Littell's Living Age/Volume 127/Issue 1645/The Mock Pearls of History

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1573838Littell's Living Age, Volume 127, Issue 1645 — The Mock Pearls of History
From Russell's Library Notes.


Hayward (translator of "Faust"), in his article on "Pearls and Mock Pearls of History," says: — We are gravely told, on historical authority, by Moore, in a note to one of his Irish melodies, that during the reign of Bryan, king of Munster, a young lady of great beauty, richly dressed, and adorned with jewels, undertook a journey from one end of the kingdom to another, with a wand in her hand, at the top of which was a ring of exceeding great value; and such was the perfection of the laws and the government that no attempt was made upon her honour, nor was she robbed of her clothes and jewels. Precisely the same story is told of Alfred of Frothi, king of Denmark, and of Rollo, duke of Normandy. Another romantic anecdote, fluctuating between two or more sets of actors, is an episode in the amours of Emma, the alleged daughter of Charlemagne, who, finding that the snow had fallen rather thickly during a nightly interview with her lover, Eginhard, took him upon her shoulders, and carried him some distance from her bower, to prevent his footsteps from being traced. Unluckily, Charlemagne had no daughter named Emma or Imma, and a hundred years before the appearance of the chronicle which records the adventure it had been related in print of a German emperor and a damsel unknown. The story of Canute commanding the waves to roll back rests on the authority of Henry of Huntingdon, who wrote about a hundred years after the Danish monarch.

"As for the great number of the stories with which the ana are stuffed," says Voltaire, "including all those humourous replies attributed to Charles the Fifth and Henry the Fourth, to a hundred modern princes, you find them in Athenæus and in our old authors." Dionysius the Tyrant, we are told by Diogenes of Laërte, treated his friends like vases full of good liquors, which he broke when he had emptied them. This is precisely what Cardinal Retz says of Madame de Chevreuse's treatment of her lovers. There is a story of Sully's meeting a young lady, veiled, and dressed in green, on the back stairs leading to Henry's apartment, and being asked by the king whether he had not been told that his Majesty had a fever and could not receive that morning, "Yes, sire, but the fever is gone; I have just met it on the staircase, dressed in green." This story is told of Demetrius and his father. The lesson of perseverance in adversity taught by the spider to Robert Bruce is said to have been taught by the same insect to Tamerlane. "When Columbus," says Voltaire, "promised a new hemisphere, people maintained that it did not exist; and when he had discovered it, that it had been known a long time." It was to confute such detractors that he resorted to the illustration of the egg, already employed by Brunelleschi when his merit in raising the cupola of the cathedral of Florence was contested. The anecdote of Southampton reading "The Faery Queen," while Spenser was waiting in the antechamber, may pair off with one of Louis XIV. As this munificent monarch was going over the improvements of Versailles with Le Notre, the sight of each fresh beauty or capability tempts him to some fresh extravagance, till the architect cries out that if their promenade is continued in this fashion it will end in the bankruptcy of the state. Southampton, after sending first twenty and then fifty guineas, on coming to one fine passage, after another exclaims, "Turn the fellow out of the house, or I shall be ruined."