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October 10th

Born: Pierre Nicole, logician, of Port Royal, 1625, Chartres; John, Duke of Argyll, statesman and commander, 1680; Henry Cavendish, eminent chemist, 1731, Nice; Benjamin West, painter, 1738, Springfield, Pennsylvania; Rev Theobald Mathew, Irish apostle of temperance, 1790, Thomastown, Tipperary.

Died: Dr. John Blow, composer, 1708; Archbishop John Potter, author of Grecian Antiquities, 1747, Croydon; Dr. William Wilkie, author of the Epigoniad, 1772, St. Andrews; Henry Brooke, novelist, 1783, Dublin; Jeremiah James Oberlin, philologer, and archeological writer, 1806, Strasburg; Varnhagen Von Elise, eminent German writer, 1858, Berlin.

Feast Day: St. Paulinus, archbishop of York, confessor, 644. St. John of Bridlington, confessor, 1379. St. Francis Borgia, confessor, 1572.

TESTAMENT OF MASTER WILLIAM TRACIE

'The x daye of October, in the xxii yere of the rayne of King Henry the VIII'is the date of an interesting document connected with the Reformation in England, '

The Testament of Master Wylliam Tracie, Esquier.’

In the time that immediately preceded the Reformation, many intelligent persons imbibed the opinions of Wycliffe, without making any prominent exhibition of them. This latent degeneracy usually crept out in their last wills, or on their death-beds. The omission of a wish to have masses performed for their souls after death was considered a strong proof of heresy, and dealt with severely. As an instance of this, it is recorded, that the body of William Tracie was taken up in Henry’s VIII’s reign, and publicly burned, by order of the chancellor of Worcester, because the following passage was found in his will: 

'And towchyn the wealth of my soule the fayth that I have taken and rehersed, is suffycient (as I suppose) without any other man’s worke or workis. My grounde and my beliefe is, that ther is but one god and one mediatour betwene god and man, whych is Jesus Chryste. So that I do not except none in heaven or erthe to be my mediatour between me and god, but only Jesus Chryst, al other be but petitioners in recevinge of grace, but one able to give influence of grace. And therfore wyll I bestowe no part of my goodes for that intent that any man shoulde saye, or do, to healpe any soule, for therein I trust onely to the promyse of God, he that beleveth and is baptized shal be saved, and he that heleveth not shad be damned.’

HENRY CAVENDISH

Cavendish has been called the Newton of chemistry, but we must allow that the title is somewhat hyperbolical. Cavendish did not write much; a few papers in the Philosophical Transactions, between 1766 and 1899, comprise his publications, but these were composed with such exquisite care, that it has been said each sentence might endure microscopic examination. Sir Humphry Davy, in a lecture delivered shortly after the death of Cavendish, observes:

'his processes were all of a finished nature, perfected by the hand of a master; they required no correction; and though many of them were per-formed in the very infancy of chemical science, yet their accuracy and beauty have remained unimpaired amidst the progress of discovery.'

When Cavendish began his researches, pneumatic chemistry hardly existed. Different gases were recognised, but they were considered to be mere modifications or admixtures of the common air. One by one, cautiously and firmly, he fixed truth after truth beyond dispute. His most notable achievement was his demonstration, in 1781, of the composition of water. Over this discovery there has been considerable controversy, some claiming priority for James Watt; but the fact seems to be, that both Cavendish and Watt reached the same conclusion about the same time by different routes.

The Honorable Henry Cavendish was born in 1731, at Nice, whither his mother, Lady Anne Cavendish, had repaired for the sake of her health, and she died ere her son was two years old. Cavendish was educated at a private school at Hackney, whence he proceeded to Cambridge. In early life his tastes were directed to scientific pursuits, to the ultimate exclusion of politics, and all else in which ordinary men take interest. He became an excellent mathematician, electrician, astronomer, meteorologist, geologist, and as a chemist shot far ahead of his contemporaries. Up to his fortieth year, his income was mode-rate, perhaps not more than £500 a year, but in 1773 an uncle died and left him an enormous fortune.

