Born: William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, 1573, Reading; Charles Abbott, Lord Tenterden, eminent naval and mercantile jurist, 1762, Canterbury.
Died: Charles III, the Simple, king of France, 929, Castle of Peronne; Margaret, Maid of Norway, 1290, Orkney; Sir Thomas Chaloner, statesman and writer, 1565; George Gascoigne, poet and dramatist, 1577, Stamford, Lincolnshire; Giovanni Battista Guarini, author of the Pastor Fido, 1612, Venice; Nicholas Heinsius, scholar and critic, 1681, Holland; Antonio Sacchini, composer, 1786, Paris; Dr. John Brown, founder of the Brunonian system of medicine, 1788, London; Dr. John George Zimmerman, celebrated author of the treatise on Solitude, 1795, Hanover; Dr. Thomas Reid, eminent Scottish metaphysician, 1796, Glasgow; Edgar Allan Poe, American poet, 1849, Baltimore.
Feast Day: St. Justina of Padua, virgin and martyr. Saints Marcellus and Apuleius, martyrs at Rome. Saints Sergius and Bacchus, martyrs, 4th century. St. Mark, pope and confessor, 336. St. Osith, virgin, about 870.
THE MAID Of NORWAY
The fate of this child-sovereign, who only reached her hereditary dominions to die, and through whose decease so protracted a series of disasters was entailed on Scotland, forms one of the interesting events in the history of a nation so noted for the misfortunes of its queens. What we really know of the 'fair maid of Norroway' is very little, however liberally we may draw on imagination to supply the deficiencies, and fill in the lights and shadows to a picture of which the chroniclers of the times have furnished us with nothing but the most meagre outlines. It is not to the brief and sententious records of the thirteenth century, that we are to look for narratives of domestic events, or the personal history of a little girl of seven years old, even though that little girl were a queen in her own right.
Margaret, Princess of Norway, was the only child of Eric, king of that country, by his marriage with the daughter of Alexander III, of Scotland. Her mother died in giving her birth, and on the death of her maternal grandfather in 1285, by a fall from an unruly horse over the cliff at Kinghorn, she became sole inheritrix of the Scottish crown, being already, moreover, heiress-presumptive to that of Norway. Alexander III had indeed been most unfortunate in his domestic relations, having seen one member of his family after another, including two promising sons, descend into the grave before him, whilst his second marriage, a short time before his death, with the beautiful French princess Joleta, had been unproductive of issue. Feeling sensibly his loneliness, and solicitous also for the careful upbringing of his little granddaughter, in whom all his prospects of a successor rested, he sent over to Norway, shortly after her mother's death, an embassy of Scottish nobles, requesting from his son-in-law the delivery of Margaret to these gallant knights, for the purpose of being brought over to, and educated in, Scotland. Eric refused his consent, and the deputation had to quit the Norwegian court with their master's behest unaccomplished. None of them, however, were destined to set foot again in their native country, the ship in which they were conveyed foundering in sight of the Scottish coast.
Margaret may thus be deemed fortunate in having had so narrow an escape of her life, though it was only to lengthen its duration by a very few years.
On the melancholy death of Alexander III, the kingdom was thrown into a most distracted condition; but a great assembly of nobles and dignitaries was held, in which fealty was sworn to Margaret of Norway, as the sovereign of Scotland, and great anxiety expressed to have the young queen brought over to dwell among her subjects. The present conjuncture of affairs presented a strong temptation to the able and ambitious Edward I of England, to form an advantageous connection with Scotland. A matrimonial alliance was proposed by him, between the young Scottish queen and his own son Edward, Prince of Wales. The offer was favourably entertained both by the Scottish nobles and Margaret's father, King Eric, and negotiations were forthwith instituted for arranging the terms of the match. These were at length settled to the satisfaction of all parties, the principal conditions being that, notwithstanding this union with England, Scotland should retain all the rights and privileges of an independent kingdom, and that its sovereignty in the event of Edward and Margaret having no children, should revert to the young queen's nearest lawful heir. With the view of hastening an adjustment of matters, it is said that money was freely distributed by Edward, in the shape of bribes and pensions among the leading men of Eric's court. It may not be a very profitable, but it is certainly a curious speculation, to ponder over the consequences of this marriage to Scotland, had the course of events permitted it to be carried into effect.
The union of England and Scotland might thus have been accomplished on most honourable terms to the latter country, which would further have been spared the almost continuous series of wars and devastations, by which she was afflicted during upwards of three hundred years that intervened between Margaret's death and the accession of James VI to the English throne. The peaceful arts of commerce and agriculture might have been allowed full scope to develop themselves, and the national industry might have raised the country at a much earlier date to that state of prosperity and wealth, which she has only attained in later and more tranquil times. But in that case the purifying influences of adversity would have been unfelt, less occasion would have arisen for the display of manly heroism and independence, the national spirit would have languished, and a Scotchman at the present day would have been unable to quote the deeds of Wallace and Bruce.
