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March 21st

Born: Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, 1274; Humphrey Wanley, antiquary, 1672, Coventry; Johann Sebastian Bach, musical composer, 1685, Eisenach; J. B. J. Fourier, mathematician, 1768; Henry Kirke White, poet, 1785, Nottingham.

Died: Edmond of Woodstock, Earl of Kent, beheaded, 1330; Archbishop Cranmer, burnt at Oxford, 1556; Peter Ernest, Count de Mansfeld, 1604, Luxembourg; Tomasso Campanella, Dominican metaphysician and politician, 1639, Paris; Archbishop Usher, 1656, Reigate, Surrey; Charlotte Tremouille, Countess of Derby, heroic defender of Latham House, and of the Isle of Man, 1663, Ormskirk; Richard Dawes, eminent Greek scholar, 1766, Haworth; Due d'Enghien, shot at Vincennes, 1804 Michael Bryan, biographer of painters and engravers, 1821: Baron La Motte-Fouquẻ, poet and novelist, 1843; Robert Southey, LL.D., poet laureate, 1843, Keswick; Rev. W. Scoresby, Arctic voyager, 1857.

Feast Day: St. Serapion (called the Sindonite), about 388. St. Serapion (the scholastic), Bishop in Egypt, 4th century. St. Serapion, abbot. St. Benedict (or Bennet), abbot of Mount Casino, patriarch of the Western monks, 543. St. Enna, abbot in Ireland, 6th century.


The history of St. Benedict is chiefly interesting to us from the circumstance that he was in a manner the father of Western monachism, and especially of that portion of it which exercised so great and durable an influence on the social history of this part of Europe. He was born about the year 480, and was a native of Norcia, in Umbria, from whence he was sent to study at Rome, but he had imbibed a strong taste for asceticism, and when about fourteen or fifteen, he fled to the wild mountains of Subiaco, disgusted, as it is said, by the vices practised in Rome. He took up his residence alone in a cavern which is now called the Holy Grotto, and his hiding-place was known only to a monk of a neighbouring monastery, named Romanus, who supplied him scantily with food. After three years passed in this manner, Benedict became endowed with sanctity, and his reputation began soon to spread over the country, so that he was at length elected Abbot of Vicovara, between Subiaco and Tivoli; but he disagreed with the monks, and returned to his old place of retirement.

His fame drew so many monks to the desert, that he established twelve monasteries; placing in each twelve monks, and a superior. Here he received a continual accession of monks, and is said to have performed many miracles; but at length becoming an object of persecution to some of his flock, he left Subiaco, and went to Monte Cassino, a lofty mountain in the kingdom of Naples. On the brow of the mountain stood an ancient temple of Apollo, surrounded by a grove, where some of the inhabitants of this district appear to have remained still addicted to their old idolatrous worship. Benedict converted these by his preaching, and by the miracles which accompanied it, broke the idol, and overthrew the altar; and having demolished the temple and cut down the grove, built on the spot two small oratories, which were the first beginning of the celebrated abbey of Monte Cassino. When he founded this abbey in the year 529, Benedict was forty-eight years of age. While Abbot of Monte Cassino, Benedict founded several other similar establishments, and he drew up the rule for their governance, which became subsequently that of the whole Benedictine order. The great principle of this rule was absolute obedience, the other main duties being charity and voluntary poverty.

The monks were to employ seven hours of the day in manual labour, and two in pious reading. They were to abstain entirely from animal food, and were allowed only a fixed quantity of food daily. They were to possess everything in common, and this article was at first enforced so strictly, that in some of the monasteries in France a monk was considered to have merited punishment when he said, 'my cloak,' or 'my hat,' as no individual was allowed to possess anything of his own. In course of time, however, this injunction was generally evaded, and the Benedictine monasteries became celebrated for their immense possessions, which they excused on the ground that the wealth of the monasteries belonged to the monks not individually but collectively�that they were so many pauper members of a rich foundation. Benedict ruled the abbey of Monte Cassino about fourteen years, and died on Saturday the 21st of March, it is believed in the year 543, and was buried in the church of his monastery. In England the name of this saint is usually known by its popular form of Benet or Bennet.

After his death the rule of St. Benedict was adopted by nearly all the monks of the West. In England the rule of the earlier Anglo-Saxon monks was very loose, and their monasteries partook more of the character of secular than of religions establishments. In the tenth century, St. Dunstan, with the aid of some other ecclesiastics of his time, and after an obstinate struggle, forced the Benedictine order upon the Anglo-Saxons, and it was still more completely established in this island by the Normans. But the more onerous parts of the rule were no longer observed, and the monks and nuns had become celebrated for their luxurious living, and for the secular character of their lives. Frequent attempts were made to restore the order to some-what of its religious purity, and these various reformations produced numerous branch orders, among which the most powerful and celebrated were the monks of Cluny, and the Cistercians.


It is startling to note in how many instances the future destiny of a great man seems at one time or other to have hung on a thread. One little chance, one event, in itself most trivial, substituted for another at some critical point, and the great man's name might have been omitted in Fame's scroll. Had Thomas Cranmer not met with Henry VIII accidentally, we might never have heard of him; for he was not a man to push his way to distinction. He was in no way a very extraordinary man. Henry found him a fellow of his college, a widower, a private tutor, learned in divinity, and a staunch believer in the King's supremacy. Whatever may be said of Henry, he had undoubtedly a shrewd insight into character. He saw at once that Cranmer was an acquisition. He at once employed him. He sent him on an embassy to the Pope, as well as to Germany, and made him archbishop in four years, against his will. He stood by him to the last.

