Born: Robert I of
Scotland, 1274, Lochmaben; Lalande, French
mathematician, 1732, Bourg en Bresse.
Died: Emperor Anthemius, murdered at Rome, 472; Jack Cade, leader of
a peasant rebellion in England, killed near Lewes,
1450; Charles Macklin, comedian, 1797, London; General
Alexander Hamilton, Vice-president of United States,
killed in a duel, 1804.
Feast Day: St. Pius I,
pope and martyr, 157; St. James, bishop of Nisibis,
confessor, 350; St. Hidulphus, bishop and abbot, 707;
St. Drostan, abbot of Dalcongaile, about 809.
A rare and remarkable instance
of length of days, combined with an arduous and
successful theatrical career, is exhibited in the
great age of Macklin, who died in his one hundred and
seventh year. Born two months before his father was
killed, fighting for King James at the
battle of the
Boyne, in 1690, Macklin died in 1797, thus witnessing
the extremities of two centuries, and nearly having
lived in three. As an actor, he was distinguished for
his performance of Shylock, Sir Archy, in his own
comedy of Love-fl-la-Mode, and other parts in which
sarcasm forms the leading trait of character. His
writings display the same sarcastic tone, and his best
performances seem to have been reflections of his own
personal disposition. Even his repartees were
generally of the severe kind. For instance, on a
dignitary of the church, who had a doubtful reputation
for veracity, telling Macklin that a tradesman in the
parish had called him a liar, the actor asked: 'What
reply did you make I told him,' said the clergyman,
'that a lie was one of the things I dared not commit'
'And why, doctor,' retorted Macklin, 'why did you
give the fellow so mean an opinion of your courage?
knowledge of the world, long experience of life, and
liberal ideas rendered his conversation peculiarly
pleasant and instructive, when he was not in the
sarcastic mood. Nor was he unaware of his failing in
the latter respect.
Alluding to it on one
occasion, he said: 'It takes a long time for a man to
learn the art of neutralising in conversation. I have,
for a great part of my life, been endeavouring at it,
but was never able to act up to it as I wished. I
could never sit still hearing people assert what I
thought wrong, without labouring to set them right,
not considering how difficult it is to correct the
errors of others, when we are so wedded to our own.
But this folly generally attaches to men of
inexperience and lively imagination: your dull fellows
know better; they have little but neutrality to trust
to, and soon find out the policy of it.' Macklin's
recollections of the very different manners and
customs that prevailed in the earlier part of the last
century, were very interesting. Then, the east and
west of London were as totally distinct, as two cities
one hundred miles apart. The merchant then scarcely
ever lived out of the city, his residence being
invariably attached to his counting-house; his credit,
in a great degree, depending upon the observance of
this long-established practice.
The first emigration
of the city merchants westwards, was about 1747, and
then only as far as Hatton Garden; and even this
removal was ventured upon by such only as had already realised large fortunes, and possessed reputations for
wealth beyond any shadow of doubt. 'The lawyers,
too,' said Macklin, 'lived mostly in the Inns of
Court, or about Westminster Hall, and the players all
resided in the vicinity of the theatres, so that they
could attend rehearsal without inconvenience, or
expense of coach-hire. But I do not know how the
change has been effected; we, the actors, are all now
looking out for high ground, squares, and genteel neighbour-hoods, no matter how far distant from the
theatres, as if local selection could give rhythm to
the profession, or genteel neighbourhoods
instantaneously produce good-manners.'
Macklin's last appearance on
the stage, was in his hundredth year, in the character
of Shylock. Even at that very great age, he was
physically capable of performing the part with
considerable vigour; but his mental powers were almost
gone. In the second act, his memory totally failing
him, he with great grace and solemnity came forward,
and apologised to the audience. For a few years
afterwards, he scarcely felt the infirmities of
advanced age. He lived then, as he always had been
accustomed to do, much from home; taking long walks,
and frequenting a tavern in Duke's Court, every
evening, where, though still by no means unready at
putting down an impudent questioner by a biting
sarcasm, he used to relate, with tolerable
distinctness, many interesting anecdotes to gratified
listeners. As his infirmities increased, he wandered
feebly about the vicinity of Covent Garden, and often
visited the theatre, more, apparently, from the force
of habit, than from any amusement he derived from the
performance. On these occasions, however full the
house might be, the pit audience always made room for
him in his accustomed seat—the centre of the last row,
next to the orchestra.
Mr. Kirkman relates a
conversation the had with Macklin, less than a year
before he died, which forms an interesting and not
mipleasing picture of faculties still shrewd and
vivacious, though fast fading into decay. As a
specimen of the conversation of a man upwards of one
hundred and six years old, it is probably unique.
Kirkman. Are you not pleased
when your friends come and converse with you?
Macklin. I am always very happy to see my friends,
and I should be very happy to hold a—a—a—see there
now Kirkman. A conversation you mean, sir?
