Born: Sir Henry Yelverton, eminent English judge, 1566, Islington; Rev. John Williams, 'the apostle of Polynesia,' 1796, Tottenham.
Died: Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond (mother of King Henry VII), 1509; Pierre de Marca, archbishop of Paris, historian, 1662; Bishop Zachary Pearce, 1774; Francesco Caraccioli, Neapolitan patriot, shot, 1799; Valentine Green, eminent mezzotint engraver, 1813, London; Rev. David Williams, originator of the Royal Literary Fund, 1816; Rev. Edward Smedley, miscellaneous writer, editor of Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, 1836, Dulwich; Henry Clay, American statesman, 1852, Washington; Elizabeth Barrett Browning, poetess, 1861, Florence.
Feast Day: St. Peter the Apostle, 68; St. Hemma, widow, 1045.
ST. PETER THE APOSTLE
The 29th of June is a festival of the Anglican Church in honour of St. Peter the Apostle. It is familiarly known that St. Peter, the son of Jonas, and brother of Andrew, obtained this name (signifying a rock) from the Saviour, in place of his original one of Simon, on becoming an apostle. He suffered martyrdom by the cross at Rome in the year 68, under the tyrannous rule of Nero. On the strange, obscure history, which exhibits a succession of bishops from Peter, resulting in the religious principality of Rome, it is not necessary here to enter. The veneration, however, felt, even in reformed England, for the alleged founder of the Church of Rome, is shown in the festival still held in commemoration of his martyrdom, and the great number of churches which are from time to time dedicated to him.
St. Peter has in England '830 churches dedicated in his sole honour, and 30 jointly with St. Paul, and 10 in connecton with some other saint, making 1070 in all.'-Calendar of the Anglican Church.
It is well known to be customary for the popes on their elevation to change their Christian name. This custom was introduced in 884 by Peter di Porca (Sergius the Second), out of a feeling of humility, deeming that it would be presumptuous to have himself styled Peter the Second. Following in the same line of sentiment, no pope has ever retained or assumed the name of Peter.
MARGARET BEAUFORT, COUNTESS OF RICHMOND
Margaret was the daughter and heiress of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, grandson of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Being very beautiful, as well as the heiress of great possessions, she was at the early age of fifteen years anxiously sought in marriage by two persons of high rank and influence. One was a son of the Duke of Suffolk, then Prime Minister; the other was Edmund, Earl of Richmond, half-brother to the reigning monarch, Henry the Sixth. Wavering between these two proposals, Margaret, in her perplexity, requested advice from an elderly gentlewoman, her confidential friend. The matron recommended her not to consult her own inclinations, but to take an early opportunity of submitting the question to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of undecided maidens. She did so, and the saint appeared to her in a vision, dressed in great splendour, and advised her to marry Edmund. Following this advice, she became the mother of Henry Tudor, who afterwards became King Henry VII. Edmund died soon after the birth of his son, and Margaret married twice afterwards: first, Humphrey Stafford, son of the Duke of Buckingham; and, secondly, Thomas Lord Stanley, subsequently Earl of Derby. We are not told if she consulted St. Nicholas in the choice of her second and third husbands.
Margaret founded several colleges, and employed herself in acts of real charity and pure devotion not common at the period. After a useful and exemplary life, she died at the age of sixty-eight years; having just lived to see her grandson Henry VIII. seated on the throne of England. She is included among the royal authors as a translator of some religious works from the French, one of which, entitled The Soul's Perfection, was printed in William Caxton's house by Wynkyn de Worde. At the end of this work are the following verses:
This heavenly book, more precious than gold,
Was late direct, with great humility,
For godly pleasure therein to behold,
Unto the right noble Margaret, as ye sec,
The King's mother of excellent bounty,
Harry the Seventh; that Jesu him preserve,
This mighty Princess hath commanded me
T' imprint this book, her grace for to deserve.
