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April 20th

Died: Eliza Barton, 'the Maid of Kent,' executed, 1534, Tyburn; Prince Eugene of Savoy, military commander, 1736, Vienna; John Lewis Petit, his time the most renowned surgeon in Europe,' 1760, Paris; Robert Mudie, miscellaneous writer, 1842, London.

Feast Day: St. Serf or Servanus, of Scotland, 5th century. St. Agnes of Monte Pulciano, 1317. St. James of Sclavonia, 1485.


The 20th of April 1653, is the date of this memorable event. The Parliament by which Charles I had been met and overcome, was dwindled down by various purgations to about fifty-three members, who aimed at becoming a sort of mild oligarchy for the administration of the affairs of the commonwealth. They were deliberating on a bill for the future representation, in which they should have a permanent place, when Cromwell resolved to make an end of them. It was the last incident in the natural series of a revolution, placing military power above all other.

Cromwell, having ordered a company of musketeers to follow him, entered the House 'in plain black clothes and grey worsted stockings,' and, sitting down, listened for a while to their proceedings. Hearing at length the question put, that the bill do pass, he rose, put off his hat, and began to speak. In the course of his address, he told them of their self-seeking and delays of justice, till at length Sir Peter Wentworth interrupted him with a remonstrance against such language. Then blazing up, he said, 'We have had enough of this�I will put an end to your prating.' Stepping into the floor of the House, and clapping on his hat, he commenced a violent harangue, which he occasionally emphasized by stamping with his feet, and which came mainly to this, 'It is not fit you should sit here any longer�you have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. You shall now give place to better men.' 'Call them in!' he exclaimed; and his officer Harrison and a file of soldiers entered the House. Then proceeding, 'You are no parliament! Some of you are drunkards '�bending a stern eye upon Mr. Chaloner; 'some of you are _______ ,' a word expressive of a worse immorality, and he looked here at Henry Marten and Sir Peter Wentworth �'living in open contempt of God's commandments. Some of you are corrupt, unjust persons�how can you be a parliament for God's people? Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. Go!'

He lifted the mace from the table, and gave it to a musketeer to be taken away. He caused Harrison to give his hand to Speaker Lenthal, and lead him down from the chair. The members, cowed by his violence, and the sight of the armed men, moved gloomily out of the House. It is the Lord that hath caused me to do this,' he said. 'I have sought that He would rather slay me than put me upon doing this work.' Sir Harry Vane venturing a remonstrance, 'Oh, Sir Harry Vane! 'exclaimed the Lord-General; 'the Lord deliver me from Sir Harry Vane!' When all had gone out, he came out too, and locked the door. From that time he was master of the three kingdoms for about five and a half years.


This wealthy and most extraordinary individual died on the 20th of April 1836, having attained the age of eighty years. 'Jemmy Wood' �for by such name he was usually recognised�was the sole proprietor of the old Gloucester Bank, which had been established by his grand-father in the year 1716, being one of those primitive banking concerns which took their rise in a shop business, and of which, perhaps, hardly one example now survives. Wood's bank was conducted to the last by the proprietor and two or three clerks, at the end of a common chandlery shop, which they also attended to. Wood was latterly considered as the richest commoner in the kingdom. His habits were those of a thrifty old bachelor. In the bank or shop his whole time was passed: he went to no one's house, and never invited any person to his. It was his habit on Sundays to go to church regularly, eat his dinner on his return, and then take a short walk into the country. He left several wills of a conflicting character, and, as a matter of course, these documents caused litigation, and gave employment to lawyers and attorneys for years.

Many anecdotes illustrating his penuriousness are told; amongst others the following: One Sunday before leaving his house to proceed to church, he gave to a little boy, who acted as his servant, a chicken, which he intended to be roasted for dinner. The cooking process commenced; and as the bird was turned and basted, the savory steam which it gave forth sharpened the boy's appetite, and he ventured to rub his finger on the breast, which was being gradually browned, and apply his finger to his mouth. The taste was delicious! He became bolder, and picked away a morsel of the breast of the bird; then another; other bits followed, until none of the breast remained.

