land, and, meeting with consider able success, provided her with funds for a second journey, which she accomplished in 1845, to Iceland and Scandinavia. Her journal of this expedition was also published, and by the proceeds which she derived from this, as well as from the sale of the geological and botanical specimens which she had collected, she was enabled to effect a third and more ambitious undertaking that of a voyage round the world. In June 1846, she sailed from Hamburg for Rio Janeiro, from thence rounded Cape Horn to Valparaiso, crossed the Pacific to Otaheite, and afterwards visited China, Ceylon, and India, traversing the latter country from Calcutta to Bombay. She then sailed for Bushire, in Persia, the interior of which country she intended to have visited, but was prevented by the disturbances which had broken out there, and directed her steps instead to Asiatic Turkey, where she visited Bagdad, the ruins of Babylon and Nineveh, and afterwards passed through Armenia and the Caucasus to the Black Sea. In this portion of her journey she underwent the greatest hardships in the shape of heat, discomfort, and scanty fare, besides being exposed to constant danger from the attacks of robbers. After voyaging across the Black Sea to Constantinople, and touching in her way at Sebastopol and Odessa, she returned by Greece and the Ionian Islands to Trieste, and arrived in Vienna in November 1848, in the midst of the confusion after the recapture of the city by Prince Windischgrätz from the revolutionary party.
The interest already excited in Madame Pfeiffer was greatly intensified by the publication of the narrative of her third journey, which, under the title of A Lady's Voyage Round the World, was translated both into English and French with much success. Her craving for travel was far from being extinguished, and rather stimulated by what she had gone through. A grant of £150 was made her by the Austrian government, and with her resources thus supplemented, she set out upon a second voyage round the world, proceeding first to London, and thence taking ship for the Cape of Good Hope. Arriving here, she hesitated awhile between an exploring expedition into the interior of the African continent and a voyage to Australia, and at last sailed to Singapore and Sarawak. She was hospitably received by Sir James Brooke, and traversed a great portion of Borneo, including the country of the savage Dyaks.
She then visited Java and Sumatra, including in the latter island the cannibal tribes of the Battas, where she made a narrow escape from being killed and eaten, and afterwards voyaged to the Moluccas and Celebes. From this she crossed the Pacific to California, and subsequently sailed to Panama and Lima. Her intention was to cross the Cordilleras to the Amazon, and make her way down that river to the east coast; but after several attempts, in which she visited Quito and witnessed an eruption of the volcano of Cotopaxi, she found herself so thwarted by the treachery of the natives and other causes, besides narrowly escaping death on two occasions by drowning and a fall from her mule, that she abandoned all idea of proceeding further in this direction, and crossing the Isthmus of Panama to Aspinwall, sailed to New Orleans. She then made the tour of the United States and Canada, and having embarked for England, landed at Liverpool in the end of 1854. Before returning home, she made a voyage to the island of St. Michael, in the Azores, where one of her sons was settled, and reached Vienna by way of Lisbon, Southampton, and London. An account of her adventures appeared shortly afterwards, under the title of My Second Journey Round the World.
After having scarcely rested for a year at home, Madame Pfeiffer set out again on her travels, her main object of curiosity being the island of Madagascar, so thoroughly still an almost terra incognita to Europeans.
Proceeding through Germany to Berlin and Hamburg, she sailed for Holland, and there, after previously making excursions to London and Paris in quest of information regarding her route, embarked for Cape Town, and from thence made her way to Madagascar by the Mauritius. After landing in the island, and visiting Tananarivo, the capital, she was glad to retreat from it with life, having undergone an attack of the malignant Madagascar fever and a captivity of a fortnight, during which she and her European companions were almost hourly expecting death by the orders of the blood thirsty queen Ranavola. And from the hardships and malady which had befallen her, Madame Pfeiffer was destined never to recover. Having returned to the Mauritius, she was attacked with such a violent access of fever, that her life was despaired of; she rallied, nevertheless, so far as to be able to embark for London, and arrived there in the month of June 1858. From this she crossed over to Hamburg, and then paid a visit to Berlin and Cracow, in the hope of reestablishing her health. For some time she steadily resisted all the solicitations of her friends to return to her native Vienna; but finding her illness rapidly gaining upon her, she at last consented, and was removed there to the house of her brother, Charles Reyer. Here, after undergoing great suffering for about a month, she expired in October 1858. Her diary of the last and fatal journey to Madagascar was given to the world after her death by her son Oscar.