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

 

June 11th

Born: George Wither, poet, 1588, Bentworth, Hants; Sir Kenelm Digby (speculative philosophical works), 1603, Gothurst.

Died: Roger Bacon, 1294, Oxford; Sir Kenelm Digby, 1665; Duc de Vendome, French commander, 1712; George I of England, 1727, near Osnaburgh, Hanover; Dr. William Robertson, historian, 1793, Edinburgh; Samuel Ireland, engraver, 1800, London; Dugald Stewart (moral philosophy), 1828, Edinburgh; Rev. Dr. Alexander Crombie (educational works), 1842, London; Rev. Professor Baden Powell, 1860, London.

Feast Day: St. Barnabas, the Apostle, 1st century; St. Tochumra, Virgin, of Ireland. Another Tochumra, Virgin.

ST. BARNABY' DAY

Before the change of style, the 11th of June was the day of the summer solstice. This was expressed proverbially in England

'Barnaby bright,
The longest day and the shortest night.'

It appears to have been customary on St. Barnaby's day for the priests and clerks in English churches to wear garlands of the rose and the woodroff. A miraculous walnut-tree in the abbey churchyard of Glastonbury was supposed to bud invariably on St. Barnaby's day.

ROGER BACON

English science has a double interest in the name of Bacon, and the older of the two individuals who bore it is certainly not the least illustrious, although we know very little of his personal history. He lived in an age when the world in general cared little about the quiet life of the laborious student. According to the account usually received, Roger Bacon was born near Lichester, in Somersetshire, in the year 1214. It is said (for there is very little satisfactory authority for all this) that he displayed great eagerness for learning at a very early age, and that he was sent to study at Oxford when still a boy; yet it appears that there was a Gloucestershire tradition as old as the beginning of the last century, that Roger Bacon was born in the parish of Bisley, in that county, and that he received his first education at a chapel dedicated to St. Mary, now called Bury Hill, in the parish of Hampton, in which a chamber was shown called Bacon's Study. After he had made himself master of all that could be learnt at Oxford, Bacon went, as was usual at that time, to the much more important school of scientific labour, the University of Paris, where he is said to have become a doctor in the civil law, and so celebrated by his teaching as to acquire the appellative of the 'Wonderful Doctor.' He there made the acquaintance of Robert Grosteste, who was his friend and patron as long as he lived.

He is said to have returned to England in 1240, when, if the date given as that of his birth be correct, he was still only twenty-six years of age, and he then established himself in Oxford. It seems doubtful if it were before or after his return to England that he entered the order of the Franciscans, or Friar Preachers, who were then great cultivators of science, and who are said to have been recommended to him by Grosteste; but all we know of his life at this period seems to shew that in Oxford he took up his abode in the convent of that order. It is stated that, in the course of twenty years, he spent in his studies and experiments no less than £2000 sterling, which would be equivalent to a very large sum of money in the reckoning of the present day. We receive this statement from Bacon himself, and it is evident that Bacon's family was rich; yet he remained almost unknown within his convent, and apparently neglected, if not despised by his fellow friars, until he was at length dragged from his obscurity by Pope Clement IV. The facts of the Pope's interference we also obtain from Bacon himself.

It is, moreover, by no means certain that Bacon was all this time in Oxford, but, on the contrary, we have every reason to believe that he passed a part of it in France. After he had spent all his own money in science, he applied to 'his rich brother' in England for assistance; but his brother, who was a stanch royalist, had been reduced to poverty through his opposition to the liberal party in the baronial wars, and was not able to give him any assistance, and the terms in which Roger Bacon speaks shews that he was at that time residing in France. Bacon had another difficulty to deal with, for he now not only wanted money to pursue his studies, but he was not allowed to make public the discoveries he had made. It was a rule of the Franciscan order that no friar should be permitted the use of writing materials, or enjoy the liberty of publishing, without having first obtained leave from his superiors, and it is probable that he had already excited their watchful jealousy, and they had applied the rule to him with excessive strictness. Bacon's own account gives a curious picture of some of the difficulties which then stood in the way of science—it is addressed to Pope Clement.

