Born: Margaret, daughter of Henry VII, and queen of James IV of Scotland, 1489; Sir Philip Sidney, poet, 1554, Penshurst, Kent; Dr. Peter Heylin, theological and historical writer, 1600, Burford, Oxfordshire; John Ray, eminent naturalist, 1628, Black Notley, Essex.
Died: Pope Clement IV, 1268, Viterbo; Philippe le Bel, king of France, 1314, Fontainebleau; Roger Mortimer, paramour of Isabella, Edward II's queen, executed at Smithfield, 1330; Charles IV, Emperor of Germany, 1378, Prague; Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, minister of Henry VIII, 1530, St. Mary's Abbey, Leicester; Frederick, Elector Palatine, son in law of James I of England, 1632, Metz; Brian Walton, bishop of Chester, editor of the Polyglot Bible, 1661, London; Prince Rupert, of Bavaria, cavalier general, 1682, London; Marvel Malpighi, eminent anatomist, 1694, Rome; Anthony Wood or a Wood, antiquarian writer, 1695, 0xford; Maria Theresa, queen of Hungary, 1780, Vienna.
Feast Day: St. Saturninus, bishop of Toulouse, martyr, 257. St. Radbod, bishop of Utrecht, confessor, 918.
THE EARL OF MARCH: MORTIMER HOLE
To the traveller approaching Nottingham by rail from the Derbyside, the commanding position of its ruined castle cannot but be an object of interest. Though commerce has completely surrounded the rock it stands upon with workshops, wharves, and modern dwelling houses, the castle seems literally 'to dwell alone.' Associations of a character peculiar to itself cluster round it. It has a distinctive existence claims a distinct parentage from the puny, grovelling erections beneath it and soars as much beyond them by the events it calls to mind, as by its proud and lofty position. Its history, in fact, is interwoven in the history of the nation; and part of the glory and shame of its country's deeds rests upon it.
The old castle must have frowned with unusual gloominess when Isabella, queen of Edward II, and her unprincipled paramour, Mortimer, took up their abode in it. The queen had rebelled against and deposed her husband. Mortimer had accomplished his death. And with the young king, Edward III, in their tutelage, they tyrannised over the country, and squandered its treasures as they pleased.
As a fresh instance of her favour, the frail princess had recently elevated Mortimer to the earldom of March. But the encroaching arrogance of the haughty minion was awakening in the minds of the barons a determination to curb his insolence and overgrown power. This spirit of revenge was still further excited by the execution of the king's uncle, the Earl of Kent, who appears to have been slain merely to shew that there was one too high to be smitten down if he dared to make himself obnoxious to the profligate rulers. The bow, however, was this time strained beyond its strength. The blow that was intended to quell the rising storm of indignation, rebounded, with increased force, on the guilty Mortimer, and proved his own destruction. For all parties, weary of his insolence and oppression, were forgetting their former feuds in the common anxiety to work his overthrow, and this last savage act of his government aroused them to a full sense of their danger, and gave increased intensity to their hatred and desire of vengeance. Besides which, they saw in the young king, now in his eighteenth year, signs of growing impatience of the yoke which Mortimer, as regent, had imposed on his authority. Daily they poured complaints into the royal ear of the profligacy, the exactions, and the illegal practices of the paramour, and found in Edward a willing listener. At length he was brought to see his own danger to look upon Mortimer as the murderer of his father and uncle, the usurper of power which ought to be in his own hands, the spoiler of his people, and the man who was bringing daily dishonour to himself and the nation by an illicit connection with his royal mother. He determined, accordingly, to humble the pride of the arrogant chief, and redress the public grievances.
A parliament was summoned to meet at Nottingham, about Michaelmas 1330. The castle was occupied by the dowager queen and the Earl of March, attended by a guard of a hundred and eighty knights, with their followers; while the king, with his queen, Philippa, and a small retinue, took up his abode in the town. The number of their attendants, and the jealous care with which the castle was guarded, implied suspicion in the minds of the guilty pair. Every night the gates of the fortress were locked, and the keys delivered to the queen, who slept with them under her pillow. But with all their precautions, justice was more than a match for their villany. Sir William Mountacute, under the sanction of his sovereign, summoned to his aid several nobles, on whose loyalty and good faith he could depend, and obtained the king's warrant for the apprehension of the Earl of March and others. The plot was now ripe for execution.
