Born: Richard II, King of England, 1366, Bordeaux; Rev. George Herbert (religious poetry), 1593, Montgomery Castle; Roger Rabutin, Count de Bussy, 1618, Epiry; Washington Irving, American miscellaneous writer, 1783, New York; Rev. Dionysius Lardner, scientific and miscellaneous writer, 1793, Dublin.
Died: Prince Arthur, Duke of Brittany, English prince, murdered, 1203, Rouen; John Napier of Merchiston, inventor of logarithms, 1617, Merchiston; Edward, Marquis of Worcester, 1667, Raglan; Jacques Ozanam, French mathematical writer, 1717, Paris; Dr. John Berkenhout (medical and scientific writings), 1791.
Feast Day: Sts Agape,Chionia, and Irene, martyrs, 304. St. Ulpian, of Tyre, martyr. St. Nicetias, abbot, 824. St. Richard, 1253, Dover.
A peculiar interest seems to attach itself to the fate of most of the princes known in history by the name of Arthur, and none of them has attracted more general sympathy than the youthful nephew of Richard Coeur de Lion, the manner of whose death is itself a subject of mysterious doubt. This sympathy is probably in some measure owing to the touching scene in which he has been introduced by Shakspeare.
In the order of succession of the five sons of King Henry II, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany intervened between Richard and John. Geoffrey was accidentally slain in a tournament, leaving his wife Constance advanced in pregnancy, and she subsequently, in 1187, gave birth to Prince Arthur, who was acknowledged as the successor to his father as Duke of Brittany. On the death of King Richard, in 1199, Arthur, then twelve years of age, was no doubt his rightful heir, but John, as is well known, seized at once upon the crown of England, and people in general seem to have preferred, according to principles which were strictly constitutional, the prince who could govern to the one who was for the time incapacitated by his age. But the barons of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine espoused the cause of Arthur, and took the oath of allegiance to him and to his mother Constance as his guardian.
Coeur de Lion, at the time of his death, had just signed a truce with the King of France, Philippe Augustus, and it was to this monarch that Constance carried her young son when the territories of the barons who supported him were invaded and barbarously ravaged by King John and his mercenary troops. Philippe, who was waiting eagerly for the opportunity of depriving the King of England of his continental possessions, embraced the cause of Arthur with the utmost zeal, and not only sent troops to assist the barons of Anjou and Brittany, but invaded Normandy. It was soon, however, evident that Philippe was fighting for himself and not for Arthur, and the barons of Arthur's party became so certain of his designs, that their leader, Guillaume des Roches, seneschal of Anjou, effected a reconciliation with King John, and succeeded in carrying the young prince away from the court of France. This was hardly done, when the seneschal learnt from secret information that John was acting treacherously, and only sought to gain possession of his nephew in order to poison him; and he carried Arthur by night to Angers, and placed himself again under the protection of Philippe. The latter made peace with the king of England at the beginning of the year 1200, when Arthur was induced by the French king to remain contented with the Duchy of Brittany, and renounce all claims to the crown of England, as well as to the continental provinces of Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, and Poitou.
Affairs remained in this position until the beginning of the year 1202, when Philippe Auguste resumed his hostile designs against Normandy, and again put forward the claims of Arthur, who was now fifteen years old. As the continental barons were nearly all ready to rise against King John, Philippe immediately invested Arthur with the counties of Poitou, Anjou, Maine, and Touraine, and sent him with an escort into Poitou to head the insurrection there; but, unfortunately, the young prince was persuaded to make an attempt upon Mirabeau, and he was there surprised by King John, on the 1st of August 1202, and captured with all the barons who accompanied him. Arthur was carried a prisoner to Falaise, from whence he was subsequently transferred to Rouen, and nothing further is satisfactorily known of him, although there is no doubt that he was murdered.
