The Book of Days

 
 Home

 About:

 Today's Page

 Calendar of Days

 Indexes

 Search Site

 Links

 Contact Us

 Site Map

 

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

 

 

December 23rd

Born: Heneage Finch, Earl of Nottingham, 1621; Robert Barclay, celebrated Quaker, author of the Apology, 1648; Gordonstown, Morayshire; Frederick Augustus of Saxony, 1750; Sir Martin Archer Shee, portrait-painter, 1770, Dublin; Alexander I, Emperor of Russia, 1777.

Died: Childebert I, of France, 558, Paris; Henri de Lorraine, Duke of Guise, assassinated at Blois, 1588; William Davison, secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth, 1608; Michael Drayton, poet, 1631; James Sargent Storer, engraver, 1854, London.

Feast Day: St. Servulus, confessor, 590. The Ten Martyrs of Crete, 3rd century. St. Victoria, virgin and martyr, 250.

THE EIKON BASILIKĖ

On the 23rd of December 1648, Richard Royston, the royal bookseller at the "Angel" in Ivy Lane, received the MS. copy of the Eikon Basiliké for the press.  Such is the earliest date we find in connection with a book which became very famous during the turbulent times of the Commonwealth. Whether any copies were printed by the 30th of the ensuing month, the day when Charles I was executed, is doubtful; but there is no doubt that it was largely in circulation soon afterwards, and that it produced a powerful effect on the Royalists. Most of them believed that the king wrote it; the peculiar character of the book, and the publishing of it by the king's bookseller, encouraged this belief; nor were the active members of the court-party (for reasons presently to be noticed) at all anxious to disturb this favourite and favourable impression.

The work itself, which was the chief means of obtaining for Charles I the designation of the 'Royal Martyr,' is a remarkable composition, by whomsoever written. M. Guizot, in his history of the events of those times, thus characterises it:

'The manuscript had probably been perused, perhaps even corrected, by Charles himself, during his residence in the Isle of Wight. In any case, it was the real expression, and true portraiture of his position, character, and mind, as they had been formed by misfortune. It is remarkable for an elevation of thought which is at once natural and strained; a constant mingling of blind royal pride and sincere Christian humility; heart-impulses struggling against habits of obstinate self-consciousness; true piety in the midst of misguided conduct; invincible though somewhat inert devotion to his faith, his honour, and his rank; and as all these sentiments are expressed in monotonous language, which, though often emphatic, is always grave, tranquil, and even unctuous with serenity and sadness—it is not surprising that such a work should have profoundly affected all royalist hearts, and easily persuaded them that it was the king himself who addressed them.

There can be no doubt that Royalists and Parliamentarians were alike attracted by the Eikon Basiliké, though for different reasons. Appearing directly after the king's death, and purporting to be a 'Portraiture of his Sacred Majesty in his Solitudes and Sufferings,' it could not fail to excite a deep interest in the faithful adherents of the House of Stuart. Even among many of Charles's opponents his fate had excited strong sympathy; he was regarded as having been less in error than some of his advisers; and there was a general tendency to forget his faults, and remember his virtues. 'Hence,' says Lord Macaulay ('Milton,' Encyclopaedia Britannica), 'the appearance of a work, professedly by his own hand—in which he is represented in the constant exercise of prayer, asserting the integrity of his motives before the Great Searcher of Hearts, and urging a fervent appeal from the injustice and cruelty of man to the justice and clemency of God—was eminently calculated to agitate the public mind in his favour, and to make every tongue vibrate in execration of his enemies.'

The Royalists unquestionably relied greatly on the effect which they expected to be produced by the book; and nearly fifty thousand copies of it were sold in England. On the other hand, the Puritans or Parliamentarians, alarmed at the effect on the public mind, desired Milton to write an answer to the Eikon Basiliké, with the view of shewing that, whether written by the king or not, its political reasonings were invalid. Milton accepted the duty; and hence his Eikonoclastes, or Image Breaker, one of the most celebrated of his works. The two books should be read together: the Eikon Basilike/, not as the production of the unfortunate king, but of the bishop of Exeter, Dr. Gauden; and the Eikonoclastes (more frequently spelled Iconoclastes or Iconoclast) of Milton.

