Born: Dr. George Birkbeck, 1776.
Died: Archbishop Laud (beheaded), 1645; Edward Cave, 1754; Admiral Boscawen, 1761; Charles Von Linne (Linnaeus), naturalist, 1778; Mary Russell Mitford, authoress, 1855.
Feast Day: St. Mareian, priest, fifth century. St. Agatho, pope, 682. St. William, archbishop of Bourges, confessor, 1209.
St. William was deemed a model of monastic perfection. 'The universal mortification of his senses and passions laid in him the foundation of an admirable purity of heart and an extraordinary gift of prayer; in which he received great heavenly lights and tasted of the sweets which God has reserved for those to whom he is pleased to communicate himself. The sweetness and cheerfulness of his countenance testified the uninterrupted joy and peace that overflowed his soul, and made a virtue appear with the most engaging charms in the midst of austerities. . . . He always wore a hair shirt under his religious habit, and never added, nor diminished, anything in his clothes either winter or summer.'-Butler.
In inquiring into the origin of that movement for popular instruction which has occupied so broad a space during this century, we are met by the name of George Birkbeck standing out in conspicuous characters. The son of a banker at Settle, in Yorkshire, and reared as a medical practitioner, he was induced at an early period of life to accept a professorship in what was called the Andersonian Institution of Glasgow, -a kind of popular university which had just then started into being, under circumstances which will be elsewhere adverted to. Here Birkbeck found great difficulty in getting apparatus made for a course of lectures on Natural and Experimental Philosophy; and this suggested to him the establishment of popular lectures to working men, with a view to the spread of knowledge in various matters relating to the application of science to the practical arts. This was the germ from which Mechanics' Institutions afterwards sprang.
The trustees of the Andersonian Institution had not Birkbeek's enthusiasm; they deemed the scheme visionary, and refused at first to support it. In the autumn of 1800 he went to Yorkshire for a vacation, and there digested a plan for forming a class solely for persons engaged in the practical exercise of the mechanical arts, men whose education in early life had precluded even the possibility of acquiring the smallest portion of scientific knowledge.'
This mechanics' class was to be held in one of the rooms of the Andersonian Institution. On his return to Glasgow he opened communications with the chief owners of manufacturing establishments, offering to the more intelligent workmen free admission to his class. The first lecture was attended by 75 artisans; it excited so much interest that 200 came to the second lecture, 300 to the third, and 500 to the fourth. His grateful pupils presented him with a silver cup at the close of the course, as a token of their appreciation of his disinterested kindness. He repeated these labours year after year till 1804, when he resigned his position at Glasgow to Dr. Ure, who, like him, was at that time struggling into fame. Birkbeck married, came to London, and settled down as a physician.
Many years elapsed, during which Dr. Birkbeck was wholly absorbed in his professional duties. He did not, however, forget his early schemes; and, as he advanced in life, he found or made opportunities for developing them. In 1820 he gave a gratuitous course of seventeen lectures at the London Institution. Gradually a wish spread in various quarters to put in operation the plan which had so long occupied the thoughts of Birkbeck-viz., to give instructions in science to working men. In 1821 a School of Arts was established at Edinburgh, chiefly through the instrumentality of Mr. Leonard Homer.
In 1823 a Mechanics' Institution was founded at Glasgow, and another in London, of which last Dr. Birkbeck was very appropriately elected President, an office he filled till his death eighteen years afterwards. A controversy has recently arisen on the question whether Mr. Robertson, the first editor of the Mechanics' Magazine, is not entitled to the honour of being the first proposer of Mechanics' Institutions; let it suffice for our purpose to associate the three names of Brougham, Birkbeck, and Robertson in this useful labour, and leave to others the due apportionment of praise.
The name of Laud does not savour agreeably in the minds of Englishmen; yet it will be generally admitted that he was unjustly and vindicively treated. The career of the man from a humble origin to the primate's throne, which he attained in 1633, need not be detailed. Led by a love of the old ceremonies of the church-though, as he always alleged, with no affection for Rome-he became the principal minister of Charles I, in those unhappy movements for introducing episcopacy in Scotland and checking puritanism in England, which, in combination with arbitrary political rule, brought on the Great Civil War.
