The Book of Days



 Today's Page

 Calendar of Days


 Search Site


 Contact Us

 Site Map


 The Book of Days is proudly brought to
you by the members of


December 2nd

Born: Francis Xavier Quadrio, learned Jesuit, and historical writer, 1695, Valtellina; Henry Gaily Knight, illustrator of architectural antiquities, 1786.

Died: Hernan Cortes, conqueror of Mexico, 1547, near Seville; Margaret of Navarre, grandmother of Henry IV, 1549; St. Francis Xavier, Catholic missionary, 1552, China; Gerard Mercator (Kaufmann), geographer, 1594, Doesburg; Philip, Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, 1723; Amelia Opie, novelist, 1853, Norwich.

Feast Day: St. Bibiana, virgin and martyr, 363.


St. Francis Xavier was born on the 7th of April 1506, in a castle at the base of the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, not far from which his future comrade and director, Ignatius Loyola, was then living, a gay youth of fifteen. Xavier was sent to the university of Paris, and there shared a room with Peter Faber, a Savoyard, to whom he became tenderly attached. In 1528, Loyola arrived at their college, a middle-aged man, meanly clad, worn with austerities, and burning with zeal. Loyola made friends with Faber, but Xavier could not endure him, and repulsed his approaches. Loyola, discerning a desirable spirit in Xavier, nevertheless persevered. One day Xavier had been lecturing on philosophy, and having met with much applause, was walking about in a high state of elation, when Loyola whispered in his ear: 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' The question startled Xavier, and changed the current of his feelings towards Loyola. He associated with him and Faber in study and devotion. Three other students joined them—Lainez, Bobadilla, and Rodriguez—and on the 15th of August 1534, the six met in a subterranean chapel of the church of Montmartre, and took vows of perpetual celibacy, poverty, and labour for the conversion of infidels. Such was the humble beginning of the Society of Jesuits. They resolved to place their lives at the service of the pope, and when preaching at Rome, in 1540, Xavier was chosen to go as a missionary to India. With joy he started, and on his way to Lisbon came within a few miles of his birthplace, and was pressed to turn aside and bid his mother farewell. He refused, lest his ardour should suffer loss in the regrets of filial affection.

A voyage to India was a tedious enterprise in the sixteenth century. He sailed from Lisbon on the 7th of April 1541, wintered in Africa on the coast of Mozambique, and his ship did not reach Goa until the 6th of May 1542. The Portuguese of Goa, he found, were leading worse lives than the heathen, except that they did not worship idols, and their conversion was his first business. He learned the language of Malabar, and went preaching among the pearl-fishers; and entering the kingdom of Travancore, he met with such success, that he reported baptising 10,000 Indians in a month. At Malacca, then a great centre of trade, he met three Jesuits, whom Loyola had sent to his aid, and with them made a tour through the Moluccas. At Malacca, he had met a Japanese, whose account of his strange and populous country had decided Xavier to visit it. He picked up as much of the language as he could, and in August 1549 landed in Japan, and for about two years travelled through the islands, making a host of converts. His mission was continued with great vigour by the Jesuits for nearly a century, when, for some cause or other, the government took fright, massacred the Christians, foreign and native, and sealed Japan against Europeans until our own day. He next determined to plant his faith in China, but the Portuguese merchants pleaded with him not to make the attempt, as he would assuredly be the cause of their utter destruction. Xavier was not to be moved by such alarms, and persuaded a Chinaman to run him ashore by night near Canton. This plan the Portuguese frustrated, and in the midst of his disappointment, on the barren island of Sancian, within sight of the desired Chinese mainland, he took fever, and died on the 2nd of December 1553, aged only, forty-seven, and in the twelfth year of his Asiatic ministry. His body was carried to Goa, and his shrine is to Catholics the holiest place in the Far East. In 1662, he was canonized, and by a papal brief in 1747, was pronounced the patron-saint of the East Indies. His festival is observed on the 3rd of December.

The story of Xavier in Asia, as told by Catholics, is a long record of miracle on miracle; and by his miracles they account for the otherwise incredible statements regarding his success as a propagandist.


On the 2nd December 1824, an institution was opened in London concerning which very warm anticipations were entertained, but which has not fully borne the fruit hoped for. After one or two minor attempts in various towns, it was resolved to establish a place in the metropolis, where work-men could acquire a knowledge of science, and of the principles of those arts on which they were daily employed. Scarcely any books on such matters were then accessible to persons of limited means, and popular lectures were nearly unknown. Many men in high places dreaded such innovations; insomuch that one declared, that 'science and learning, if universally diffused, would speedily overturn the best-constituted government on earth.' It is to the credit of Scotland that she took the lead of England in this matter.