Hunger was gnawing at the boy's heart, and he could not resist temptation; so the whole chicken speedily disappeared. His hunger now appeased, he saw his fault, and, trembling at the prospect of meeting his thrifty master, like most little boys after doing wrong, he thought of hiding. On entering a closet adjoining the room, his eye fell on a small bottle, having on it a label with the awful word 'poison' in legible characters. He feared death much, but his master still more, and in a minute he resolved to end his days; accordingly, he drained the bottle, and was, as he thought, safe from his master's rage. In a short time, the old banker appeared on the scene, resolved to enjoy his chicken and glass of brandy - and - water. Great was his astonishment to see the spit empty, and find the boy away. On making a search he found the latter lying on the pantry floor with the empty bottle, which quickly brought before his mind a solution of the mystery. The boy was drunk, for the bottle contained old Wood's brandy, which was marked 'poison,' to guard it from the possibility of being touched by the servants. What the old gentleman did with the lad is not recorded.


The 20th of April is the fair-day of Tenbury, in Worcestershire, and there is a belief in that county that you never hear the cuckoo till Tenbury fair-day, or after Pershore fairday, which is the 26th of June.

The following is a very common rhyme in England, regarding the period of the cuckoo:

In April
The cuckoo shows his bill;
In May
He is singing all day;
In June
He changes his tune;
In July
He prepares to fly;
In August
Fly he must.

It is a popular belief in Norfolk that whatever you are doing the first time you hear the cuckoo, that you will do most frequently all the year. Another is that an unmarried person will remain single as many years as the cuckoo, when first heard, utters its call.

Mr. Marryat found a curious legend among the Danes regarding the cuckoo. 'When in early springtime the voice of the cuckoo is first heard in the woods, every village girl kisses her hand, and asks the question, "Cuckoo! cuckoo! when shall I be married?" and the old folks, borne down with age and rheumatism, inquire, "Cuckoo! cuckoo! when shall I be released from this world's cares?" The bird, in answer, continues singing "Cuckoo!" as many times as years will elapse before the object of their desires will come to pass. But as some old people live to an advanced age, and many girls die old maids, the poor bird has so much to do in answering the questions put to her, that the building season goes by; she has no time to make her nest, but lays her eggs in that of the hedge-sparrow.'

Several of our English birds were objects of superstition in the Middle Ages, and none more so than the cuckoo. Our forefathers looked upon it as the harbinger of spring, and as the merriest songster of summer, and it is the subject of the oldest of English popular songs now remaining. This song, which is preserved in MSS. Harl. No. 978, must be of the earlier half of the thirteenth century, and is remarkable for being accompanied with musical notes, and as being the oldest sample of English secular music. The words are as follows:

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing Cuccu;
Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
And springth the tittle nu.
                 Sing Cuccu.
Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu;
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth;
Murie sing Cuccu,
Cuccu, Cuccu.
Wel singes thu, Cuccu;
Ne swik thu never nu.'

Which may be thus interpreted in modern English:

Summer is come in,
Loud sing Cuckoo;
Grows the seed, and blooms the mead,
And sprouts the wood now.
                   Sing Cuckoo.
The ewe bleats after the Iamb,
The cow lows after the calf,
The bullock leaps, the buck verts;
Merrily sing Cuckoo, Cuckoo, Cuckoo.
Well singest thou, Cuckoo;
Cease thou never to sing, Cuckoo.'

The reader will remember the somewhat similar song of spring in Shakspeare's Love's Labour's Lost, where spring is 'maintained by the cuckoo.'

It was the spring, indeed, and not the summer, that the cuckoo was considered to represent in the Middle Ages. There is an early Latin poem on the cuckoo in connection with spring, which is ascribed, no doubt incorrectly, to Bede, in which the cuckoo is called upon to awake, because the spring had arrived:

'Tempus adest veris, cuculus, modo rumpe soporem.'

It is the popular belief in some parts of the country that the cuckoo always makes its first appearance on the 21st of April.

The cuckoo was often celebrated in the mediaeval poetry of all ages and all languages, and was looked upon as possessing some share of supernatural knowledge. In some parts it seems to have been an article of belief that it was one of the gods who took the form of the bird, and it was considered a crime to kill it. Its most singular quality, in this superstitious lore, was the power of telling how long people would live, the faith in which is still preserved among the peasantry of many parts of Germany and the north of Europe. It was believed that if, when you first heard a cuckoo in the morning, you put the question in a respectful manner, it would immediately repeat its note just as many times as you had years to live. This superstition is the foundation of many stories in the mediaeval Latin writers, of which the following, told by Caesarius of Heisterbach, belongs to the year 1221.