He was called to the council of Charles I, according to his own statement, against his will; yet he devised and executed many unwarrantable revenue schemes: he, doubtless, believed in the divine right of kings, and being opposed, an unhappy infirmity of temper induced him to concur in many cruel and arbitrary schemes, to crush opposition, and render his master independent of parliaments.
These expedients succeeded for a while, but, at length failing, the king was compelled to call his last parliament, Nov. 3th, 1640; and early next year the Archbishop was impeached of treason by the Commons, and sent to the Tower, where he remained exposed to many hardships until his death. In 1643, he was accused of designs of overthrowing parliaments, and bringing about union with Rome. Prynne, the barrister, who was Laud's personal enemy, collected evidence against him, seized his private papers, and even his prayer-book, and took his Diary by force out of his pocket. Prynne tampered with the evidence to suit the views of his party, but the proofs were so weak that the Peers were disinclined to convict him. He has left a full and, on the whole, faithful account of his trial, in which he defended himself with courage and ability. The Commons then changed the impeachment to an ordinance for Laud's execution, to which the Lords assented; he had procured a pardon from the king, which was disregarded, and Laud was brought to the block on Tower-hill, mainly, it is alleged, to gratify the extreme Presbyterians of Scotland, and induce them to go heartily on with the war, this party having been inspired with bitter feelings regarding the unhappy primate, whom they considered as the main author of the calamities they had been for several years enduring.
The last words of Laud were a solemn denial of the charge of affection for Rome: his chaplain, Dr. Sterne, attended him to the scaffold, where, after some minutes spent in prayer, his head was cut off at one blow, in the 72nd year of his age. His body was buried in the church of Allhallows, Barking, near the Tower, but in 1663 was removed to his college at Oxford. He had been for several years Chancellor of that University, to which he gave many valuable MSS., and where many other proofs of his munificent patronage of learning yet remain. He employed Inigo Jones to build the picturesque eastern wing of St. John's; here, in 1636, he entertained at dinner, the King and Queen and Prince Rupert. He restored the painted windows in the chapel at Lambeth, it was alleged, 'by their like in the mass-book,' but this he utterly denied.
'Laud was too full of fire, though a just and good man; and his want of experience in state matters and too much zeal for church ceremonies, if he proceeded in the way he was then in, would set the nation on fire.' Even at the University he had the character of being 'at least very popishly inclined.' 'His bigotry and cruelty in the execution of his high office ought assuredly not to have gone unpunished; but the sentence against him was, perhaps, the most unjustifiable act of the zealots of the Long Parliament; and it appears strongly one of the disadvantages of government by a large assembly of men: for the odium of the death of Laud, being divided among so many, has neither brought with it individual infamy, nor was likely to produce individual remorse.'
SIR HENRY YELVERTON
On the 10th January 1609-10, Sir Henry Yelverton, Recorder of Northampton, and a member of Parliament, wrote out an account of the measures he took for regaining the favour of the King and some of his state-officers, which he had forfeited in consequence of the misunderstanding of some parts of his conduct and certain expressions which he had publicly used. From this document we get near glimpses of the King and some of his ministers, and it must be confessed that they do not suffer by being seen so near; on the contrary, one becomes rather inclined to think that they possessed at least the Christian graces of courtesy, patience, and placableness in a creditable degree, and might be much more tolerable personages than they are usually represented to be by modern historians.
According to Mr. Foss, Sir Henry Yelverton, being returned by Northampton to the first parliament of King James, 'took an independent, but not a factious part.' An English parliament was then like the Reichsrath of Austria in our own time: it was expected to deliberate, but not to be very obstinate in thwarting the royal wishes. Yelverton thought rather more of the interest of the public than of the desires of the King. He did not fully and freely concur in granting the subsidy which was desired, but advocated its being graduated over a series of years, that its payment might be more easy. His language was plain and direct, and perhaps did include a few expressions that might have been better omitted. It was reported to James that Sir Henry Yelverton did not act as one of his friends in parliament. Moreover, he was said to have spoken on several occasions disrespectfully of the Scottish nation, and in particular of Sir George Dunbar, the Lord Treasurer of Scotland, and of the Earl of Dunfermline, its Chancellor. He soon learned that the King and these two ministers were deeply offended with him, and that the royal disfavour might prove a serious impediment to his advance in life.