For a time, however, the inaccessible nature of the castle rock, and the vigilance with which the passes were guarded, appeared to present an insuperable obstacle to the accomplishment of their designs. Could Sir William Eland, the constable of the castle, be won over, and induced to betray the fortress into their hands? The experiment was worth a trial, and Mountacute undertook the delicate task. Sir William joyfully fell in with a proposition which enabled him at once to testify his loyalty to his sovereign and his detestation of the haughty tyrant. The result of the interview is thus quaintly described by one of the old chroniclers, whose manuscript is quoted by Deering:
Tho saide Sir William Montagu to the constabill in herynge of all them that were helpyng to the quarrel. Now certis dere ffrendes us behoveth for to worche and done by your Queyntyse to take the Mortimer, sith ye be the keeper of the castell and have the kayes in your warde. Sir, quod the constabill, woll ye understoude that the yats of the castell beth loken with lokys, and Queen Isabell sent Eichler by night for the kayes thereof, and they be layde under the chemsell of her beddis hede unto the morrow, and so I may not come into the castell by the yats o manner of wyse; but yet I know another weye by an aley that stretchith oute of the ward under the earthe into the castell that goeth into the west, which aley Queen Isabell, ne none of her meayne, ne the Mortimer, ne noneof his companye knowith it not, and so I shall lede you through the aley, and so ye shall come into the castell without spyes of any man that beth your enemies.
Everything being now arranged, on the night of Friday, October 19th, 1330, Edward and his loyal associates were conducted by Sir William Eland through a secret passage in the rock to the interior of the castle. Proceeding at once to a chamber adjoining the queen's apartment, they found the object of their search in close consultation with the bishop of Lincoln and others of his party. The Earl of March was seized; Sir Hugh Turplinton and Sir John Monmouth, two of the state-guards, were slain in attempting to rescue him from the king's associates; and the queen, hearing the tumult, and suspecting the cause, rushed into the room in an agony of terror, exclaiming: 'Fair son, fair son, have pity on the gentle Mortimer!' Notwithstanding the cries and entreaties of the weeping Isabella, her beloved earl was torn from her presence, and hurried down the secret passage by which his captors entered, and which has ever since been designated Mortimer's Hole. With so much secrecy and despatch was this stratagem executed, that the guards on the ramparts of the castle were not disturbed, and the good people of Nottingham knew nothing of the enterprise till the following day, when the arrest of Mortimer's sons and several of his adherents by the royalists, gave a significant and acceptable indication that the luxurious and profligate usurpation of the Earl of March had at length been terminated by kingly authority.
Mortimer was conveyed by a strong guard to the Tower of London. Edward repaired to Leicester, whence he issued writs for the assembling of a new parliament at Westminster, for the purpose of hearing charges against the late administration, and redressing the grievances under which the kingdom had laboured. At this parliament Mortimer was impeached and convicted in a most summary manner of high treason, and other crimes. No proof in evidence of his guilt was heard, and he was condemned to die as a traitor, by being drawn and hanged on the common gallows; a sentence which was executed at 'The Elms,' in Smithfield, on the 29th of November 1330. His body was allowed to hang two days on the gallows, and was then interred in the church of the Greyfriars.
THE FALL OF WOLSEY
Any new information regarding the history of Cardinal Wolsey must ever be welcome. A few items of this description have recently been obtained from a state manuscript of the reign of Henry VIII, now in the possession of Sir Walter C. Trevelyan, Bart., F.S.A., a junior member of whose family was one of the chaplains to King Henry. Through him it may have found its way to the venerable seat of Nettlecombe, in the county of Somerset, where this manuscript, relating to domestic expenses and payments, has, for some centuries, been deposited.