In addition to the stipulations regarding the succession to the crown, it had been agreed in the matrimonial treaty, that the young queen should be forthwith sent to Scotland, and be brought up either there or at Edward's court, as might be found most suitable. When the time for her departure arrived, however, her father displayed a great reluctance to part with her; a reluctance which many will regard as a presentiment of the untoward occurrence, by which he was destined so soon to be deprived of her altogether. Both Edward and the Scottish council urged on Eric the fulfilment of his engagement, by sending over his daughter to her future husband and dominions.
Two distinguished Scottish knights Sir David Wemyss, and the famous Sir Michael Scott, of Balwearie, so renowned for his reputed necromantic lore-were despatched to Norway to fetch the young queen, and Eric now gave his consent that she should depart. We can imagine the little girl of seven, wholly unconscious of the important interests which centered in her, sorry to part with a loving and indulgent father, and carried down to the beach, to be entrusted to the care of some weather-beaten Norse admiral, who might possibly, in his youth, have taken part in King Race's expedition to Scotland, and the battle of Largs. A tender and delicate child, ill fitted, it would seem, for enduring the fatigues of a sea-voyage, she quitted, in September 1290, her father and her native land, never to see either of them again.
Meantime the Scottish nation was expecting the arrival of its young sovereign with all the loyal enthusiasm for which it has ever been distinguished, and a great council was being convened at Perth for deliberating on the affairs of the realm. Suddenly, this august assembly was electrified by a rumour, which reached it from the north, that the young Queen Margaret was no more. The dismal news was soon confirmed, and the country learned with dismay that her father's forebodings regarding her had proved but too true, and that her delicate frame had been unable to support the effects of sickness and exhaustion.
Prostrated by illness shortly after commencing her voyage, she gradually sunk, and when at length the vessel reached Orkney, poor Margaret was carried ashore only to breathe her last. At the intelligence of her death, to use the words of an old chronicler, 'the kingdom was troubled, and its inhabitants sunk into despair.' The disastrous interregnum that followed, and the disputes between the descendants of the Earl of Huntingdon, brother of William the Lion, as claimants of the throne, resulting in the attempt of Edward I to annex Scotland to his dominions, are well known to all readers of history. It may be remarked that a claim to the Scottish crown was also put in by King Eric, as representing his daughter; but no active steps were taken to assert this alleged right. He died a few years afterwards, while only a young man of thirty, having been married to Margaret's mother at an age little above fourteen.
No particulars are known as to the precise spot where the Maid of Norway died, and even her place of burial has never been satisfactorily ascertained. Doubtless, however, she was interred in the venerable cathedral of St. Magnus, at Kirkwall, in Orkney; but nothing definite as to this circumstance can be stated, and no known monument or sepulchral stone marks the site of her grave. Amid a number of tombs, however, within that ancient church, bearing no name or inscription, one was discovered, which, on being opened and examined, gave indications of its being the grave of a young person, whilst one or two other circumstances combined to favour the idea of its having been the resting place of the remains of Margaret of Norway.
EDGAR ALLAN POE
Edgar Allan Poe, an eccentric American poet, was born at Baltimore, January 1811. It may seem absurd to say that he belonged by birth to the aristocracy, in a country where no aristocracy is recognised. Still, it is a fact that Poe was an aristocrat, and it is also true, that no people are more proud of the advantages of birth and breeding, than citizens of the United States, especially those who belong to the southern division of those states. Poe was a Southerner in manners and feelings, as well as by birth; and there is little doubt, that the greater part of the infamy which was heaped upon him after his death, was owing to the fact that as a man of taste he despised, and as an aristocrat, treated with contempt, a tradesman in literature, who lived by making books of biographies, generally laudatory of living literary persons. This man took his revenge when the opportunity came, as any one may kick a dead lion with impunity. Many have echoed, no doubt honestly, the evil fame which was made for the poor poet by this man, whom he had despised and insulted during his life.
Poe's grandfather was a soldier in the war of the American revolution, and a friend of Lafayette. His father was a student at law. He fell in love with an English actress, named Arnold, and married her. They both died young, and at nearly the same time, leaving three orphan children. Edgar was adopted and educated by John Allan, a wealthy merchant of Virginia. At the early age of five years he was brought to England, and was sent to school near London, till he was ten years old.
Poe's life was a series of eccentric adventures. The reason of this is to be found in his temperament, or physical constitution. He lived, from the cradle to the grave, on the verge of madness, when he was not absolutely mad. A half-glass of wine intoxicated him to insanity. His brain was large, almost to deformity, in the region where phrenologists place the imaginative faculties. Under the influence of slight stimulus, such as would have been inappreciable by a person otherwise constituted, Poe was led on to commit acts, the consequences of which were often distressing, and might at any moment have been fatal, as was finally the case.