If Sir Henry Yelverton had been meaning to act the part of a high-flying patriot, he would, we may hope, have disregarded these hints and wrapped himself in his virtue, as many did in the next reign. But he had no such thing in view, nor was there then any great occasion at this time for a high patriotism. He was a good-natured though honest and sincere man, well-affected to the King, his officers, and nation; and he saw no reason for remaining on bad terms with them, if a few words of explanation could restore him to their good graces. He therefore resolved, if possible, to see the persons offended, and put himself right with them.
The first step he took was to consult with a Scotch gentleman, 'one Mr. Drummond,' as to the means of approaching the persons offended. We suspect this to have been William Drummond, the poet, who was just at this time returning from his legal studies at Paris, and would probably be passing through London on his way homewards; but we only can speak by conjecture. By 'Mr. Drummond' Yelverton was recommended to use any favour he had with the Lady Arabella Stuart, the King's cousin, in order to make an advance to the Lord Chancellor Dunfermline, who was then living in London. By Lady Arabella's kind intervention, an interview was arranged between Yelverton and the Chancellor, which accordingly took place at the Scottish Secretary of State's house in Warwick Lane. This Chancellor, it may be remarked, was a Seton, a man of magnificent tastes, and most dignified and astute character. He frankly told Yelverton that the King had, on being spoken to on the subject, shewn himself grievously displeased, but yet not unwilling to listen to any certain and authentic expression of his regret for the past, if such should be presented to him; and the Chancellor undertook to lay a petition from Yelverton before his Majesty.
The petition sets forth that he, Sir Henry Yelverton, had long been vexed with the grief of his Highness' displeasure, and that it added much to the petitioner's unhappiness that he could not see the way how to make known to his Highness his sorrow and the truth of his subjection; he adds: 'Pardon, most merciful Sovereign, him who, by misconstruction only, hath thus been wrapped and chained in your Highness' displeasure; for if ever, either by way of comparison or otherwise, any word did ever slip me either in disgrace or diminution of the state of the Scottish nation, I neither wish mercy from God, nor grace from your Majesty; yea, vouch-safe, most renowned and noble Sovereign, to credit me thus far, that I never so much as lisped out any word against the Union, which I as heartily seek as any subject can; neither did ever in Parliament so much as whisper against the general naturalisation it seemed your Highness upon weighty reasons did desire.'
The arrangements for the interview being completed, Sir H. Yelverton thus narrates the details: 'After which, the 6th of January 1609, being sent for to court by his lordship, about five of the clock in the afternoon, he brought me into the King's presence, where his Majesty sat alone in his chair in his bedchamber; but soon after my coming in, while I was on my knee, and his Majesty having entered into his speech, there came in, besides, my Lord of Dunbar (who was there at first), my Lord Chamberlain, and my Lord of Worcester, and stood all behind me.
'At my first coming in I made three low congees to his Majesty, and being somewhat far from him, stirring his hat, he beckoned his hand, and bade me come near; so, coming on, the carpet was spread before his Majesty, and I kneeled on my right knee, and spake as followeth:
'I humbly beseech your most excellent Majesty to vouchsafe your gracious pardon for all offences past, which I protest were not wilfully committed, but only out of the error of my judgment, which I ever was and ever will be ready to reform as I shall be taught from your Majesty.'
