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14th of December

St Spiridion, bishop and confessor, 348. Saints Nicasius, archbishop of Rheims, and his companions, martyrs, 5th century.

Born. – Michael Nostradamus, famous prophet, 1503, St Remy, in Provence; Tycho Brahe, astronomer, 1546, Knudsthorp, near the Baltic; Barthélemi d’Herbelot, orientalist, 1625, Paris; James Bruce, Abyssinian traveller, 1730, Kinnaird, Stirlingshire; Rev. Charles Wolfe, author of The Burial of Sir John Moore, 1791, Dublin
Died. – Pope Anastasius I., 402; General George Washington, American patriotic commander and statesman, 1799, Mount Vernon, Virginia; Conrad Malte-Brun, geographer, 1826, Paris; J. C. Loudon, botanical writer, 1843, Bayswater, London; Earl of Aberdeen, statesman, 1860, London.


There is quite as much difference between a gardener of the old school, and one of the modern era, as exists between the old sea-captain, and the scientific naval officer of the present day; Andrew Fairservice has paired off with Commodore Trunnion, and we are very well rid of both of them. There can be no doubt that the eminent position to which the art of gardening and its professors have of late years attained, is mainly due to the teachings of John Claudius Loudon. The writer well remembers the terrible outcry among the old-school gardeners when Loudon’s Encyclopædia first appeared. ‘This bookmaking-fellow,’ they cried, ‘will teach the gentry everything, and the masters and mistresses will know more than we do!’ Their words were verified; but the consequence was, that the young gardeners had to study, in order to keep pace with their employers, and doing so speedily raised their craft to a higher platform. Having commenced this movement, Loudon devoted his whole life to urge it forward. He incessantly laboured to shew, that horticulture and botany were merely the foundations of the gardener’s calling; that something more than a smattering of a dozen other arts and sciences was necessary to complete the superstructure. And now, when the grave has closed over him for twenty years, it is amply testified by the most convincing proofs that his ideas were correct. 

It was in 1822 that Loudon gave to the world the most important and comprehensive publication ever written on horticulture – The Encyclopædia of Gardening; a work fully meriting its pretentious title; and though, of necessity, a compilation, enriched with much useful original matter, the result of his continental travels. The success of this work induced him to undertake a series of encyclopædias on agriculture, botany, and cognate subjects, the last of which appeared in 1832. The herculean toils of these ten years are beyond description. ‘The labour,’ says Mrs Loudon, ‘was immense; and for several months he and I used to sit up the greater part of every night, never having more than four hours sleep, and drinking strong coffee to keep ourselves awake.’ Undeterred, however, he next commenced a more extended and labour-exacting work than any of his previous productions, an Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum, embracing every particular relative to the trees and shrubs – whether native or introduced – of the British islands. It is scarcely credible, but no less true, that during the time these vast works were in course of production, Loudon edited several periodicals. In 1826, he established the Gardener’s Magazine, which he continued till his death. In 1826, he commenced his magazine of Natural History, and edited it until 1836, when it passed into other hands. In 1834, he commenced the Architectural Magazine, discontinuing it in 1838; but in 1836 he began publishing his Suburban Gardener. It may be safely said, that such multifarious and incessant labours are without a parallel in literature. 

A quaint old farmer of our acquaintance, when speaking of a person who worked very hard without deriving much profit from his labours, said that he had turned over a great deal of grass, but made very little hay. It is painful to relate, that the very same words might be applied to Loudon’s heroic undertakings. When the Arboretum was completed in 1838, Loudon, who published at his own expense and risk, found himself indebted to printer, papermaker, and engraver no less a sum than £10,000. 

Loudon’s literary labours would appear excessive, even for a man in perfect health, and with the vigorous use of his limbs; but they seem little less than miraculous, when the circumstances under which they were carried on are taken into consideration. A severe attack of rheumatic fever when in his twenty-third year, produced a permanent stiffness of the left knee. Subsequently his right arm became affected, and Loudon was advised to try the curative effects of shampooing. During this process, the arm was broken so close to the shoulder as to render setting it in the usual mode impossible. Shortly after, the arm was again broken; and then, in 1826, amputation became unavoidable. In this year, it will be observed, he established the Gardener’s Magazine, and entered on that career of herculean mental effort already detailed; nor was it carried on without a still further shattering of his frame, for now his left hand became so disabled, that the use of only the third and little finger remained. Maimed and infirm of body, his mind retained its unabated vigour, and he had recourse to the employment of an amanuensis and draughtsman. Thus did he yield ground only inch by inch, as death advanced; and when his last hour arrived, death still found him hard at work, for ‘he died standing on his feet.’ Chronic inflammation of the lungs terminated his life on the 14th of December 1843. The work on which he was employed at the time of his death, is entitled Self-instruction for Young Gardeners, the class of persons whose interests his lifelong labours were devoted to promote. Let his faithful wife, who best knew him, and who has since followed him to the last resting-place, utter his requiem – ‘Never did any man possess more energy and determination; whatever he began he pursued with enthusiasm, and carried out notwithstanding obstacles that would have discouraged any ordinary person. He was a warm friend; most affectionate in all his relations of son, husband, father, and brother; and never hesitated to sacrifice pecuniary considerations to what he considered his duty.’*

*  You may be forgiven for believing Loudon was English, as the only location given for him is his death in Bayswater, London, but this is not so. He was born in Cambuslang, near Glasgow, Scotland.