Ay, a conversation. Alas, sir! you see the wretched
state of my memory; see there now, I could not
recollect that common word—but I cannot converse. I
used to go to a house very near this, where my
friends assemble. . . . It was a—a—a a company]; no
that 's not the word, a—a—club, mean. I was the
father of it, but I could not hear all; and what I
did hear, I did not a—aunder—under—understand; they
were all very attentive to me, but I could not be
one of them. Indeed, I found, sir, that I was not
fit to keep company, so I stay away.
Kirkman. But I perceive with satisfaction, sir, that
your sight is good. Macklin. 0, sir! my sight like
everything else begins to fail too; about two days
ago, I felt a—aa—there now— I have lost it; a pain
just above my left eye.
Kirkman. I think you appear at present free from
Macklin. Yes, sir, I am pretty comfortable now; but
I find my, my—a—a—my strength is all gone. I feel
myself going gradually.
Kirkman. But you are not afraid to die?
Macklin. Not in the least, sir. I never did any
person any serious mischief in my life; even when I
gambled, I never cheated: I know that a—a—a —see
there now— death, I mean, must come, and I am ready
to give it up.
Kirkman. I understand you were at Drury Lane Theatre
Macklin. Yes, sir, I was there.
Kirkman. Yes, sir, the newspapers of this morning
take notice of it.
Macklin. Do they?
Kirkman. Yes, sir;—the paragraph runs thus: 'Among
the numerous visitors at Drury Lane Theatre last
night, we observed the Duke of Queensberry and the
veteran Macklin, whose ages together amount to one
hundred and ninety-six'
Macklin. The Duke of who?
Kirkman. The Duke of Queensberry, sir.
Macklin. I don't know that man. The Duke of
Queensberry! The Duke of Queensberry! Oh! ay, I
remember him now very well. The Duke of Queensberry
old! Why, sir, I might be his father I* Ha, ha, ha!
Kirkman. Well, sir, I understand that you went to
the Haymarket Theatre to see the Merchant of Venice.
Macklin. I did, sir.
Kirkman. What is your opinion of Mr. Palmer's
Macklin. Why, sir, my opinion is, that Mr. Palmer
played the character of Shylock in one style. In
this scene there was a sameness, in that scene a
sameness, and in every scene a sameness: it was all
same, same, same!—no variation. He did not look the
character, nor laugh the character, nor speak the
character of Shakspeare's Jew. In the trial-scene,
where he comes to cut the pound of flesh, he was no
Jew. Indeed, sir, he did not hit the part, nor did
the paint hit him.'
Macklin seems to have been
mainly indebted for his long life to a vigorous
constitution. He never was an abstemious man. His
favourite beverage was ale, porter, or white wine
thickened to the consistence of a syrup with sugar.
For many years before he died, his loss of teeth
compelled him to eat only fish, hash, and other
spoon-meats. For the last ten years of his existence,
he had no fixed hour for meals. He ate when he was
hungry, at any hour of the day or night, drank when he
was thirsty, and went to bed or arose just as he felt
inclined, without any reference to time. There can be
no doubt that the constant care and attention of his
devoted wife, combined with her thorough knowledge of
his disposition, constitution, and temper, was partly
the cause of the prolongation of his life.
Although the name of Alexander
Hamilton is not so popularly familiar as several
others concerned in the construction of the American
Union, yet there is scarcely another which so closely
interests the profounder students of that momentous
passage in the world's history. Of Hamilton's share in
that work, Guizot testifies, 'that there is not one
element of order, strength, and durability in the
constitution which he did not powerfully contribute to
introduce into the scheme and cause to be adopted.'
Hamilton's father was a
Scotsman, and his mother a member of a Huguenot
family, banished from France. He was born in 1757, on
the island of Nevis; and whilst a youth serving as
clerk in a merchant's office, a hurricane of more than
ordinary violence occurred, and Hamilton drew up an
account of its ravages, which was inserted in a West
Indian newspaper. The narrative was so well written,
and excited so much attention, that the writer was
deemed born for something better than mercantile
drudgery, and was sent to New York to prosecute his
education. The dispute between Great Britain and the
colonies had begun to grow very warm, and Hamilton
soon distinguished himself by eloquent speeches in
advocacy of resistance.
With the ardour of youth he
commenced the study of military tactics, and turned
his learning to good account in the first action
between the British and Americans at Lexington in
1775. In the course of the unhappy war which followed,
Washington's most trusted and
confidential aid. At the conclusion of hostilities he
commenced practice at the bar, became secretary of the
treasury under President Washington, and a leading
actor in all those intricate, delicate, and perplexing
discussions, which attended the consolidation of the
thirteen independent colonies into one nation.
Hamilton was the most conservative of republicans. He
opposed the ultra-democratic doctrines of Jefferson,
he was an ardent admirer of the English constitution,
and he beheld the course of the French Revolution with
abhorrence and dismay. But all the blessings which lay
in store for America in the treasury of Hamilton's
fine intellect, were lost by a cruel mischance ere he
had attained his forty-seventh year. With the feelings
of an upright man, he had expressed his sense of the
profligacy of Aaron Burr, who thereon challenged him
to a duel. Hamilton had all reasonable contempt for
such a mode of settling differences, but fearing, as
he wrote, that 'his ability to be in future useful
either in preventing mischief or effecting good was
inseparable from a conformity to prejudice in this
particular,' he weakly yielded. With every precaution
of secrecy, he met his adversary at Weehardken, near
New York. Colonel Burr fired, and his ball entered.
