Born: John Astrue, eminent French physician, 1684, Sauve; the Rev. Edward Bickersteth, writer on religious subjects, 1786, Kirby Lonsdale.
Died: Alexander Severus, murdered, A.D. 235; Spencer Compton, Earl of Northampton, 1643, killed at Hopton Heath; Bishop Thomas Ken, 1711, Frome; Pope Clement II, 1721; Nicholas Hawksmoor, architect, pupil of Wren, 1736; Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, 1786, Greenwich Hospital; Stephen Storace, musical composer, 1796, London; John Duke of Roxburghe, bibliophilist, 1804; Sir Joseph Banks, naturalist, forty-two years P.R.S., 1820, Spring-grove, Middlesex; Thomas William Daniell, R.A., painter of Oriental scenery, 1840. Lt. Worf, extraordinary horse, wonderful friend, 2006
Feast Day: St. Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, 1st century. St. Alemund, of England, martyr, about 819.
JOHN DUKE OF ROXBURGHE
John Duke of Roxburghe, remarkable for the magnificent collection of books which wealth and taste enabled him to form, and to whom a venerative reference is made in the name of the Roxburghe Club, died at the age of sixty-four. His Grace's library in St. James's Square comprised upwards of ten thousand distinct articles, the richest department being early English literature. It cost its noble collector forty years, but probably a moderate sum of money, in comparison with what was realized by it when, after his death, it was brought to the hammer. On that occasion, a single book-Boccaccio's Decamerone, printed at Venice in 1471-was sold at £2,260, the highest price known to have ever been given for a book. Dr. Dibdin's account of the sale, or as he chooses to call it, the fight, which took place in May 1812, is in an exaggerative style, and extremely amusing.
It would seem,' says the reverend bibliomaniac, 'as if the year of our Lord 1811 was destined, in the annals of the book auctions, to be calm and quiescent, as a prelude and contrast to the tremendous explosion or contest which, in the succeeding year, was to rend asunder the bibliomaniacal elements. It is well known that Mr. George Nichol had long prepared the catalogue of that extraordinary collection: and a sort of avant-courier or picquet guard preceded the march of the whole army, in the shape of a preface, privately circulated among the friends of the author. The publication of a certain work, yeleped the Bibliomania, had also probably stirred up the metal and hardened the sinews of the contending book-knights. At length the hour of battle arrived. ... For two-and-forty successive days-with the exception only of Sundays -was the voice and hammer of Mr. Evans heard, with equal efficacy, in the dining-room of the late duke, which had been appropriated to the vendition of the books: and within that same space (some thirty-five feet by twenty) were such deeds of valour performed, and such feats of book-heroism achieved, as had never been previously beheld, and of which the like will probably never be seen again.
The shouts of the victors and the groans of the vanquished stunned and appalled you as you entered. The throng and press, both of idle spectators and determined bidders, was unprecedented. A sprinkling of Caxtons and De Wordes marked the first day: and these were obtained at high, but, comparatively with the subsequent sums given, moderate prices. Theology, jurisprudence, philosophy, and philology, chiefly marked the earlier days of this tremendous contest: and occasionally, during these days, there was much stirring up of courage, and many hard and heavy blows were interchanged: and the combatants may be said to have completely wallowed themselves in the conflict! At length came poetry, Latin, Italian, and French: a steady fight yet continued to be fought: victory seemed to hang in doubtful scales-sometimes on the one, sometimes on the other side of Mr. Evans-who preserved throughout (as it was his bounden duty to pre-serve) a uniform, impartial, and steady course: and who may be said, on that occasion, if not to have ' rode the whirlwind,' at least to have ' directed the storm.' At length came ENGLISH POETRY!! and with that came the tug and trial of war: Greek met Greek: in other words, grandee was opposed to grandee: and the indomitable Atticus was compelled to retire, stunned by the repeated blows upon his helmet.
The lance dropped from his hand, and a swimming darkness occasionally skimmed his view: for on that day, the Waterloo among book-battles, many a knight came far and wide from his retirement, and many an unfledged combatant left his father's castle to partake of the glory of such a contest. Among these knights from a 'far countree' no one shot his arrows with a more deadly effect than Astiachus! But it was reserved for Romulus to reap the greatest victories in that poetic contest! He fought with a choice body-guard: and the combatants seemed amazed at the perseverance and energy with which that body-guard dealt their death-blows around them!
'Dramatic Poetry followed: what might be styled rare and early pieces connected with our ancient poetry: but the combat now took a more tranquil turn: as after 'a smart brush' for an early Shakespeare or two, Atticus and Coriolanus, with a few well-known dramatic aspirants, obtained almost unmolested possession of the field.
