Born: Michael Cervantes de Saavedra, author of Don Quixote, 1547, Alcala de Henares; Jacob Augustus Thuanus (De Thou), historical writer, 1553, Paris; Bishop George Tomline, author of Refutation of Calvinism, 1753; Charles Comte d'Artois, afterwards Charles X, 1757, Versailles.
Died: Pope Clement II, 1047; Gabriel Fallopius, eminent botanist, 1563, Padua; Claude Perrault, architect, 1683; Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, mistress of Charles II, 1709, Chiswick; Dr. James Johnson, medical and miscellaneous writer, 1845, Brighton.
Feast Day: St. Dionysius, or Denis, bishop of Paris, and his Companions, martyrs, 272. St. Domninus, martyr, 304. St. Guislain, abbot, 681. St. Lewis Bertrand, confessor, 1581.
This saint, properly named St. Dionysius, has been sometimes stated as the first who introduced Christianity into France, but this is certainly erroneous, as the martyrdoms at Lyon and Vienne in the second century prove. St. Denis was, however, of all the Roman missionaries in Gaul, the individual who, in preaching the doctrines of the Cross, penetrated furthest into the country, and fixed his seat at Paris, of which he became the first bishop. He is said to have been put to death during the persecution of Valerian, and a well-known legend is related regarding him, that, after suffering decapitation, he miraculously took up his head, carried it in his hand for the space of two miles, and then lay down and expired. The bon mot uttered regarding this ecclesiastical fable by a witty French lady of the last century, has become proverbial: 'La distance ne vaut rien; c'est le premier pas qui coute.'
The bodies of St. Denis and his companions are recorded to have been interred by a Christian lady named Catalla, not far from the place where they had been beheaded. A chapel was thereafter erected over their tomb, and in the fifth century a church, which was greatly resorted to by pilgrims. In the seventh century, King Dagobert founded on the same spot the famous abbey of St. Denis, in which he himself and his successors on the French throne were interred, At the Revolution, this receptacle of the remains of royalty was sacrilegiously violated, and the contents of its tombs ignominiously scattered abroad, whilst the building itself was unroofed, and used for a time as a cattle market. It was, however, restored with great splendour after the accession of the first Napoleon, and now attracts visitors as one of the most interesting monuments of ancient times, near the French capital.
The French have adopted St. Denis as their patron saint, in the same manner as the English have chosen St. George. The guardianship of the two countries is thus expressed in the chorus to the old ballad:
St George he was for England,
St. Denis was for France.
Singing, Honi soit qui mal y pense.
MARRIAGE OF LOUIS XII AND THE PRINCESS MARY
During the reign of Henry VII of England, that able and crafty monarch had forced the Archduke Philip of Austria, on the occasion of the latter being driven by a storm on the English coast, to consent to a treaty of marriage between his son Charles, afterwards the celebrated Emperor Charles V, but then a child of six years old, and Henry's daughter, the Princess Mary. Such contracts were extremely common in ancient times, though they seem very frequently to have been entered upon merely for the purpose of securing some present advantage, or evading some present difficulty, and were eventually more generally broken than fulfilled.
Henry VIII, several years afterwards, was nevertheless very indignant on ascertaining that Charles, so far from contemplating the completion of the engagement into which his father had entered for him, was on terms with Louis XII of France for the hand of his second daughter, Rene. The wrath of the English king, however, was quite inoperative, and just at this conjuncture a match was suggested for his sister that soothed his offended dignity whilst it gratified his vanity. Louis XII of France had, a few months before, lost his wife, Anne of Brittany, who had died without leaving any sons; and in the hope of obtaining male issue, the aged widower of fifty-three sought the hand of the beautiful young English princess of sixteen. Mary had formed an ardent attachment to Charles Brandon, Viscount Lisle, afterwards created Duke of Suffolk, one of the handsomest and most accomplished noblemen of his day; but the indulgence of such private feelings was quite out of the question, and it is not probable that even a murmur was ever uttered by her on the subject to her imperious brother. On 7th August 1514, a marriage-ceremony, by proxy, was celebrated at Greenwich between the princess and Louis XII, the Duke of Longueville representing his master. The French king became very impatient for the arrival of his bride, and wrote pressing letters to hurry her departure.
At last the young queen with her attendants, among whom were the Duke of Suffolk and Anne Boleyn, afterwards so famous as the consort of her brother Henry, embarked at Dover, and landed safely in France in the beginning of October. On the 8th of that month, Mary made her public entrance into the town of Abbeville, where she was received with the greatest joy by her impatient husband, King Louis. The following day the marriage was duly solemnised between the parties themselves, and Mary was subsequently crowned with great pomp at the abbey of St. Denis, and made her entry into Paris with great splendour. Her married life was by no means a period of unruffled felicity, as the king very ungallantly dismissed all his young wife's English friends and attendants almost immediately after the celebration of the ceremony. Fortunately for Mary, however, her season of probation was but short. Louis was sinking under a complication of infirmities, and at the rejoicings which accompanied his queen's triumphal entry into the capital, was so weak as to be obliged to be carried in a litter.
Doubtless the prospect of his speedy demise, which took place on the ensuing New-Year's Day, had its influence in rendering Mary and the Duke of Suffolk, who remained in France as English ambassador, very discreet and circumspect in their conduct. But the former displayed little delicacy in availing herself of the recovery of her liberty, and in less than two months from Louis's death, Mary and the duke were privately wedded at Paris. In thus contracting a union without obtaining the permission of Henry VIII, both parties exposed themselves to the risk of his serious displeasure, which to Suffolk, as his own subject, might have proved fatal. But the dowager French queen and her English husband having crossed the Channel, and taken up their abode in their manor in Suffolk without venturing near the court, a reconciliation was in a short time effected; a consummation the accomplishment of which was greatly owing to the good offices of Cardinal Wolsey, who appears to have been a stanch friend of the young couple.