Crammer must have been the most useful man of the Reformation. His cautious prudence enabled him to steer safely where bolder guides would have endangered the vessel, and to keep in harbour when others would have risked the storm. He pushed on the cause indefatigably, but never agitated. During Henry's reign he supported the King's supremacy, laboured at the English Bible, and began a revised Liturgy. Edward VI, reigning from nine years old to fifteen, afforded him a golden opportunity for cautiously, but surely, advancing the great cause. Cranmer was the chief compiler of the new Liturgies, Articles, Homilies, &c., and the chief allayer of disputes which began to harass the unity of the Reformers. In Mary's reign the old man was duped into recantations, and burnt at Oxford.

Cranmer is by some described as a weak man, and by others elaborately defended. It is easier to detract from or extol a character, than to analyse it. As a man he was vacillating, as a Christian strong, as both prudent. A man naturally weak may be often courageous, and an upright conscience is easily confused in a weak mind. Prudence was Cranmer's chief characteristic, and prudence begets compromise, compromise vacillation. When he took contradictory oaths on his instalment, he was content with a protest: he said, 'What could I have done more?' And the key to his whole course is given in his own words: 'It pertains not to private subjects to reform things, but quietly to suffer what they cannot amend '�a difficult rule in those days as a guide to consistent conduct. No doubt it was by aid of this principle that his enemies at the last undermined his consistency.

Yet he was a most pure Christian. When he saw his duty clearly, he never turned from it. He strongly opposed Henry's Six Articles, and almost seditiously circulated his disapproval of Mary. Worldly we are sure he was not, though Dr. Hook would have it so, building an imaginary charge on an obscure transaction. Ever would he plead for those condemned. He uniformly forgave his enemies, and confided in his friends with a childish simplicity. 'Do my lord of Canterbury an ill turn, and he is your friend for ever,' was the world's testimony of him. 'When he was informed of their treachery and ingratitude, he led aside Thornden and Barber into his garden, told them that some whom he trusted had disclosed his secrets and accused him of heresy, and asked how they thought such persons ought to be treated. They were loud in expressing their indignation, and declared that such traitors deserved to die. "Know ye these letters, my masters?" said the primate, and shewed them the proof of their own falsehood. The two offenders fell upon their knees to implore forgiveness: for it was evident that their lives were in his power, but all the revenge he took was to bid them ask God's forgiveness.'

'Kind, gentle, good, and weak.'
Shakspeare puts it very well:
Look, the good man weeps!
He's honest, on mine honour.
God's bless'd mother!
I swear he is true-hearted; and a soul
None better in my kingdom.'


White was remarkable at the schools he attended in Nottingham for extraordinary application. Such was his early passion for reading, that, when seated in his little chair with a large book on his knee, his mother would have to say more than once, 'Henry, my love, come to dinner  ere she could rouse him from his reverie. At the age of seven he used to steal into the kitchen to teach the servant to read and write. But so little sympathy did his father, who was a butcher, show with his tastes and predilections, that he not only kept him from school one whole day a week to carry out meat, but actually, for a time, occupied nearly all his leisure hours besides in this ungenial task.

At the age of fourteen he was sent to work at the stocking-loom, with a view to future promotion to the hosier's warehouse. It would be impossible to imagine a more disagreeable occupation for poor Henry; and while he drudged at it most unwillingly for a twelvemonth, his thoughts were roaming along the banks of the silvery Trent, or resting in the welcome shade of Clifton Grove. At fifteen, his mother succeeded in procuring his admission into a lawyer's office, where, as no premium could be paid with him, he had to serve two years before he could be articled�a form which took place in 1802. He now began to learn Latin and Greek. Such, we are told, was his assiduity, that he used to decline Greek nouns and verbs as he went to and from the office, gave up supping with the family, and ate his meal in his own little room, in order to pursue his studies more uninterruptedly,�studies which often extended far into the night, and became almost encyelopaedic in their range. He commenced as author by sending contributions to the Monthly Preceptor and Monthly Mirror.

From the former he received a pair of 12-inch globes as a prize for the best imaginary tour from London to Edinburgh, which. he wrote one evening after tea, and read to the family at supper. He was then only sixteen. Through the latter he attracted the notice of Mr. Hill and Capel Loft, who persuaded him to prepare a volume of poems, which appeared in 1803, dedicated to the Duchess of Devonshire�a lady more interested in elections than books of poetry, and who consequently took no further notice of the volume or its author. Henry's great desire now was to enter the Church. He disliked the drudgery of an attorney's office: a deafness, too, which was gaining upon him, threatened to make him use-less as a lawyer, and his mind was deeply imbued with religious feelings. He hoped that the publication of his poems might in some way or other further this object. For a time, however, he was doomed to disappointment. At length, through the influence of Air Simeon, the author of the well-known Skeleton Sermons, his fondest hopes were realized.

In October 1805, he went to Cambridge, where, by unexampled industry, he speedily attained distinction, was first at every examination, and was looked upon as, a future Senior Wrangler. But he had long overtaxed his strength. At the end of one short year from his entering the College, exhausted nature sank beneath incessant toil and anxiety. He died October 19, 1806.

Byron, in his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, has finely said of him:

Science' self destroy'd her favourite son
'Twas thine own genius gave the final blow,
And help'd to plant the wound that laid thee low:
So the struck eagle, stretch'd upon the plain,
No more through rolling clouds to soar again,
View'd his own feather on the fatal dart,
And wing'd the shaft that quiver'd in his heart:
Keen were his pangs, but keener far to feel,
He nursed the pinion which impell'd the steel,
While the same plumage that had warm'd his nest
Drank the last life-drop of his bleeding breast.'

March 22nd