Hamilton's side, who fell mortally wounded, his pistol
going involuntarily off as he staggered to the ground.
After a day of agony, he expired on the 11th of July
1804. Never, except at Washington's death, was there
such mourning in America.
Hamilton was a man under
middle height, spare, erect, and of a most dignified
presence. His writings in The Federalist are read by
political philosophers with admiration to this day. He
wrote rapidly, but with precision and method. His
habit was to think well over his subject, and then, at
whatever time of night, to go to bed and sleep for six
or seven hours. On awaking, he drank a cup of strong
coffee, sat down at his desk, and for five, six,
seven, or even eight hours continued writing, until he
had cleared the whole matter off his mind.
HURLING THE WHETSTONE: THE COUTEAU RODOMONT
Our ancestors, with a strong
love for practical jokes, and an equally strong
aversion to false-hood and boasting, checked an
indulgence in such vices, when they became offensive,
by very plain satire. A confirmed liar was presented
with a whetstone, to jocularly infer that his
invention, if he continued to use it so freely, would
require sharpening. Hence, to 'win the whetstone,' was
equivalent to being proclaimed the greatest liar in
Annexed is a cut representing a man offering the whetstone to 'a pack of knaves,' being one of a series of twenty copper-plates of foreign execution (probably Dutch or Flemish) without date or name, but evidently of the time of Charles I, preserved in the Bridgewater Library.
It is thus described in Mr. Payne Collier's catalogue thereof: 'Hurling the whetstone,' was a phrase apparently equivalent to 'throwing the hatchet,' and the latter is derived from the tale of a man who was so incredibly skilful, that he was able to throw a hatchet at a distant object, and sever it;
perhaps 'hurling the whetstone' was an exaggeration of a similar kind, easily connected with the hatchet. Underneath the preceding engraving are the following lines
'The whettstone is a knave
that all men know,
Yet many on him doe much cost bestowe:
Hee 's us'd almost in every shoppe, but whye?
An edge must needs be set on every lye.'
Shakspeare has an illustrative
allusion to this satirical custom. In As You Like It
(Act I. sc. 2), the entrance of the fool, Touchstone,
is greeted by Celia as a lucky event, 'fortune's
work, who, perceiving our natural wits too dull to
reason, hath sent this natural' for our whetstone: for
always the dulness of the fool is the whetstone of his
wits.' In Troilus and Cressida (Act V. sc. 2),
the same idea occurs when Thersites satirically
alludes to the duplicity of Cressida in the words:
Now she sharpens;—'well
Ben Jonson has a more direct
allusion to it, when he makes one of his characters
declare of another, he will lie cheaper than any
beggar, and louder than most clocks; for which he is
right properly accommodated to the whetstone, his
page!' thus branding both master and man as liars by
collusion. A confirmed slanderer, whose allegations
were his own invention, was sometimes publicly exposed
with the whetstone hanging round his neck in the
pillory, or on the stool of repentance.
The form of the old whetstone
differed in some points from the modern one, as may be
seen in our engraving on the preceding page, from one
preserved in the British Museum. It is supplied with a
loop for suspension at one end, and thus could be
readily hung to the girdle of a butcher or artisan
whose tools required sharpening, and might be as
easily attached to the neck of any convicted liar.
Boasters, who occupied the
time, or exhausted the patience of the company at a
social gathering, were silenced in France and Germany
by having delivered to them a wooden knife, called
couteau rodomont, and rodomont messer, from the word
rodomontado, applied to a rambling boastful narrative.
They were kept at taverns, and placed beside the
president of the table, and he stopped the troublesome
speaker by ringing the bell in theblade, or blowing a
whistle concealed in the handle of the knife, and then
delivering it into the hands of the offender to guard
until a greater boaster was found; this ceremony being
greeted by peals of laughter, and words of mockery.
Our engraving depicts one of these curious carving
knives, made at Nuremberg in the early part of the
sixteenth century, bearing upon the bell the arms of
the emperor, and on the blade descriptive verses from
the pen of the renowned cobbler-poet, Hans Sachs. The
rhymes are of the homeliest description, and allude as
well to the folly as the immorality of falsehood. The
utility of the implement is enforced in a couplet
which runs along the back of the blade, and may be
'Though made from wood,
this knife is good,
To cut short tales from the lying brood.'
This knife was probably made
about 1550. Sachs was born in 1494, and lived till
1576; he wrote abundantly, and on all subjects, in the
early part of his century, and reckons his works in
1561 at 'a sum-total of six thousand and forty-eight
pieces, great and small.' During the whole of his life
he continued to work at his trade, although he found
leisure enough to spin out a greater mass of rhyme
than was ever produced by one man, if Lope de Vega,
the Spaniard, be excepted. Very many of Sachs's poems
were called forth by temporary circumstances; several
are satirical; and those which he levelled at the
Church of Rome, from the popularity of their style,
did much in aid of the Reformation.