Mr. Payne Collier, in describing this document to the Society of Antiquaries, says:
We pass over the manner in which Wolsey appears, without check or control, to have issued his written warrants or verbal commandments for payments of money for nearly all purposes, and upon all occasions, even for the despatch of his own letters to Rome; an entry of this kind is made in the first month to which the manuscript applies. Neither is it necessary to dwell upon the items which relate to the known part he took upon the trial of Queen Katherine, since upon this portion of the subject nearly all the authorities, from Hall to Lord Herbert of Cherbury, concur. It is to be observed, with reference to the transactions in which Wolsey was concerned, that no warrant was issued by him for the payment of any sum of money after the 19th of June 1529, when Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, the Irish knight, had a present made to him of £66, 13s. 4d., the order for which was given by Wolsey.
After this date, the warrants were those of the king, or of particular officers, and it does not seem that the cardinal was allowed to interfere; for his disgrace had then commenced, in consequence of the vexatious postponements in the trial of the divorce. Neither does his name occur again in this document, until we come upon it, as it were, by surprise, where he is spoken of by his double title of Cardinal of York and Bishop of Winchester, in connection with a payment to him of one thousand marks out of the revenues of Winchester. The terms are remarkable.
Item, paide to the Lorde Cardynall of Yorke and Bishope of Winchester, die Martii, by the Kynge's warrauntc, datede at Windesour, die Martii, in the advancement of his hole yeres pension of M. mrs. by the yeere, out of the bishopricke of Winchester, which yere shall fully ended and ronne at Michilmas next cumming.
This quotation is valuable, both biographically and historically, since it settles the question, whether the sum granted to Wolsey were 1000 marks, as Stow, in his Annals, asserts; or 4000 marks, as it stands in some manuscripts of Cavendish life of the cardinal. By the above entry, confirmed by a subsequent passage in Cavendish, it is clear that, in consideration of the necessities of the cardinal, it was to be allowed him before hand. After all his pomp and prosperity after all his vast accumulations of wealth after all this piles of plate, and heaps of cloth of gold, and costly apparel Woolsey, in March 1530 (judging from this entry), was reduced to the necessity of obtaining a loan of a thousand marks; this, too, to carry him to his exile at York, whither his enemies had, by this date, induced the fickle, selfish, and luxurious king to banish his former favourite.
Of Wolsey's subsequent residence at Cawood, we find in this manuscript, an 'item to David Vincent, by the king's warrant, for his charge, being sent to Cawood, in the north contrie, at suche time as the cardenall was sicke.' As the sum charged was considerable namely, £35, 6s. 8d. (more than £200 present money) we may infer, perhaps, that the messenger, whom Cavendish styles his 'fellow Vincent,' made some stay there, watching the progress of Wolsey's illness, and sending intelligence to the king, who was more anxious for the death than for the life of his victim, in order that he might seize upon the remains of his movables. It is quite evident that the cardinal was not, at this period, so destitute as many have supposed, and that he had carried with him a very large quantity of plate, of which the king possessed himself the moment the breath was out of the body of its owner. Among the payments for January, 22 Henry VIII, we read, in the Trevelyan manuscript, that two persons were employed three entire days in London, 'weighing the plate from Cawood, late the Cardinalle's. Such are the unceremonious terms used in the original memorandum, communicating a striking fact, of which we now hear for the first time.
From Cawood, as is well known, Wolsey was brought to the Earl of Shrewsbury's seat, at Sheffield Park; and thither messengers were unexpectedly sent to convey the cardinal to the Tower. This state manuscript shews that Sir William Kingston, captain of the guard, was sent to arrest the cardinal; and that forty pounds were paid to Kingston in November 1530, for the expenses of his journey, as follows:
Item, to Sir William Kingston, knight capitain of the kinges garde, sent to Therle of Shrewsebury with divers of the kinges garde, for the conveyance of the Cardinall of Yorke to the Tower of London, in prest for their charges.
