4th February

Born: George Lillo, dramatist, 1693, Moorgate.

Died: Lucius Septimus Severus, 211, York; Egbert (of England), 836; John Rogers, burnt at Smithfield, 1555; Giambatista Porta, natural philosopher, inventor of the camera obscura, 1615, Naples; George Abbot, archbishop of Canterbury, 1648; Rev. Robert Blair, poet, 1746; Louis, Duke of Orleans, 1752; Charles de la Condamine, astronomer, 1774; John Hamilton Mortimer, historical painter, 1779, Aylesbury.

Feast Day: St. Phileas and Philoromus, martyrs in Egypt, circ. 309. St. Isidore of Pelusium, 449. St. Medan, abbot in Scotland, 7th century. St. Rembert, archbishop of Bremen, 888. St. Gilbert, abbot in England, 1190. St. Andrew Corsini, bishop, 1373. St. Jane (or Joan), queen of France, 1505. St. Joseph of Leonissa, 1612.


Several of the Roman emperors had visited Britain, but Severus was the only one who came to die in this distant island. Britain had then been a Roman province full a hundred years, and as such had become peaceable and prosperous, for even the Caledonians in the North had ceased to be troublesome, and Roman roads, with accompanying towns, had been carried up to the borders of the wild highlands. A still greater proof of the prosperous state of this province is found in the circumstance that its governors could interfere actively in the affairs of the Continent, raise formidable rebellions, and even contend for the empire. Such was the case when, in A.D. 193, the imperial throne became an object of dispute between three competitors,-Severus, Pescennins Niger, and Albinus; the last being governor of Britain. Albinus marched with the legions of Britain, and soon made himself master of Gaul; but Severus, to equal courage and great military skill, joined an amount of craft and treachery which soon gave him the superiority over both his rivals. Having defeated and slain Niger, he reached Rome with his troops in 196, and hastening to Gaul, fought the great battle of Lyons on the 19th of February 197, in which Albinus also perished. Severus, thus left master of the empire, had his attention soon called to the state of Britain.

It appears that during these events the Caledonians had again become formidable, partly through some great ethnological change which was going on in the North, partly it is conjectured through an immigration on a large scale of foreign tribes, perhaps from the North of Europe. Virius Lupus, the new propractor or governor of Britain appointed by Severus, found himself unable effectually to repress their turbulency; and he was obliged, in the year 208, to write to the Emperor for assistance. Severus displayed in this last act of his life all the qualities which had raised him to power. He determined to assist his propraetor in person; and although it was already late in the year, he collected his army, took with him his two sons, Caracalla and Greta, and, arriving in Britain in an incredibly short space of time, fixed his court at the city then called Eburacum, but now York, which was the station of the sixth legion.

The Northern tribes, astonished at the rapidity of his movements, sent envoys to ask for peace, but in vain; and the vigorous old soldier, who was in his sixty-third year and crippled with painful disease, placed himself at the head of his army, marched directly into the wilds of the North, in spite of obstacles in overcoming which no less than fifty thousand of his men are said to have perished, and never stopped till he reached the extreme northern coast of Scotland, where he is said to have observed the parallax of the sun, and the comparative length of the days and nights. During this arduous campaign, the Emperor was often carried in a litter, which he was unable to leave for several successive days, but everything yielded before his stern and inflexible will. To add to his sufferings, his son Caracalla, who accompanied him while Greta remained in the south, grieved him by his unfilial conduct, and not only entered into culpable intrigues against him, but actually on one occasion at-tempted his life.

After having thus reduced the Caledonians and Maeatae, as the two great tribes who then shared North Britain were called, Severus returned in triumph to Eburacum, or York,-it is supposed towards the end of the year 209; but he had not been there long before news arrived that the Caledonians and Maetae, false to their oaths, had risen again and invaded the Roman province. Without delay he gave orders for reassembling the army, and, declaring in a quotation from Homer that he would this time entirely extirpate the faithless barbarians, prepared to place himself again at its head. He was at this moment in such a state of exhaustion that he was unable even to walk, and during his absence from the troops Caracalla recommenced his intrigues, and persuaded them to choose him for their emperor. When Severus was informed of this act of rebellion, all his energies were roused, and, mounting the tribunal, caused all who had taken part in it to appear before him, and addressing them fiercely said, 'Soldiers, it is not the feet, but the head which discharges the duties of a general.' At the same moment he gave the order to march against the enemy; but the effort was too much for him, and they had not proceeded far before his disease assumed so dangerous a character, that they were obliged to carry him back to Eburacum, where he died on the 4th of February 211. His body was consumed in a funeral pile in the city where he died, and it has been said that the great tumulus still remaining at York was raised over the spot as a monument. His ashes were gathered into an urn of alabaster, and carried to Rome.


