19th of February

St Barbatus, bishop of Benevento, 684.

 

Born. – Nicolaus Copernicus, astronomer, 1473, Thorn, in Prussia; Henry Frederick Prince of Wales, 1594, Stirling Castle; Sir Roderick I. Murchison, geologist, 1792, Tarradale, Ross-shire
Died. – Dec. Albinus (Emperor), killed, 198, Rhone River; Erasmus Reinhold, astronomer, 1553, Thuringen; Lucilio Vanini, 1619, burnt as an atheist, at Toulouse; Francis de Sauvages, nosologist, 1767, Montpelier; Sir William Napier, military historian, 1860.

 

HENRY PRINCE OF WALES.

It is blessed to die in promise, rather than after all the blots and mischances of performance. We naturally credit the young dead with much which might never have been realized. Nevertheless, in the early death of Henry Prince of Wales there is no room to doubt that the national bewailment was just. All accounts concur in representing him as a youth of bright talents, most generous dispositions, and the noblest aspirations. At sixteen, he had the figure, the proportions, and the sentiments of a full-grown man. With the love of study which belonged to his father, he possessed what his father entirely wanted, a love of manly military exercises. In riding, in archery, in the use of arms, he was without superior. He studied ship-building and the whole art of war with as much zeal as if he had had no taste for elegant learning. 

It was in the midst of active study and exercise, and while the nation was becoming fully aware of the promise he gave as their future ruler, that this accomplished prince was seized with a fever, the consequence, apparently, of the too violent fatigues to which he occasionally subjected himself. What immediately affected him to a fatal illness, seems to have been his playing at tennis one evening without his coat. In the simple act of stripping off and laying aside that coat, was involved an incalculable change of the current of history; for, had Henry survived and reigned, the country would probably have escaped a civil war – and who can say, in that event, how much our national destinies might have been changed, for good or evil? During the twelve days of the prince’s illness, the public mind was wrought up to a pitch of intense anxiety regarding him; and when, on one occasion, he was thought to have yielded up the ghost, the cry of grief went out from St James’s Palace into the street, and was there repeated and spread by the sympathising multitude. All that the medical skill of that age could do was done to save so valuable a life, including some applications that sound strangely in our ears: for example, pigeons applied to the head, and a split cock to the feet. Henry died on the 6th of November 1612, when three months less than nineteen years of age. As a historical event, his death ranks with a very small class in which deceased royalty has been mourned by the nation’s heart; the deaths of the Princess Charlotte and of the Prince Consort Albert being almost the only other instances.

 

SIR WILLIAM NAPIER.

The public was for some years startled from time to time by the publication of letters signed William Napier, speaking passionately and unmeasuredly on some subject, generally military: it came to be recognised as a Napierian style of writing. The writer of these fiery missives was one of the worthiest and ablest of men, the younger brother of the eminent commander Sir Charles James Napier, and par excellence the historian of the Peninsular War. William Napier, born in 1785, commanded a regiment (the 43rd) all through that war, and was well fitted to be its annalist. His work, begun in 1828, and finished in six volumes, is a masterpiece of detailed history. Passages of it are said to have been recounted round the watch-fires and told in the trenches before Sebastopol, and never without warming the soldier’s heart, firing his mind, and nerving his arm. Sir William also wrote The Conquest of Scinde, and a Life of his brother Charles, both of them valuable books. He is not the least memorable of the extraordinary brood of sons which Sarah Lennox, after some other singular passages in life, was fated to bring into the world. He died February 12, 1860. [I’m not sure why Chambers has included him for today either.]

 

THE DREAM OF THE GOOD KING GONTRAN.

The late Hugh Miller, in his interesting work, My Schools and Schoolmasters, when speaking of a cousin named George, says:- 

‘Some of his Highland stories were very curious. He communicated to me, for example, beside the broken tower, a tradition illustrative of the Celtic theory of dreaming, of which I have since often thought. Two young men had been spending the early portion of a warm summer day in exactly such a scene as that in which he communicated the anecdote. There was an ancient ruin beside them, separated, however, from the mossy bank on which they sat by a slender runnel, across which there lay, immediately over a miniature cascade, a few withered grass-stalks. Overcome by the heat of the day, one of the young men fell asleep; his companion watched drowsily beside him, when all at once the watcher was aroused to attention by seeing a little, indistinct form, scarce larger than a humble-bee, issue from the mouth of the sleeping man, and, leaping upon the moss, move downwards to the runnel, which it crossed along the withered grass-stalks, and then disappeared amid the interstices of the ruin. Alarmed by what he saw, the watcher hastily shook his companion by the shoulder, and awoke him; though, with all his haste, the little, cloud-like creature, still more rapid in its movements, issued from the interstice into which it had gone, and, flying across the runnel, instead of creeping along the grass-stalks and over the sward, as before, it re-entered the mouth of the sleeper, just as he was in the act of awakening. “What is the matter with you?” said the watcher, greatly alarmed; “what ails you?” “Nothing ails me,” replied the other, “but you have robbed me of a most delightful dream. I dreamed I was walking through a fine rich country, and came at length to the shores of a noble river; and, just where the clear water went thundering down a precipice, there was a bridge all of silver, which I crossed; and then, entering a noble palace on the opposite side, I saw great heaps of gold and jewels; and I was just going to load myself with treasure, when you rudely awoke me, and I lost all.” ‘

The above story is by no means uncommon in the Highlands, and the writer had frequently heard it related by an old native of Ross-shire – who firmly believed it – as an indisputable evidence of the immortality of the soul, the ‘little indistinct form’ being assumedly the soul of the man, in full life, sense, and motion, while his body was wrapped in the death-like torpor of sleep. And he further stated that in the Highlands, under peculiar circumstances, the little form has been seen leaving the mouths of certain persons at the last gasp of life. 

