Born: Emmanuel de Swedenborg, 1688-9; Thomas Paine, political writer, 1737; William Sharp, line-engraver, 1749, London.
Died: Emperor Aurelian, 275; Bishop Sanderson, 1663; John Theophilus Fichte, philosopher, 1814, Berlin; George III., 1820, Windsor; Agnes Berry, 1852; Mrs. Gore, novelist, 1861.
Feast Day: St. Sulpicius Severus, about 407. St. Gildas; the Albanian or Scot, 512. St. Gildas, the Wise, or Badonicus, abbot (570?). St. Francis of Sales, 1622.
This saint, according to his legend, was the son of Can, a king of the Britons of Alcluyd or Dumbarton, and was born some time in the latter part of the fifth century. He was one of twenty-four brothers, the rest of whom were warriors, and were, with their father, usually at war with King Arthur. But Gildas, having shewn a disposition for learning, was sent to the school of the Welsh saint Iltutus. He afterwards went to study in Gaul, whence he returned to Britain, and set up a school of his own in South Wales. Subsequently, at the invitation of St. Bridget, he visited Ireland, where he remained a long time, and founded several monasteries. He returned to England, bringing with him a wonderful bell, which he was carrying to the Pope; and after having been reconciled with King Arthur, who had killed his eldest brother in battle, he proceeded on his journey to Rome. He went from Rome to Ravenna, and on his way home stopped at Buys, in Brittany, which was so tempting a place for a hermit, that he determined to remain there, and he founded a monastery, of which he was himself the first abbot. The Bretons pretended that he died there, and that they possessed his relics; but, according to the Welsh legend, he returned to Wales, bringing back the wonderful bell, which was long preserved at Lancarvan, where he first took up his residence. He there became intimate with St. Cadoc, and, having the same tastes, the two friends went to establish themselves as hermits in two desert islands, in the estuary of the Severn, and fixed upon those which are now known by the names of Steepholm and Flathohn, Gildas choosing the latter; and here they remained until they were driven away by the attacks of the Northern pirates. Gildas then settled at Glastonbury, where he died, and was buried in the church of St. Mary.
Such is the outline of the story of St. Gildas, which, in its details, is so full of inconsistencies and absurdities, that many writers have tried to solve the difficulty by supposing that there were two or several saints of the name of Gildas, whose histories have been mixed up together. They give to one the title of Gildas Badonicus, or the Historian, because, in the tracts attributed to him, he says that he was born in the year when King Arthur defeated the Saxons in the battle of Mount Badon, in Somersetshire; the other they call Gildas the Albanian or Scot, supposing that he was the one who was born at Alcluyd. The first has also been called Gildas the Wise. Gildas is known as the author, or supposed author, of a book entitled De Excidio Britannice, consisting of a short and barren historical sketch of the history of the struggle between the Britons and the Picts and Saxons, and of adeclamatory epistle addressed to the British princes, reproaching them for their vices and misconduct, which are represented as the cause of the ruin of their country. Some modern writers are of opinion that this book is itself a forgery, compiled in the latter half of the seventh century, amid the bitter disputes between the Anglo-Saxon and British churches; and that, in the great eagerness of the middle ages to find saints, the name was seized upon with avidity; and in different places where they wished to profit by possessing his relics, they composed legends of him, intended to justify their claim, which therefore agreed but partially with each other. Altogether, the legend of St. Gildas is one of the most mysterious and controvertible in the whole Roman Calendar, and its only real interest arises from the circumstance of the existence of a book written in this island, and claiming so great an antiquity.
ST. FRANCIS OF SALES
If any one is at a loss to understand how so much of the influence which the Church of Rome lost in Europe at the Reformation was afterwards regained, let him read the Life of this remarkable man. Francis Count of Sales, near Annecy, threw rank and fortune behind his back, to devote him-self to the interests of religion. His humility of spirit, his austerities, his fervid devotion, gave him distinction as a preacher at a comparatively early age. In his provostship at Geneva, his sermons were attended with extraordinary success. 'He delivered the word of God with a mixture of majesty and modesty; had a sweet voice and an animated manner; but what chiefly affected the hearts of his hearers, was the humility and unction with which he spoke from the abundance of his own heart.' He went about among the poor, treating them with a meekness and kindness which wonderfully gained upon them. To this, in a great degree, it was owing that he brought, as has been alleged, above seventy thousand of the Genevese Calvinists back to the Romish church.