THE ROYAL LITERARY FUND AND ITS ORIGIN
On the 18th of May 1790, a society passing under the name of the Royal Literary Fund was constituted in London. It professes to have in view the relief of literary men of merit from distress, and the succour of such of their surviving relatives as may be in want or difficulty. Persons of rank, dignitaries of the church, and authors in good circumstances, assemble at the dinner, patronizing a collection for the fund, which seldom falls short of £800. The society at the close of 1861 possessed a permanent fund of £22,500, and the money distributed that year among deserving objects amounted to £1350. There is clearly here an agency for good-not perhaps so ordered as to do the utmost good which it might be made to do (this has been strongly insisted upon in some quarters)-still a very good and serviceable institution, and one which stands in England without any parallel.
This fund has been in operation since a few years before the close of the eighteenth century. It took its origin from an obscure man of letters, named David Williams, who was born at a village near Cardigan, in 1738. The career of Williams was one not calculated to meet the entire approval of the prelates who sometimes preside at the aforesaid annual dinner. He was originally a Unitarian clergyman, at one time settled at Highgate. Afterwards, he set up an even more liberal form of religious worship in Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, where Dr. Thomas Somerville, of Jedburgh, one Sunday heard him discourse without a text on the evils of gaming, and remarked the ominous indifference of the congregation.
At one time, during a short snatch of conjugal life, he kept a tolerably successful boarding-school at Chelsea, where, it is related, he had Benjamin Franklin for a guest, at the time when the American philosopher was subjected to the abuse of Wedderburn before the Privy Council. He wrote books on education, on public worship, on political principles, a moral liturgy, and much besides, cherishing high aims for the benefit of his fellow-creatures, while not only little patronized or encouraged by them, but regarded by most as a dangerous enthusiast and innovator.
When the French Revolution drew on, Williams was found in Paris, mingling with the Girondists, and helping them to form constitutions. When sanguinary violence supervened, he came home, and calmly entered upon his cherished plans for getting up a fund for the benefit of poor literary men. The difficulties naturally to be encountered in this scheme must have been greatly enhanced in the case of an originator whom all the upper classes of that day must have regarded as himself a social pest-a man to be classed, as Canning actually classed him, with 'creatures villanous and low.' He nevertheless persevered through many years, during which his own means of subsistence were of the most precarious kind; and having in time gathered £6000, succeeded in constituting the society.
To the mere church-and-king Tories of that day, the whole of this history must have appeared a bewildering anomaly; but the truth is, that David Williams was a man of the noblest natural impulses, and the mission which he undertook was precisely in accordance with them. Had Canning ever met him, he would have found a man of dignified aspect and elegant manners, instead of the human reptile he had pictured in his imagination. His whole life, unapprovable as it must have appeared to many, had been framed with a view to what was for the good of mankind. The Literary Fund only happens to be the one thing practically good, and therefore practicable, which Williams had to deal with.
This benevolent person died on the 29th June 1816, and was buried in St. Anne's Church, Soho.
After Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson, Henry Clay of Kentucky has been the most popular statesman of America. With an ordinary education, he made his way, first to distinction as a barrister, and next to eminence as a politician, purely by the force of his talents, and particularly that of oratory. His career as a statesman was unfortunately not quite consistent or unsullied, and hence he failed to obtain the highest success. In 1832 he was the candidate of his party for the Presidency, but was defeated by General Jackson, with only influence enough left to quiet for the time the national discordances respecting the tariff and slavery, by what were considered judicious compromises - moderate duties, and a division of the unpeopled territory by a line, separating the free and slave states that should be found in the future.
In 1840 he might have been elected to the Presidency; but his timid party set him aside for General Harrison, who was considered a more available candidate. Later, he had the mortification of giving place to General Scott and General Taylor. In 1844 he was a candidate, but was defeated by Mr. Polk, who was elected by the party in favour of the annexation of Texas, and of going to war with England rather than give up the claim to Oregon, or what is now British Columbia, up to the parallel of 54° 40'. The party motto was, 'Fifty-four forty, or fight!' but after the election they accepted a compromise and a lower parallel. Disappointed in his ambition, mortified by the ingratitude of his party, Mr. Clay retired from the Senate in 1842, but was induced to return in 1849. His last public efforts were in favour of the slavery compromises of 1850.
Mr. Clay was tall, raw-boned, and homely, but his face lighted up with expression, his voice was musical, and his manners extremely fascinating. Few men have had more or warmer personal friends. His oratory possessed a power over his hearers of which the reader of his speeches can form no conception. It was a kind of personal magnetism, going some way to justify those who suspect that there is a mystic influence in high-class oratory. He was loved with enthusiasm. No man in America ever had so great a personal influence, while few men of as high a position have left so little behind them to justify contemporary judgments to posterity.
