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December 11th

Born: Dr. William Cullen, illustrious professor of medicine, 1712, Hamilton; Paul Joseph Berthed, physiologist, 1734, Montpellier; Charles Wesley, musician, 1757, Bristol.

Died: Michael VIII Palaeologus, Greek emperor, 1282; Louis, Prince of Conde (the Great Conde), 1686, Fontainebleau; Sir Roger l'Estrauge, translator of classic authors, 1704; Charles XII of Sweden, killed at Frederickshall, 1718; Theodore Neuhoff, ex-king of Corsica, 1756, London.

Feast Day: Saints Fuscian, Victorious, and Gentian, martyrs, about 287. St. Damasus, pope and confessor, 384. St. Daniel the Stylite, confessor, about 494.

PRECOCIOUS MUSICIANS 

There are several unquestionable examples of on almost instinctive musical genius manifesting itself in early infancy. Probably the most remarkable of these, is the instance of the two brothers Wesley, occurring as it did in one family. Charles Wesley, son of a well-known clergyman of the same name, and nephew of the better known founder of Methodism (John Wesley), was born at Bristol on the 11th of December 1757. Nearly from his birth, his mother used to quiet and amuse the infant with her harpsichord. Even before he could speak, his musical ear was so nice, that he would not permit his mother to play with one hand only, but would take the other and place it on the keys. Soon attempting to play himself, his mother used to tie him in a chair at the harpsichord, where he would amuse himself for hours together. When only two years and nine months old, he astonished his parents by playing a tune in correct time. Soon afterwards, he could play any air he chanced to hear, with a true bass added, as if spontaneously, without study or hesitation. He then seemed to have little respect or reverence for any one not a musician. When asked to play to a stranger, he would inquire, in his childish prattle, 'Is he a musicker?' and, if the answer were in the affirmative, would run to the instrument with ready eagerness.

Samuel Wesley was born in 1766, and evinced a talent for music almost as early as his elder brother Charles. He could play a tune when but two years and eleven months old, and could put a correct bass to airs long before he had acquired a knowledge of musical notation. He constantly attended his brother, playing, or rather making believe to play, on a chair or table, while Charles played the harpsichord. With the advantage of such an example, he soon outstripped his brother. He learned to read from the words of songs in music-books, and could compose music long before he could write. At the age of eight years, he surprised the musical world by an oratorio, entirely his own composition, which he entitled Ruth.

As not unfrequently happens in cases of premature development, the flattering promises of youth were not fulfilled, as far as regards Charles Wesley, at least, in riper years. He soon became an excellent player on the organ and harpsichord, at a time, it must be remembered, when the art of playing on keyed instruments, far behind what it is at the present day, was only advancing towards the perfection which, comparatively speaking, it may be said to have now attained. In early life, Charles was brought under the notice of George III, and often had the honour of entertaining the royal leisure by performances of Handel's music. Of great moral worth, amiable qualities, and simplicity of manners, Charles Wesley made many friends in his day, though as a musician, were it not for his precocious exhibition of talent, he would be now quite forgotten. After attaining a certain degree of excellence as a performer, he remained stationary; none of his compositions ever soared above mediocrity, and the height of his eminence was the appointment of organist to the fashionable church of St. George's, Hanover Square.

Samuel Wesley attained much greater eminence, both in point of musical and general acquirement. He was possessed by an absorbing passion for music, but this did not prevent him from becoming, in addition, a good Greek, Latin, and Italian scholar. Sheridan said of him:

'I am no judge of Mr. Wesley's musical abilities, but I will venture to assert that his intellectual powers and education would enable him to distinguish himself in any walk of life.'

These brilliant prospects were clouded by an unhappy misfortune. Mr. Wesley, one night, accidentally fell into an excavation for building purposes, that had shamefully been left unguarded, in one of the London streets. The effects of this fall depressed his mental energies; for seven years he remained in a low despondent state of mind, refusing the solace even of his beloved art. He subsequently experienced several recoveries and relapses, before being finally relieved by death. His musical compositions were generally of too elevated a character to please the public at large. He composed a grand mass for Pope Pius VI., for which the pontiff returned thanks in a flattering Latin letter; and, as if to make the amende honorable to Protestantism, Wesley composed thereafter a complete cathedral service for the Church of England, on which his fame as a musician now principally rests.

Mozart, already noticed in a previous article, was another striking instance of precocious musical genius. An exception also must be admitted in his case to the general comparison between juvenile prodigies, and those trees, that, blossoming out of season, seldom produce good fruit. Mozart's father was an eminent musician, and his sister an accomplished player on the harpsichord, so it may almost be said, that he and Samuel Wesley were nursed on music; their early attentions stimulated, and their ears soothed with harmony. There is an instance, however, of another precocious musician, who never possessed any such advantages.

