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Life of Thomas à Becket,


Thomas Becket.


“Surely, sir,
There's in him stuff that puts him to these ends ;
For, being not propp'd by ancestry, whose grace
Chalks successors their way, nor call’d upon
For high feats done to the crown; neither allied
To eminent assistants, but, spider-like,
Out of his self-drawing web, he gives us note,
The force of his own merit makes his way ;
A gift that heaven gives for him, which buys
A place next to the king.

I cannot tell
What heaven hath given him : let some graver eye
Pierce into that ; but I can see his pride
Peep through each part of him.”

HENRY VIII. Act i. Sc. i.


Q. K’ath.

“ You are meek and humble-mouth'd ;
You sign your place and calling, in full seeming
With meekness and humility ; but your heart
Is cramm’d with arrogancy, spleen, and pride."

Ibid. Act ü. Sc. iv.




“ Noble madam,
Men's evil manners live in brass ; their virtues
We write in water. May it please your highness
To hear me speak his good now?

Yes, good Griffith ;
I were malicious else.

This cardinal,
Though from an humble stock, undoubtedly
Was fashion’d to much honour. From his cradle,
He was a scholar, and a ripe, and good one ;
Exceeding wise, fair spoken, and persuading :
Lofty and sour to them that lov'd him not ;
But, to those men that sought him, sweet as summer.

His overthrow heap'd happiness upon him,
For then, and not till then, he felt himself,
And found the blessedness of being little :
And, to add greater honours to his age
Than man could give him, he died, fearing God !”

Ibid. Act iv. Sc. ii.

Life of Thomas à Becket,


Thomas Becket.

Creon. 'Tis just I die, indeed, for I confess

I am troublesome to life now, and the state
Can hope for nothing worthy from me now,
Either in force or counsel ; I've o' late
Employ'd myself quite from the world, and he
That once begins to serve his Maker faithfully,
Can never serve a worldly prince well after ;

'Tis clear another way.

Oh, give not confidence
To all he speaks, my lord, to his own injury.
His preparation only for the next world
Makes him talk wildly to his wrong of this ;
He is not lost in judgment.”

Massinger, The Old Law.

HENRY II. was the greatest sovereign of his day, and Thomas à Becket the greatest ecclesiastic. Rome had her popes and cardinals, Bologna and Paris their schools, but amongst all their men of renown, none was so great a man as the sometime bosomfriend and the wary chancellor of Henry.

Thomas à Becket—the name established by use, which is the criterion of language, though Thomas Becket were, perhaps, more critically correct—was born in London, December 21, 1117 . His father was a citizen, named Gilbert. His mother was said to be a Saracen lady, “ whose adventures,” says Sharon Turner, "might be classed with the tales of romance, but that, after the Crusades commenced, human life became a romance; and society was full of wild enterprise and improbable incident;" as Othello

i Or, as others say, 1118.

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Of moving accidents by flood and field ;

Of hair-breadth 'scapes i' the imminent deadly breach ;
Of being taken by the insolent foe,

And sold to slavery." Whether or not the story is to be relied on is more than can, at this time of day, be asserted; but there seems no reason to throw aside all traditional stories, and if this be not true, one might even wish it were so. The authority for it is the chronicler John of Brompton', who relates of Gilbert, that having made a pilgrimage to Palestine, he was taken by the Saracens, thrown into prison, “and sold to slavery" to an Emir. It appears that his manners and mien were such as to attract the notice of his Saracen lord and master, insomuch so that he was treated kindly, and—a most unusual thing, if report be true-was admitted to his table. This Emir had an only daughter. How, when, or where, Gilbert contrived to converse with her is not easily ascertained, especially when we consider the secluded estate of Oriental females. Converse with her, however, he did, and as he told of Christian faith, and Christian climes, she learned to love. For his voluble discourse, and perhaps, like Desdemona, “ for the dangers he had passed," she loved the Christian captive! Gilbert, it would seem, though she promised to aid in his escape, would not assent if she was to be the companion of his flight and, then, of the marriage-bed. After a year and a half's captivity he regained his liberty, but whether or not by the maiden's help is unrecorded. It appears that Gilbert had mentioned London as his home, and henceforward no name had such charms for the Emir's lovely daughter's ear as London. She knew but two English words, and that was one of them. She was not long in coming to a determination. She would leave her father's house —the land of the sun and of the palm-and would seek the Christian stranger who had borne away her heart! She contrived to escape from the chamber of the women, and made her way to the coast, where she embarked on board a vessel sailing for England. Her constant repetition of the word London brought her to the metropolis ; and then the repetition of the only other English word she knew—“ Gilbert"_brought her under the notice of Richard, the faithful servant of Gilbert, and the sharer of his captivity. Gilbert was soon informed that the Saracen damsel had followed him, and such affection was not to be withstood. He consulted with the Bishop of London, mentioned to him her desire to become a Christian, and told the tale of their loves. The result was that she was christened by the name of Matilda and married to her Gilbert !


2 A Monkish Historian of Brompton, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. His Chronicle extends from 588 to 1198. Mr. Berington affixes to his name the epithet of “ fabling,” and says that he is a transcriber of Hoveden in all that is important. He is said to have lived twenty years in the Benedictine Abbey of Whitby, during the abbacy of John of Skelton, which commenced in 1413.

3 Sir James Mackintosh's observation on Gilbert's permission to see the Mussulman Emir's daughter, is “a permission which loses much of its improbability, if we suppose that he was employed in procuring European ornaments for her, and was allowed to see a lady so exalted above him from a mixture of convenience and contempt.”—Vol. i. p. 153.

Let the story be taken for as much as it is worth and no more. Once escaped from her father the Emir her jewels would further her progress. No Eastern damsel of her rank was destitute of

Barbaric pearl and gold.” The ancient ballad of the “Spanish Lady's Love” is an illustration in point. The first lines are the gallant Captain's, the two last the lady's.

“« I have neither gold nor silver

To maintain thee in this case,
And to travel is great charges

know in every place.'
“My chains and jewels every one shall be thy own

And eke five hundred pounds in gold that lies unknown *.!Whoever his mother may have been, Becket says in one of his letters that his ancestors were of the city of London-citizens of no mean degree, contented and quiet. Born on St. Thomas ' Day, he was called after his name. Of his early education we are told only that his mother brought him up in the fear of God, and taught him, next to his Saviour, to reverence the Virgin


4 Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry, vol. ii. p. 237.

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