When in the summer of 1861 the sad news reached England that Mrs. Browning was no more, the newspapers confessed with singular accord that the world had lost in her the greatest poetess that had appeared in all its generations.
Elizabeth Barrett, the subject of this supreme eulogy, was the daughter of a gentleman of fortune, and at his country-seat in Hereford-shire, among the lovely scenery of the Malvern Hills, she passed her girlhood. At the age of ten she began to attempt writing in prose and verse; and at fifteen her powers as a writer were well known to her friends. She was a diligent student, and was soon able to read Greek, not as a task, but as a recreation and delight. She began to contribute to the magazines, and a series of essays on the Greek poets proved how deeply she had passed into and absorbed their spirit. In 1833 she published an anonymous translation of the Prometheus Bound of Æschylus, which afterwards she superseded by a better version. Her public fame dates, however, from 1838, when she collected her best verses from the periodicals, and published them as The Seraphim and other Poems.
At this time occurred a tragic accident, which for years threw a black shadow over Miss Barrett's life. A blood-vessel having broke on her lungs, the physician ordered her to Torquay, where a house was taken for her by the sea-side, at the foot of the cliffs. Under the influence of the mild Devonshire breezes she was rapidly recovering, when, one bright summer morning, her brother and two other young men, his friends, went out in a small boat for a trip of a few hours. Just as they crossed the bar, the vessel capsized, and all on board perished. Even their bodies were never recovered. This sudden and dreadful calamity almost killed Miss Barrett. During a whole year she lay in the house incapable of removal, whilst the sound of the waves rang in her ears as the moans of the dying.
Literature was her only solace. Her physician pleaded with her to abandon her studies, and, to quiet his importunities, she had a small edition of Plato bound so as to resemble a novel. When at last removed to London, it was in an invalid carriage, at the slow rate of twenty miles a day. In a commodious and darkened room in her father's house in Wimpole Street she nursed her remnant of life, seeing a few choice friends, reading the best books in many languages, and writing poetry according to her inspiration. Miss Mitford tells us that many a time did she joyfully travel the five-and forty miles between Reading and London, returning the same evening, without making another call, in order to spend some hours with Miss Barrett.
Gradually her health improved, and in 1846 the brightness of her life was restored and perfected in her marriage with Robert Browning. They went to Italy, first to Pisa, and then settled in Florence. Mrs. Browning's heart became quickly involved in Italy's struggles for liberty and unity, and various and fervent were the poetical expressions of her hopes and alarms for the result. Her love for Italy became a passion stronger even than natural patriotism. Inexplicably to English readers, she praised and trusted the Emperor of the French as Italy's earnest friend and deliverer; and Louis Napoleon will live long ere he hear more ardent words of faith in his goodness and wisdom than the English poetess uttered concerning him. Blest in assured fame, in a rising Italy, in a pleasant Florentine home, in a husband equal in heart and intellect, and in a son in the prime of boyhood-a brief illness snapped the thread of her frail life, and she was borne to the tomb, bewailed scarcely less in Tuscany than in England.
Mrs. Browning wrote much and rapidly, and her poetry partakes largely of that mystical obscurity which is the fault of so much of the verse produced in the present age. Indeed, it would be easy to produce many passages from her writings which might be set as puzzles for solution by the ingenious. At the same time there is much in her poetry which, for high imagination, subtlety, and delicacy of thought, force, music, and happy diction, is certainly unsurpassed by anything that ever woman wrote. Mrs. Browning has been likened to Shelley, and the resemblances between them are in many respects very remarkable.
Miss Mitford describes Mrs. Browning in her early womanhood as 'of a slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on each side of a most expressive face; large, tender eyes, richly fringed by dark eyelashes; a smile like a sunbeam; and such a look of youthfulness, that I had some difficulty in persuading a friend that she was the translatress of Æschylus and the authoress of the Essay Mind. She was certainly one of the most interesting persons that I had ever seen.' Allowing for the influences of time and suffering, Mrs. Browning remained the same until the end.