Many accounts of the circumstances of the murder, probably all more or less apocryphal, were afterwards current, and some of them have been preserved by the old chroniclers. According to that given by Ralph of Coggeshall, John, at the suggestion of some of his evil councillors, resolved on putting out Arthur's eyes, and sent some of his creatures to Falaise, to execute this barbarous design in his prison; but it was prevented by Hubert de Burgh, then governor of Falaise, who took time to communicate personally with the king. In consequence of Hubert's humanity, Arthur was removed from Falaise to Rouen, where, on the 3rd of April 1203, he was taken from the tower in which he was confined, placed in a boat where King John with his esquire, Peter de Maulac, waited for him, and there murdered by the latter at the king's command.
According to another version, Maulac shrunk from the deed, and John murdered his nephew with his own hand. This account is evidently the foundation of part of the story adapted by Shakspeare, who, however, strangely lays the scene at Northampton. Roger de Wendover, who is quite as good authority as the abbot of Coggeshall, gives an entirely different explanation of the cause of the prisoner's removal from Falaise to Rouen. He says that 'after some lapse of time, King John came to the castle of Falaise, and ordered his nephew Arthur to be brought into his presence. When he appeared, the King addressed him kindly, and promised him many honours, requiring him to separate himself from the French king, and to adhere to the party of himself, as his lord and uncle. But Arthur ill-advisedly replied with indignation and threats, and demanded of the King that he should give up to him the kingdom of' England, with all the territories which King Richard possessed at the time of his death; and, inasmuch as all those possessions belonged to him by hereditary right, he affirmed with an oath that unless King John immediately restored the territories aforesaid to him, he should never enjoy peace for any length of time. The King was much troubled at hearing these words, and gave orders that Arthur should be sent to Rouen, to be imprisoned in the new tower there, and placed under close guard; but shortly afterwards the said Arthur suddenly disappeared.' Popular tradition was from a rather early period almost unanimous in representing the murder as having been perpetrated by the king's own hand; but this perhaps arose more out of hatred to John's memory than from any accurate knowledge of the truth. Arthur was sixteen years of age at the time of his death.
LORD WORCESTER AND HIS 'CENTURY OF INVENTIONS'
In respect of his pursuits and tastes, Edward, Marquis of Worcester, stands much isolated in the British peerage, being a speculative mechanical inventor. His little book, called A Century of Inventions, is one of the most curious in English literature. It appears to have been written in 1655, and strictly consists of descriptions of a hundred projects, as its title imports; none of them, however, so explicit as to enable a modern adventurer to carry them out in practice. The objects in view were very multifarious. Secret writing, by cipher, or by peculiar inks; telegraphs or semaphores; explosive projectiles that would sink any ship; ships that would resist any explosive projectiles; floating gardens for English rivers; automaton figures; machines for dredging harbours; an engine to raise ships for repair; an instrument for teaching perspective; a method of fixing shifting sands on the seashore; a cross-bow that will discharge two arrows at once; an endless watch, that never wants winding up; a key that will fasten all the drawers of a cabinet by one locking; a large cannon that could be shot six times in a minute; flying machines; a brass mould to cast candles; hollow-handled pocket-combs, knives, forks, and spoons, for carrying secret papers; calculating machines for addition and subtraction; a pistol to discharge a dozen times with once loading; an apparatus for lighting its own fire and candle at any predetermined hour of the night; a complete portable ladder, which, taken out of the pocket, may be fastened to a point a hundred feet high; a way to make a boat work against wind and tide; nothing came amiss to the mechanical Marquis. Knowing to how extraordinary a degree many of those projects foreshadow inventions which. have brought renown to other men in later days, it is tantalizing to be unable to discover how far he had really proceeded in any one of them. It is a generally accepted fact, however, that he had worked out in his mind a clear conception of a steam-engine (as we should now call it); indeed he is believed to have set a model of a steam-engine at work shortly before his death. He employed, too, a German artizan, Casper Kaltoff, for many years in constructing models and new machines of various kinds.