Afterwards, in 1594, Francis and a cousin of his undertook a mission to Chablais, on the Lake of Geneva. On arriving at the frontiers, they sent back their horses, the more perfectly to imitate the apostles. The Catholic religion was here nearly extinct, and Francis found his task both difficult and dangerous. Nevertheless, in four years, his efforts began to have an effect, and soon after he had so gained over the people to his faith, that the Protestant forms were put down by the state. 'It is incredible,' says Butler, 'what fatigues and hardships he underwent in the course of this mission; with what devotion and tears he daily recommended the work of God; with what invincible courage he braved the greatest dangers; with what meekness and patience he bore all manner of affronts and calumnies.' St. Francis de Sales died in 1622, at the age of fifty-six.
The life-history of Swedenborg is very remarkable for its complete division into two parts, utterly alien from each other; the first fifty-five years devoted to pure science and to official business under the King of Sweden, the last twenty-eight to spiritual mysticism and the foundation of a new religion. His voluminous works on the latter class of subjects, are generally felt to be unreadable. There can, however, be no reason-able doubt (as we believe) that the author was as sincere in his descriptions of the spiritual world as he had ever been in regard to the most material of his original studies. Perhaps, after all, there is some psychological problem yet to be satisfactorily made out regarding such mystics as he, resolving all into some law at present unknown. A letter written by the celebrated philosopher Kant, in 1764, and which is published in his Works, gives the following curious details regarding Swedenborg, of whose possession of an extraordinary gift he considers it an indubitable proof.
'In the year 1756,' says he [the true date, however, was 1759], 'when M. de Swedenborg, towards the end of February, on Saturday, at 4 o'clock p.m., arrived at Gottenburg from England, Mr. William Costel invited him to his house, together with a party of fifteen persons. About 6 o'clock, M. de Swedenborg went out, and after a short interval returned to the company quite pale and alarmed. He said that a dangerous fire had broken out in Stockholm at the Suderhalm (Stockholm is about 300 miles from Gottenburg), and that it was spreading very fast. He was restless and went out often: he said that the house of one of his friends, whom he named, was already in ashes, and that his own was in danger. At 8 o'clock, after he had been out again, he joyfully exclaimed, 'Thank God! the fire is extinguished the third door from my house.' This news occasioned great commotion through the whole city, and particularly amongst the company in which he was. It was announced to the Governor the same evening. On the Sunday morning, Swedenborg was sent for by the Governor, who questioned him concerning the disaster. Swedenborg described the fire precisely, how it had begun, in what manner it had ceased, and how long it had continued. . . On the Monday evening, a messenger arrived at Gottenburg, who was dispatched during the time of the fire. In the letters brought by him, the fire was described precisely in the manner stated by Swedenborg. On Tuesday morning, the royal courier arrived at the Governor's with the melancholy intelligence of the fire, of the loss it had occasioned, and of the houses it had damaged and ruined, not in the least differing from that which Swedenborg had given immediately after it had ceased, for the fire was extinguished at 8 o'clock.'
'What can be brought forward against the authenticity of this occurrence? My friend, who wrote this to me, has not only examined the circumstances of this extraordinary case at Stockholm, but also about two months ago, at Gottenburg, where he is acquainted with the most respectable houses, and where he could obtain the most complete and authentic information.'
The death of George III on this day in the year 1820, was an event of no political consequence, as for ten years he had been secluded under mental eclipse. But his people reflected with a feeling of not unkindly interest on his singularly long reign-so long it was that few remembered any other-on his venerable age eighty-two-his irreproachable character as a family man-and the many remarkable things which had fallen out in his time. Amiable people of little reflection viewed him as 'the good old King,' the supporter of safe principles in church and state, the friend of religion and virtue. Others of keener intelligence pointed to the vast amount of disaster which had been brought upon the country, mainly through his wrong judgment and obstinacy-the American colonies lost, a fatal interference with the concerns of France in 1793, an endangerment of the peace of the country through a persistent rejection of the claim for Catholic emancipation.