'When your holiness wrote to me on the last occasion, the writings you demanded were not yet composed, although you supposed they were. For whilst I was in a different state of life [that is, before he entered the order of the Franciscans], I had written nothing on science; nor in my present condition had I ever been required to do so by my superiors; nay, a strict prohibition had been passed to the contrary, under penalty of forfeiture of the book, and many days' fasting on bread and water, if any work written by me, or belonging to my house, should be communicated to strangers. Nor could I get a fair copy made, except by employing transcribers unconnected with our order; and then they would have copied my works to serve themselves or others, without any regard to my wishes; as authors' works are often pirated by the knavery of the transcribers at Paris. And certainly if it had been in my power to have communicated any discoveries freely, I should have composed many things for my brother the scholar, and for others my most intimate friends. But as I despaired of the means of communicating my thoughts, I forbore to communicate them to writing. . . For, although I had at various times put together, in a hasty manner, some few chapters on different subjects, at the entreaty of my friends, there was nothing noteworthy in these writings; . they were such as I myself hold in no estimation, as being deficient in continuity and perfection.'

It appears that, before his accession to the papacy, Clement's curiosity had been excited by some accidental information he obtained relating to Bacon's wonderful knowledge and discoveries, and that he had written to ask the philosopher for some of his writings. The above extract is a portion of Bacon's reply to the pope's demand. Clement was an old soldier, and, however arbitrary he may have been in temper, he appears to have cared little for popular prejudices. In 1266, the year after he became pope, he despatched a brief to Bacon, enjoining, not-withstanding the order of any ecclesiastical superior or any rule of his order to the contrary, that he should communicate to him a copy of the important work which had been the subject of their previous correspondence. Bacon was thus fully brought before the world, and under Pope Clement's protection he continued for some years to diffuse his extraordinary knowledge. It was at this time that he produced his three great philosophical and scientific works, the Opus Majus, the Opus Minus, and the Opus Tertium, all three completed within the space of fifteen months.

In the thirteenth century, a man like Bacon was exposed to two very dangerous accusations. People in general, in their ignorant wonder at the extraordinary things he was said to be able to perform, believed him to be a magician, while the bigoted Churchman, alarmed at everything like an expansion of the human intelligence, sought to set him down as a heretic. Bacon incurred both these imputations; but, though the liberal views he expresses in his works, even on religious questions, could not but be distasteful to the church, yet he was safe during Pope Clement's time. Several short papacies followed, until, in 1277, Pope Nicolas III ascended the papal throne, a man of a different temper from Clement. At the beginning of his papacy, the general of the Franciscans, who had just been made a cardinal, brought forward an accusation of heresy against Bacon, and, with the pope's approval, caused him to be thrown into prison. When, ten years afterwards, the persecuting general of the Franciscans became pope himself, under the name of Nicolas IV, Bacon still remained a close prisoner, and it was only, we are told, towards the close of Nicolas's life that some of his friends were able to exercise sufficient interest to obtain his freedom. Nicolas IV died in 1292; and, according to what appear to be the most reliable accounts, Bacon died on St. Barnabas's day, the 11th of June 1292, although the real year of his death is by no means satisfactorily ascertained. He is said to have died in the convent of the Franciscans, at Oxford, and to have been buried in their church.

Thus, in consequence of the fatal weight of the Roman Catholic Church on the minds of society, this great man had to pass all the earlier part of it in forced obscurity, and after only a few years in the middle, during which he was enabled to give some of his scientific knowledge to the world, he was rewarded for it during the latter part of his life with a prison. The real amount of his discoveries is very imperfectly known; but it is certain that they were far in advance of the age in which he lived, and that there was no branch of science which he had not sounded to its depths. His favourite subjects of study are said to have been mathematics, mechanics, and chemistry. He is said to have invented the camera obscura, the air-pump, and the diving-bell, but, though this statement may admit of some doubt, he was certainly acquainted with the nature and use of optical lenses and with gunpowder, at least with regard to the explosive powers of the latter, for the projectile power of gunpowder appears not to have been known till the following century. A great number of books remain under Bacon's name, but a considerable portion of them are of a spurious character. 'tradition still points out in Oxford the building and even the room which is supposed to have been the scene of Roger Bacon's studies.