There is reason to believe that Milton suspected the author of the Eikon to be some bishop or clergyman; but still he answered it as if it had been a royal production. Macaulay, less favourable than Guizot to the Royalists, thus characterises the Iconoclast: 'Pressing closely on his antagonist, and tracing [tracking?] him step by step, he either exposes the fallacy of his reasonings, or the falsehood of his assertions, or the hollowness of his professions, or the convenient speciousness of his devotions. He discovers a quickness which never misses an advantage, and a keenness of remark which carries an irresistible edge. In argument and in style, the Iconoclast is equally masterly, being at once compressed and energetic, perspicuous and elegant. It is a work, indeed, which cannot be read by any man, whose reason is not wholly under the dominion of prejudice, with-out producing a conviction unfavourable to the royal party; and it justly merited the honourable distinction conferred upon it by royalist vengeance, of burning in the same flames with the Defence of the People of England!

We have mentioned Dr. Gauden, bishop of Exeter, as the author of the Eikon Basiliké. This is now known to have been the case, but the Royalists and High-Church party continued, to an advanced period, to foster the popular belief that the First Charles wrote it. The question was long a matter of literary discussion, and in the last century, we find Hume, in his History of England, advocating the claims of the king to the authorship, in preference to those of Dr. Gauden. Moreover, it was a species of pious fraud, which the statesmen and churchmen deemed politic to encourage 'for the public advantage.' The late Sir James Mackintosh was of opinion that, irrespective of other testimony, the Eikon reads more like the production of a priest than of a king. 'It has more of dissertation than effusion. It has more regular division and systematic order than agree with the habits of Charles. The choice and arrangement of words shew a degree of care and neatness which are seldom attained but by a practised writer. The views of men and affairs, too, are rather those of a bystander than an actor; they are chiefly reflections, sometimes in themselves obvious, but often ingeniously turned, such as the surface of events would suggest to a spectator not too deeply interested. It betrays none of those strong feelings which the most vigilant regard to gravity and dignity could not have uniformly banished from the composition of an actor and a sufferer. It has no allusions to facts not accessible to any moderately-informed man: though the king must have (sometimes rightly) thought that his superior knowledge of affairs would enable him to correct vulgar mistakes.'

Numerous copies of the Eikon Basiliké are preserved in the public and private libraries of this country—not only on account of the curious circumstances connected with the work itself, but because it was customary to write on the fly-leaves, during the troubled period of the Commonwealth, melodies and other verses on the hapless monarch who had been decapitated. These inscriptions shewed that the grief was deep and sincere among those who thought the cry of 'Church and King' was the only one which could save the nation. Some went to the very extreme of adulation. One ran thus:

'Nee Carolus Magnus
Nee Carolus Quintus
Sed Carolus Agnus
The jacet intus.'

Mr. E. S. Taylor has described, in Notes and Queries, a copy of the work, containing two very curious Chronosticons in manuscript: that is, enigmas in which certain dates are denoted. Roman numerals, as most persons are aware, are letters of the alphabet, and may thus be used in two different ways. In one of the chronosticons here adverted to, the praises of Charles I are celebrated, and at the same time the year 1648, in which, according to the old method of reckoning the commencement of the year he was executed, is denoted:

ReX pIVs et greX VerVs
ConDemnantVr InIq Ve

The other embodies the year of the world (according to one system of chronology), namely, 5684, as that in which the king was executed:

TrlstIa perCharl Deploro fVnera RegIs
Inferna Ingratae Detestor MVnera pLebIs
ReX DeCoLLatVr serVIs; qVIs taLIa Verbls
EXpLICet aVt posslt LaChryMls aeq Vare Labores
HIC pletatIs honos, sIC RegeM In sCeptra repon Vnt

These are to be thus understood. The letters in thick capitals denote the numerals; M, D, C, L, X, I, are to be interpreted in the way usual in Roman numerals; V serves both for v and u as a letter, and for 5 as a numeral. Each symbol is used separately: thus I X are 1 and 10, not 9; and I V are 1 and 5, not 4. We rather suspect that, in Notes and Queries, the (m) in the first chronosticon should have been printed in large type as a numeral; and that an additional (1) in the second should also be in large type, to make up the quantities.