'At this period, to keep up our important metaphor, the great Roxburghe day of battle had been somewhere half gone through, or decided. There was no disposition, how-ever, on either side to relax from former efforts: when (prepare for something terrific!) the Romances made their appearance: and just at this crisis it was that more blood was spilt, and more ferocity exhibited, than had ever been previously witnessed.'
At length came the Valdarfer Boccaccio, of which it may be remarked that it had been acquired by the Duke's father for a hundred guineas. It was supposed to be the only faultless copy of the edition in existence.
'I have a perfect recollection,' says Dibdin, 'of this notorious volume, while in the library of the late Duke. It had a faded yellow morocco binding, and was a sound rather than a fine copy. The expectations formed of the probable price for which it would be sold were excessive: yet not so excessive as the price itself turned out to be. The marked champions were pretty well known beforehand to be the Earl Spencer, the Marquis of Blandford (now Duke of Marlborough), and the Duke of Devonshire. Such a rencontre, such a ' hock of fight,' naturally begot uncommon curiosity. My friends, Sir Egerton Bridges, Mr. Lang, and Mr. G. H. Freeling, did me the kindness to breakfast with me on the morning of the sale-and upon the conclusion of the repast, Sir Egerton's carriage conveyed us from Kensington to St. James's Square.
The morning lowered,
And heavily with clouds came on the day-
Big with the fate of .. . and of . . . .
In fact the rain fell in torrents, as we lighted from the carriage and rushed with a sort of impetuosity to gain seats to view the contest. The room was crowded to excess; and a sudden darkness which came across gave rather an additional interest to the scene. At length the moment of sale arrived. Evans prefaced the putting up of the article by an appropriate oration, in which he expatiated upon its excessive rarity, and concluded by informing the company of the regret and even 'anguish of heart 'expressed by Mr. Van Praet [librarian to the Emperor Napoleon] that such a treasure was not to be found in the imperial collection at Paris. Silence followed the address of Mr. Evans. On his right hand, leaning against the wall, stood Earl Spencer: a little lower down, and standing at right angles with his lordship, appeared the Marquis of Blandford.
Lord Althorp stood a little backward to the right of his father, Earl Spencer. Such was 'the ground taken up' by the adverse hosts. The honour of firing the first shot was due to a gentleman of Shropshire, unused to this species of warfare, and who seemed to recoil from the reverberation of the report himself had made!- 'One hundred guineas,' he exclaimed. Again a pause ensued: but anon the biddings rose rapidly to 500 guineas. Hitherto, however, it was evident that the firing was but masked and desultory. At length all random shots ceased; and the champions before named stood gallantly up to each other, resolving not to flinch. from a trial of their respective strengths. 'A thousand guineas' were bid by Earl Spencer -to which the marquis added 'ten.'
You might have heard a pin drop. All eyes were turned-all breathing well-nigh stopped-every sword was put home within its scabbard-and not a piece of steel was seen to move or to glitter, except that which each of these champions brandished in his valorous hand. See, see!-they parry, they lunge, they bet: yet their strength is undiminished, and no thought of yielding is entertained by either. Two thousand pounds are offered by the marquis. Then it was that Earl Spencer, as a prudent general, began to think of a useless effusion of blood and expenditure of ammunition-seeing that his adversary was as re-solute and 'fresh' as at the onset. For a quarter of a minute he paused: when my Lord Althorp advanced one step forward, as if to supply his father with another spear for the purpose of renewing the contest. His countenance was marked by a fixed determination to gain the prize if prudence, in its most commanding form, and with a frown of unusual intensity of expression, had not made him desist. The father and son for a few seconds converse apart: and the biddings are resumed. 'Two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds,' said Lord Spencer. The spectators were now absolutely electrified. The marquis quietly adds his usual 'ten,' . . . and there is an end of the contest.
Mr. Evans, ere his hammer fell, made a due pause-and indeed, as if by something preternatural, the ebony instrument itself seemed to be charmed or suspended 'in the mid air.' However, at length down dropped the hammer. . The spectators,' continues Mr. Dibdin in his text, 'stood aghast! and the sound of Mr. Evans's prostrate sceptre of dominion reached, and resounded from, the utmost shores of Italy. The echo of that fallen hammer was heard in the libraries of Rome, of Milan, and St. Mark. Boccaccio himself started from his slumber of some five hundred years: and Mr. Van Praet rushed, but rushed in vain, amidst the royal book-treasures at Paris, to see if a copy of the said Valdarfer Boccaccio could there be found! The price electrified the bystanders, and astounded the public! The marquis's triumph was marked by a plaudit of hands, and presently after he offered his hand to Lord Spencer, saying. 'We are good friends still!' His lordship replied, 'Perfectly, indeed I am obliged to you.' 'So am I to you,' said the marquis, 'so the obligation is mutual.' He declared that it was his intention to have gone as far as £5,000. The noble marquis had previously possessed a copy of the same edition, wanting five leaves: 'for which five leaves,' Lord S. remarked, 'he might be said to have given £2,600.'
