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Produced by Hanh Vu and Sandra Laythorpe


By Charlotte M. Yonge


What is a Golden Deed?
The Stories of Alcestis and Antigone
The Cup of Water
How One Man has saved a Host
The Pass of Thermopylae
The Rock of the Capitol
The Two Friends of Syracuse
The Devotion of the Decii
The brave Brethren of Judah
The Chief of the Arverni
Withstanding the Monarch in his Wrath
The last Fight in the Coliseum
The Shepherd Girl of Nanterre
Leo the Slave
The Battle of the Blackwater
Guzman el Bueno
Faithful till Death
What is better than Slaying a Dragon
The Keys of Calais
The Battle of Sempach
The Constant Prince
The Carnival of Perth
The Crown of St. Stephen
George the Triller
Sir Thomas More's Daughter
Under Ivan the Terrible
Fort St. Elmo
The Voluntary Convict
The Housewives of Lowenburg
Fathers and Sons
The Soldiers in the Snow
Gunpowder Perils
Heroes of the Plague
The Second of September
The Vendeans


As the most striking lines of poetry are the most hackneyed, because
they have grown to be the common inheritance of all the world, so many
of the most noble deeds that earth can show have become the best known,
and enjoyed their full meed of fame. Therefore it may be feared that
many of the events here detailed, or alluded to, may seem trite to those
in search of novelty; but it is not for such that the collection has
been made. It is rather intended as a treasury for young people, where
they may find minuter particulars than their abridged histories usually
afford of the soul-stirring deeds that give life and glory to the record
of events; and where also other like actions, out of their ordinary
course of reading, may be placed before them, in the trust that example
may inspire the spirit of heroism and self-devotion. For surely it must
be a wholesome contemplation to look on actions, the very essence of
which is such entire absorption in others that self is forgotten; the
object of which is not to win promotion, wealth, or success, but simple
duty, mercy, and loving-kindness. These are the actions wrought, 'hoping
for nothing again', but which most surely have their reward.

The authorities have not been given, as for the most [Page] part the
narratives lie on the surface of history. For the description of the
Coliseum, I have, however, been indebted to the Abbé Gerbet's Rome
Chrétienne; for the Housewives of Lowenburg, and St. Stephen's Crown,
to Freytag's Sketches of German Life; and for the story of George the
Triller, to Mr. Mayhew's Germany. The Escape of Attalus is narrated
(from Gregory of Tours) in Thierry's 'Lettres sur l'Histoire de France;'
the Russian officer's adventures, and those of Prascovia Lopouloff
( Ed.),
the true Elisabeth of Siberia, are from M. le Maistre; the shipwrecks
chiefly from Gilly's 'Shipwrecks of the British Navy;' the Jersey Powder
Magazine from the Annual Registrer, and that at Ciudad Rodrigo, from the
traditions of the 52nd Regiment.

There is a cloud of doubt resting on a few of the tales, which it may be
honest to mention, though they were far too beautiful not to tell. These
are the details of the Gallic occupation of Rome, the Legend of St.
Genevieve, the Letter of Gertrude von der Wart, the stories of the
Keys of Calais, of the Dragon of Rhodes, and we fear we must add, both
Nelson's plan of the Battle of the Nile, and likewise the exact form of
the heroism of young Casabianca, of which no two accounts agree. But
it was not possible to give up such stories as these, and the thread of
truth there must be in them has developed into such a beautiful tissue,
that even if unsubstantial when tested, it is surely delightful to

Some stories have been passed over as too devoid of foundation, in
especial that of young Henri, Duke of Nemours, who, at ten years old,
was said to have been hung up with his little brother of eight in one of
Louis XI's cages at Loches, with orders that two of the children's teeth
should daily be pulled out and brought to the king. The elder child was
said to have insisted on giving the whole supply of teeth, so as to
save his brother; but though they were certainly imprisoned after
their father's execution, they were released after Louis's death in a
condition which disproves this atrocity.

The Indian mutiny might likewise have supplied glorious instances of
Christian self-devotion, but want of materials has compelled us to stop
short of recording those noble deeds by which delicate women and light-
hearted young soldiers showed, that in the hour of need there was not
wanting to them the highest and deepest 'spirit of self-sacrifice.'