'A converse' in a certain monastery�that is, a lay-man who had become a monk�was walking out one day, when, hearing a cuckoo and counting the number of times its note was repeated, he found it to be twenty-two. 'Ah!' said he, 'if I am yet to live twenty-two years more, why should I mortify myself all this long time in a monastery? I will return to the world, and give myself up to the enjoyment of its pleasures for twenty years, and then I shall have two years to repent in.' So he returned to the world, and lived joyously two years, and then died, losing twenty out of his reckoning.

In another given in Wright's Selection of Latin Stories, a woman is described as lying on her death-bed, when her daughter urged her to send for a priest, that she might confess her sins. Too whom her mother replied, 'Why? if I am ill today, tomorrow or next day I shall be well. But the daughter, seeing she became worse brought in several of her neighbours, who urge the same thing. To whom she said, 'What do you talk about? or, what do you fear? I shall not die these twelve years; I have heard the cuckoo, who told me so.' At length she became speechless, and was at the point of death. Then her daughter sent for the priest, who came bringing what was necessary [to perform the last duties], and approaching her he asked if she had anything to confess. All she said was 'kuckuc [cuckoo]. Again the priest offered her the sacrament, and asked her if she believed the Lord, was her Saviour, and she replied 'kuckuc,' so the priest went away, and shortly afterwards she died.

In one of the branches of the celebrate romance of Renart (Reynard the Fox), written in French verse in the thirteenth century, and published by Meon (vol. iv., p. 9), Renart and his wife, dame Ermengart, are introduced reposing together in the early morning, and discoursing of ambitious prospects, when Renart suddenly hears the note of the cuckoo:

'A cest mot Renart le cucu
Entent, si jeta un fans ris;
Jou te conjur," fait il, de cris,
Cucus, que me dise le voir,
Quans ans j'ai a vivre; savoir Le veil, cucu."'

'At this word Renart the cuckoo
Hears, and broke into a false laugh;
"I conjure you," said he, "earnestly,
Cuckoo, that you tell me the truth,
How many years I have to live;
to know It I wish, Cuckoo."'

The cuckoo responded at once, and repeated his note thirteen times,

'Atant se taist, que plus ne fu
Li oisiaus illuec, ains s'envolle.
Et Renars maintenant acole
Dame Ermengart; "Ave's oi?"
"Sire," dist-ell, "des cuer joi;
Vos semons que me baisies."
"Dame," dist-il, "j'en suis tos lies.

M'a li cucus treize ans d'a�
A vivre encore ci apres."'

'Then he ceased, for no longer was
The bird there, but flew away.
And Renart now embraced
Dame Ermeugart; "Have you heard?"
"Sir," said she, "I have heard it gladly;
I demand that you kiss me."
"Dame," said he, "I am quite rejoiced.

To me has the cuckoo thirteen years of life
To live yet here taught."'

The notion which couples the name of the cuckoo with the character of the man whose wife is unfaithful to him, appears to have been derived from the Romans, and is first found in the Middle Ages in France, and in the countries of which the modern language is derived from the Latin. We are not aware that it existed originally among the Teutonic race, and we have doubtless received it through the Normans. The opinion that the cuckoo made no nest of its own, but laid its eggs in that of another bird which brought up the young cuckoo to the detriment of its own offspring, was well known to the ancients, and is mentioned by Aristotle and Pliny. But they more correctly gave the name of the bird not to the husband of the faithless wife, but to her paramour, who might justly be supposed to be acting the part of the cuckoo. They gave the name of the bird in whose nest the cuckoo's eggs were usually deposited, curruca, to the husband. It is not quite clear how, in the passage from classic to mediaeval, the application of the term was transferred to the husband.

There are, or have been not long ago, in different parts of England, remnants of other old customs, marking the position which the cuckoo held in the superstitions of the Middle Ages. In Shropshire, till very recently, when the first cuckoo was heard, the labourers were in the habit of leaving their work, making holiday of the rest of the day, and carousing in what they called the cuckoo ale. Among the peasantry in some parts of the kingdom, it is considered to be very unlucky to have no money in your pocket when you hear the cuckoo's note for the first time in the season. It was also a common article of belief, that if a maiden ran into the fields early in the morning, to hear the first note of the cuckoo, and when she heard it took off her left shoe and looked into it, she would there find a man's hair of the same colour as that of her future husband.

April 21st