'What boots it to recount minutely the various achievements which marked the conclusion of the Roxburghe contest, or to describe, in the manner of Sterne, the melancholy devastations which followed that deathless day? The battle languished towards its termination (rather, we suspect, from a failure of ammunition than of valour or spirit on the part of the combatants): but not-withstanding, there was oftentimes a disposition manifested to resume the glories of the earlier part of the day, and to show that the spirit of bibliomania was not made of poor and perishable stuff'. Illustrious be the names of the book-heroes, who both conquered and fell during the tremendous conflict just described! And let it be said, that John Duke of Roxburghe both deserved well of his country and the book-cause.'
Dibdin had afterwards occasion (Reminiscences of a Literary Life) to make the following addition to the history of this precious volume: 'Of all EXTRAORDINARY RESULTS, what could exceed that of the Boccaccio of 1471, coming eventually into the possession of the former nobleman (Earl Spencer), at a price less than ONE-HALF of that for which he had originally contended with the latter, who had become its first purchaser at the above sale? Such, however, is the FACT. At the sale of the Marquis of Blandford's library in 1819, this volume was purchased by the house of Longman and Co. for £918, it having cost the Marquis £2,260.' It came from them to Lord Spencer at that price, and is now in the beautiful library at Althorpe, Northamptonshire.
PERSONAL DEFECTS OVERCOME
March 19, 1638, John Rous enters in his diary: 'Some years since I saw in Holborn, London, near the bridge, an Italian, who with his mouth did lay certain sheets of paper together, one upon another lengthwise, between the right hand and the left: and then he took a needle and pricked it through the one end, and so then the other, so that the paper lay sure. Then he took a short-text pen, and dipped it in a Standish or ink-horn of lead, and therewith wrote Laus Deo semper, in a very fair text hand (not written with his hand, but his mouth): then with another pen he flourished daintily about these letters in divers forms. He did with his mouth also take up a needle and thread, pricking the needle right down, out of which he pulled the thread, and took another by (fitter), and put it into the needle.
Then therewith he took three stitches in a cloth with a linen wheel (prepared with a turner's device for the foot). He did spin with his mouth. He wrote fair with his left foot. He used a pencil and painted with his mouth. He took a pretty piece or gun with his toes, and poured in a paper of powder, pulled out the scouring stick very nimbly, rammed in the powder, put up the stick, pulled up the cock with his toes, then another short piece charged (that had a Swedish firelock) being put in his mouth by another man, He held it forth and discharged it, and forthwith, with his toes, he discharged the other. He gathered up four or five small dice with his foot, and threw them out featly. His hands were both shrimped and lame.'
MURDER OF MURDOCH GRANT
The wild and sequestered district of Assynt, in Sutherlandshire, was, in the spring of 1830, the scene of a murder, remarkable on account of the allegation of one of the witnesses at the subsequent trial, that he had been prompted to a knowledge of some of the circumstances in a dream.
Murdoch Grant, an itinerant pedler, had attended a rustic wedding and merry-making at the hamlet of Assynt on the 19th of March in the above year, and for some time after he was not heard of. When four weeks had elapsed, a farm servant passing a lonely mountain lake, called Loch-for-na-eigin, observed a dead body in the water, and, on this being dragged ashore, the features of the missing pedler were recognised. From the marks of violence about the head, and the fact of the pockets being empty and turned inside out, no doubt was entertained that the unfortunate man had met his death by foul means. But for some time all the efforts of the authorities to discover the perpetrator of the deed proved vain. The sheriff, Mr. Lumsden, was much assisted in his investigations by a young man named Hugh Macleod, who had recently attempted to set up a school, but was now living idly with his parents.
One day, Mr. Lumsden calling at the post-office of the district, it chanced to be mentioned by the postmaster, that, soon after the murder, he had changed a ten-pound note for a man whom he did not expect to find so rich, namely Hugh Macleod. Mr. Lumsden afterwards asked Macleod how he came to have so large a note, and finding the latter deny the fact, his suspicions were so much excited that he deemed it justifiable to have the young man arrested. On his house being searched, none of the pedler's property was found in it. and, after a while, there seemed so little probability in the suspicion, that the young man was on the point of being liberated. At that juncture, however, a remarkable event took place.