We may now turn from the real to the legendary character of Roger Bacon. When we consider the circumstances of the age, it is a proof of the extraordinary reverence in which the science of the friar Roger Bacon was held, that he not only became the subject of popular legends, but that in the course of years nearly all the English legends on science and magic became concentrated under the name of Friar Bacon. We have no means of tracing the history of these legends, which are extremely curious, as forming a sort of picture of the efforts, successful for a time, of the scholastic theology to smother the spirit of science. They were collected, still with a strong Romish prejudice, in the sixteenth century, into a popular volume, entitled The History of Friar Bacon: containing the wonderful things that he did in his life; also the manner of his death; with the lives and deaths of the two conjurers, Bungye and Vandermast, a work which has been reprinted in Mr. Thoms's interesting collection of Early Prose Romances.

Bungye and Vandermast are comparatively modern creations, introduced partly to work up the legends into a story, and for the same purpose legends are worked into it which have nothing to do with the memory of Roger Bacon. According to this story:

'In most men's opinions he was borne in the west part of England, and was sonne to a wealthy farmer, who put him to the schoole to the parson of the towne where hee was borne; not with intent that hee should tnrne fryer (as he did), but to get so much understanding, that he might manage the better that wealth hee was to leave him. But young Bacon took his learning so fast, that the priest could not teach him any more, which made him desire his master that he would speake to his father to put him to Oxford, that he might not lose that little learning that hee had gained.' The father made an outward show of receiving the application favourably, but he had no sooner got his son away from the priest, than he deprived him of his books, treated him roughly, and sent him to the plough, telling him that was his business. 'Young Bacon thought this but hard dealing, yet would he not reply, but within sixe or eight dayes he gave his father the slip, and went to a cloyester some twenty miles off, where he was entertained, and so continued his learning, and in small time came to be so famous, that he was sent for to the University of Oxford, where he long time studied, and grew so excellent in the secrets of art and nature, that not England onely, but all Christendome admired him.'

Such was Bacon's youth, according to the legend. His fame soon attracted the notice of the king (what king we are not told), and his wonderful feats of magic at court gained him great reputation, which leads him into all sorts of queer adventures. On one occasion, with an ingenuity worthy of the bar in its best moments, he saves a man from a rash contract with the devil. But one of the most famous exploits connected with the history of the legendary Friar Bacon was the manufacture of the brazen head, famous on account of the misfortune which attended it. It is, in fact, the grand incident in the legend. 'Friar Bacon, reading one day of the many conquests of England, be-thought himselfe how he might keepe it here-after from the like conquests, and so make himselfe famous hereafter to all posterities.'

After deep study, he found that the only way to effect this was by making a head of brass, and if he could make this head speak, he would be able to encompass England with an impregnable wall of the same material. Bacon took into his confidence Friar Bungye, and, having made their brazen head, they consulted the demon who was under their power, and were informed by him that, if they subjected the head to a certain process during a month, it would speak in the course of that period, but that he could not tell them the exact day or hour, and that, if they heard him not before he had done speaking, their labour would be lost. The two friars proceeded as they were directed, and watched incessantly during three weeks, at the end of which time Bacon employed his man Miles, a shrewd fellow, and a bit of a magician himself, as a temporary watch while they snatched a few hours' repose. Accordingly, Bacon and Bungye went to sleep, while Miles watched. Miles had not been long thus employed, when the head, with some preparatory noise, pronounced very deliberately the words, 'Time is.' Miles thought that so unimportant an announcement was not a sufficient reason for waking his master, and took no further notice of it. Half an hour later, the head said in the same manner, 'Time was,' and, after a similar interval, 'Time is past;' but Miles treated it all as a matter of no. importance, until, shortly after uttering these last words, the brazen head fell to the ground with a terrible noise, and was broken to pieces. The two friars, thus awakened, found that their design had been entirely ruined, and so, `the greate worke of these learned fryers was overthrown (to their great griefes) by this simple fellow.'

