4th of February

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

Died. – Lucius Septimius Severus, 211, York; Giambatista Porta, natural philosopher, inventor of the camera obscura, 1615, Naples; Rev. Robert Blair, poet, 1746; Louis, Duke of Orleans, 1752; Charles de la Condamine, astronomer. 1774.


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, Pescennius 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 proprætor 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 proprætor in person; and although it was already late in the year, he collected his army, took with him his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, 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 Geta remained in the south, grieved him by his unfilial conduct, and not only entered into culpable intrigues against him, but actually on one occasion attempted his life.

After having thus reduced the Caledonians and Mæatæ, as the two great tribes who then shared North Britain were called, Severus returned in triumph to Eburacum – it is supposed towards the end of the year 209; but he had not been there long before news arrived that the Caledonians and Mæatæ, 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.

On this Day in Other Sources.

Severus began his march in the year two hundred and nine to the north. He traversed the whole of North Britain from the wall of Antoninus to the very extremity of the island with an immense army. The Caledonians avoided coming to a general engagement with him, but kept up an incessant and harassing warfare on all sides. He, however, brought them to sue for peace; but the honours of this campaign were dearly earned, for fifty thousand of the Romans fell a prey to the attacks of the Caledonians, to fatigue, and the severity of the climate. The Caledonians soon disregarded the treaty which they had entered into with Severus, which conduct so irritated him that he gave orders to renew the war, and to spare neither age nor sex; but his son, Caracalla, to whom the execution of these orders was entrusted, was more intent in plotting against his father and brother than in executing the revengeful mandate of the dying emperor, whose demise took place at York on the 4th February, two hundred and eleven, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, and in the third year of his administration in Britain. 

– History of the Highlands, pp.1-35.


The King, and Queen, caused Murray, and his guilty associates, to be summoned, as a preliminary step, for being adjudged, as traitors: And, for this end, a Parliament was called to meet, at Edinburgh, on the 4th of February 1566. Other measures were taken to strengthen the ruling powers, and to weaken Murray’s faction.  

Meanwhile, Murray’s friends, and partizans, occupied as we have seen, the whole of the Queen’s government, particularly, Secretary Maitland:… 

…a conspiracy had been formed, in the preceding January, for the relief of those nobles. The chief conspirators were Morton, Maitland, Ruthven, and Lindsay. They had intended to carry their concert into action, on the 4th of February, if the Parliament had not been prorogued; which was, no doubt, owing to their intrigues. After the prorogation of Parliament, that conspiracy assumed a different shape. It was now resolved, with the artifice peculiar to Maitland, to make Darnley the patron of this plot, and the dupe of the conspirators. This puerile youth had been disappointed, at the prorogation of Parliament, in which he expected the crown matrimonial for himself, and the forfeiture of the guilty nobles, as public examples, though the gratification of his enmity was his real object. George Douglas, his mother’s bastard brother, was Morton’s instrument to work upon the weakness of Darnley; to show him, that he was wronged, in not having the crown matrimonial; that he had not the influence, in the government, to which he was entitled, from his birth, his marriage, and his merit. Darnley was thus induced to enter into the views of the conspirators; and his father, Lennox, was so weak, by engaging in the same concert, as to fortify his folly.

– Life of Mary, pp.98-126.


The king, with much ado, prevailed upon the magistracy of Edinburgh to give the other ambassador, the Sieur de la Motte Fenelon, a banquet on the eve of his departure. The kirk-session (Feb. 4 [1583]) opposed the entertainment; and when they found they could not prevent it, they did the next best – held a solemn fast, with preachings and psalm-singing, during the whole time of the feast – namely, from betwixt nine and ten in the morning till two in the afternoon.

– Domestic Annals, pp.81-98.


On the 4th of February [1602], the pestilence was in Edinburgh, and the Court of Session was obliged in consequence to rise.

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.


‘In Edinburgh,’ says he, ‘where Sabbath-breaking very much abounded, the fairest and stateliest of its buildings, in the Parliament Close and about it (to which scarce any in Britain were comparable), were on the fourth of February [1700] (being the Lord’s Day) burnt down and laid in ashes and ruins in the space of a few hours, to the astonishment and terror of the sorrowful inhabitants, whereof I myself was an eye-witness. So great was the terror and confusion of that Lord’s Day, that the people of the city were in no case to attend any sermon or public worship upon it, though there was a great number of worthy ministers convened in the place (beside the reverend ministers of the city) ready to have prayed with or preached to the people on that sad occasion, for the General Assembly was sitting there at the time. However, the Lord himself, by that silent Sabbath, did loudly preach to all the inhabitants of the city,’ &c.

