27th of January

St Julian, bishop, 3rd century. St John Chrysostom, archbishop, 407. St Marius, abbot, 555.

Born. – Dr Thomas Willis, 1622, Bodmin; J. C. W. Mozart, 1756. 
Died. – Dr C. Hutton, mathematician, 1823; Rev. Dr Andrew Bell, originator of the Madras System of Juvenile Education, 1832; John James Audubon, naturalist, 1851, New York.


Dr Andrew Bell, being a holder of rich livings, was able, by the aid of very frugal or rather penurious habits, to realise a large fortune, all of which he devoted at his death to exemplify and perpetuate that system of juvenile education, the introduction of which, first in Madras and afterwards in England, had given him celebrity, but of which, it need scarcely be remarked, the merits are now found to have been largely overestimated. It is sad to reflect that, among the founders of useful institutions, several, if not many, or the greatest number, have been wretched egotists, or noted in life rather for the unfavourable aspect they bore towards their fellow-creatures, than for anything of a benevolent or genial cast. Thus Guy, the bookseller, whose money established the medical hospital bearing his name, is alleged to have made it chiefly by purchasing seamen’s tickets, and a not very creditable success in the affair of the South Sea bubble. Of George Watson, founder of an hospital for the nurture of boys in Edinburgh, the papers preserved in his cabinet shew how penuriously he lived, and how rigorous beyond measure he was as a creditor. James Donaldson, who left a quarter of a million for a similar purpose, overlooked in his will all his old servants and retainers, and assigned but one or two poor annuities to those nearest him in blood. There are, of course, many instances in which benevolent intentions have solely or mainly ruled; but, certainly, many have been of the opposite complexion here indicated. Among such must be reckoned Andrew Bell, who left £120,000 Three per Cent. Consols, to found an extensive establishment for juvenile education in his native city of St Andrews. The egotism of this old gentleman, as indicated in his ordinary conversation, and in his leaving a considerable sum for the composition and publication of a memoir to glorify him, allow no room to doubt that, in the hoarding of money, and in the final disposal of what he acquired, he had purely an eye to himself.

Thomas De Quincey tells some things of a domestic nature regarding Dr Bell, which, in the case of any reasonably respectable man, one would not desire to see repeated, but which, regarding him, do not call for being put under any restriction. ‘Most men,’ says the Opium-eater, ‘have their enemies and calumniators; Dr Bell had his, who happened rather indecorously to be his wife, from whom he was legally separated… divorced à mensâ et thoro. This legal separation did not prevent the lady from persecuting the unhappy doctor with everlasting letters, endorsed outside with records of her enmity and spite. Sometimes she addressed her epistles thus: “To that supreme of rogues, who looks the hang-dog that he is, Doctor (such a doctor!) Andrew Bell.” Or again: “To the ape of apes, and the knave of knaves, who is recorded to have once paid a debt – but a small one, you may be sure, it was that he selected for this wonderful experiment – in fact, it was 41/2d. Had it been on the other side of 6d., he must have died before he could have achieved so dreadful a sacrifice.” Many others, most ingeniously varied in the style of abuse, I have heard rehearsed by Coleridge, Southey, Lloyd, &c.; and one, in particular, addressed to the doctor, when spending a summer at the cottage of Robert Newton, an old soldier, in Grasmere, presented on the back two separate adjurations, one specially addressed to Robert himself, pathetically urging him to look sharply after the rent of his lodgings; and the other more generally addressed to the unfortunate person as yet undisclosed to the British public (and in this case turning out to be myself), who might be incautious enough to pay the postage at Ambleside. “Don’t grant him an hour’s credit,” she urged upon the person unknown, “if I had any regard to my family.” “Cash down!” She wrote twice over. Why the doctor submitted to these annoyances, nobody knew. Some said it was mere indolence; but others held it to be a cunning compromise with her inexorable malice. The letters were certainly open to the “public” eye; but meantime the “public” was a very narrow one: the clerks in the post-office had little time for digesting such amenities of conjugal affection; and the chance bearer of the letters to the doctor would naturally solve the mystery by supposing an extra portion of madness in the writer, rather than an extra portion of knavery in the reverend receiver.’

On this Day in Other Sources.


This year, 1471, there appeared a fearful comet, with fiery torches hanging [from] it, in the south between the Pole and the Pleiades, from the 27th of January to the 8th of February.

– Historical Works, pp.189-214.


On the 27th of this same month of January [1570], Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox, was declared Regent, and James Douglas, Earl of Morton, his lieutenant;..

– Historical Works, pp.340-416.