FAMILY OMENS OF DEATH

The popular omens of death are almost innumerable, yet the appearance of any one of them is, according to rustic credulity, sufficient to foreshew the decease of any ordinary person in the middle or lower classes of society. For common people must be satisfied with common things. Even superstition knows how to pay due deference to rank and genealogy, and cunningly insinuates herself among the aristocracy, by contributing her mysterious influence to enhance the honours of rank and birth. Thus, among the elite, death-omens assume a special and distinctive shape, and, becoming a sort of household dependents, are never heard of but when they appear to 'suit and service' to the respective families with which they are severally connected. So that the family, thus supernaturally honoured, while disdaining all vulgar omens of mortality, beholds the appearance of its own with dismay, feeling assured that death will soon visit some one of its members. Some of these family omens are curious and interesting. There still exists in Devon a family named Oxen-ham, with which such an omen is said to be connected. Prince, in his Worthies of Devon, speaking of this, says:

'There is a family of considerable standing of this name at South Tawton, near Oakhampton, of which is this strange and wonderful thing recorded, that at the death of any of them, a bird with a white breast is seen for awhile fluttering about their beds, and then suddenly to vanish away.'

Mr. James Howell tells us that, in a lapidary's shop in London, he saw a large marble slab to be sent into Devonshire, with an inscription:

 "That John Oxenham, Mary his sister, James his son, and Elizabeth his mother, had each the appearance of such a bird fluttering about their beds as they were dying. "

There is a local ballad on this subject which is too long for insertion, but, as it is little known, a few extracts from it may be interesting. It begins thus:

Where lofty hills in grandeur meet,
   And Taw meandering flows,
There is a sylvan, calm retreat,
   Where erst a mansion rose.

There dwelt Sir James of Oxenhain.
   A brave and generous lord;
Benighted traveller never came
   Unwelcome to his board.

In early life his wife had died,
   A son he ne'er had known,
And Margaret, his age's pride,
   Was heir to him alone.'

Margaret became affianced to a young knight, and their marriage-day was fixed. On the evening preceding it, her father gave a banquet to his friends, who, of course, congratulated him on the approaching happy union. He stood up to thank them, and in alluding to the young knight, so soon to be his daughter's husband, he jestingly called him his son:

'But while the dear, unpractised word
   Still lingered on his tongue,
He saw a silvery-breasted bird
   Fly o'er the festive throng.

Swift as the lightning's flashes fleet,
   And lose their brilliant light,
Sir James sank back upon his seat,
   Pale and entranced with fright.'

He, however, managed to conceal the cause of his embarrassment, and the next day the wedding-party assembled in the church, and the priest had begun the marriage-service:

'When Margaret with terrific screams
   Made all with horror start
Good heavens! her blood in torrents streams,
   A dagger's in her heart!'

The deed had been done by a discarded lover, who, by the aid of disguise, had stationed himself just behind her. He drew the dagger from her breast, and, with a frantic laugh, exclaimed:

'Now marry me, proud maid, he cried;
   Thy blood with mine shall wed;
He dashed the dagger in his side,
   And at her feet fell dead.

Poor Margaret, too, grows cold with death,
   And round her hovering flies
The phantom-bird for her last breath,
   To bear it to the skies.'