The cardinal was taken ill on the road: the Earl of Shrewsbury encouraged him to hope for recovery, but the cardinal replied that he could not live, and discoursed learnedly about his ailment, dysentery, which he said, within eight days, if there were o change, would necessarily produce ' excoriation of the entrails, or delirium, or death.' This was on the eighth day, when he confidently expected his death; and he expired after the clock had struck eight, according to his own prediction; 'the very hour,' says Shakspeare, 'himself had foretold would be his last' He had reached Leicester three days previously: as he entered the gate of the monastery, he said: 'Father abbot, I am come to lay my bones among you;' and so the event proved: the monks carried him to his bed, on which he expired on the 29th of November 1530. Shakspeare, has little altered the words he used on his death bed, though they were spoken to Kingston, and not, as in the play, to Cromwell:
But had I served may God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.
It is a curious and novel circumstance, brought to light in the document before us, that, exactly two months before the day of Wolsey's death, the dean and canons of Cardinal's (now Christ church) College, Oxford, had so completely separated themselves from Wolsey, and from all the interest which he had taken in their establishment, that, instead of resorting to him for the comparatively small sum of £184, for the purpose of carrying on the architectural works, they applied to the king for the loan of the money. The entry of this loan is made in the state document under consideration, 'upon an obligation to be repaid agayne, on this side of Cristinmas next cunning'; so that even this trifling advance could not be made out of the royal purse, filled to repletion by the sacrifice of Wolsey, without an express stipulation that the money was to be returned before Christmas.
Everything in Wolsey (says Mr. Collier), his vices and his virtues were great. He seemed incapable of mediocrity in anything: voluptuous and profuse, rapacious and of insatiable ambition, but too magnanimous to be either cruel or revengeful, he was an excellent master and patron, and a fair and open enemy. If we despise the abjectness which he exhibited in his first fall, let it be remembered from and to what he fell from a degree of wealth and grandeur which no subject on earth now enjoys, to a condition of ignominy and want, with all the terrible and unknown consequences to which he might be exposed from the merciless and unscrupulous temper of the king.
A picturesque tower or gate house, the only remains of Wolsey's palace, exists, to this day, at Esher. Its erection has been commonly attributed to the cardinal; he is, however, thought to have had little time for building at Esher; and the architecture of the towers is of an earlier period than Wolsey's. With better authority, the erection of this building is attributed to Bishop Wainfleet, who preceded the cardinal in the possession of the see of Winchester by about eighty years, and is known to have erected a stately brick mansion and gatehouse in Esher Park. It is now luxuriantly mantled with ivy: the interior has a very skillfully wrought newel staircase, of brick; and in the roof is introduced the principle of the oblique arch, a supposed invention of much later date.
In estimating the abjectness of Wolsey, we should also take into account the abject submission which he had long been taught to exhibit before the tyrant:
Whose smile was transport, and whose frown was fate.
Of this arbitrary sovereign, one circumstance is disclosed by Cavendish, utterly surpassing all the measures of common iniquity. When Wolsey was sued in a premunire by Henry's order, and all his movables were seized, the chest which contained a dispensation under the king's sign manual for the very facts on which he was proceeded against, was withheld, and he was prevented from adducing a document, which, if law and reason had any scope, would have preserved him. His misfortunes, and the conversation of some devout and mortified Carthusians, appear to have awakened the first sense of genuine religion in his mind. During his retreat at Cawood, while the king was persecuting him with one refinement of ingenious cruelty after another, he was calm and composed and here, for the first time, he seems to have exercised, or even comprehended, the character of a Christian bishop.
He reconciled enemies, he preached, he visited nay, he was humble. But this character he was not long permitted to sustain. He had talents for popularity, which, in his delicate and difficult circumstances, he was, perhaps, not sufficiently reserved in displaying. He was preparing to be enthroned at York, with a degree of magnificence which, though far inferior to that which had been practised by his predecessors, was yet sufficient to awaken the jealousy of Henry. The final arrest at Cawood ensued. It is unnecessary, as well as uncharitable, to suppose what there is no proof of that he died of poison, either administered by himself or others. The obvious and proximate cause of his death was affliction. A great heart, oppressed with indignities, and beset with dangers, at length gave way; and Wolsey, under circumstances affectingly detailed by Cavendish, received, in Leicester Abbey, the two last charities of a death bed and a grave.