The next story is curious as presenting a legendary account of two of the great inventions ascribed to Roger Bacon. One day the king of England invaded France with a great army, and when he had besieged a town three months without producing any effect, Friar Bacon went over to assist him. After boasting to the king of many inventions of a description on which people were often speculating in the sixteenth century, Bacon proceeded to work. In the first place, having raised a great mound, 'Fryer Bacon went with the king to the top of it, and did with a perspect shew to him the towne, as plainly as if hee had been in it.' This is evidently an allusion to the use of the camera obscura. The king, having thus made himself acquainted with the interior of the town, ordered, with Bacon's advice, that the assault should be given next day at noon. When the time approached, `in the morning Fryer Bacon went up to the mount, and set his glasses and other instruments up and, ere nine of the clocke, Fryer Bacon had burnt the state house of the towne, with other houses, only by his mathematicall glasses, which made the whole towne in an uprore, for none did know whence it came; whiIest that they were quenching of the same, Fryer Bacon did wave his flagge, upon which signall given, the king set upon the towne, and tooke it with little or no resistence.' This is clearly an allusion to the effects of burning lenses.

Other stories follow of a more trivial character, and not belonging to the story of Friar Bacon. At length, according to this legendary history, after many strange adventures, Bacon became disgusted with 'his wicked life,' burnt all his magical (P scientific) books, and gave himself up entirely to the study of divinity—a very orthodox and Catholic conclusion. He retained, however, sufficient cunning to cheat the fiend, for it is implied that he had sold his soul to the devil, whether he died inside the church or outside, so `then caused he to be made in the church wall a cell, where he locked himself in, and there remained till his death Thus lived he some two yeeres space in that cell, never coming forth: his meat and drink he received in at a window, and at that window he did discourse with those that came to him. His grave he digged with his owne nayles, and was laid there when he dyed. Thus was the life and death of this famous fryer, who lived most part of his life a magician, and dyed a true penitent sinner, and an anchorite.'

A PHILOSOPHER OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

Such were the natural gifts of Sir Kenelm Digby, that although, as the son of one of the gunpowder conspirators, he began his career under unfavourable circumstances, he eventually succeeded in winning almost general admiration. He even became a favourite with the king, who had executed his father, and was prejudiced against his name. And if he be estimated by the versatility of his genius, he would not be undeserving of the pinnacle of fame on which his admirers have placed him. There seemed no post in literature, science, politics, or warfare, that he could not undertake with credit. He was a philosopher, a theologian, a linguist, a mathematician, a metaphysician, a politician, a commander by land and by sea, and distinguished himself in each capacity. The estimation in which he was held appears in the following lines written for his epitaph:

Under this tomb the matchless Digby lies,
Digby the great, the valiant, and the wise;
This age's wonder, for his noble parts,
Skilled in six tongues, and learned in all the arts;
Born on the day he died, the eleventh of June,
And that day bravely fought at Scanderoon;
It's rare that one and the same day should be
His day of birth, of death, of victory!'

The name of Sir Kenelm Digby is depreciated in our day by the patronage he bestowed on alchemy and other arts, now generally concluded upon as vain and superstitious. He was understood to possess a means of curing wounds, independent of all traceable physical causes. Mr. Howell, the author of Dendrologie, having been seriously wounded in the hand while attempting to prevent a couple of friends from fighting, found various surgeons unserviceable for a cure, but at length applied to Sir Kenelm.

