14th of August

St Eusebius, priest and martyr, about end of 3d century. St Eusebius, priest and confessor at Rome, 4th century.

 

Born. – Dr Meric Casaubon, eminent Protestant divine, 1599, Geneva; C. J. Vernet, French painter, 1714, Avignon
Died. – John I. of Portugal, 1433; Pope Pius II. (Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini), 1464, Ancona; Thomas Sheridan, author of the Pronouncing Dictionary, and father of the dramatist, 1788, Thanet; Marquis Luigi Cagnola, distinguished Italian architect, 1833; Rev. Henry Francis Cay, translator of Dante, 1844, London; George Combe, phrenologist, author of Essay on the Constitution of Man in Relation to External Objects, 1858, Moor Park, Surrey; A. M. C. Domeril, eminent French naturalist, 1860, Paris.

 

GEORGE COMBE.

Was one of those men who, from various causes, do not fill a very conspicuous place in society, and yet exercise a great influence on their own and on future ages. He was a native of Edinburgh, and spent there nearly the whole of his life of seventy years. Having, in his profession of a writer to the Signet, equivalent to solicitor in England, attained, at about forty-five, to a moderate competency, he retired to devote the remainder of his days to literary and philosophical pursuits An alliance he formed about that time with an elegant woman, the daughter of the celebrated Mrs Siddons, enabled him to do this in a style of dignity and comfort which made his house thenceforth one of the centres of refined society in the northern capital. In his youth, Mr Combe had entered heartily into the then young science of phrenology, and, in company with is accomplished brother, Dr Andrew Combe, and a few other men of talent, he diffused a large amount of knowledge on this subject, and made it for some years a popular study. The bases of the science, however, have never been established to the satisfaction of the philosophic world, and even its popularity has, in the course of years, somewhat faded. Had Mr Combe been a mere vaticinator upon heads, he would not now be of much account in the rolls of fame. He was, in reality, a man of profound philosophical conceptions; one whose views reached far beyond those of the ordinary men of science and letters of his day. Phrenology, and its great patron, Dr Spurzheim, whatever other effect they might have upon his mind, had at least impressed him with the idea that man is, in one important respect, simply a part of nature, depending on the conditions of his original constitution, and his subsequent nurture and education, for the character he is to bear through life, and on his harmonious action with the other parts of nature surrounding him for success in securing his secular happiness. He put these ideas into a form in which they could be readily apprehended, in his Essay on the Constitution of Man in Relation to External Objects, and the sale of upwards of a hundred thousand copies in Britain, and its almost equal diffusion in America and Germany, have amply attested that he had here laid hold of a most important, however partial, truth. Inspired by the same views, he wrote several treatises on education, in which the value of a knowledge of the world which surrounds us is eloquently expounded. He everywhere maintained that the brain is the organ of the mind, and as he made no further profession on the subject, it was felt by many that he too much countenanced materialistic doctrines. Against this, however, it ought to be observed, that Mr Combe invariably traced natural affairs to a divine origin and upholding, and never failed to inculcate that God has so constituted the world that the moral faculties of man are certain of an ultimate supremacy. Matter is a thing which may be undervalued as well as overvalued. To say that there is nothing in this world but matter and certain laws impressed upon it, is to take but a poor and narrow view of the cosmos. But, on the other hand, matter is a far more respectable thing than many, from their language, seem to consider it. Only think of the endless worlds it constitutes, of the wonderful relations of its chemical elements, of the admirable psychical operations and sentiments of which it is the observable vehicle in organised beings, and we must be lost in admiration of the magnificent purposes with which the Creator has charged it. A memoir of George Combe, by Charles Gibbon, appeared in 1878. 

The subject of this notice was tall and thin, with a handsome cast of countenance, and a head of fine proportions. He was generally in weak health, but by great care avoided serious ailments, and succeeded in protracting the thread of life to the Psalmist’s period. He was cheerful, social, and benevolent, with a large infusion of the simplicity which seems to form a necessary element in true greatness. From the effect of professional habits, he was methodical to a degree which often provoked a smile; but the fault was essentially connected with the conscientiousness which formed a conspicuous part of his character.

 

On this Day in Other Sources.

 

In May, 1281, the Lady Margaret, King Alexander III.’s eldest daughter, was solemnly married to [Eric II. Magusson], King of Norway, who took shipping for Norway the 14th day of August following, this same year, with a great train, to accompany her home to Norway; the chief amongst them were, Walter [Bailloch Stewart], Earl of Menteith, and his Countess [Mary]; [Thomas] Abbot of Balmerino; Sir Bernard [de] Mowat, knight; with diverse others. The said Abbot and Sir Bernard were both drowned in their return home, with 30 persons more. 

– Historical Works, pp.57-77.

 

The 14th day of August, this year [1333], was fought the unfortunate battle at Halidon Hill, wherein many Scots perished, and Andrew [Murray], the Governor, was taken prisoner. 

– Historical Works, pp.104-124.

 

On the 14th [August, 1566,] the Queen, and her husband, set out, for Megotland, to enjoy the diversion of hunting, which was not now what it had been, in the happier days of James V. They were attended, by the Earls of Huntley, Murray, and other nobles. 

– Life of Mary, pp.136-151.

 

Birrel notes, under 14th August 1595, how Christian Johnston, a widow, was carried off from Edinburgh by Patrick Aikenhead. ‘The town was put in ane great fray by the ringing of the common bell,’ and ‘the said Christian was followit and brought back.’ 

