Born: Captain George William Manby, inventor of life saving apparatus for shipwrecks, 1765, Hilgay, Norfolk; Victor Cousin, moral philosopher, 1792.
Died: Pope Gregory III, 741; Dunois, the Bastard of Orleans, 1468; Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick, beheaded, 1499; Cartouche, celebrated robber, executed at Paris, 1721; Charles Buller, statesman and writer, 1848, London; Washington Irving, eminent popular writer, 1859, Irvington, New Yen; Baron C. C. J. Bunsen, Prussian statesman, philosophical writer, 1860, Bonn.
Feast Day: St. Stephen, the Younger, martyr, 764. St. James of La Marca of Ancona, confessor, 1476.
THE REV. LANGTON FREEMAN AND HIS SINGULAR MAUSOLEUM
Among the numerous individuals who have rendered themselves conspicuous by eccentricities of character, few, perhaps, are more noteworthy than an English clergyman who died about eighty years ago.
The Rev. Langton Freeman, whose baptism is registered on 28th November 1710, was rector of Bilton, in Warwickshire. He resided at the retired and somewhat secluded village of Whilton, in Northamptonshire, some ten or twelve miles distant, from which he rode on Sundays to Bilton, to perform his ministerial duties. He was a bachelor, which may, in some measure, account for the oddities which have rendered his name famous in the neighbourhood where e dwelt. Living, as he did, in an old manor house, and occupying so honoured a position in society, few persons would suppose that a clergyman and gentleman could be guilty of such meanness as to beg his Sunday dinner from a labouring man, and occasionally also help himself from the larder of a richer friend. But, to do him justice, the reverend sorner remembered all these petty thefts, and in his will bequeathed a recompense to those whom, in his lifetime, he had robbed.
His will is dated 16th September 1783, and his death took place the 9th of October in 1784. That portion of the testament relating to his burial is very curious, and runs thus:
In the name of God, amen. I, the Reverend Langton Freeman, of Whilton, in the county of Northampton, clerk, being in a tolerable good state of bodily health, and of a perfect sound and disposing mind, memory, and understanding (praised be God for the same), and being mindful of my death, do therefore make and ordain this my last Will and Testament, as follows: And principally I commend my soul to the mercy of God through the merits of my Redeemer. And first, for four or five days after my decease, and until my body grows offensive, I would not be removed out of the place or bed I shall die on. And then I would be carried or laid in the same bed, decently and privately, in the summer house now erected in the garden belonging to the dwelling house, where I now inhabit in Whilton aforesaid, and to be laid in the same bed there, with all the appurtenances thereto belonging; and to be wrapped in a strong, double winding sheet, and in all other respects to be interred as near as may be to the description we receive in Holy Scripture of our Saviour's burial. The doors and windows to be locked up and bolted, and to be kept as near in the same manner and state they shall be in at the time of my decease. And I desire that the building, or summer house, shall be planted around with evergreen plants, and fenced off with iron or oak pales, and painted of a dark blue colour; and for the due performance of this, in manner aforesaid, and for keeping the building ever the same, with the evergreen plants and rails in proper and decent repair, I give to my nephew, Thomas Freeman, the manor of Whilton, &c.
All these instructions appear to have been faithfully carried out, and Mr. Freeman was duly deposited in the singular mausoleum which he had chosen. Till within the last few years, the summer house was surrounded with evergreens; but now the palings are gone, the trees have been cut down, and the structure itself looks like a ruined hovel. There is a large hole in the roof, through which, about two years ago, some men effected an entrance. With the aid of a candle they made a survey of the burial place and its tenant; the latter, a dried up, skinny figure, having apparently the consistence of leather, with one arm laid across the chest, and the other hanging down the body, which, though never embalmed, seems to have remained perfectly incorrupted. It is rather singular that there is nothing whatever in the parish register respecting the burial of the Rev. Langton Freeman. This may be accounted for, however, by the circumstance of his having been buried in unconsecrated ground.
Were the fact not familiar to every one, most English readers of the Sketch Book, Bracebridge Hall, and the lives of Goldsmith and Columbus, would be surprised to learn that they were written by an American; though, indeed, an American to whom England gave success and fame.
Washington Irving's father was a Scotchman, and his mother an Englishwoman. William Irving went to New York about 1763, and was a merchant of that city during the revolution. His son, Washington, was born April 3, 1783, just as the War of Independence had been brought to a successful termination; and he received the name of its hero, of whom he was destined to be the, so far, most voluminous biographer. His best means of education was his father's excellent library, and his elder brothers were men of literary tastes and pursuits. At sixteen, he began to study law, but he never followed out the profession. He was too modest ever to address a jury, and in the height of his fame, he could never summon the resolution to make a speech, even when toasted at a public dinner.
Irving was early a traveller. At the age of twenty one, he visited the south of Europe on a tour of health and pleasure. On his return to New York, he wrote for his brother's newspaper; joined with Paulding, Halleck, and Bryant in the Salmagundi papers in the fashion of the Spectator; and wrote a comic history of the early settlement of New York, purporting to be the production of a venerable Dutchman, Diedrich Knickerbocker. This work had a great success, and so delighted Sir Walter Scott, that when the author visited him in 1820, he wrote to thank Campbell, who had given him a letter of introduction, for one of the best and pleasantest acquaintances he had met in many a day. Sir Walter did not stop with compliments. Irving could not find a publisher for his Sketch Book, being perhaps too modest to push his fortunes with the craft. He got it printed on his own account by a person named Miller, who failed shortly after. Sir Walter introduced the author to John Murray, who gave him £200 for the copyright, but afterwards increased the sum to £400. Irving then went to Paris, where he wrote Bracebridge Hall, and made the acquaintance of Thomas Moore and other literary celebrities. From thence he proceeded to Dresden, and wrote the Tales of a Traveller; but he found his richest mine in Spain, where, for three months, he resided in the palace of the Alhambra, and employed himself in ransacking its ancient records. Here he wrote his Life and Voyages of Columbus (for which Murray paid him 3000 guineas), the Conquest of Granada, Voyages of the Companions of Columbus, &c.
By this time America, finding that Irving had become famous abroad as American authors and artists mostly do, if at all, according to an old proverb begged him to accept the post of secretary of legation at London; a highly honourable office indeed, but, in point of emolument, worth only £500 a year. The Oxford University having conferred on him the honorary degree of D.C.L., and one of George IV's gold medals, the Americans, a modest people, always proud of European recognition, made him minister at the court of Spain. On his return to America, he retired to a beautiful country seat, 'Sunnyside,' built in his own 'Sleepy Hollow,' on the banks of the Hudson, where he lived with his brother and nieces, and wrote Astoria, Captain Bonneville, Goldsmith, Mahomet, and his last work, the life of his great namesake, Washing-ton. He was never married. In his youth he loved one who died of consumption, and he was faithful to her memory. He died, November 28, 1859, sincerely mourned by the whole world of literature, and by his own countrymen, who have placed his name at the head of the list of authors whom they delight to honour.