 'It was my chance,' says the latter, 'to be lodged hard by him; and four or five days after, as I was making myself ready, he came to my house, and prayed me to view his wounds, "for I understand," said he, "that you have extraordinary remedies on such occasions, and my surgeons apprehend some fear that it may grow to a gangrene, and so the hand must be cut off." In effect, his countenance discovered that he was in much pain, which he said was insupportable, in regard of the extreme inflammation. I told him I would willingly serve him; but if haply he knew the manner how I would cure him, without touching or seeing him, it may be he would not expose himself to my manner of curing, because he would think it, peradventure, either ineffectual or superstitious. He replied, " The wonderful things which, many have related unto me of your way of medicinement, makes me nothing doubt at all of its efficacy, and all that I have to say unto you is comprehended in the Spanish proverb, Hagase el milagro y hagalo Mahoma,—Let the miracle be done, though Mahomet do it."

I asked him then for anything that had the blood upon it; so he presently sent for his garter, wherewith his hand was first bound; and as I called for a basin of water, as if I would wash my hands, I took a handful of powder of vitriol, which I had in my study, and presently dissolved it. As soon as the bloody garter was brought me, I put it within the basin, observing in the interim what Mr. Howell did, who stood talking with a gentleman in a corner of my chamber, not regarding at all what I was doing; but he started suddenly, as if he had found some strange alteration in himself. I asked him what he ailed? "I know not what ails me; but I find that I feel no more pain. Methinks that a pleasing kind of freshness, as it were a wet cold napkin, did spread over my hand, which hath taken away the inflammation that tormented me before." I replied, "Since then, that you feel already so good effect of my medicament, I advise you to cast away all your plasters; only keep the wound clean, and in a moderate temper betwixt heat and cold."

This was presently reported to the Duke of Buckingham, and a little after to the king, who were both very curious to know the circumstance of the business, which was, that after dinner I took the garter out of the water, and put it to dry before a great fire. It was scarce dry, but Mr. Howell's servant came running, that his master felt as much burning as ever he had done, if not more; for the heat was such as if his hand were twixt coles of fire.' Sir Kenelm sent the servant back, and told him to return to him unless he found his master eased. The servant went, 'and at the instant,' continues Sir Kenelm, 'I did put again the garter into the water; thereupon he found his master without any pain at all. To be brief, there was no sense of pain afterwards; but within five or six days the wounds were cicatrized and entirely healed.' Sir Kenelm represented himself as having learnt this secret from a Carmelite friar who had been taught it in Armenia or Persia.

Amongst the marvels of Sir Kenelm's discoveries in metaphysics and alchemy, we may notice the following as far more amusing than instructive. To remove warts the recommends the hands to be washed in an empty basin into which the moon shines; and declares that the 'moonshine will have humidity enough to cleanse the hands because of the star from which it is derived.' He tells us of a man, who, having lived from boyhood among wild beasts in a wood, had learnt to 'wind at a great distance by his nose where wholesome fruits or roots did grow,' and could follow persons, whom he knew, by scenting their footsteps like a dog. At a scientific meeting in France he made 'several considerable relations, whereof two did ravish the hearers to admiration. The one was of a king's house in England, which, having stood covered with lead for five or six ages, and being sold after that, was found to contain three-fourths of silver in the lead thereof. The other was of a fixed salt, drawn out of a certain potter's earth in France, which salt being for some time exposed to the sunbeams became salt-petre, then vitriol, then lead, then tin, copper, silver, and, at the end of fourteen months, gold; which he experienced himself and another able naturalist besides him.'

Butler, who keenly satirizes the philosophical credulity of his day, thus ridicules a belief in sympathetic powder, and similar nostrums:

'Cure warts and corns with application
Of medicines to the imagination;
Fright agues into dogs, and scare
With rhymes the tooth-ache and catarrh;
And fire a mine in China here
With sympathetic gunpowder.'