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.

 

It is not easy to see how Charles I. could nominate him one of the Rippon commissioners, for they were appointed by the Scottish estates in opposition to the king! Nor could he have died in London in 1640, for the town council records show that on 14th August, 1641, Patrick Bell was empowered by his brethren in council, to supplicate the king, then in Edinburgh, as to dividing the parsonage of Glasgow from the bishopric, and providing a minister in place of the bishop… 

– Scots Lore, pp.141-148.

 

A minute of council of 14th August, 1668, bears that the magistrates “taking to their consideratioune that this citie is altogether destitute of ane musitian for instructing the youth in the airt of musick, and seing its the earnest desyre of manie honest men that ane able musitiane be tryed out and brought to this place for that effect, and seing the Bischop is willing to bestow yeirlie upon such a persone ane hundreth punds scots for the mans better encuragement who is to be brought here, Its concludit that the toune pay him yeirlie thrie hundreth and fyftie marks and that to conteinew dureing the counsells will and pleasour.”1 This, however, appears to have failed to attract a proper teacher, and twenty years afterwards we find the town still in search of one. In 1691 a “Mr. Lewis de France, musitian,” applied, and with him the magistrates concluded an arrangement. The minute of council bears that Mr. Lewis had “very willinglie condescended to teach the inhabitants music and to take only fourtein shilling per moneth (1s. 2d. sterling) for ane hour in the day from these that comes to the schooll,” and to teach for nothing such of the poor as the magistrates shall appoint. And for “his encouradgement” it was provided that he should receive 100 pounds scots yearly (£8, 6s. 8d.), and that no other should be allowed to teach music. 

– Old Glasgow, pp.276-289.

1  14th August, 1669.

 

This statute, however, like those against other nuisances, appears to have been only partially obeyed, as three years after1 there is an order by the magistrates forbidding “the fleschers in the Land Mercat to kill any muttone or heidron [heifers] on the hie street and that they keip their filth and pynches [offal] aff the foir gate.” The butchers appear to have been in the habit also of leaving live cattle on the public street all night, and there is an order of the council in 1664 prohibiting this. 

– Old Glasgow, pp.266-276.

1  14th August, 1669.

 

To James’s Court, Boswell, [14th] August, 1773, conducted Dr. Johnson, from the White Horse Hostel, in St. Mary’s Wynd, then one of the principal inns of Edinburgh, where he found him storming at the waiter for having sweetened his lemonade without using the sugar-tongs. “Johnson and I,” says Boswell, “walked arm in arm up the High Street to my house in James’s Court, and as we went, he acknowledged that the breadth of the street and the loftiness of the buildings on each side made a noble appearance.” “My wife had tea ready for him,” he adds, “and we sat chatting till nearly two in the morning.” It would appear that before the time of the visit – which lasted over several days – Boswell had removed into a better and larger mansion, immediately below and on the level of the court, a somewhat extraordinary house in its time, as it consisted of two floors with an internal stair. Mrs. Boswell, who was Margaret Montgomery, a relation of the Earl of Eglinton, a gentlewoman of good breeding and brilliant understanding, was disgusted with the bearing and manners of Johnson, and expressed her opinion of him that he was “a great brute!” And well might she think so, if Macaulay’s description of him be correct. “He could fast, but when he did not fast he tore his dinner like a famished wolf, with the veins swelling in his forehead, and the perspiration running down his cheeks; he scarcely ever took wine; but when he drank it, he drank it greedily and in large tumblers. Everything about him – his coat, his wig, his figure, his face, his scrofula, his St. Vitus’s dance, his rolling walk, his blinking eyes, his insatiable appetite for fish sauce and veal pie with plums, his mysterious practice of treasuring up scraps of orange-peel, his morning slumbers, his midnight disputations, his contortions, his mutterings, his gruntings, his puffings, his vigorous, acute, and ready eloquence, his sarcastic wit, his vehemence and his insolence, his fits of tempestuous rage,” &c., all served to make it a source of wonder to Mrs. Boswell that her husband could abide, much less worship, such a man. Thus, she once said to him, with extreme warmth, “I have seen many a bear led by a man, but never before saw a man led by a bear!” So romantic and fervid was his admiration of Johnson, that he tells us he added £500 to the fortune of one of his daughters, Veronica, because when a baby she was not frightened by the hideous visage of the lexicographer.*

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.94-102. 

*  This is the same James Boswell who recorded his travels to the Hebrides with Johnson in ‘Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides.’

 

One of the most striking of the new buildings here, is the Edinburgh Catholic Institute, a turreted and gabletted edifice, the basement of which is occupied by spacious shops, and which stands upon the site of the old “White Horse” Inn, as an inscription built into the wall records thus:-  

“Boyd’s Inn, at which Dr. Samuel Johnson arrived in Edinburgh, 14th August, 1773, on his memorable tour to the Hebrides, occupied the larger part of the site of this building.” 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.297-300.

 

C.E. 1773 Dr. Johnson arrived on the 14th of August at Boyd’s Inn at the head of the Canongate, and shortly afterwards made his famous tour, of which he and Boswell both published accounts. From these dates, it seems that Johnson might have seen part of Ossian in the Strand, printed in Gaelic, if he had been so minded, ten years before he went to the Highlands; and a lot of manuscripts at the publishers’ in London before that. 

– Popular Tales, Vol. 4, pp.75-96.

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