It is a curious fact that a similar legend, having, however, a much more practical conclusion, is related of Gontran the Good, king of Burgundy, who lived, reigned, and died so far back as the sixth century. One day, Gontran, wearied with the chase, and attended but by one faithful squire, laid himself down to rest near a small rivulet, and soon fell asleep. The squire, while carefully guarding his royal master, with great astonishment perceived a small beast (bestion) emerge from the king’s mouth, and proceed to the bank of the rivulet, where it ran up and down for some time, seemingly wishing to cross the water, but unable to do so. Thereupon the squire, determined to see the end of the adventure, drew his sword, and laid it over the stream from bank to bank. The little animal seeing this improvised bridge, ran over it, and speedily disappeared in a small hole, at the foot of a hill on the opposite side. After remaining there for a very short period, it returned along the sword, and into the king’s mouth. Soon after, Gontran, awakening, said that he had just had a most extraordinary dream, in which he thought that he had crossed a foaming torrent on a bridge of polished steel, and entered a subterranean palace full of gold and jewels. The squire then relating what he had seen, the king, on his return to his palace, summoned all the learned men in Burgundy, and having stated the whole occurrence, demanded of them the immediate interpretation thereof. For once in the world’s history, the opinion of the savans was unanimous; they declared there could be no reasonable doubt on the matter. A large treasure was concealed under the hill, and, its existence being by a special miracle disclosed to the king, he alone was destined to be its possessor. Gontran immediately set a great number of men to work, the hill was undermined, and the treasure discovered. Receiving this treasure as an especial gift of Providence, Gontran devoted the principal part of it to purposes of charity and religion. He founded hospitals for the poor, and ecclesiastical edifices for the clergy; he made extensive roads through his kingdom, that the poor might be the better enabled to perform pilgrimages; and covered the shrine of St Marcel, at Chalons-sur-Saône, with a thick layer of beaten gold. Still further to commemorate the wonderful event, the King ordered that the hill should ever after be termed Mont-Trésor, the name which it bears at the present day.

 

On this Day in Other Sources.

 

On [St. Wulfric]‘s eve this year [19th Feb, 1313], also, did Sir James [the Good] Douglas take the castle of Roxburgh from the English;

– Historical Works, pp.88-104.

 

Rothesay was erected into a royal burgh by charter from Robert III., dated 12th January 1400; this king at that time held his court in the castle. It was confirmed by James VI. by a charter of Novodamus, of date 19th February 1584.

– Select Views, pp.137-140.

 

Feb. 19. [1594] – ‘… between twa and three hours in the morning, the queen was delivered of ane young prince, within the castle of Stirling, in his majesty’s chalmer there; whilk was a great comfort to the haill people, moving them till great triumph, wantoness, and play, for banefires were set out, and dancing and playing usit, in all parts, as gif the people had been daft for mirth.’ – Moy.

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.

 

And he went on to say that Sir John was to calculate how many years’ rents of the Mearns estate would be necessary to wipe off the indebtedness, intimating his willingness that Sir John should draw them until he paid himself, and should have as well “the present use of my house of the Mearns.” Three days afterwards, he repeated this proposal, saying, “You sall haue the rentes of that land of Mernis till you be fullie satisfied, the annual of the toun of Edinburghe beeing first peyed.” An arrangement on this footing was therefore made, in accordance with which, on 19th February [1640] following, the Earl granted authority to Sir John “to ask crave ressave intromet with and uptak for ws and in our name the haill maillis fermes multris casualties proffitis and dewties of our landis and barony of Mernis…, ffor the croftis and zeiris of God Im vjc and threttie sevin and threttie aucht zeiris,” binding Sir John, however, to “mak iust compt and rekning to ws of his intromissioun.” (Maxwells of Pollok, ii. 269, 270, and i. 335-6).

– Scots Lore, pp.160-165.

 

There were placed in the cavity of the stone three medals struck for the occasion. On one was an elevation of the intended bridge, on another a profile of George III. The last one bore a repetition of the inscription, which is cut on the stone in large capital letters. 

By five o’clock the ceremony was over, and the brethren marched in procession to the Assembly Hall, where they passed the evening “with that social cheerfulness for which the society is so eminently distinguished.” 

Still the bridge was not proceeded with, and there would seem to have been some indecision as to who was to be the architect thereof, as in the Edinburgh Advertiser of 19th February, 1765, we read that “the committee appointed to judge of the several plans given in for erecting a bridge over the North Loch, determined in favour of No. 5. This turns out to be the performance of Mr. David Henderson, mason and architect at Sauchie, near Alloa, who lately published proposals for printing a book of architecture. On account of his plan he is entitled to the reward of thirty guineas.” 

Henderson’s design, however, was not adopted.

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.334-340. 

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