To these people the rule of George III appeared to have been unhappy from the beginning. He had never ceased to struggle for an increase of the kingly authority. He could endure no minister who would not be subservient to him. Any officer who voted against his favourite ministers in parliament, he marked in a blacklist which he kept, and either dismissed him at once or stopped his promotion. A particular cohort amounting to fifteen or twenty in the House of Commons, were recognized as 'the King's Friends,' from the readiness they sheaved to do his bidding and act for his interest on all occasions; and this unconstitutional arrangement was calmly submitted to. A great deal of what was amiss in the king's system of government might be traced to miseducation under a bad mother, who continually dinned into his ear, 'George, be a king!' and preceptors who were disaffected to Revolution principles. Like other weak men, he could not understand a conscientious dissent from his own opinion. He argued thus:-'I think so and so, and I am conscientious in thinking so: ergo, any other opinion must be unconscientious.'
It is perfectly certain, accordingly, that he looked upon Mr. Fox, and the Whigs generally, as base and profligate men-his son included in the number; and adhered to the policy which cost him America under a perfect conviction that only worthless people could sympathise with the claims of the disaffected colonists. It is, on the other hand,- remarkable of the king, that whenever resistance reached the point where it became clearly dangerous, he gave way. After he had conceded peace and independence to America, there was something heroic in his reception of Mr. Adams, the first ambassador of the new republic, when he said that, though he had been the last man in England to resolve on the pacification, he should also be the last to seek to break it.
The mistaken policy which inflicted such wretchedness on the patriots in America, is in some measure redeemed by his grateful generosity to the loyalists. It was found after his death, that he had, all through the war, kept a private register, in which he entered the name of any one who suffered for his loyalty to Great Britain, and full particulars regarding him, that he might, as far as possible, afford him compensation. One is struck by the English, character of King George-English in his doggedness and his prejudices, but equally English in his conscientiousness and his frankness. It is strange to reflect on the evils incurred by the United Kingdom through the accident of her wrong-headed ruler being a virtuous man. Had that latter particular been reversed, such huge political aberrations would have been impossible.
Mr. Thackeray, in his Lectures on the Four Georges, touches on the last days of the third with a pathos rarely reached in modern literature. The passage is a gem of exquisite beauty. 'I have,' says he, 'seen his picture as it was taken at this time, hanging in the apartment of his daughter, the Landgravine of Hesse Hornbourg-amidst books and Windsor furniture, and a hundred fond reminiscences of her English home. The poor old father is represented in a purple gown, his snowy beard falling over his breast--the star of his famous Order still idly shining on it. He was not only sightless: he became utterly deaf. All light, all reason, all sound of human voices, all the pleasures of this world of God, were taken from him. Some slight lucid moments he had; in one of which, the queen, desiring to see him, found him singing a hymn, and accompanying himself on the harpsichord. When he had finished, he knelt down and prayed aloud for her, and then for his family, and then for the nation, concluding with a prayer for himself, that it might please God to avert his heavy calamity from him, but, if not, to give him resignation to submit. He then burst into tears, and his reason again fled.
'What preacher need moralise on this story; what words save the simplest are requisite to tell it? It is too terrible for tears. The thought of such a misery smites me down in submission before the Ruler of kings and men, the Monarch supreme over empires and republics, the inscrutable Dispenser of life, death, happiness, victory. 'O brothers,' I said to those who heard me first in America-'0 brothers! speaking the same dear mother tongue-O comrades, enemies no more, let us take a mournful hand together as we stand by this royal corpse, and call a truce to battle! Low he lies to whom the proudest used to kneel once, and who was east lower than the poorest: dead, whom millions prayed for in vain. Driven off his throne; buffeted by rude hands, with his children in revolt; the darling of his old age killed before him untimely; our Lear hangs over her breath-less lips and cries, 'Cordelia, Cordelia, stay a little!'
Vex not his ghost-oh! let him pass-he hates him,
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer!
Hush! Strife and Quarrel, over the solemn grave. Sound, trumpets, a mournful march! Fall, dark curtain, upon his pageant, his pride, his grief, his awful tragedy!'