This accession of wealth did little to change his habits, which had become irrevocably established as those of a methodic recluse. His shyness, his love of solitude, and aversion to society, bordered on disease. To be looked at or addressed by a stranger seemed to give him positive pain, and when approached abruptly, he would dart away with a cry or ejaculation as if scared or hurt. At Sir Joseph Banks’s soirees he would stand for a long time on the landing, afraid to open the door and face the company, nor would he open it till he heard some one ascending the stairs, and then to escape the terror behind faced that in front, At one of these parties Dr. Ingenhousz recited the titles and qualifications of Cavendish in a pompous and formal manner, and introduced to him an Austrian gentleman. The Austrian thereon launched out into compliments, saying his chief reason for coming to London was to see and converse with one of the greatest ornaments of the age, and one of the most illustrious philosophers that ever existed.

To this high-flown verbiage Cavendish answered not a word, but stood with his eyes cast down, abashed and in misery. At last spying an opening in the crowd, he flew to the door, nor did he stop till he reached his carriage, and drove directly home. Any attempt to draw him into conversation was almost certain to fail, and Dr. Wollaston’s recipe for treating with him usually answered best: 'The way to talk to Cavendish is never to look at him, but to talk as if it were into vacancy, and then it is not unlikely you may set him going.' Professor Playfair, who visited London in 1782, and was frequently at the meetings of the Royal Society Club, remarks: 'Mr Cavendish is a member of this meeting. He is of an awkward appearance, and has not much of the look of a man of rank. He speaks likewise with great difficulty and hesitation, and very seldom. But the gleams of genius break often through this unpromising exterior. He never speaks at all, but it is exceedingly to the purpose, and either brings some excellent information, or draws some important conclusion.’

Cavendish’s townhouse was near the British Museum, at the corner of Gower Street and Montague Place. Few visitors were admitted, and some who were permitted to cross its threshold reported that books and apparatus were its chief furniture. He collected a large library of scientific literature, and willing to have it suede useful, but not to be troubled with readers and borrowers, he hired a house for its reception in Dean Street, Soho, and kept a librarian. When he wanted one of his own books, he went there as to a circulating library, and left a formal receipt for whatever he took away. His favourite residence was a beautiful villa at Clapham, nearly the whole of which was occupied as workshops. The upper rooms were an observatory; the drawing -room was a laboratory; and in an ante-room was a forge. On the lawn was a wooden stage, from which access could be had to a large tree, to the top of which Cavendish, in the course of his astronomical, meteorological, and electrical experiments, occasionally ascended. For beauty he seemed quite indifferent. His apparatus, always exact and accurate so far as essential, was constructed of the cheapest material, and without any regard for symmetry.

His few guests were treated on all occasions to the same fare—a leg of mutton, and nothing else. Four scientific men were to dine with him one day, and when his housekeeper came to ask him what was to be got for dinner, he said a leg of mutton. Sir, ’said she, 'that will not be enough for five.' ''Well, then, get two," was his reply. His heir, Lord George Cavendish, visited him once a year, and was allowed an audience of but half-an-hour. His great income was allowed to accumulate without attention. The bankers where he kept his account found they had a balance of £80,000 on hand, and sent a messenger to confer with him regarding it. The messenger was announced, and Cavendish, in great agitation, desired him to be sent up, and as he entered the room, cried:

'What do you come here for? What do you want with me?'

'Sir, I thought it proper to wait upon you, as we have a very large balance in hand of yours, and we wish your orders respecting it.'

'If it is any trouble to you, I will take it out of your hands. Do not come here to plague me!’

'Not the least trouble to us, sir, not the least; but we thought you might like some of it to be invested.'

'Well, well. What do you want to do?'

'Perhaps you would like £40,000 invested.'

'Do so, do so! and don’t come here to trouble me, or I'll remove it.'