The age which gave Shakspeare to England gave Cervantes to Spain. Cervantes was Shakspeare's senior by seventeen years, but their lives were otherwise contemporaneous; and nominally, though not actually,'' on one day, the 23rd of April 1616, both died.
The life of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was one of almost continuous hardship and privation. He was born in 1547 at Alcala de Henares, about twenty miles from Madrid. His parents had noble relations, but were poor, and concerning his youth little is positively known beyond what he incidentally tells us in his writings, as that he took great pleasure in attending the theatrical representations of Lope de Rueda, that he wrote verses when very young, and that he read everything within his reach, even as it would seem the torn scraps of paper he picked up in the streets. At Salamanca, he completed his education, and at the age of twentythree he accompanied Monsignor Aquaviva to Rome, in the capacity of chamberlain. At Rome, in 1571, he entered the papal army as a common soldier, to serve against the Turks. Perhaps with oblique reference to himself, he observes:
I have always noticed that none make better soldiers than those who are transplanted from the region of letters to the fields of war, and that never scholar became soldier, that was not a good and a brave one.
He was present at the great seafight of Lepanto, on the 7th October 1571, when the combined fleets of Spain, Venice, Genoa, Malta, and the pope, in 206 galleys, met the Turks in 250 galleys, and utterly defeated them, checking decisively Turkish intrusion into the west of Europe. Cervantes was in the thickest of the fight, and besides two wounds, received one which deprived him of the use of his left hand and arm during the rest of his life.
In 1576, he received a command in a regiment for the Low Countries, but on his voyage thither, he was captured by an Algerine squadron, and he and his comrades were carried to Algiers, and sold as slaves. He served successively three cruel masters a Greek and a Venetian, both renegadoes, and the dey himself. Many were his plots to escape, and severely did he suffer when detected. He had a grand project for the insurrection of all the Christian slaves in Algiers, who numbered full 25,000; and the dey declared that 'if he could but keep that lame Spaniard well guarded, he should consider his capital, his galleys, and his slaves safe.' Four times he expected death by impalement or at the stake, and once the hangman's rope was round his neck. After five years of cruel bondage, he was ransomed for the enormous sum of 500 gold ducats, which had been scraped together by friends and relatives in Spain.
Without means, Cervantes resumed the profession of soldier, and served in three expeditions against the Azores. In 1584, at the age of thirty-seven, he married a lady of good family, but with trifling or no fortune. To earn a livelihood, he commenced writing for the stage, and produced, he informs us, thirty dramas, which were all acted with considerable applause. It would appear, however, that the theatre did not pay, for, in 1588, we find him at Seville, then the great market for the vast wealth coming in from America, and as he calls it, 'the shelter for the poor and a refuge for the unfortunate.'
At Seville, he acted as agent and money collector, but did not thrive. In 1590, he made an ineffectual application to the king for an appointment in America, setting forth his adventures, services, and sufferings while a soldier in the Levant, and all the miseries of his life while a slave in Algiers. From Seville he moved to Valladolid, and tradition runs, that he was imprisoned there as a debtor or defaulter, and that, whilst in prison, he commenced writing Don Quixote. The tradition may be true, but it is based on no certain evidence. At any rate, in poverty, at Valladolid, the first part of the immortal romance was written, and at Madrid it was printed and published in 1605.
The book at once attracted attention, and before a year was out a second edition was called for in Madrid, and two editions elsewhere. Successful authorship, however, did little to mend Cervantes's fortune. The Duke of Lerma, minister of Philip III, engaged him to write an account of the festivities and bull-fights with which Lord Howard, ambassador of James I, was received at Valladolid in 1605! Meanwhile, Cervantes went on writing, and produced a number of tales, Novelas Exentplares, and A Journey to Parnassus, a satire on the bad poets of his time, which made him many enemies, but which, next to Don Quixote, is thought his finest production. The second part of Don Quixote did not make its appearance till 1615. The author's end was then near. Some years before, he had joined the brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament, one of those religious associations which were then fashionable, and which included among its members Quevedo, Lope de Vega, and other men of letters. Subsequently, he assumed the habit of a Franciscan, and three weeks before his death, he formally entered the sacred order
Who, to be sure of Paradise,
Dying put on the weeds of Dominic,
Or in Franciscan think to pass disguised.
He was buried in the convent of the nuns of the Trinity, Madrid, but, a few years afterwards, this convent was removed to another part of the city, and what became of his ashes is quite unknown. No monument was raised to his memory till 1835, when a bronze statue of him, larger than life, was cast at Rome and set up in Madrid. It may seem incredible, but it is nevertheless the fact, that this statue of Cervantes was the first ever erected in Spain to the honour of a man of letters.
Though Cervantes led a poor life, we shall err if we think of him as miserable. If any inference may be drawn from the tenor of his writings, his was that happy temper, which out of adversity derives not bitterness, but matter for reflection and humorous enjoyment. What to the majority of men would be simple affliction, would, we conceive, to the author of Don Quixote be softened in a halo of humorous suggestions. Humour is a rare sweetener of life, and, as Carlyle remarks:
Cervantes is indeed the purest of all humorists; so gentle and genial, so full, yet so ethereal is his humour, and in such accordance with itself and his whole noble nature.
The world dealt hardly by him, but we shall search in vain for a sour or malignant passage from his pen.