But every age has its mania in science and philosophy, and though men of talent and research are not always secure against the prevailing delusion, they seldom fail to leave behind them some valuable, though perhaps miniature fruit of their investigations. It was the mania of Sir Kenelm Digby, and the philosophers of his day, — and perhaps it is of our day too, —to expect too much from science. Yet such expectations often stimulate to the discovery of facts, which, by others, were considered impossibilities. Glanvil, whose faith in the powers of witches was as firm as Sir Kenelm Digby's in sympathetic powder, among many ridiculous conjectures of the possible achievements of science, hit on a very remarkable one, which cannot but be striking to us.

In a work addressed to the Royal Society just two centuries ago, he says:

'I doubt not but that posterity will find many things that now are hut rumours verified into practical realities. It may be, some ages hence, a voyage to the southern unknown tracts, yea, possibly, to the moon, will not be more strange than one to America. To those that come after us, it may be as ordinary to buy a pair of wings to fly into the remotest regions, as now a pair of boots to ride a journey. And to confer, at the distance of the ladies, 4 sympathetic conveyances, may be as usual to future times as to us in literary correspondence.' This last conjecture, the possibility of which has now been realized, doubtless appeared, when hazarded two centuries ago, as visionary and impossible as a flight to the moon. Even Butler, were he living in these days of electric communication, would not have thought it so impossible to fire a mine in China by touching a wire in Britain. Glanvil, with much pertinency, further remarks, 'Antiquity would not have believed the almost incredible force of our cannons, and would as coldly have entertained the wonders of the telescope. In these we all condemn antique incredulity. And it is likely posterity will have as much cause to pity ours. But those who are acquainted with the diligent and ingenious endeavours of true philosophers will despair of nothing.'

GEORGE WITHERS

'I lived,' says this remarkable man, 'to see eleven signal changes, in which not a few signal transactions providentially occurred: to wit, under the government of Queen Elizabeth, King James, Charles I, the King and Parliament together, the King alone, the Army, Oliver Cromwell, Richard Cromwell, a Council of State, the Parliament again, and the now King Charles II.' Withers was brought up as a rigid Puritan. Imbued with a mania for scribbling, and a thorough detestation of what Mr. Carlyle calls shams, he left behind him upwards of a hundred and forty satirical pieces, the greater part in verse. In early life he took service under Charles I, but when the civil war broke out, he sold his estate to raise a troop of horse, which he commanded on the side of the Parliament. he was once taken prisoner by the Royalists, and about to be put to death as a traitor; but Sir John Denham begged his life, saying to the king— 'If your Majesty kills Withers, I will then he the worst poet in England.'

As Withers's satires were conscientiously directed against all that he considered wrong, either in his own or the opposite party, he very often was made acquainted with the interior of a prison; but in spite of these drawbacks, he managed to rub through life, favoured in some degree by both sides, as he held office under Charles Il. as well as under Cromwell. He died on the 2nd of May 1667, having reached (for a poet) the tolerable age of seventy-nine.

SIR JOHN FRANKLIN

Sir John Franklin sailed, June 1815, in command of an expedition, composed of two vessels, the Erebus and Terror, for the discovery of the supposed North-west Passage. Several years having elapsed without affording any news of these ships, expedition after expedition was sent out with a view to ascertain their fate, but without any clear intelligence as to the vessels or their commander till 1859, when Captain F. L. M'Clintock, in command of a little vessel which had been fitted out at the expense of Lady Franklin, discovered at Point Victory, in King William's Island, a record, contained in a canister, to the effect that the Erebus and Terror had been frozen up in lat. 70.05 N.. and long. 98.23 W., from September 1816, and that Sir John Franklin died there on the 11th of June 1847. It farther appeared that, at the date of the record, April 25th,1818, the survivors of the expedition, having abandoned their vessels, were about to attempt to escape by land; in which attempt, however, it has been learned by other means every one perished.

Franklin's expedition must he admitted to have been wholly an unfortunate one; but there is, after all, some consolation iii looking to the many gallant efforts to succour and retrieve it---in the course of one of which the North-west Passage was actually discovered—and in remembering the constancy of a tender affection, through. which, after many failures, the fate of the expedition was finally ascertained.

June 12th

BACK TO TOP >