A brave, loyal, and worthy man was the Marquis of Worcester. Like many other noble cavaliers, he impoverished himself in befriending Charles the First; and, like them again, he failed in obtaining any recompense from Charles the Second. He was the owner and occupier of Raglan Castle during the troubles of the Civil War; and it is to him that the incident relates (carefully told ever since to visitors to the Castle), concerning the practical aid given by his ingenuity to his loyalty. He had constructed some hydraulic engines and wheels for conveying water from the moat to the top of the great tower. Some of the Roundheads approaching, the Marquis resolved to startle them by a display of his engineering powers. He gave private orders to set the water works in play. 'There was such a roaring,' he afterwards wrote, 'that the poor silly men stood so amazed as if they had been half dead; and yet they saw nothing. At last, as the plot was laid, up comes a man staring and running, crying out before he came to them, 'Look to yourselves, my masters, for the lions are got loose.' Whereupon the searchers gave us such a loose, that they tumbled so over one another down the stairs, that it was thought one half of them had broke their necks: never looking behind them till they were sure they had got out of the Castle.'
THE POET LAUREATESHIP
On April 3rd, 1843, we find Sir Robert Peel writing to Wordsworth, kindly urging him to overcome his reluctance, and become poet-laureate. The bard of Rydal Mount being seventy-four, feared he might be unfit to undertake the tasks expected of him; but on being assured it would be a sinecure as far as he chose, he accepted the office. We are most of us aware that this office was, in no remote times, one of real duty, an ode being expected on the king's birthday and other occasions. According to modern conceptions, a genuine poet conferred as much honour on the office, as the office upon him. Originally, the title inferred a great public honour to some special bard, placing him high above his fellows. Among the ancients, as late as the Emperor Theodosius, the ceremony of crowning with the laurel wreath was actually performed; even in modern times, from so far back as the thirteenth century, Abbé Resnel conjectures the custom was revived and retained in Italy and Germany. In England and France it does not seem to have been at any time regularly established.
Petrarch, in Italy, wore his laurel with true dignity. The curious formula used at his coronation has been preserved.
We, count and senator, for us and our college, declare Francis Petrarch great poet and historian; and for a special mark of his quality of poet, we have placed with our hands on his head a crown of laurel, granting to him by the tenor of these presents, and by the authority of King Robert, of the senate, and the people of Rome, in the poetic as well as in the historic art, and generally in whatsoever relates to the said arts, as well in this holy city as elsewhere, our free and entire power of reading, disputing, and interpreting all ancient books, to make new ones, and compose poems, which God assisting, shall endure from age to age.
It was not all Francis Petrarch's successors who composed such poems. Mad Querno, 'Antichrist of wit,' laureate of Leo X, wrote twenty thousand verses, but no god assisted, save Bacchus, and the wits twisted slily among the laurels vine-leaf and cabbage-leaf.
Chaucer is often called poet-laureate. He held sundry appointments under Edward III, Richard II, and Henry IV, and several curious grants were made to him, among which was a pipe of wine. Edward III made him comptroller of the custom of wool, but not in the way of sine-cure: on the contrary, we find it enjoined that the said Geffrey write with his own hand his rolls touching the said office, and continually reside there, and do and execute all things pertaining to the said office in his own proper person, and not by his substitute.'
The Reverend 'Master Skelton, poet laureate,' as he terms himself, figured in Henry VIII's time as a most hearty reviler of bad customs and worse clergy. To wit:
Salt-fish, stock-fish, nor herring,
It is not for your wearing,
Nor in holy Lenten season
Ye will neither beanes ne peasou,
But ye looke to be let loose
To a pygge or to a goose,
Your george not endewed,
Without a capon stewed.
And much more, equally scurrilous, till at last Wolsey punished him for alluding to his (Wolsey's) 'greasy genealogy.'
The office of laureate should never be more than an honour; or, at least, it should never impose task work. Only so far as the laureate feels, let him speak. If the true poet endeavour to offer such a sacrifice on the altar of public taste, as to sing of unheroic or unpoetic events, the spirit of inspiration will go up from him in the smoke, like the angel at Manoah's offering. Let any one read through Warton's Birthday Odes, for June 4, in regular succession, and he will discover the difficulties of this jobbing. Of many national effusions, practically imposed or prompted by his office, Tennyson cannot shew one,-nor even the ode to the Duke,-worthy to stand by the side of his other noble poems.