THE FIRST NEWSPAPER PRINTED BY STEAM
The 29th of November 1814 forms an important date in the history of printing, and consequently in that of civilization. It was the day on which a newspaper was for the first time printed by steam, instead of manual power. It seems appropriate that the Times, the newspaper which of all others throughout the world is now regarded as the most influential, should have been the one that inaugurated this vast improvement. The common printing press, though much improved during the second half of the last century, could seldom strike off more than two or three hundred impressions per hour, with one man to ink the types, and another to work the press. To set forth the importance of machine printing, it is only necessary to remark that, without such an invention, the production of a large impression of a newspaper was mechanically impossible, as the news would have been stale before the end of the impression was accomplished. In 1790, Mr. W. Nicholson obtained letters patent for a machine similar in many respects to those which have been adopted in later years; but it does not appear that he brought his invention into practice. Steam power, it was known, would effect movements in machinery of almost every imaginable kind; but it was the enterprise of the proprietors of the Times that enabled inventors to surmount the difficulties of applying such power to printing presses.
It was the second Mr. John Walter (the son of the first and the father of the present proprietor), whose management of the Times began in 1803, that gave so immense an impetus to rapid printing. It took many hours to strike off the 3000 or 4000 copies of which the daily issue of the Times then consisted; and Mr. Walter was dissatisfied with that slow process. In 1804, Thomas Martyn, a compositor in his employment, produced a model of a self acting machine for working the press; and Walter supplied him with money to continue his ingenious labours. The pressmen, however, were so bitterly hostile to any such innovation, that Martyn was placed almost in fear of his life; and as Walter did not at that time possess a very large capital, the scheme fell to the ground. John Walter, however, was not a man to be beaten by difficulties; he bore in mind Martyn's invention, and bided his time. He encouraged inventors from all quarters; and as his pecuniary means increased, he became able to pay them well for their services. In 1814, he consented that König's patent for a printing machine should be tried not in the actual printing office of the Times, but in adjoining premises, for fear of the hostility of the pressmen. König and his assistant, Bauer, worked quietly in these premises for many months, gradually perfecting the machine.
The proceedings on the momentous 29th of November were highly characteristic of Mr. Walter. The night on which this curious machine was first brought into use in its new abode, says his biographer, was one of great anxiety, and even alarm. The suspicious pressmen had threatened destruction to any one whose inventions might suspend their employment destruction to him and his traps. They were directed to wait for expected news from the continent. It was about six o'clock in the morning, when Mr. Walter went into the pressroom, and astonished its occupants by telling them that the Times was already printed by steam; that if they attempted violence, there was a force ready to suppress it; but that if they were peaceable, their wages should be continued to every one of them till similar employment could be procured. The promise was o doubt faithfully performed; and, having so said, he distributed several copies among them. Thus was this most hazardous enterprise undertaken and successfully carried through; and printing by steam, on an almost gigantic scale, given to the world.
The leading article of the Times, on the 29th of November 1814, adverted to the great event in the following terms: Our journal of this day presents to the public the practical result of the greatest improvement connected with printing, since the discovery of the art itself. The reader of this paragraph now holds in his hands one of the many thousand impressions of the Times newspaper which were taken off last night by a mechanical apparatus. A system of machinery, almost organic, has been devised and arranged, which, while it relieves the human frame of its most laborious efforts in printing, far exceeds all human powers in rapidity and despatch. That the magnitude of the invention may be justly appreciated by its effects, we may inform the public that, after the letters are placed by the compositors, and enclosed in what is called the ' form,' little more remains for man to do than to attend upon and watch this unconscious agent in its operations. The machine is then merely supplied with paper.