– Domestic Annals, pp.355-378.


AMONG the many unfortunates who have pined as prisoners of state in the Castle, few suffered more than Henry Neville Payne, an English gentleman, who was accused of being a Jacobite conspirator. About the time of the battle of the Boyne, when the Earl of Annandale, Lord Ross, Sir Robert Montgomerie of Skelmorlie, Robert Fergusson “the plotter,” and others, were forming a scheme in Scotland for the restoration of King James, Payne had been sent there in connection with it, but was discovered in Dumfriesshire, seized, and sent to Edinburgh. Lockhart, the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who happened to be in London, coolly wrote to the Earl of Melville, Secretary of State at Edinburgh, saying, “that there was no doubt that he (Payne) knew as much as would hang a thousand; but except you put him to the torture, he will shame you all. Pray you, put him in such hands as will have no pity on him!”1

This unfortunate Englishman, in his maimed and shattered condition, was now thrown into a vault of the Castle, where none had access to him save a doctor. Again and again it was represented to the “humane and pious King William” that to keep Payne in prison “without trial was contrary to law;” but notwithstanding repeated petitions for trial and mercy, in defiance of the Bill of Rights, William allowed him to languish from year to year for ten years; until, on the 4th of February, 1701, he was liberated, in broken health, poverty, and premature old age, without the security for reappearance, which was customary in such cases.

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.66-79.

1  Melville’s Correspondence.


Taken seriatim, the records of the Tolbooth contain volumes of entries made in the following brief fashion:- 

“1757, Feb. 4. – James Rose, Excise Officer at Muthill; banished to America for forging receipts for arrears.”

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.123-138.


About that time William produced the “Book of Scotland,” a work describing the institutions of the country, for which he got £30, while Robert got £100 for preparing a “Gazetteer of Scotland;” and in 1832 William projected the great work which made the firm prosperous and famous wherever the English language is spoken – Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, the vanguard of all that is wholesome, sensible, and unsectarian in cheap literature, as it appeared six weeks before the famous Penny Magazine

The first weekly number appeared on the 4th February, 1832. Robert thought the speculation a hazardous one, but William’s courage achieved a public victory, and in a few days the sale in Scotland alone was 50,000 copies, while No. 3 rose to 80,000 in the English market. Robert threw himself heart and soul into the successful periodical; and speaking of partnership with him, his brother writes: “Such was the degree of mutual confidence between us that not for the space of twenty-one years was it thought expedient to execute any deed of agreement.”

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.219-227.


To the Editor of the Northern Ensign.

     SIR. – How proud I would be, and what pleasure it would afford me, if I could but give vent to my feelings of gratitude towards you, for your manly, timely and practical interposition in behalf of my ill-used, misrepresented and long-neglected countrymen, at a time when all other philathropists who have exerted themselves in their behalf as yet seem to content themselves with merely suggesting plans and remedies, which will take years before they can bring relief; and, alas, after thousands of the Highlanders will after the most agonizing sufferings, drop into a premature grave. Look, for instance, at Mr. Bond, Secretary for the Royal Patriotic Association, (under the patronage of the Duke of Sutherland, his commissioner, Mr. Loch, and others,) travelling in the Highlands, with about half a cwt. of cottage models on his back, going from one duke’s palace to another, from one marquis to another, from one factor to another, from one grade of proprietors and other underlings to another, including ministers, schoolmasters, sheriffs, and fiscals, collecting information about Highland destitution, and the cause of it, and consulting them upon the best scheme to remedy the evil. Yes, consulting men whose predecessors and themselves have been steeping and racking their brains for the last half century, contriving how to destroy and extirpate the Highland peasantry from the land of their fathers, and reduce them to their present deplorable condition – men, I emphatically say, that instead of being consulted, should be arraigned at the bar of public justice, dealt with as traitors, and their property confiscated, for they of verity destroyed and trod under foot the best portion of the national bulwork. But this assuming Mr. Bond comes before the public so ostentatiously, just as if men could believe his information, or be assured that the plans he and the oppressors of the people had devised could save their victims from perishing or bettering their condition in future. 