The King paused, and beckoning with his hand, thrice bade Sir Henry stand up, which he then did: stirring his hat again, 'with a mild countenance,' he addressed Sir Henry at considerable length, complaining of his proposing a Bill to naturalise my Lord Kinloss, ' because he was half English, making a hateful distinction between him that was all Scot, and him that was somepart of this nation. If he were a mere Scot, away with him; but if he came from hence of any late time, then dandle him, and welcome him as a home-born: which reason was the worse made by you, that knows much and can speak so sourly. For since my title to this crown hath fetched me out of Scotland, and that both nations are my subjects, and I their head, would you have the left side so strange from the right, as there should be no embracement nor intercourse between them? Nay, you should rather have reasoned, We are now become brethren under one governor, and therefore what God hath joined let not us still keep in two.' The King then complained of Sir Henry's opposition to the subsidy, as well as to the union, to the general naturalisation of the Scots, to the commerce desirable between both nations, and to the abolition of the hostile laws.
'After his Majesty's speech, Sir Henry again knelt down, and, in whatsoever his Majesty should condemn him, would not labour to excuse himself; but humbly desired to purge his offence by his lowliest submission and faithful promise of amendment hereafter.' Sir Henry then touched upon the several points of his Majesty's speech, and the King replied, and concluded with saying, 'I shut up all, and acquit you.' Sir Henry humbly thanked the King, who bade him stand up; my Lord of Dunbar kneeling, desired that Sir Henry might kiss the king's hand, whereupon the king said, 'With all my heart,' and Sir Henry kissed the royal hand three times, bowed, and retired.
On the 10th of January, Sir Henry Yelverton went to the Lord Treasurer at Whitehall, and thanked his lordship for the furtherance of his peace and reconciliation with the King, to which the Lord Treasurer replied, concluding with the friendly assurance:' 'But now all is well, and persuade yourself you have lost nothing by this jar between the King and you, for as by this the world knows you to be honest and sufficient, so the judgment of the King is, that there is good matter in you; for myself, I will desire your friendship as you do mine, and will promise to do you my best; whereupon in pledge I give you my hand:' and so, shaking me by the hand, he bid me farewell.'
Soon after this reconciliation, viz. in 1613, Mr. Yelverton was made Solicitor-General, and knighted; and in 1616, Attorney-General. In 1625, he was made one of the justices of the King's Bench, and afterwards of the Common Pleas: and had not the Duke of Buckingham been suddenly cut off, he would, in all probability, have been made Lord Keeper of the Great Seal.
THE PENNY POST
The 10th of January 1840 will be a memorable day in the history of civilization, as that on which the idea of a Penny Postage was first exemplified. The practical benefits derived from this reform, are so well known that it is needless to dwell upon them. Let us rather turn attention for a few moments to the remarkable, yet most modest man, whom his species have to thank for this noble invention. Rowland Hill, born in 1795, was devoted through all his early years, even from boyhood, to the business of a teacher. At the age of forty, we find him engaged in conducting the colonization of South Australia upon the plan of Mr. Edward Gibbon. Wakefield, for which his powers of organization gave him a great advantage, and in which his labours were attended with a high degree of success. It was about the year 1835, that he turned his attention to the postal system of the country, with the conviction that it was susceptible of reform. Under enormous difficulties, he contrived to collect information upon the subject, so as to satisfy himself, and enable him to satisfy others, that the public might be benefited by a cheaper postage, and yet the revenue remain ultimately undiminished.
The leading facts on which he based his conclusions have been detailed in an authoritative document. 'The cost of a letter to the Post-Office he saw was divisible into three branches. First, that of receiving the letter and preparing it for its journey, which, under the old regime, was troublesome enough, as the postage varied first in proportion to the distance it had to travel; and again, according as it was composed of one, two, or three sheets of paper, each item of charge being exorbitant. For instance, a letter from London to Edinburgh, if single, was rated at 1s. 1½d.; if double, at 2s. 3d.; and if treble, at 3s. 4½d.; any-the minutest-inclosure being treated as an additional sheet. The duty of taxing letters, or writing upon each of them its postage, thus became a complicated transaction, occupying much time and employing the labour of many clerks. This, and other duties, which we will not stop to specify, comprised the first of the three branches of expense which each letter imposed on the office. The second was the cost of transit from post-office to post-office. And this expense, even for so great a distance as from London to Edinburgh, proved, upon careful examination, to be no more than the ninth part of a farthing!