William Crotch was born at Norwich, in July 1775. His father, by trade a carpenter, though he had no knowledge of music, was fond of the art, and with great ingenuity succeeded in building an organ, on which he learned to play God save the King, and a few other common tunes. About Christmas 1776, when the infant Crotch was not more than a year and a half old, he discovered a great inclination for music, by leaving even his food to attend to it, when the organ was playing; and six months afterwards, he would touch the key-note of his favourite tunes, to induce his father to play them. Soon after this, as he was still unable to name the tunes, he would play the two or three first notes of them, when he thought the key-note did not sufficiently express the one he wished to be played.

It seems to have been owing to his having heard the superior performance of a Mrs. Lulman, a lady of musical attainments, who tried his father's organ, and who played and sang to her own accompaniment, that young Crotch first attempted to play a tune himself. The same evening, when being carried through the room where the organ was, on his way to bed, the infant screamed and struggled violently to go to the instrument; and, on his wish being complied with, he eagerly beat down the keys with his little fist. The next day, being left with his brother, a youth of fourteen, in the same room, he persuaded the latter to blow the bellows, whilst he himself struck the keys of the organ.

At first, he played at random, but presently he produced, with one hand, so much of God save the King as to awaken the curiosity of his father, then in his workshop, who came into the room to know who it was that played the instrument. When he found that it was his infant son, he could scarcely credit his ears and eyes. At this time young Crotch, as proved by his baptismal register, was no more than two years and three weeks old. Next day, he made himself master of the treble of the second part, and the day after he attempted the bass, which he performed correctly in every particular, excepting the note immediately before the close; this being an octave below the preceding sound, was beyond the reach of his little hand. After the lapse of a few more months, he mastered both the treble and bass of 'Hope, thou nurse of young desire,' the well-known song from Love in a Village, and ere long, from this period, he could extemporise the bass to any melody, whether performed by himself or others.

The infantine attainments of Crotch could scarcely be described without entering into technical details. Suffice it to say, he never rose higher as a musician than a church-organist, and the degree of Mus. Doc. Premature musical powers, like other precocious displays, seldom realise the anticipations they gave rise to. Nature may sometimes be exhausted or enfeebled by too early efforts, or when that is not the case, the energy of her operations may be impeded by early self-complacence, or injured by an injudicious course of study. Genius, particularly in music, is liable to restriction by ill-chosen models, injudicious praise, want of good counsel, and difficulty of access to the most excellent compositions, the study of which is so necessary to the formation of a correct style and taste.

SIR ROGER L'ESTRANGE

Roger L'Estrange, born in 1611, was the youngest son of a Norfolk baronet and stanch Royalist. He was educated at Cambridge, and went with Charles I to the North in 1639. Faithful to his family principles, he obtained from the king a commission for taking the town of Lynn; and falling into the hands of the Parliamentary army, he was arrested, tried, and condemned to be hanged as a spy. Petitioning the Lords, he was reprieved for fourteen days, and the respite being afterwards prolonged, he spent a dreary four years in the prison of Newgate, in the daily expectation of being executed. He then contrived to escape to the continent, where he remained to the dissolution of the Long Parliament, when he adopted the bold expedient of returning to England, and appealing to Cromwell in person. The appeal was successful; he received an indemnity, and was discharged on giving security. His enemies afterwards alleged that he had served Cromwell as a musician, giving him the nickname of 'Oliver's fiddler.' L'Estrange's explanation of this affair affords us a curious peep at the manners of the times. He says, that while the question of indemnity was pending, he one day walked in St. James's Park. Hearing an organ touched in a low tone, in the house of a Mr. Hickson, he went in, and found a company of five or six persons, about to practise music. They immediately re-quested him to take a viol and bear a part, which he did; and, soon after, Cromwell walked in, stayed, and listened a while to the music, and then departed, without saying a word to any one.

At the Restoration, L'Estrange finding himself, with many other royalists, forgotten, published his Memento, which was the means of obtaining for him the appointment of licenser of the press. He subsequently started and conducted more than one newspaper, - and published a great number of political tracts. From James II he received the honour of knighthood, 'in consideration of his eminent services and unshaken loyalty to the crown;' and, about the same time, he obtained a seat in parliament.

At the Revolution, he was deprived of the commission of the peace, and after seeing so many changes of government, wisely retired into private life. Queen Mary condescended to perpetrate a stupid anagram on his name; but a distich, really shewing smartness, was written by one Lee, who by years was so altered as scarcely to be recognised by his old friend Sir Roger:

'Faces may alter, but names cannot change,
I am strange Lee altered, you are still Lee strange.'