A tailor named Kenneth Fraser came voluntarily forward with an averment that he had had a dream in which some particulars of the murder were revealed. In his sleep the image of the Macleods' cottage was presented to him, and a voice said to him in Gaelic, 'The merchant's pack is lying in a cairn of stones, in a hole near ,their house.' The authorities went with him to the house in question, and there, certainly, under a pile of stones, lay some articles which had belonged to Grant. 'When accident afterwards discovered that Macleod was in possession of a pair of stockings which had belonged to the unfortunate pedler, there was no longer any hesitation felt in bringing him before a Court of Justice. He was tried by Lord Moncreiff; at the Circuit Court in Inverness, September 27th, when Kenneth Fraser gave the evidence regarding his dream with the greatest firmness and consistency. Macleod was found guilty, condemned, and executed, ultimately confessing that he had been the murderer of the pedler.
It has not been stated to what extent Fraser's evidence weighed with the jury in the making up of their verdict. In so sceptical an age as ours, one would suppose that his tale of the dream would tend to invalidate the force of his evidence; but we must remember that the trial took place at Inverness. The supposition indulged in by ordinary people was, that Fraser, in the course of his carousings with Macleod, had got a glimpse of the terrible secret, and only affected to put it in the form of a dream, though how he should have thought such a falsehood advantageous when so many were sure to treat it with derision, is difficult to see. The ease being so peculiar, we deem it worth while to reprint the report of Fraser's depositions from the Inverness Courier (Sept. 28, 1830):
Kenneth Fraser, 'the dreamer,' was in the employ of John Macleod, tailor in Clachtoll, in the spring of 1830. Had some drink with the prisoner on the 5th April, and saw him have £1 11s. 0d. in money, and a red pocket-book: prisoner said he got the money from Lochbroom, where he was a schoolmaster, but told witness to say nothing about it. They went about drinking together for a day or two, prisoner paying all. -Witness was, at the Loch searching for the pack this year. It was in April when a messenger came for him to search for it. It had been said that witness had seen in a dream where the pack was lying. He said so himself at Hugh Graham's in Lynnmore, and it was true. 'I was at home when I had the dream in the month of February. It was said to me in my sleep, by a voice like a man's, that the pack was lying in such a place. I got a sight of the place just as if I had been awake: I never saw the place before. The voice said in Gaelic, 'The pack of the merchant is lying in a cairn of stones in a hole near their house.' The voice did not name the Macleods, but he got a sight of the ground fronting the south with the sun shining on it, and a burn running beneath Macleods' house. I took the officer to the place I had got a sight of. It was on the south-west side of Loch-for-na-eigin. We found nothing there. We went to search on the south side of the burn. I had not seen this place in my dream. It was not far from the place seen in my dream that the things were found. There were five silk handkerchiefs lying in a hole.' Tho witness, having recounted this marvellous occurrence, said he saw the prisoner in about a fortnight after the 6th April, at church. Did not go with prisoner, who went home. Never heard Macleod's voice after that time. Witness was at Dornoch when Macleod was in jail, but no message was sent to him from the prisoner. Witness saw Murdoch Grant at the wedding of Betty Fraser. Never was told the articles were put in the hole, and knew nothing of them but from the dream.
A judicial case resembling the above happened in London in the reign of William III. One Stockden, a victualler in Grub-street, was murdered on the 23rd of December, 1695, by some person or persons unknown. Justice appeared to be baffled in its attempts to discover the guilty, when a Mrs. Greenwood came voluntarily forward with the declaration that Stockden had appeared to her in a dream, and shewn her a house in Thames-street, where he alleged one of the murderers lived. Afterwards he appeared a second time, and shewed her the likeness of one Maynard, as that of the guilty person in question. Maynard was consequently put in Newgate prison, where he confessed the fact, and impeached three accomplices. It is stated that in a third dream Stock-den displayed to Mrs. Greenwood the portrait of one of these wretched men, and that she, from her recollection of the likeness, identified him in prison. Three of the criminals suffered on the scaffold. A sober account of this case was published by the Rev. William Smithies, curate of St. Giles, Cripplegate, the parish in which the murdered man had lived.
Many will have a recollection of the case of Corder, who was tried at Bury St. Edmunds, in August 1828, for the murder of Maria Marten, at Polsted, in Suffolk, about sixteen months before. Corder, after murdering his victim, a young woman whom he had seduced, concealed her body in a solitary building called the Red Barn. The stepmother of the deceased, a witness on the trial, gave testimony that she had received in a dream that knowledge of the situation of the body which led to the detection of the murder.