At some risk of prolixity, enough of the surrounding events has in
general been given to make the situation comprehensible, even without
knowledge of the general history. This has been done in the hope that
these extracts may serve as a mother's storehouse for reading aloud to
her boys, or that they may be found useful for short readings to the
intelligent, though uneducated classes.

NOVEMBER 17, 1864.


We all of us enjoy a story of battle and adventure. Some of us delight
in the anxiety and excitement with which we watch the various strange
predicaments, hairbreadth escapes, and ingenious contrivances that
are presented to us; and the mere imaginary dread of the dangers
thus depicted, stirs our feelings and makes us feel eager and full of

This taste, though it is the first step above the dullness that cannot
be interested in anything beyond its own immediate world, nor care for
what it neither sees, touches, tastes, nor puts to any present use, is
still the lowest form that such a liking can take. It may be no better
than a love of reading about murders in the newspaper, just for the
sake of a sort of startled sensation; and it is a taste that becomes
unwholesome when it absolutely delights in dwelling on horrors and
cruelties for their own sake; or upon shifty, cunning, dishonest
stratagems and devices. To learn to take interest in what is evil is
always mischievous.

But there is an element in many of such scenes of woe and violence that
may well account for our interest in them. It is that which makes the
eye gleam and the heart throb, and bears us through the details of
suffering, bloodshed, and even barbarity - feeling our spirits moved
and elevated by contemplating the courage and endurance that they have
called forth. Nay, such is the charm of brilliant valor, that we often
are tempted to forget the injustice of the cause that may have called
forth the actions that delight us. And this enthusiasm is often united
with the utmost tenderness of heart, the very appreciation of suffering
only quickening the sense of the heroism that risked the utmost, till
the young and ardent learn absolutely to look upon danger as an occasion
for evincing the highest qualities.

'O Life, without thy chequer'd scene
Of right and wrong, of weal and woe,
Success and failure, could a ground
For magnanimity be found?'

The true cause of such enjoyment is perhaps an inherent consciousness
that there is nothing so noble as forgetfulness of self. Therefore it
is that we are struck by hearing of the exposure of life and limb to
the utmost peril, in oblivion, or recklessness of personal safety, in
comparison with a higher object.

That object is sometimes unworthy. In the lowest form of courage it is
only avoidance of disgrace; but even fear of shame is better than mere
love of bodily ease, and from that lowest motive the scale rises to the
most noble and precious actions of which human nature is capable - the
truly golden and priceless deeds that are the jewels of history, the
salt of life.

And it is a chain of Golden Deeds that we seek to lay before our
readers; but, ere entering upon them, perhaps we had better clearly
understand what it is that to our mind constitutes a Golden Deed.

It is not mere hardihood. There was plenty of hardihood in Pizarro when
he led his men through terrible hardships to attack the empire of Peru,
but he was actuated by mere greediness for gain, and all the perils
he so resolutely endured could not make his courage admirable. It was
nothing but insensibility to danger, when set against the wealth and
power that he coveted, and to which he sacrificed thousands of helpless
Peruvians. Daring for the sake of plunder has been found in every
robber, every pirate, and too often in all the lower grade of warriors,
from the savage plunderer of a besieged town up to the reckless monarch
making war to feed his own ambition.

There is a courage that breaks out in bravado, the exuberance of high
spirits, delighting in defying peril for its own sake, not indeed
producing deeds which deserve to be called golden, but which, from
their heedless grace, their desperation, and absence of all base
motives - except perhaps vanity have an undeniable charm about them, even
when we doubt the right of exposing a life in mere gaiety of heart.

