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17th of February

Saints Theodulus and Julian, martyrs in Palestine, 309. St Flavian, archbishop of Constantinople, martyr in Lydia, 449. St Loman, or Luman, first bishop of Trim, 5th century. St Fintan, abbot in Leinster, 6th century. St Silvin, of Auchy, bishop, 718.

Born. – Francis Duke of Guise, French warrior, 1519; Horace Benedict de Saussure, Genevese traveller, 1740; John Pinkerton, historian and antiquary, 1758, Edinburgh. 
Died. – Michael Angelo Buonarotti, painter, sculptor, architect, and engineer, 1564; Giordano Bruno, Neapolitan philosopher, burnt at Rome, 1600; Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliére, 1673, Paris; Antoine Galland, translator of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1715.


Generations have enjoyed that most attractive book, the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, know in general very little of its origin. The western world received it from the hands of a French savant of the seventeenth century, who obtained it in its original form during a residence in the East. Antoine Galland, born of poor parents in 1646, shewed such talents on early life that he not only obtained a finished education, but received an appointment as attaché to the French embassy at Constantinople while still a young man. He devoted himself to Oriental travel, the collection of Oriental literature, and the study of Eastern authors. His learning was a prodigious in amount as its subjects were for that age extraordinary; but of all his laborious works little memory survives, while his light task of translating the Mille et Une Nuits has ensured him a kind of immortality.

In the first editions of this work, the translator preserved the whole of the repetitions respecting Schecherezade and her vigilant sister; which the quick-witted French found insufferably tedious. It was resolved by some young men that they would try to make Galland feel how stupid were these endless wakenings. Coming in the middle of a cold January night to his house in the Faubourg St Jacques, they began to cry vehemently for M. Galland. He speedily appeared upon the balcony, dressed only in his robe de chambre and night-cap, and in great anger at this inopportune disturbance. ‘Have I the honour,’ said one of the youths, ‘to speak to Monsieur Galland – the celebrated Monsieur Galland – the learned translator of the Mille et Une Nuits?‘ ‘I am he, at your service, gentlemen,’ cried the savant, shivering from top to toe. ‘Ah then, Monsieur Galland, if you are not asleep, I pray you, while the day is about to break, that you will tell us one of those pleasant stories which you so well know.’ The hint was taken, and the tiresome formula of the wakening of the sultaness was suppressed in all but the first few nuits.


In February 1828, Sir Walter Scott was breaking himself down by over-hard literary work, and had really fallen to some extent out of health. On the 17th he enters in his Diary, that, on the preceding day at dinner, although in company with two or three beloved old friends, he was strangely haunted by what he would call ‘the sense of pre-existence;’ namely, a confused idea that nothing that passed was said for the first time – that topics had been discussed, and the same persons had stated the same opinions on them. The sensation, he adds, ‘was so strong as to resemble what is called a mirage in the desert, or a calenture on board of ship, when lakes are seen in the desert, and sylvan landscapes in the sea… There was a vile sense of want of reality in all that I did and said.’ 

This experience of Scott is one which has often been felt, and often commented on by authors, by Scott himself amongst others. In his novel of Guy Mannering, he represents his hero Bertram as returning to what was, unknown to him, his native castle, after an absence from childhood, and thus musing on his sensations: ‘Why is it that some scenes awaken thoughts which belong, as it were, to dreams of early and shadowy recollection, such as my old Brahmin Moonshine would have ascribed to a state of previous existence? How often do we find ourselves in society which we have never before met, and yet feel impressed with a mysterious and ill-defined consciousness that neither the scene, the speakers, nor the subject are entirely new; nay, feel as if we could anticipate that part of the conversation which has not yet taken place.’ 

The Rev. Mr W. L. Nichols adduces a more remarkable case from a memoir of Mr William Hone, who, as is well-known, was during the greater part of his life a disbeliever of all but physical facts. He had been worn down to a low condition of vitality by a course of exertion of much the same character as that which gave Scott an experience of the mystic memory. Being called, in the course of business, to a particular part of London, with which he was unacquainted, he had noticed to himself, as he walked along, that he had never been there before. ‘I was shewn,’ he says, ‘into a room to wait. On looking round, everything appeared perfectly familiar to me; I seemed to recognise every object. I said to myself, “What is this? I was never here before, and yet I have seen all this; and, if so, there is a very peculiar know in the shutter.” ‘ He opened the shutter, and found the knot! ‘Now then,’ thought he, ‘here is something I cannot explain on my principles; there must be some power beyond matter.’ This consideration led Mr Hone to reflect further on the wonderful relations of man to the Unseen, and the ultimate result was his becoming an earnestly religious man. 

Mr Nichols endeavours to shew the case might be explained by Dr Wigan’s theory of a double brain; but it is manifestly beyond that theory to account for the preconception of the know in the shutter. These explanations failing, we are in a manner compelled to think of clairvoyance or the prophetic faculty, because no other explanation is left. On this assumption, an experience of mystic memory might be supposed to arise from a previous dream, or it may be a day reverie, perhaps one of only an instant’s duration and very recent occurrence, in which the assemblage of objects and transactions was foreseen: – it appears as the recollection of a more or less forgotten vision.