At an early age he entered college at Charlottesville, Virginia, but he was expelled for dissipation. He also entered the military school at West Point, New York, but he left in a year. During the excitement in favour of the independence of Greece, he started for that country; but he was next found at St. Petersburg, where he fell into distress, as was his fortune almost everywhere, and some friends sent him home.
Soon after his return, he published a volume of poems, entitled At Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. These were written from the age of sixteen to eighteen years.
At one time he enlisted as a soldier, but he soon deserted. He had much partiality for active exercise, and very little for discipline, though he was exceedingly methodical and orderly in all the details of life. He was remarkable for aquatic and gymnastic performances. He was able to leap further than most men, and he once swam seven miles and a half against the tide.
In 1835, Poe was employed to write for the Southern Literary Messenger, and about this time he married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, who, at the time of their union, was about fourteen years old. After this, we find him engaged on Benton's Gentleman's Magazine, at two pounds a week. This engagement was of brief continuance, and he next was connected with Graham's Magazine, and wrote Some Strange Stories, nearly all of which seem tinged with a sort of semi-insanity. We next find him engaged with Mr. Briggs, in establishing the Broadway Journal. This was soon discontinued. About 1844, he wrote The Raven, which has enjoyed a more extended reputation than any other production of his pen.
After the appearance of the Raven in trans-atlantic periodicals, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote to Poe, that 'The Raven had excited a fit horror in England.' He was delighted with the compliment. Indeed this sort of impression appeared to be an object of ambition with him. Poe always seemed to consider The Raven as his master-piece, and he was fond of reciting it in company, in a sort of sing song tone, which was very unpleasant to some.
It would be difficult to calculate the amount of fame that Poe might have earned, if he could have lived, and written one year in undisturbed sanity. After the fame of The Raven had brought his name upon every lip, he was invited to lecture before the Boston Atheneum-the highest honour the Athens of America could bestow on the poet. He went before an elegant and most intellectual Boston audience, and instead of giving a lecture, he repeated a juvenile poem that had been published! His friends had no doubt of the cause, or occasion of this strange proceeding, but the audience were indignant. Poe declared that 'it was an intentional insult to the genius of the frog pond, a small pond on Boston Common 'a further evidence of the madness that he often induced, by taking stimulants, though he knew his fearful liability. After this, his irregularities became so much the rule of his life, that Mrs. Clemm, who acted the part of a good genius to the poet and his young wife, her daughter, took a cottage at Fordham, near New York.
Here she devoted herself to the care of both with tender and unceasing assiduity. Mrs. Poe was dying of consumption. Poe was plunged in a deep melancholy, which did not admit of his writing anything. They were in a state of almost utter destitution, and the malady of the poet was constantly aggravated by witnessing the suffering of his fading, lily-like wife, to whom he was tenderly attached. Friends came to their help the moment their condition was known, and it was subsequently brought against Poe, that he took a bribe at this time for a favourable review, which he afterwards wrote of a miserable book of poems. In speaking of this violation of his literary conscience, after he had somewhat recovered the tone of his mind, he said, ' The author gave me a hundred dollars, when my poor Virginia was dying, and we were starving, and required me to write a review of that book. What could I do?'
Let those who have judged him harshly for this, and other sins of his life, place themselves in his condition. When sober and sane, Poe was a gentleman of pure taste and elegant manners, whose conversation was always interesting, and often instructive. He had great personal beauty, and the aristocratic manner and bearing of a southern gentleman, and a descendant of the Cavaliers. In 1848, Poe published Eureka, which he first gave as a lecture. It is impossible to give a characteristic description of this and other literary performances by Poe. The same sort of extravagance pervades all, and those who knew him most intimately, and were best qualified to judge, believed that he lived and wrote with a shade of madness in all that he did-and yet few men were more methodical and orderly in their habits than Poe. His handwriting was delicately beautiful, and at the same time clear and plain. His study was the perfection of order and neatness. But his fearful proclivities might change all this in a moment. The world cannot believe that half a glass of wine could make a man lose all self-control, and hurry him on to madness, and its fearful consequences. But there is abundant proof that this was true of Poe.
After the death of his wife, Poe gradually recovered from the deep melancholy which had palsied all his mental power during the last portion of her life, and engaged again in literary occupation. Subsequently, he entered into correspondence with a lady of fine genius and high position, with a view to marriage. But here, again, his destiny was against him. The marriage was broken off, and soon after Poe died of delirium tremens, at the age of thirty-eight; that critical period at which it seems natural for an irregular life, combined with excessive brain-work, to bring its victims to an end.