Fian, who was a young man, confessed to some wicked arts which he had practised for obtaining the love of a young woman of his neighbourhood. There was nothing in them or their effects but what is easily reconcilable with natural fact, even to the striking of a rival with a sort of madness, under which, when brought into the king’s chamber, where Fian was under examination, he fell a-bounding and capering with an energy which it required many persons to restrain, and this for an hour together, at the end of which he declared that he had been in a sound sleep. But Fian also admitted, though only under torture, his having had conferences with the devil; he had attended various meetings of witches with the Enemy of Man, some of which took place in North Berwick kirk, and on these occasions he had acted as registrar or clerk of proceedings. He had also been one of a party of witches which went off from Prestonpans one night to a ship at sea, which they sunk by their incantations. He had chased a cat at Tranent, with the design of trowing it into the sea, in order to raise storms for the destruction of shipping; and in this chase it was alleged that he was borne above the ground, and had leaped a wall, the head of which he could not, but for witchcraft, have touched with his hand. Fian soon after contrived to escape from prison, but was retaken and brought back, when, being found to deny his former confession, the king expressed his belief that he must have entered into a new compact with the Prince of Darkness. His person was searched for marks, but in vain; and he was then subjected to tortures of the direst kind, with a view to bringing him back to his confession. The nails of the poor wretch were torn away with pincers; needles were thrust up to the heads in his fingers, and his legs were crushed in the boots till ‘the blood and marrow spouted forth.’ He resisted all, and thus only impressed the king and others with the conviction that the devil had entered into his heart. He was then arraigned, condemned, and burned.

The trials of three of the women inculpated took place in the course of a few ensuing months – that of Agnes Sampson on the 27th of January 1591.

On Sampson’s trial, some of the transactions first revealed in Fian’s case came out in greater detail, particularly the night-meeting of the sorcerers of the district with their grisly master at North Berwick kirk. ‘John Fian blew up the doors, and blew in the lichts, whilk were like meikle black candles sticking round about the pulpit. The devil start up himself in the pulpit, like ane meikle black man, and callit every man by his name, and every ane answerit; “Here, Master.” Robert Grierson being namit, they ran all hirdy-girdy, and were angry; for it was promisit that he should be callit “Robert the Comptroller, alias Rob the Rower,” for expreming of his name. The first thing he demandit was, “gif they [had] keepit all promise and been guid servants?” and “What they had done since the last time they had convenit?” On his command, they openit up the graves, twa within and ane without the kirk, and took off the joints of their fingers, taes, and knees, and partit them amang them; and the said Agnes Sampson gat for her part ane winding-sheet and twa joints, whilk she tint negligently. The devil commandit them to keep the joints upon them, while [till] they were dry, and then to make ane powder of them, to do evil withal. Then he commandit them to keep his commandments, whilk were to do all the evil they could.’ The devil then ordered them to perform an act of homage towards himself, which does not admit of description, but which may be said to have been at least one degree more humiliating than the kissing of the papal great toe. In the account of the confessions, it is stated that they inveighed against the king, and, being asked why he had such a hatred to him, answered: ‘By reason the king is the greatest enemy he hath in the world.’ According to the dittay, the devil ‘had on him ane gown and ane hat, whilk were baith black; and they that were assembled, part stood and part sat. John Fian was ever nearest the devil, at his left elbock; Graymeal keepit the door.’

Mrs Sampson was adjudged to be taken to the Castle-hill, and there strangled at a stake, and her body burned to ashes.

Domestic Annals, pp.99-123.


Jan. 27. [1616] – ‘About five afternoon, there was a great fiery star, in the form of a dragon with a tail, running through the firmament, and in the running giving great light and spouting fire, which continued a pretty space before it vanished. Others describe it thus: that the night being fair and frosty, there arose a great fiery light in the south-west, after the setting of the sun, and ran to the north-east, having at the end thereof as it were the shape of the moon; and when it vanished out of sight, there were two great cracks heard, as if they had been thunder-claps. There followed a great calmness and frost for eight or ten days; but the month following was bitter and stormy weather.’ – Cal.

– Domestic Annals, pp.177-227.


While the Egyptians were everywhere a proscribed race, and often the victims of indiscriminate severity, there was one spot where mercy and even kindness seems to have been extended to them. This was Roslin. Sir William Sinclair of Roslin, Lord Justice-general under Queen Mary, riding home one day from Edinburgh, found a poor Egyptian about to be hanged on the gibbet at the Burgh-moor, and brought him off unharmed. In remembrance of this kindness, ‘the whole body of gipsies were accustomed to gather in the stanks [marshes] of Roslin every year, where they acted several plays during the months of May and June.’ So tells us the quaint Father Hay, a connection of the Roslin family; and he adds: ‘There are two towers which were allowed them for their residence, the one called Robin Hood, the other Little John.’ 

At the time noted, the Privy Council had their attention called to this Patmos of the outlawed race, whereupon they issued an order to the sheriff of the district, who happened to be Sinclair younger of Roslin himself, commanding him ‘to pass, search, seek, hunt, follow, and pursue the said vagabond thieves and limmers,’ and bring them to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh for the punishment. – P. C. R. 

An order for the execution of a number of Egyptians was actually issued on the ensuing 27th of January [1624].

Domestic Annals, pp.177-227.

4 thoughts on “27th of January

    1. Not at all, love. The section on Witchcraft I particularly enjoyed writing up. Just a fascinating period of history.

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