If men were a trouble to him, women were his abhorrence. With his housekeeper he generally communicated by notes deposited on the hall-table. He would never see a female servant, and if an unlucky maid showed herself, she was instantly dismissed. To prevent inevitable encounters, it is said he had a second staircase erected in his Clapham villa. In all his habits he was punctiliously regular, even to hanging his hat on one peg. From an unvarying walk he was, however, driven by being gazed at. Two ladies led a gentleman on his track, in order that he might obtain a sight of the philosopher. As he was getting over a stile, he saw to his horror that he was watched, and he never appeared in that path again. That he was not quite merciless to the sex, was proved by his saving a lady from the pursuit of a mad cow. The fashion of his dress he never changed, and his appearance was consequently odd and antique, and provoked the attention he so much disliked. The villagers beheld him with awe, and thought him a wizard. His complexion was fair, his temperament nervous, and his voice squeaking. Of course, he would never allow his portrait to be taken, and the only memorial we have of his appearance is a hasty and surreptitious sketch. He died on the 24th of February 1810, aged upwards of seventy eight. At the time of his death, he was the largest holder of bankstock in England. He owned £1,157,000 in different public funds, the value of which was estimated at £700,000, and had besides freehold property of £8000 a year, and canal and other personal property. £50,000 lay to his credit at the bankers.

Dr. George Wilson, the biographer of Cavendish, sums up his character in saying:

'There was nothing earnest, enthusiastic, heroic, or chivalrous in the nature of Cavendish, and as little was there anything mean, grovelling, or ignoble. He was almost passionless. All that needed for its apprehension more than pure intellect, or required the exercise of fancy, imagination, affection, or faith, was distasteful to Cavendish. An intellectual head thinking, a pair of wonderful acute eyes observing, and a pair of very skilful hands experimenting or recording, are all that I realise in reading his memorials.’

FATHER MATHEW

Like Scotland, the island of Ireland has been frequently twitted with the propensity of her children to an over-indulgence in strong liquors, and it cannot be denied that the vice of intoxication has, in past times at least, funned a repulsive characteristic of both countries. With such material to work upon, it will be readily admitted that any one endeavouring to act the part of a reformer of morals, would find an endeavour to convert the masses to sobriety a truly Herculean task. Yet in Ireland such an attempt was made, and the energy and devotedness of one man accomplished what was, temporarily at least, a great moral revolution.

The Rev. Theobald Mathew, who thus proved so successful an apostle of the temperance cause, was related to the family of the Earls of Llandaff, of which his father was an illegitimate scion. Having been ordained a priest in 1814, he was appointed to a missionary charge in Cork, where his zeal and earnestness quickly secured him an immense influence both among rich and poor. Through his means, a benevolent association for visiting the sick and destitute was established in that city, on the model of the societies of St. Vincent de Paul. While thus engaged in an active career of usefulness, a temperance society was formed in Cork about 1838, and Father Mathew became its president. The heroic missionary threw himself with all the ardour of his nature into the new movement, and so successful were his efforts, that in a few months he obtained 150,000 converts in Cork alone to temperance principles. Determined to diffuse the benefits of the good cause still further, he commenced a progress through the west of Ireland, in which he was everywhere followed by crowds, who pressed for-ward to take the vow of total abstinence. The greater part of the island was thus traversed by Father Mathew, and he also visited London and other towns in England.

Much of the success that attended his peregrinations, is doubtless to be ascribed to that mysterious sympathetic influence by which whole communities have often been swayed. Such was the preaching of Peter the Hermit in the middle ages, and similar effects have recently been witnessed in the 'revival' movement in Britain and America. It is, how-ever, greatly to Father Mathew’s credit, that the habitually impulsive temperament of the Irish was thus acted upon for the purest and most beneficial of purposes—their reclamation from a vice which had hitherto constituted with them a national opprobrium. It must also not be forgotten, that the good priest was himself a serious sufferer by the results of his philanthropic exertions.

A distillery in the south of Ireland, belonging to his family, and from which he himself derived a large income, was shut up in consequence of the disuse of whisky among the lower orders, occasioned by his preaching. His services to the cause of religion and morality were at last recognised by the state, and a pension of £300 a year granted him from the civil list. Notwithstanding this, the expenses attending his benevolent exertions kept him always poor, and even burdened him with a debt, to relieve him from which a subscription was raised. For some years previous to his death, which took place on December 8, 1856, he was incapacitated by ill health from continuing his labours. As a true benefactor of humanity, Father Mathew must ever be regarded as one of the most shining ornaments of the Roman Catholic Church.

October 11th

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