The third branch was that of delivering the letter and receiving the postage -letters being for the most part sent away unpaid. Rowland Hill saw that, although a considerable reduction of postage might and ought to be made, even if the change rested there, yet that, if he could cheapen the cost to the Post office, the reduction to the public could be carried very much further, without entailing on the revenue any ultimate loss of serious amount. He therefore addressed himself to the simplification of the various processes. If, instead of charging according to the number of sheets or scraps of paper, a weight should be fixed, below which a letter, whatever might be its contents, should only bear a single charge, much trouble to the office would be spared, while an unjust mode of taxation would be abolished.
For, certainly, a double letter did not impose double cost, nor a treble letter three-fold cost upon the Post-office. But, if the alteration had rested there, a great source of labour to the office would have remained; because postage would still have been augmented upon each letter in proportion to the distance it had to travel. In the absence of knowledge as to the very minute cost of mere transit, such an arrangement would appear just; or, to place the question in another light, it would seem unjust to charge as much for delivering a letter at the distance of a mile from the office at which it was posted as for delivering a letter at Edinburgh transmitted from London. But when Rowland Hill had, by his investigation, ascertained that the difference between the cost of transit in the one instance and the other was an insignificant fraction of a farthing, it became obvious that it was a nearer approximation to perfect justice to pass over this petty inequality than to tax it even to the amount of the smallest coin of the realm. With regard to the third head, all that could be done for lessening the cost attendant on delivering the letters from house to house, was to devise some plan of pre-payment which should be acceptable to the public (so long accustomed to throw the cost of correspondence on tire receiver of a letter instead of the sender), and which, at the same time, should not transfer the task of collection to the receiving-office, while it relieved the letter-carriers attached to the distributing office; otherwise comparatively little would have been gained by the change. This led to the proposal for pre-payment by stamped labels, whereby the Post-office is altogether relieved from the duty of collecting post-age. Thus, one by one, were the impediments all removed to the accomplishment of a grand object-uniformity of postage throughout the British Isles.'
It necessarily followed, from the economy thus proposed, that the universal rate might be a low one, which again might be expected to react favourably on the new system, in enabling a wider public to send and receive letters. A brother of Mr. Hill had, a few years before, suggested the Penny Magazine. Perhaps this was the basis of Mr. Rowland Hill's conception, that each letter of a certain moderate weight should be charged one penny. The idea was simple and intelligible, and, when announced in a pamphlet in 1837, it was at once heartily embraced by the public. Neither the government nor the opposition patronised it. The Post-office authorities discountenanced it as much as possible. Nevertheless, from the mere force of public sentiment, it was introduced into parliament and ratified in 1839.
The Whig ministry of the day were so far just to Mr. Hill, that they gave him a Treasury appointment to enable him to work out his plan, and this he held till the Conservative party came into power in 1841. Having been by them bowed out of office, on the allegation that his part of the business was accomplished, he might have shared the fate of many other public benefactors, if the community had not already become profoundly impressed with a sense of the value of his scheme. They marked their feeling towards him by a subscription which amounted to fifteen thousand pounds. On the replacement of the Whigs in 1846, he was brought back into office as Secretary to the Postmaster General; in which position, and as Secretary to the Post-Office (to which honour he attained in 1.854), he has been duly active in effecting improvements having the public convenience in view. Of these the chief has been the organization of the Money-Order Office, by which up-wards of thirteen millions sterling are annually transmitted from hand to hand at an insignificant expense. Twenty-one years have now fully proved the virtues of the Penny Postage, under favour of which the number of letters transmitted by the Office annually has advanced from 77 to 545 millions, with an addition of outlay or cost on the part of the public amounting only to fifty per cent. Nor has England alone to thank Rowland Hill, for there is no civilised country which has not adopted his scheme. It was surely by a most worthy exercise of the royal power that the inventor of Penny Postage received in 1860 the dignity of Knight Commander of the Bath.