The owl is one of the most usual omens of death among the commonalty; so, of course, it could not be received as a family omen among the aristocracy. As an honourable distinction, therefore, the dispenser of omens has assigned two owls, of enormous size, to premonish the noble family of Arundel of Wardour of approaching mortality. Whenever these two solemn spectres are seen perched on a battlement of the family mansion, it is too well known that one of its members will soon be summoned out of this world.

The ancient baronet's family of Clifton, of Clifton Hall, in Nottinghamshire, is forewarned that death is about to visit one of its members, by a sturgeon forcing itself up the river Trent, on whose bank their mansion is situated near to Clifton Grove, the scene of Henry Kirke White's poem of that title.

There is an ancient Roman Catholic family in Yorkshire, of the name of Middleton, which is said to be apprised of the death of any one of its members by the apparition of a Benedictine nun. Camden, in his Magna Britannia, after speaking of the illustrious antiquity of the Brereton family, says 'this wonderful thing respecting them is commonly believed, and I have heard it myself affirmed by many, that for some days before the death of the heir of the family, the trunk of a tree has always been seen floating in the lake adjoining their mansion.' On this omen, Mrs. Hemans has some spirited stanzas, among which occur the following:

'Yes! I have seen the ancient oak
   On the dark deep water cast,
And it was not felled by the woodman's stroke,
   Or the rush of the sweeping blast;
For the axe might never touch that tree,
And the air was still as a summer sea.

'Tis fallen! but think thou not I weep
   For the forest's pride o'erthrown;
An old man's tears lie far too deep,
   To be poured for that alone!
But by that sign too well I know
That a youthful head must soon be low!

He must, he must! in that deep dell,
   By that dark water's side,
'Tis known that ne'er a proud tree fell,
   But an heir of his father's died.
And he—there 's laughter in his eye,
Joy in his voice—yet he must die!

Say not 'tie vain! I tell thee, some
   Are warned by a meteor's light,
Or a pale bird flitting calls them home,
   Or a voice on the winds by night;
And they must go! and he too, he—
Woe for the fall of the glorious Tree!'

In a note to the Lady of the Lake, Sir Walter Scott gives the following curious account from the manuscript memoirs of Lady Fanshaw. Her husband, Sir Richard, and herself, chanced, during their abode in Ireland, to visit a friend, the head of a sept, who resided in his ancient baronial castle, surrounded with a moat. At midnight, Lady Fanshaw was awakened by a ghostly and supernatural scream; and, looking out of bed, beheld, by the moonlight, a female face and part of the form hovering at the window. The distance from the ground, as well as the circumstance of the moat, excluded the possibility that what she beheld was of this world. The face was that of a young and rather handsome woman, but pale; and the hair, which was reddish, was loose and dishevelled. The dress, which Lady Fanshaw's terror did not prevent her remarking accurately, was that of the ancient Irish.

This apparition continued to exhibit itself for some time, and then vanished with two shrieks similar to that which had first excited Lady Fanshaw's attention. In the morning, with infinite terror, she communicated to her host what she had witnessed, and found him prepared not only to credit, but to account for the apparition.

 'A near relation of my family,' said he, 'expired last night in this castle. We disguised our certain expectation of the event from you, lest it should throw a cloud over the cheerful reception which was your due. Now, before such an event happens in this family and castle, the female spectre, whom you have seen, always is visible. She is believed to be the spirit of a woman of inferior rank, whom one of my ancestors degraded himself by marrying, and whom after-wards, to expiate the dishonour done to his family, he caused to be drowned in the castle-moat.'

In his Peveril of the Peak, Sir Walter mentions a similar female spirit or banshee, said to attend on the Stanley family, warning them, by uttering a shriek, of some approaching calamity; and especially, 'weeping and bemoaning herself before the death of any person of distinction belonging to the family.'

It is unfortunate that so many of these ancient family omens have come down unaccompanied with the particulars that gave rise to them, which would have rendered them far more interesting. Now, we can scarcely see any connection between the omen and the family, or conceive why the things specified should have been considered omens of death at all.

December 24th

BACK TO TOP >