     During Mr. Bond’s perambulations in the Highlands, he had to travel over extensive tracts of fine lands and fertile glens, bursting with fatness and teeming with everything that is necessary to make the people comfortable and independent of charity, but locked up from them, and lying a solitary waste, or under brute beasts, where no sweeter strains are heard than the screeches of the night owl, or the barking of the collie dogs, and the image of God upon man dare not approach the spot. This Mr. Bond did see, though often gliding smoothly over these tracts, shut up snugly (with his models) in the laird’s coach, or in the Commissioner’s dog cart. But then comes Mr. Bond upon the portion of the Highlands allotted to the people, viz., the creeks, precipices, bogs, barren moors and bye-corners, places found both dangerous and unprofitable to rear sheep and bullocks, in most cases dangerous for deer and goats to approach, and never designed by the God of Nature for cultivation or the abode of human beings. Here he found them in clusters and motley groups, where they were huddled together after being expelled from their fertile valleys, and without leases or encouragement to improve, should it be possible to do so. If I am not mistaken, (for I don’t hear well,) Mr. Bond found the people without food, money or clothing; they were dirty, starving looking creatures; they were living in turf hovels, (houses he could not call them.)  The lords of the soil complained that the wretches would neither pay rent nor go away; that all their means were nearly eaten up with poor rates; and that they were alarmed out of measure, as the case and cries of the poor wretches had already reached the ears of Government, and that an able-bodied poor law was likely to be the result. Besides, Dr. Begg, of Edinburgh, had bestirred the Free Church ministers and other influential bodies in behalf of these miserable-looking wretches, and the public are becoming very indignant at being called upon year after year for subscriptions to keep them alive, even though it is the desire of the Highland landlords that they were all dead or banished. Oh! exclaimed Mr. Bond, I see what will remedy the whole evil. These dirty, unshapely, and uncomfortable turf hovels must be changed to cleanly stone-built cottages, of which this is a model, and if our Association can procure money from the Government, or from the public, and that you, gentlemen, will grant sites, we will undertake the building. This suggestion met at  once the approbriation of Highland Dukes, Lords and Commons, cunning enough to know as well as I do, (however utopian the suggestion was) that if the public, through the high-sounding names connected with this society, could be gulled to join it and subscribe to its funds, and Government to grant a large sum of the public money, and the Royal Patriotic Society to build houses with it, I say they knew it was a scheme which would at least take a hundred years in its operation, and then vanish like a burst bottle of smoke. But the houses would be found useful to the proprietors, for the dwellings of shepherds and dogs, or, as some churches in the Highlands just now, for sheltering sheep during stormy nights, or for wool stores, and manses for the abodes of gamekeepers, fox-hunters and foresters. Let the public and Government be guarded against such futile sophistry and preconcerted machinations, and let me tell them that it is not neat cottages that the Highlanders now need to redeem them from their miserably pauperised condition, or to better their condition in future, and elevate their position in society. It is the land the Highlanders would require, yes, the land now under beasts; and unless they get that, it is in vain to suggest or devise remedies; they will ultimately perish unless they become State paupers. But if they get the land which God designed for cultivation, they will soon cease to be objects of commiseration, and they will pay rents and become independent of charity. Then let them build such houses as will suit themselves, whether of mud, turf, or stones. Many a brave Highlander was reared in a turf house, whose intrepidity and valor gained many victories and immortal fame and praise to the nation which had callously, cruelly, and carelessly allowed a few despotic minions to reduce the progeny of the heroes of Bannockburn, Sheriffmuir, Killiecrankie, Prestonpans, Fontenoy, Egypt, Corunna, Salamanca, Vittoria, and Waterloo, to their present deplorably destitute condition, a by-word and an eye-sore to the nation, which often had cause to be proud of them in many a battlefield, and would be proud of them still more if they had but half fair play. 

     Contrast the present race of Highlands with those of forty-five, who, when only a few clans of them joined together, shook this empire to its very centre, and were within a very little of placing the crown of England upon the head of one who (with all his faults,) would not see nor hear of a Highlander dying for want of food while there would be a bullock, deer, ram, sheep, or lamb living in the land, not speaking of allowing thousands of acres of fertile land in his dominions to lie waste to feed such animals – and after you compare them, (without any reference to the cause in which our predecessors were engaged,) ask what is the cause, and who were, and are to be blamed for such fearful deterioration of everything that was recommendable or characteristic of our forefathers? Mr. Bond and his patrons will reply, the Highlanders are exceedingly lazy – yes, lazy, they will not make bricks without straw. I am encroaching too much on your liberality; perhaps I will recur to the subject again. Hoping the Government and the nation will respond to the voice of heaven, that the Highlanders will be saved from dying for want of food, and this nation from a stain on their profession of Christianity that ages will not wipe off. 

I am, &c., 


16, S. Richmond St., 

Edinburgh February 4, 1851.

– Gloomy Memories, pp.71-134.

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