Such was the gallantry of the Spanish knight who, while Fernando and
Isabel lay before the Moorish city of Granada, galloped out of the camp,
in full view of besiegers and besieged, and fastened to the gate of
the city with his dagger a copy of the Ave Maria. It was a wildly brave
action, and yet not without service in showing the dauntless spirit of
the Christian army. But the same can hardly be said of the daring shown
by the Emperor Maximilian when he displayed himself to the citizens of
Ulm upon the topmost pinnacle of their cathedral spire; or of Alonso
de Ojeda, who figured in like manner upon the tower of the Spanish
cathedral. The same daring afterwards carried him in the track of
Columbus, and there he stained his name with the usual blots of rapacity
and cruelty. These deeds, if not tinsel, were little better than gold

A Golden Deed must be something more than mere display of fearlessness.
Grave and resolute fulfillment of duty is required to give it the true
weight. Such duty kept the sentinel at his post at the gate of Pompeii,
even when the stifling dust of ashes came thicker and thicker from
the volcano, and the liquid mud streamed down, and the people fled and
struggled on, and still the sentry stood at his post, unflinching,
till death had stiffened his limbs; and his bones, in their helmet and
breastplate, with the hand still raised to keep the suffocating dust
from mouth and nose, have remained even till our own times to show how
a Roman soldier did his duty. In like manner the last of the old Spanish
infantry originally formed by the Great Captain, Gonzalo de Cordova,
were all cut off, standing fast to a man, at the battle of Rocroy, in
1643, not one man breaking his rank. The whole regiment was found lying
in regular order upon the field of battle, with their colonel, the old
Count de Fuentes, at their head, expiring in a chair, in which he had
been carried, because he was too infirm to walk, to this his twentieth
battle. The conqueror, the high-spirited young Duke d'Enghien,
afterwards Prince of Condé, exclaimed, 'Were I not a victor, I should
have wished thus to die!' and preserved the chair among the relics of
the bravest of his own fellow countrymen.

Such obedience at all costs and all risks is, however, the very essence
of a soldier's life. An army could not exist without it, a ship could
not sail without it, and millions upon millions of those whose 'bones
are dust and good swords are rust' have shown such resolution. It is
the solid material, but it has hardly the exceptional brightness, of a
Golden Deed.

And yet perhaps it is one of the most remarkable characteristics of a
Golden Deed that the doer of it is certain to feel it merely a duty;
'I have done that which it was my duty to do' is the natural answer of
those capable of such actions. They have been constrained to them by
duty, or by pity; have never even deemed it possible to act otherwise,
and did not once think of themselves in the matter at all.

For the true metal of a Golden Deed is self-devotion. Selfishness is the
dross and alloy that gives the unsound ring to many an act that has been
called glorious. And, on the other hand, it is not only the valor, which
meets a thousand enemies upon the battlefield, or scales the walls in
a forlorn hope, that is of true gold. It may be, but often it is a mere
greed of fame, fear of shame, or lust of plunder. No, it is the spirit
that gives itself for others - the temper that for the sake of religion,
of country, of duty, of kindred, nay, of pity even to a stranger, will
dare all things, risk all things, endure all things, meet death in one
moment, or wear life away in slow, persevering tendance and suffering.

Such a spirit was shown by Leaena, the Athenian woman at whose house
the overthrow of the tyranny of the Pisistratids was concerted, and who,
when seized and put to the torture that she might disclose the secrets
of the conspirators, fearing that the weakness of her frame might
overpower her resolution, actually bit off her tongue, that she might be
unable to betray the trust placed in her. The Athenians commemorated
her truly golden silence by raising in her honor the statue of a lioness
without a tongue, in allusion to her name, which signifies a lioness.

Again, Rome had a tradition of a lady whose mother was in prison under
sentence of death by hunger, but who, at the peril of her own life,
visited her daily, and fed her from her own bosom, until even the stern
senate were moved with pity, and granted a pardon. The same story is
told of a Greek lady, called Euphrasia, who thus nourished her father;
and in Scotland, in 1401, when the unhappy heir of the kingdom, David,
Duke of Rothesay, had been thrown into the dungeon of Falkland Castle by
his barbarous uncle, the Duke of Albany, there to be starved to death,
his only helper was one poor peasant woman, who, undeterred by fear
of the savage men that guarded the castle, crept, at every safe
opportunity, to the grated window on a level with the ground, and
dropped cakes through it to the prisoner, while she allayed his thirst
from her own breast through a pipe. Alas! the visits were detected, and
the Christian prince had less mercy than the heathen senate. Another
woman, in 1450, when Sir Gilles of Brittany was savagely imprisoned and
starved in much the same manner by his brother, Duke François, sustained
him for several days by bringing wheat in her veil, and dropping it
through the grated window, and when poison had been used to hasten his
death, she brought a priest to the grating to enable him to make his
peace with Heaven. Tender pity made these women venture all things; and
surely their doings were full of the gold of love.