On this Day in Other Sources.

In the year 1216, in the month of January, the barons of Yorkshire, in England, having come under the protection of King Alexander, did their homage, and gave him their oath of fidelity at Melrose Abbey; which King John of England hearing, in great fury, with a flying army of Reiters [mounted Knights], or Alman horsemen, he destroyed their villages and farms with fire and sword; he burnt the towns of Warkworth, Alnwick, Mitford, Morpeth, and on the 17th of February, Berwick and Roxburgh, where he spared neither sex nor age, tormenting young and old with all the tortures tyranny could devise;..

– Historical Works, pp.38-57.

Since his last account, Paulet represented the Scotish Queen, as being much worse; sleeping little, and eating less; the humours flying about her, and are now in many places, at once. She continued very ill, with pains in her limbs, and could not turn, in her bed, without help, and was in excessive pain. The Scotish Queen still continued very ill; and on the 17th of February was taken with a defluxion in the side; in so dangerous a manner, that her recovery was despaired of: But she is now a little better, said Paulet to Walsingham. Such was the deplorable condition, to which was reduced a Queen, who had been the admiration of civilized Europe, by eighteen years imprisonment of a cousin, a neighbour Queen, whose guilty passions, without right, and without feeling, had doomed to a life of misery.

– Life of Mary, pp.293-304.

David Graham of Fintry [fears] the worse, who was also a prisoner for the self same fact, to lose his head at Edinburgh cross, the 17th day of this same month [1593.]

– Historical Works, pp.340-416.

Feb. 17 [1597.] – Under a commission from the king, the provost and bailies of Aberdeen commenced a series of witch-trials of a remarkable kind. the first delinquent, Janet Wishart, spouse of John Lees, stabler – a woman considerably advanced in life – was accused of a great number of maléfices perpetrated, during upwards of thirty years, against neighbours, chiefly under a spirit of petty revenge. In the greater number of cases, the victim was described as being seized with an ailment under which he passed through extremes of heat and cold, and was afflicted with an insatiable drouth. In several cases the illness was said to have had a fatal conclusion. The poor woman appears to have been taken to the stake immediately after her trial. It appears that at this time twenty-two unfortunate men and women, chiefly the latter, suffered in Aberdeen and its neighbourhood.

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.

The 17th of February this year, 1598, was that memorable eclipse of the sun, commonly called the Black Saturday, whereon people of all sorts ran to the churches to deprecate God’s wrath, supposing then the world’s last [moment was] at hand.

– Historical Works, pp.340-416.

Whilst Montrose was thus laying waste part of Moray, a committee of the estates, consisting of the earl of Seaforth, the laird of Innes, Sir Robert Gordon, the laird of Pluscarden, and others, was sitting at Elgin, who, on hearing of his proceedings, sent notice through the town by beat of drum, on the seventeenth of February [1645], prohibiting the holding of the fair, which was kept there annually on Fasten’s eve, and to which many merchants and others in the north resorted, lest the property brought there for sale might fall a prey to Montrose’s army.

– History of the Highlands, pp.365-393.

In 1655 the magistrates, “takeing to their consideratioune the great and exorbitant pryces takine be the kairters within the brughe serving about the water of Clyd,” enacted that only the following rates should be charged – I state them in sterling money:- From the Broomielaw to the Trongate, Gallowgate, and Saltmarket, twopence; from the Broomielaw to any part betwixt the Cross and the College, twopence three farthings; and from the Broomielaw to above the College, to the Wynd head, and to “the fardest place in the towne,” fourpence.1

– Old Glasgow, pp.289-299. 

1  Minute of Council, 17th Feb. 1655.

Six months later (February 17, 1788), when Burns had to thank Mrs. Elizabeth for sending him two Gaelic airs, which he had heard sung and liked at Kilravock, he recalls his visit there in that tone of exaggerated feeling which colours so many of his letters:- “I wish I could transcribe or rather transfuse into language the glow of my heart when I read your letter. My ready fancy, with colours more mellow than life itself, painted the beautiful wild scenery of Kilravock; the venerable grandeur of the castle; the spreading woods; the winding river, gladly leaving his unsightly, heathy source, and lingering with apparent delight as he passes the fairy walk at the bottom of the garden… My aged friend, venerable in worth and years, whose loyalty and other virtues will strongly entitle her to the support of the almighty Spirit here, and his peculiar favour in a happier state of existence. You cannot imagine, Madam, how much such feelings delight me; they are my dearest proofs of my own immortality,” etc.

– Sketches, pp.437-490.

In digging for the foundation of the new parish-church [17th] February 1818, the tomb of Robert Bruce was discovered, and his skeleton found wrapt in lead. On a subsequent day, the tomb was again opened in presence of the Barons of Exchequer, several literary gentlemen from Edinburgh, the magistrates of the town, and the neighbouring gentry. A cast of the skull having been taken, the stone-coffin in which the remains lay was filled with melted pitch; it was then built over with mason-work, and the pulpit of the new church now marks the spot where all that remains on earth of the patriotic warrior is deposited.

– Scotland Illustrated, pp.18-20.

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