Itself places the form, inks it, adjusts the paper to the newly inked type, stamps the sheet, and gives it forth to the hands of the attendant, at the same time with drawing the form for a fresh coat of ink, which itself again distributes, to meet the ensuing sheet, now advancing for impression; and the whole of these complicated acts is performed with such a velocity and simultaneousness of movement, that no less than 1100 sheets are impressed in one hour. That the completion of an invention of this kind, not the effect of chance, but the result of mechanical combinations, methodically arranged in the mind of the artist, should be attended with many obstructions and much delay, may be readily admitted. Our share in the event has, indeed, only been the application of the discovery, under an agreement with the patentees, to our own particular business; yet few can conceive, even with this limited interest, the various disappointments and deep anxiety to which we have, for a long course of time, been subjected.
Of the person who made this discovery, we have but little to add. Sir Christopher Wren's noblest monument is to be found in the building which he erected; so is the best tribute of praise, which we are capable of offering to the inventor of the printing machine, comprised in the description, which we have feebly sketched, of the powers and utility of the invention. It must suffice to say further, that he is a Saxon by birth; that his name is König; and that the invention has been executed under the direction of his friend and countryman, Bauer. We have now before us two consecutive numbers of the Times the last that was printed at the hand press (November 28, 1814), and the first that was printed by machinery (November 29); the latter is far cleaner and more legible than the former possibly because a new fount of type was used. König's machine was, however, very complicated, and was soon afterwards superseded by one invented by Messrs Applegath and Cowper. Four thousand, six thousand, eight thousand impressions per hour were printed, as gradual improvements were made in the apparatus; until at length Hoe's machine now as much exceeds Applegath and Cowper's in efficacy and rapidity as that did König's.
On Monday, 29th November 1773, Mr. Foster Powell, an attorney's clerk, commenced a journey from London to York and back again, on foot; a feat which he accomplished in the space of six days, reaching York on the Wednesday evening, and starting again the following morning for London, where he arrived on the evening of Saturday, the 4th of December. By this extraordinary effort of pedestrianism, he netted the sum of a hundred guineas, which had been staked on his success.
It has been remarked that a collection of curious or foolish wagers would make an interesting volume. After much ransacking, we have succeeded in unearthing a few of the most remarkable instances, which we now present to our readers.
A wager is said to have been won by Sir Walter Raleigh from the Virgin Queen, on the question of how much smoke is contained in a pound of tobacco. A pound of the article in question was weighed, burned, and then weighed again in ashes. The question was held to be satisfactorily settled by determining the weight of the smoke as exactly that of the tobacco, before being burned, minus the residuum of ashes. The fact of the ashes having received an additional weight by combination with the oxygen of the atmosphere, and also the circumstance of numerous imperceptible gases being evolved by the process of combustion, were alike unthought of by Elizabeth and her knight.
Sir John Pakington, called 'Lusty Pakington', and by Queen Elizabeth, 'My Temperance', laid a wager of £3000 to swim against three noble courtiers from Westminster Bridge to Greenwich, but her majesty interposed to prevent any further procedure on the bet. A gentleman of the name of Corbet, a distinguished family near Shrewsbury, betted that his leg was the handsomest in the county or kingdom; and staked immense estates on the point. He won the wager, and a picture is still preserved in the family mansion, representing the process of measuring the legs of the various disputants. A dispute of a similar kind, between two celebrated beauties in the Scottish metropolis, occasioned a considerable amount both of amusement and scandal in the Modem Athens, about half a century ago.
It is recorded of Lord Spencer, that he cut off his coattails, and laid a successful wager that such a mutilated style of garment would become fashionable. And an amusing bet, though for the very trifling amount of five shillings, is related to have been decided in 1806, in the Castleyard, York, between Thomas Hodgson and Samuel Whitehead, as to which should succeed in assuming the most singular and original character. Hodgson appeared decorated with ten guinea, five guinea, and guinea notes on his coat and waistcoat, a row of five-guinea notes and a purse of gold round his hat, whilst to his back a paper was attached, with the words, 'John Bull.' Whitehead appeared dressed like a woman on one side, with a silk stocking and slipper, and one half of his face painted. The other half of his body resembled a negro in a man's dress, with a boot and spur. One would have thought, that so far as presenting a ridiculous spectacle and making a fool of himself, he ought to have won the wager, but it was decided in favour of his companion. How far the latter owed his success to the prevailing weakness of humanity towards wealth or the display of it, is a question which we think might be fairly mooted.