So again two Swiss lads, whose father was dangerously ill, found that
they could by no means procure the needful medicine, except at a price
far beyond their means, and heard that an English traveler had offered a
large price for a pair of eaglets. The only eyrie was on a crag supposed
to be so inacessible, that no one ventured to attempt it, till these
boys, in their intense anxiety for their father, dared the fearful
danger, scaled the precipice, captured the birds, and safely conveyed
them to the traveler. Truly this was a deed of gold.

Such was the action of the Russian servant whose master's carriage was
pursued by wolves, and who sprang out among the beasts, sacrificing his
own life willingly to slake their fury for a few minutes in order that
the horses might be untouched, and convey his master to a place of
safety. But his act of self-devotion has been so beautifully expanded
in the story of 'Eric's Grave', in 'Tales of Christian Heroism', that
we can only hint at it, as at that of the 'Helmsman of Lake Erie', who,
with the steamer on fire around him, held fast by the wheel in the very
jaws of the flame, so as to guide the vessel into harbour, and save
the many lives within her, at the cost of his own fearful agony, while
slowly scorched by the flames.

Memorable, too, was the compassion that kept Dr. Thompson upon the
battlefield of the Alma, all alone throughout the night, striving
to alleviate the sufferings and attend to the wants, not of our own
wounded, but of the enemy, some of whom, if they were not sorely belied,
had been known to requite a friendly act of assistance with a pistol
shot. Thus to remain in the darkness, on a battlefield in an enemy's
country, among the enemy themselves, all for pity and mercy's sake, was
one of the noblest acts that history can show. Yet, it was paralleled
in the time of the Indian Mutiny, when every English man and woman
was flying from the rage of the Sepoys at Benares, and Dr. Hay alone
remained because he would not desert the patients in the hospital, whose
life depended on his care - many of them of those very native corps who
were advancing to massacre him. This was the Roman sentry's firmness,
more voluntary and more glorious. Nor may we pass by her to whom our
title page points as our living type of Golden Deeds - to her who first
showed how woman's ministrations of mercy may be carried on, not only
within the city, but on the borders of the camp itself - 'the lady with
the lamp', whose health and strength were freely devoted to the holy
work of softening the after sufferings that render war so hideous; whose
very step and shadow carried gladness and healing to the sick soldier,
and who has opened a path of like shining light to many another woman
who only needed to be shown the way. Fitly, indeed, may the figure of
Florence Nightingale be shadowed forth at the opening of our roll of
Golden Deeds.

Thanks be to God, there is enough of His own spirit of love abroad in
the earth to make Golden Deeds of no such rare occurrence, but that they
are of 'all time'. Even heathen days were not without them, and how much
more should they not abound after the words have been spoken, 'Greater
love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend',
and after the one Great Deed has been wrought that has consecrated all
other deeds of self-sacrifice. Of martyrdoms we have scarcely spoken.
They were truly deeds of the purest gold; but they are too numerous to
be dwelt on here: and even as soldiers deem it each man's simple duty
to face death unhesitatingly, so the 'glorious army of martyrs' had, for
the most part, joined the Church with the expectation that they should
have to confess the faith, and confront the extremity of death and
torture for it.

What have been here brought together are chiefly cases of self-devotion
that stand out remarkably, either from their hopelessness, their
courage, or their patience, varying with the character of their age; but
with that one essential distinction in all, that the dross of self was
cast away.

