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Virgin Mawhich act is celebay recollect, that the son of
William. They mean Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Virgin Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, which act is celebrated by the Roman church as a day of festival. You may recollect, that on our last meeting you were told that St. John was the son of Elizabeth : it was to this chosen female that the Virgin paid a visit, in the mountain of Judea, immediately after the announcement of the “glad tidings” that she was the appointed of the Almighty, for the incarnation of the Redeemer.
Maria. Who first made it a church-day?
MR. CONSTANCE. Pope Urban the Sixth, in the year 1383; and it was afterwards confirmed, not only by a decree of Pope Boniface the Ninth, but by the council of Basle, in 1441. But our Reformers, desirous of reducing every point of religion to its primitive purity, expunged this holyday from our service ; although, at one period, it was observed throughout the whole Christian world.
CHARLES. What is meant by the term Dog-days, stated to begin on the 3rd of this month ?
WILLIAM. It is applied now, as it was formerly, to the hottest time of the year. The ancients used to consider the increased heat of this period to be occasioned by the rising of Sirius or Canis Major; but I believe it has since been more philosophically accounted for from the sun darting his rays upon us almost perpendicularly. I must, however, beg my uncle to explain this more fully.
MR. CONSTANCE. You are aware that in the early ages of the world, the motion of the heavenly bodies was much observed, although it was not until later times that their movements were systematically defined. The Egyptians, who are supposed, by their hieroglyphical characters, to have given rise to the heathenish superstitions of other nations, used to retreat to the hills on the first appearance of this star, which they termed Sihar, meaning the Nile,
because at that period the waters would overflow the banks of that river. The appearance of the star they considered a warning; and the dog being even then admired as the most faithful creature, remarkable for watching over the affairs of man, they typified the star as a man with a dog's head, and sacrificed one of these animals to appease its supposed rage; it has since been called the dog-star. So much for the origin of its name. Now a word or two as to its effects upon the heat of the weather. It has already been observed by William, that it is to the position of the sun, and not to the star, that we are indebted, which is certainly true ; for although the Canis Major frequently rises and sets with the sun, from the 3rd of July to the 11th of August, (which is the period of canicular or dog-days,) yet its distance from this earth is too great, to admit of our being affected by its heat. But a still more convincing proof is in the fact, that the star not only varies in its rising in every one year, as the latitude varies, but it is always later and later every year, in all latitudes, so that the star may, by the same rule, come to be charged with bringing frost and snow, when it comes to rise in winter; which, by the way, cannot be for five or six thousand years.
CHARLES. Then it is not the dog-star which creates 80 many more disorders at this period than at others ?
Mr. Constance. No, it is not ; the increased heat of the sun upon us is the cause ; and, during the months of July and August, the weather is sometimes so sultry as to occasion, as well as to increase sickness. It used formerly to be considered that on the morning, at the rising of the star, the sea boiled, wine turned sour, dogs began to grow mad, the bile was increased and irritated, and all animals grew languid. Now many of these thing certainly happen, but are, in a great measure, to be attributed to the cause I have assigned. But proceed, William, to the next day,
WILLIAM. It is called Translation of St. Martin ; but as it is merely to commemorate his removal froin one tomb to another, by the church of Rome, in the same way that Edward the Martyr was “translated” in this country, on the 24th of June, and mentioned by us in our Conversation last month, I shall leave the consideration of his character until November, when I see there is a day commemorative of his decease.
MR. Constance. Who ordered his removal, William?
WILLIAM. A successor of St. Martin in the see of Tours, whose name was Perpetuus. His remains were removed to a noble and magnificent tomb on the 4th of this month. But I am anxious to proceed to the biography of Thomas à Becket.
ANGELINA. Do you mean the haughty prelate of the reign of Henry the Second ?
WILLIAM. The same.
ANGELINA. But he is not styled Saint Thomas; how is it that his name is retained in the calendar?
WILLIAM. If he be not commonly designated a saint, it is well known that he received that distinguishing appellation, fifty years after his death, when a jubilee was held to his memory. His remains were also then translated to a more sumptuous shrine, on the 7th of July, 1220, and his festival has ever since been held on that day, instead of the 29th of December, which was the day of his decease.
MR. CONSTANCE. Where and when was he born ?
WILLIAM. His father was a merchant of London, and Becket was born in that city, in the year 1129. When of sufficient age, he was sent to Merton Abbey, in Surry, for his education. He afterwards pursued his studies in the University of Oxford, and subsequently at Paris ; from which latter place he proceeded to Bologna, where he studied the civil law.
MARIA. Was his advance very rapid ?
WILLIAM. Extremely so; for Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, informed of his progress in learning, was induced to remove him from the insignificant office of sheriff's clerk, to his own cathedral, of which he made him an archdeacon; and afterwards 'not only increased his preferment in the church, but also strongly recommended him to the notice of king Henry the Second, who appointed him preceptor to his son.
ANGELINA. His next elevation, I believe, was to the lord chancellorship of England : what age was he then?
WILLIAM, Forty; and after that period he became the most remarkable person of his time for splendour and profusion.
MARIA. How was it, that since this high situation is now always filled by an eminent lawyer, Becket received the appointment of chancellor, he being a clergyman?
MR. CONSTANCE. The office of Lord Chancellor is now, in many particulars, different from what it was formerly; and is by no means so extensive, either in its powers or its privileges. It was the custom, in earlier days, to select some clergyman, remarkable for his ability in theology and law. Neither was it an uncommon thing for them to receive church distinctions after their appointment to the chancellorship; as in the case of Wolsey, who was made a cardinal. But Becket, I believe, laid his ecclesiastical character and habit aside, after his elevation to the chancellor's chair.
WILLIAM. He did, Sir; and assumed the dress and deportment of the court: conformed, in every particular to the king's humour ; partook of all his diversions; and at one period even personally assisted him in his wars on the Continent, where he displayed great courage and prowess. He even fought in single combat with a French knight, famous for his valour, whom he dismounted with his lance, and whose horse he gained and led off in triumph.
ANGELINA. Then he was a priest, a politician, and a soldier! What sort of an equipage did he keep?
WILLIAM. The most extravagant and sumptuous. When he attended the king to Toulouse, he maintained in his train twelve hundred horses, besides seven hundred knights or gentlemen. His banquets were frequent, and so crowded, that his guests, after having no room to sit at his tables, were accommodated with clean hay or straw in winter, and green boughs or rushes in summer, every day, to prevent the floors from soiling their clothes.
Charles. There was nothing very sumptuous in that, I think.
Willian. Remember the period in which he lived, Charles, and the great improvement that has taken place in fashion and custom in the last seven hundred years : the strewing of rushes or straw about the apartments was then esteemed a great luxury, and practised only at the palace of the king. But there are other things related of Becket, that will appear strange to you. When travelling, his retinue used to consist of eight wagons: two of these carried his ale ; three the furniture of his chapel, of his bed-chamber, and his kitchen; and in the remaining three were conveyed his provisions, and other things requisite to the support of his establishment. Twelve packhorses bore his money, plate, and utensils. To each wagon was chained a fierce mastiff, and on each pack-horse sat a baboon.
ARTHUR. Ha ! ha! What were the baboons there for? Mr. CONSTANCE. Merely to create astonishment. A piece of ignorant mummery, that now even excites the