A gentleman laid a wager to a considerable amount, that he would stand for a whole day on London Bridge with a trayful of sovereigns, fresh from the Mint, and be unable to find a purchaser for them at a penny apiece. Not one was disposed of.
In the roaring, hard drinking days of the last century, wagers of all kinds were plentiful. Something similar to the case of Hodgson and Whitehead above related was the bet made in relation to Heidegger, Master of the Revels to George II, whose ugliness it was alleged impossible to surpass. The slums of London were ransacked from one end to the other, and at last, in St. Giles's an old woman was found, who it was thought would bear away the palm. On being confronted with Heidegger, the judges maintained that the latter, who made himself a party to the dispute with the greatest good humour, had now fairly met with his match, when it was suggested that he should put on the old woman's bonnet. The additional hideousness thus imparted was such, that Heidegger was unanimously declared as the undoubted holder of the championship of ugliness.
A wager of a more intellectual description was laid for a thousand guineas in 1765 between two noblemen, one of whom had constructed a machine which he maintained would propel a boat at the rate of twenty five miles an hour. A canal was prepared for the experiment near the banks of the Thames; but the tackle broke, and the wager was lost, before the apparatus had an opportunity of being tested. In the Annual Register for 1788, we find it stated in the chronicle of occurrences, that a young Irish gentleman, on 21st September of that year, started for Constantinople, having engaged to walk from London to Constantinople and back again within a year. Twenty thousand pounds are stated as being dependent on the issue of the wager, but we have no further accounts of the affair.
The subject matter of wagers has sometimes taken rather a grim form. A well known story is related of a member of a party of revellers who engaged, in a fit of bravado, to enter the vault of a church at midnight, and in proof of his having done so, to stick a fork into a coffin which had been recently deposited there. He accomplished his object, and was returning triumphantly, when he felt himself suddenly caught, and was so overpowered by terror that the fell into a swoon, and was found in this condition shortly afterwards on the floor of the vault by his companions, who, alarmed at his long absence, had come out to look for him. The fork which he had stuck into the coffin had caught hold of his long cloak, and thus occasioned a fit of terror which had nearly proved fatal. An incident of this nature is credibly recorded to have taken place in London in the last century, the scene being one of the vaults beneath. Westminster Abbey.
It is only consistent with the British propensity for sport and athletic effort, that so many wagers should be recorded in connection with feats of pedestrianism. Thus we are told. that on the 24th July 1750, a man upwards of forty years of age, for a wager of fifty guineas, ran from Shoreditch to the eight mile stone beyond Edmonton in fifty minutes, having been allowed an hour for performing the exploit. In 1763, one of the Gloucestershire militia undertook, for a wager of £300, to walk from London to Bristol in twenty hours. This he accomplished in nineteen hours and thirty five minutes, having quitted London at midnight, and arrived at Bristol the following evening. In the same year, a shepherd ran on Moulsey Hurst, fifteen miles in one hour and twenty eight minutes, having engaged to do so in an hour and a half. And in July 1809, was completed the famous pedestrian feat of Captain Barclay, who won £3000 on a wager that he would walk a thousand miles in a thousand successive hours. The captain's entry into Newmarket after the accomplishment of his undertaking, was heralded by a peal of bells. Numerous other pedestrian bets of a similar character to Barclay's have subsequently been made, and are familiar to all readers of sporting literature.
Till recently, the fulfilment of an obligation constituted by wager, contrary to what has all along prevailed in Scotland, could be enforced in English courts of law. Latterly, indeed, they were looked upon with great disfavour; but the judges, nevertheless, still found themselves bound to take cognizance of them, however contrary such matters might seem to legal seriousness and dignity. A few of the cases recorded are curious enough. Perhaps one of the most noted is the action tried before Lord Mansfield in July 1777, on a wager which had been laid regarding the sex of the celebrated Chevalier D'Eon. A great deal of evidence, much more curious than edifying, was brought forward; and it was maintained by the defendant, that the action ought to be dismissed as a gambling, indecent, and unnecessary proceeding.