The Andersonian Institution at Glasgow had a mechanics' class, at which the late benevolent Dr. Birkbeck lectured to large audiences on scientific subjects connected with the occupations of working-men; and the School of Arts at Edinburgh, under the auspices of Mr. Leonard Horner and other enlightened men, furnished similar instruction, though to smaller audiences. In October 1823, proposals were put forth for establishing a Mechanics' Institution in London; and in the following month a public meeting on the subject was held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern. The object was declared to be 'the instruction of mechanics at a cheap rate in the principles of the art they practise, as well as in all other branches of useful knowledge;' and the means for obtaining this object were 'lectureships on the different arts and sciences, a library of reference and circulation, a reading-room, a museum of models, a school of design, an experimental workshop and laboratory, and a supply of instruments and apparatus.' Mr. (afterwards Lord) Brougham, in a letter addressed to Dr. Birkbeck as chairman, said: 'The plan will prosper in exact proportion to the interest which the mechanics themselves take in its detail. It is for their benefit, and ought to be left in their hands as soon as possible after it is begun.' And Mr. Cobbett supported this view by saying: 'If they'—the working-men—'allowed other management to interfere, men would soon be found who would put the mechanics on one side and make use of them only as tools.'

The scheme having been favourably received, the London Mechanics' Institution was formed, and was opened on the day above named. Men of great attainments offered their services as lecturers, and the lecture-hall frequently contained a thousand persons, listening with the greatest attention to discourses on astronomy, experimental philosophy and chemistry, physiology, the steam-engine, &c. Many persons, who afterwards attained to a more or less distinguished position in society, owed their first knowledge of the principles of science to the London Mechanics' Institution. The novelty and the success of the enterprise were so great, that similar institutions sprang up rapidly in various parts of the kingdom. At a public meeting in London, in July 1824, Mr. Brougham said:

'Scarcely three days ever elapse without my receiving a communication of the establishment of some new Mechanics' Institution. At the beginning of May last, I made a calculation that since the preceding July I had received accounts of no less than thirty-three being established.'

They extended far and wide, until at length there were at the very least four hundred such institutions in Great Britain.

It will not be suitable, in a work like this, to investigate fully the question why Mechanics' Institutions have comparatively failed; why, when the first enthusiasm had worked off, they failed to realise the expectations of their founders; a few words, nevertheless, may be said on the subject. Of the fact itself, there can be little doubt. 'In large towns,' a careful observer remarks, 'they [Mechanics' Institutions] have usually sprung from the exertions and wishes, not so much of the working-classes, as of the more wealthy. The energy and enthusiasm that originated them carried them on for a time; but as the novelty wore off, the members and revenue decreased, modifications of plan had to be adopted, new features introduced, and radical changes made. If these proved accept-able to the public, the institution flourished; if not, it decayed. If the original idea of giving scientific education only were strictly carried out, the number of members was small; while if amusement took the place of study, the institution lived in jeopardy, from the fickle and changing taste for amusement on the part of the public.'

But why have mechanics shewn themselves, except in a few special instances, unwilling to give to these institutions such a measure of support as is necessary to their profitable working? The reasons assigned are many. In some places where bickerings have existed between employers and employed on the subject of wages, and where the employers have lent aid towards establishing Mechanics' Institutions, the men have persuaded themselves that there is some secret design lurking underneath, and have suspiciously held aloof. Then, as to natural bias, most working-men shew a stronger taste for social and political subjects than for scientific and educational questions; they would rather attend a political meeting than a scientific lecture; rather read a party-newspaper than a dispassionate book; rather invest a little money in a benefit society or a building club, than in an institution for mental improvement; and although it may be a wise rule to exclude politics and theology, many men find such topics more ' exciting' and attractive than science or education. Next, a very large class of workmen consists of persons who really do not care at all for such subjects as those last named; when their work is done, theatres, public-houses, music-halls, smoking-rooms, &c., are their regular places of resort; and they would deem it almost as strange to go to a scientific lecture as to church on a week-day evening.

The quarterly payments for Mechanics' Institutes are chargeable with another portion of the comparative failure; for a workman who receives weekly wages would more readily pay a subscription weekly, than save up for thirteen weeks in order to pay in one sum. Uncertainty of employment is another unfavourable circumstance; if a workman is out of employ when his subscription becomes due, the Mechanics' Institute is one of the first things he would give up. When the subscription is made small enough to attract numerous members, it is often too small to carry on the institute efficiently, and the instruction degenerates both in quantity and quality. One more circumstance must be noticed—unless working-men subscribe in sufficient number to form a majority, they cannot retain the management in their own hands; and unless they do, it ceases to be suitable to the wants and wishes of their class; and thus they have a further excuse for staying away.

Some among the above causes have rendered the London Mechanics' Institution, and most others of its kind, less successful than the early promoters had anticipated.

December 3rd