Among these we cannot forbear mentioning the poor American soldier, who,
grievously wounded, had just been laid in the middle bed, by far the
most comfortable of the three tiers of berths in the ship's cabin in
which the wounded were to be conveyed to New York. Still thrilling with
the suffering of being carried from the field, and lifted to his place,
he saw a comrade in even worse plight brought in, and thinking of the
pain it must cost his fellow soldier to be raised to the bed above him,
he surprised his kind lady nurses (daily scatterers of Golden Deeds)
by saying, 'Put me up there, I reckon I'll bear hoisting better than he

And, even as we write, we hear of an American Railway collision that
befell a train on the way to Elmira with prisoners. The engineer, whose
name was William Ingram, might have leapt off and saved himself before
the shock; but he remained in order to reverse the engine, though with
certain death staring him in the face. He was buried in the wreck of the
meeting train, and when found, his back was against the boiler he was
jammed in, unable to move, and actually being burnt to death; but even
in that extremity of anguish he called out to those who came round
to help him to keep away, as he expected the boiler would burst. They
disregarded the generous cry, and used every effort to extricate him,
but could not succeed until after his sufferings had ended in death.

While men and women still exist who will thus suffer and thus die,
losing themselves in the thought of others, surely the many forms of
woe and misery with which this earth is spread do but give occasions of
working out some of the highest and best qualities of which mankind are
capable. And oh, young readers, if your hearts burn within you as you
read of these various forms of the truest and deepest glory, and
you long for time and place to act in the like devoted way, bethink
yourselves that the alloy of such actions is to be constantly worked
away in daily life; and that if ever it be your lot to do a Golden
Deed, it will probably be in unconsciousness that you are doing anything
extraordinary, and that the whole impulse will consist in the having
absolutely forgotten self.


It has been said, that even the heathens saw and knew the glory of self-
devotion; and the Greeks had two early instances so very beautiful that,
though they cannot in all particulars be true, they must not be passed
over. There must have been some foundation for them, though we cannot
now disentangle them from the fable that has adhered to them; and, at
any rate, the ancient Greeks believed them, and gathered strength and
nobleness from dwelling on such examples; since, as it has been truly
said, 'Every word, look or thought of sympathy with heroic action, helps
to make heroism'. Both tales were presented before them in their solemn
religious tragedies, and the noble poetry in which they were recounted
by the great Greek dramatists has been preserved to our time.

Alcestis was the wife of Admetus, King of Pherae, who, according to the
legend, was assured that his life might be prolonged, provided father,
mother, or wife would die in his stead. It was Alcestis alone who was
willing freely to give her life to save that of her husband; and her
devotion is thus exquisitely described in the following translation, by
Professor Anstice, from the choric song in the tragedy by Euripides:

'Be patient, for thy tears are vain
They may not wake the dead again:
E'en heroes, of immortal sire
And mortal mother born, expire.
Oh, she was dear
While she linger'd here;
She is dear now she rests below,
And thou mayst boast
That the bride thou hast lost
Was the noblest earth can show.

'We will not look on her burial sod
As the cell of sepulchral sleep,
It shall be as the shrine of a radiant god,
And the pilgrim shall visit that blest abode
To worship, and not to weep;
And as he turns his steps aside,
Thus shall he breathe his vow:
'Here sleeps a self-devoted bride,
Of old to save her lord she died.
She is a spirit now.

Hail, bright and blest one! grant to me
The smiles of glad prosperity.'
Thus shall he own her name divine,
Thus bend him at Alcestis' shrine.'

The story, however, bore that Hercules, descending in the course of one
of his labors into the realms of the dead, rescued Alcestis, and
brought her back; and Euripides gives a scene in which the rough, jovial
Hercules insists on the sorrowful Admetus marrying again a lady of his
own choice, and gives the veiled Alcestis back to him as the new bride.
Later Greeks tried to explain the story by saying that Alcestis nursed
her husband through an infectious fever, caught it herself, and had been
supposed to be dead, when a skilful physician restored her; but this is
probably only one of the many reasonable versions they tried to give of
the old tales that were founded on the decay and revival of nature in
winter and spring, and with a presage running through them of sacrifice,
death, and resurrection. Our own poet Chaucer was a great admirer of
Alcestis, and improved upon the legend by turning her into his favorite
flower -

'The daisie or els the eye of the daie,
The emprise and the floure of flouris all'.

Another Greek legend told of the maiden of Thebes, one of the most

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