On this Day in Other Sources.

Seven days after [the birth of Queen Mary], on December 14th, 1542, James V. died in the thirty-first year of his age and the twenty-ninth of his reign. 

– A History of Scotland, Chapter XII. 

On the 14th December, 1542, Mary Stuart, an infant seven days old, became Queen of Scotland. Cardinal Beaton endeavoured to obtain possession of the queen by a written testament of the late king, which was said to be either forged or obtained by fraud; but the Estates conferred the regency on James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, who was next heir to the throne, and allowed the infant queen to remain at Linlithgow in charge of her mother. 

– A History of Scotland, Chapter XIII. 

A parliament [held] by the Queen Regent, this year, at Edinburgh, wherein, on the French King’s recommendation, the Lairds of Grange [James Kirkcaldy], Brunstone [Alexander Crichton], and Mr Henry Balnaves [of Hallhill], have the act of their [forfeiture repealed], from March 1556. The parliament was, until the 14th day of December in the following year, 1557, adjourned. 


The parliament adjourned until the 14th day of December, this year, sits down at Edinburgh, wherein, after the heavy complaints of the Queen Regent [were heard], and they in a manner slighted, and some few laws for procedure in civil business before the Session were enacted, the parliament without more ado broke up. 

– Historical Works, pp.275-340.


To my much respectit and guid freind the Laird of Glenurquhy. 

     LUEFEIN FREIND, – I haife sent this bearar to know how yea and my sone are in healthe, and to shaw you that all freindis heare are weall. I heair my sone begines to wearye of the Irishe langwadge. I intreatt yow to cause holde hime to the speakeing of itt, for since he hes bestowed so long tyme and paines in the getting of itt, I sould be sory he lost it now with leasines in not speaking of it; bott this I know, yea wilbe more cairfull as in ewerything that concernes him, so that I will fully leaffehim to your awin caire; only prayeing the Lord to giffe ane blessing to all the meanes of his educatioune: And so I shall still remain your most assurett friend, 


     Rosnethe, the 14 of December 1637. 

– Sketches, pp.341-394.

1  Margaret Lady Lorne, afterwards Countess and Marchioness of Argyll, was daughter of William Earl of Morton, Lord Treasurer of Scotland.

Accordingly, Lorne and Maister Jhone Makleine set off with “Duncan Archibald, and tuey horse with him, on to Mr Johen, and on for my cariage;” soon after the “thretie day of September” when “Archibald Campbell of Lorne” wrote to his “louing foster-father” from “Inderaray,” and Mr. Johen having misbehaved himself, some one else was procured to superintend his studies. His mother, Margaret Douglas, writes 14th December 1637 – “I heair my sone begines to wearye of the Irishe langwadge. I entreat yow to cause holde hime to the speakeing of itt, for since he has bestowed so long tyme and paines in the getting of itt, I sould be sory he lost it now with leasines in not speaking of it.” 

– Popular Tales, Vol.4, pp.53-75.

Hamburgh Decemb. 14 [1661]

The Pollanders victorious against the Muscoviters, and Queen Christina of Sweden disparing to recover her Soveraignty, is ready to part from that Kingdom, the Sweds resolved to prosecute the War against Muscovia

Mercurius Caledonius.

On the 14th of December, 1714, the Castle was, by a decree of the Court of Session, deprived of its ancient ecclesiastical right of sanctuary, derived from and retained since the monastic institution of David I., in 1128. Campbell of Burnbank, the storekeeper, being under caption at the instance of a creditor, was arrested by a messenger-at-arms, on which Colonel Stuart, the governor, remembering the right of sanctuary, released Campbell, expelled the official, and closed the barriers. Upon this the creditor petitioned the court, asserting that the right of sanctuary was lost. In reply it was asserted that the Castle was not disenfanchised, and “that the Castle of Edinburgh, having anciently been castrum puellarum, was originally a religious house, as well as the abbey of Holyrood.” But the Court decided that it had no privilege of sanctuary “to hinder the king’s letters, and ordained Colonel Stuart to deliver Burnbank to a messenger.” Burnbank was a very debauched character, who is frequently mentioned in Penicuick’s satirical poems, and was employed by “Nicoll Muschat of ill memorie,” to seduce the unfortunate wife whom he afterwards murdered where the cairn stood in the Queen’s Park. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.66-79.

1221. Teapot, Coffee-pot, Sugar Basin, Cream Jug, and two Salvers, presented to Alexander Skirving by friends, 1849. London Hall Mark, 1846.

“Presented to Alexander Skirving, Esq., auctioneer, Glasgow, by a few friends, as a mark of their esteem for his uniform courtesy during his long professional career. 14th Dec., 1849.” (See No. 370.) 

– Memorial Catalogue, Gallery 3.

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