Besides his numerous political tracts, Sir Roger published many translations from the Greek, Latin, and Spanish. His translations, written in a semi-slang style, are full of curious old-English colloquialisms. It has been alleged that he thus aided in corrupting the English language, but a contemporary writer says:

'those who consider the number and greatness of his books will admire he should ever write so many; and those who have read them, considering the style and method they are writ in, will more admire he should write so many.'

Dr. Johnson was greatly indebted to L'Estrange, as is evidenced from the numerous quotations given in his dictionary. Sir Roger lived to the good old age of eighty-seven, dying on the 11th of December 1704, and his epitaph is still to be seen on one of the pillars in his parish church of St. Giles in the Fields.

THEODORE, KING OF CORSICA

Monarchs. have occasionally been deposed, put to death, and subjected to various indignities, but we question much whether any individual, who had once exercised sovereign sway, ever presented so pitiable a spectacle as Theodore von Neuhoff, ex-king of Corsica. His memory is chiefly preserved by the sympathy which his misfortunes excited in England in the last century, and the exertions of Horace Walpole and other eminent personages on his behalf.

This temporary holder of regal power was the son of a Westphalian gentleman of good family, who had held a commission in the French army. His son, who was born in Metz about 1696, entered the same service, but appears afterwards to have quitted it, and rambled, as an adventurer, over the greater part of Europe. At last he was thrown into prison for debt at Leghorn, and on emerging from this confinement, he made the acquaintance of several leaders among the Corsican insurgents, then endeavouring to effect the independence of their country by shaking off the yoke of Genoa. Neuhoff accepted their proffer of the sovereignty of the country in return for assistance to be furnished by himself, and he accordingly, in March 1736, made his appearance on the Corsican coast with a supply of ammunition and money which he had succeeded in obtaining from the Bey of Tunis, by holding out to the latter the promise of an exclusive trade with Corsica, and permission to have a station there for his pirate ships. Eagerly welcomed at first by the Corsicans, Neuhoff was, in the following month of April, elected king by their general assembly, and, at the same time, swore to, observe the tenor of a constitution which was then proclaimed.

For some months he exercised all the acts of an independent sovereign, coining money, distributing patents of nobility, and instituting an order of knighthood. He is stated also, with the view of shewing an example of firmness, to have put to death three persons belonging to distinguished families. Among other military enterprises, he undertook successfully the capture of Porto Vecchio from the Genoese, but was foiled in an attempt on Bastia. His popularity ere long diminished, and finding his position both an arduous and insecure one, he made arrangements for conducting the government in his absence, and quitted the island with the intention, as he asserted, of obtaining fresh succour. But his sovereignty of Corsica was never to be resumed. After visiting successively Italy, France, and Holland, he was at last arrested for debt at Amsterdam. Some Jews and foreign merchants, settled in that city, procured his release, and also furnished him with means to equip an armament for the recovery of his dominions. With this he appeared off Corsica in 1738, but was unable to land in consequence of the depression of the insurgents' cause through the assistance furnished to the Genoese by the French. A similar unsuccessful attempt was made by him in 1742.

Neuhoff now proceeded to London, where he met with great kindness and sympathy as an exiled monarch. Additional mishaps, however, befell him here, and he was obliged, in consequence of money which he had borrowed, to endure an imprisonment of some years' duration in the King's Bench Prison. Here, it is said, he used to affect a miserable display of regal state, sitting under a tattered canopy, and receiving visitors with great ceremony. Smollett has introduced a description of him in prison in his novel of Ferdinand Count Fathom. At last the exertions of Walpole and others succeeded in raising a sum of money, which enabled Neuhoff to obtain his release from confinement, after making over to his creditors, as an asset, his kingdom of Corsica. The advertisement in the papers of the day announcing the opening of the subscription for the ex-sovereign, was prefixed by the words in which, as is alleged, the great general of Justinian used, in his old age, to solicit almsó' Date obolum Belisario.'

Nenhoff did not long survive his liberation, and died in London on 11th December 1756. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Ann's, Westminster, where the following epitaph, composed by Horace Walpole, was inscribed on a tablet, with a diadem carved at the summit:

'NEAR THIS PLACE IS INTERRED
THEODORE, KING OF CORSICA,

WHO DIED IN THIS PARISH, DECEMBER 11, 1756,
IMMEDIATELY AFTER LEAVING
THE KING'S BENCH PRISON,
BY THE BENEFIT OF THE ACT OF INSOLVENCY;
IN CONSEQUENCE OF WHICH
HE REGISTERED THE KINGDOM OF CORSICA
FOR THE USE OF HIS CREDITORS.

The grave, great teacher, to a level brings Heroes and beggars, galley-slaves and kings. But Theodore this moral learned ere dead: Fate poured its lessons on his living head, Bestowed a kingdom, and denied him bread.'

December 12th

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