The lord chief justice, however, took a different view; and while expressing a strong disapprobation of such cases, laid down that pactions proceeding on wagers were not contrary to the law of England, and that therefore the jury should find a verdict for the plaintiff. A verdict for £700 was accordingly returned. In another case before Lord Mansfield, in the Court of Kung's Bench, the sum of 500 guineas was sought to be recovered by Lord March from Mr. Pigott, on a wager which the plaintiff had laid with the defendant as to whether Sir William Codrington or old Mr. Pigot should first die. The latter died suddenly of gout in the head the morning previous to the laying of the wager. Owing to this circumstance, the defendant maintained that there was no bet; but the court and jury ruled otherwise, and a verdict was returned for the full amount claimed, and costs.
An amusing case is related to have been tried at the Kingston assizes, where a Mr. Courtney was sued for the payment of 100 guineas on a wager which had been laid that the plaintiff should furnish three horses which should go ninety miles in three hours. This he performed to the letter, but it was by starting all the three horses together, so that they had only thirty miles each to run within the three hours, an undertaking which they accomplished with the utmost ease. The court supported the defendant's view of the transaction, that it was an unfair bet, and a verdict in his favour was consequently given. In another action, tried before the Court of Common Pleas, the plaintiff sought to enforce a claim on a wager for a rump and dozen, which Sir James Mansfield was inclined to dismiss, because he did not judicially know the meaning of a rump and dozen, but he was overruled by Mr. Justice Heath, who remarked that they knew quite well privately that 'a rump and dozen' meant a dinner and wine, an agreement, as his lordship observed, in which he could discover no illegality.
Many similar cases might be related, but we shall restrict ourselves to two more. One of these was an action brought at the York assizes in 1812, by the Reverend B. Gilbert against Sir. Mark M. Sykes, Bart. At a dinner party in his own house, the latter, in the course of a conversation on the hazard to which the life of Bonaparte was exposed, had offered, on receiving a hundred guineas, to pay a guinea a day as long as Napoleon should remain alive. Mr. Gilbert suddenly closed with the proposal, sent the hundred guineas to the baronet, and the latter continued to pay the clergyman a guinea a day for nearly three years. At last he declined to pay any longer, and an action was brought to enforce the fulfilment of the obligation. It was contended by the defendant's counsel, that he had been surprised. into the bet by the clergyman's hasty acceptance of it, and also that the transaction was an illegal one, seeing that Mr. Gilbert, having a beneficial interest in the life of Bonaparte, might, in the event of invasion, be tempted to use all means for the preservation of the life of an enemy of his country.
The jury returned a verdict for the defendant; but on the case being brought before the Court of King's Bench, a rule was granted by Lord Ellenborough, to shew cause why the verdict should not be set aside and a new trial granted, as in his lordship's opinion the fact of a contract was clearly established, and unless anything of an immoral or impolitic tendency could be proved, the agreement must be supported. On the ground last mentioned, the rule was ultimately discharged and a new trial refused; the judges finding that such a wager was illegal, from its tendency to produce public mischief, as, on the one hand, an undue interest was created in the preservation of the life of a public enemy, and on the other, a temptation might be induced to plot the assassination of Bonaparte, any suspicion of which ought to be carefully guarded against by the nation at large. The other case to which we have referred, was an action brought on a wager, that the celebrated Johanna Southcott would be delivered of a son, on or before the 1st of November 1814. As the party in question was a single woman, it was held that no claim of action could be sustained, as the wager involved the perpetration of an immorality. On similar grounds, it has been ruled that no action was maintainable on a bet respecting the issue of a boxing match, such a proceeding being a breach of the peace.
By the gambling act passed in 1845, all agreements whatever founded on any gaming or betting transaction, are declared absolutely null and void, and no action for their enforcement can be sustained. The courts of law have thus been saved the expenditure of much valuable time, to the postponement often of important business, on the discussion of frivolous and unedifying questions.