The leading incidents of the life of this eminent philosopher entitle him to be considered as a martyr of science. A native of Paris, upon leaving college he entered the army, and shewed great intrepidity in the siege of Rosas. Upon his return to Paris, he entered the Academy of Sciences, as assistant chemist. When the Academy were arranging for a voyage to the equator, for measuring an arc of the meridian, with a view more accurately to determine the dimensions and figure of the earth, La Condamine was fascinated by the project. 'The very desire,' says Condorcet, 'of being connected with so perilous an undertaking, made him an astronomer.'

His proposals having been accepted by the Academy, in 1735, in company of MM. Bouguer and Godin, he proceeded to Peru; on reaching which the natives suspected the philosophers of being either heretics or sorcerers, come in search of new gold mines: the surgeon to the expedition was assassinated; the people were excited against them; and the country was difficult and dangerous. Bouguer and La Condamine and the Spanish Commissioners quarreled, and conducted their operations separately; but the results did not differ from their average by a five-thousandth part of the whole, in the length of a degree of the meridian. They encountered great fatigues and hardships, until their return in 1743; when La Condamine published an account of his voyage up the Amazon, and his travels in South America. His determination of the figure of the earth, conjointly with Bouguer, appeared later. Among his other scientific labours was his proposition to adopt the length of the seconds pendulum as an invariable unit of measure. On the 4th of February 1774, he died while voluntarily undergoing an experimental operation for the removal of a malady contracted in Peru. Always occupied, he appears to have needed time to feel his misfortunes; and, notwithstanding his sufferings, he appears never to have been unhappy; his wit and amiability of temper made him many friends, and his humour was generally successful in blunting the attacks of enmity.


The opening-day of the Session of Parliament in 1836 (February 4), was unusually gloomy, which, added to an imperfection in the sight of King William IV, and the darkness of the House, rendered it impossible for his Majesty to read the royal speech with facility. Most patiently and good-naturedly did he struggle with the task, often hesitating, sometimes mistaking, and at others correcting himself. On one occasion, he stuck altogether, and after two or three ineffectual efforts to make out the word, he was obliged to give it up; when, turning to Lord Melbourne, who stood on his right hand, and looking him most significantly in the face, he said in a tone sufficiently loud to be audible in all parts of the House, 'Eh! what is it?' Lord Melbourne having whispered the obstructing word, the King proceeded to toil through the speech; but by the time he got to about the middle, the librarian brought him two wax-lights, on which he suddenly paused; then raising his head, and looking at the Lords and Commons, he addressed them, on the spur of the moment, in a perfectly distinct voice, and without the least embarrassment or the mistake of a single word, in these terms:

'My Lords and Gentlemen,--
I have hitherto not been able, from want of light, to read this speech in the way its importance deserves; but as lights are now brought me, I will read it again from the commencement, and in a way which, I trust, will command your attention.'

The King then again, though evidently fatigued by the difficulty of reading in the first instance, began at the beginning, and read through the speech in a manner which would have done credit to any professor of elocution.

In the reign of Henry IV was built a library in Durham College (now Trinity College), Oxford, for the large collection of books of Richard of Bury, said to consist of more volumes than all the bishops of England had then in their possession. Richard had bestowed certain portions of his valuable library upon a company of scholars residing in a Hall at Oxford; and he drew up 'A provident arrangement by which books may be lent to strangers,' meaning students of Oxford not belonging to that Hall. The custody of the books was deputed to five of the scholars, of which three, and in no case fewer, could lend any books for inspection and use only; but for copying and transcribing, they did not allow any book to pass without the walls of the house. And when any scholar, whether secular or religious, was qualified for the favour, and demanded the loan of a book, the keepers, provided they had a duplicate of the book, might lend it to him, taking a security exceeding in value the book lent. The reader may smile at the caution; but we have known some possessors of books in our own day to adopt similar rules.