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John Burn Bailey.

Modern Methuselahs; or, Short biographical sketches of a few advanced nonagenarians or actual centenarians who were distinguished in art, science, literature, or philanthropy. Also, brief notices of some individuals remarkable chiefly for their longevity online

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Online LibraryJohn Burn BaileyModern Methuselahs; or, Short biographical sketches of a few advanced nonagenarians or actual centenarians who were distinguished in art, science, literature, or philanthropy. Also, brief notices of some individuals remarkable chiefly for their longevity → online text (page 5 of 32)
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stealth. The historian gives no authority for the
accusation, and as he had to acknowledge that, as
his history progressed, he saw reasons for taking
a more favourable view of the saint's character than
he did in some earlier pages of his work, it may be
hoped that prejudice made him misconstrue some

* Xo serviceable purpose Avould be answered by giving an
account of the various miracles which tlie holy recluse wrought for
so many years. If any reader is curious on the subject, he can
find in Canon Kingsley's " Hermits " a fair sample of them trans-
lated from St. Athanasius. In the Canon's section on "The
Natural History of Prodigies," he will find as much, perhaps, as it
is possible to say on that point. Intense spiritual enthusiasm
on the one side, and a blind, superstitious credulity on the other,
marked the respective parties to these miracles. In all probability
each side was equally deceived, except so far as " faith-healing "'
was concerned, which was then, as now, in certain forms of nervous
disorders an unquestionable possibility.



62 MODEEN METHUSELAHS.

incident of bis life, such as that related by St,
Athanasius, that his intense realisation of the supe-
riority of the soul over the body, made him reluctant
for others to see him eat. The accusation, if true,
would have been strangely inconsistent with his
method of stern self-examination, and with the habit
which he recommended of keeping a diary of the
most secret thoughts of the heart.

Famous in life, a still wider fame fell to his lot
after his death, and his example had an incalculable
influence upon the Christians of the East, in par-
ticular, to adopt the monastic life. There was much
evil and little good mixed up with this passion for an
anchorite existence ; to gratify a feverish craving to
become holy monks and sacred virgins, husbands
deserted their wives and wives their husbands, and
servants forsook their masters, bringing about a
condition injurious to Church and State. St. An-
thony's fame did not expire with the generation
which had known him. A century after his death
he began to be venerated as a saint by the Greek,
and in the ninth century by the Latin Church,
and he still retains a conspicuous place in the regard
of each. At Rome there is a church dedicated to
St. Anthony ; it contains some curious old frescoes,
where are depicted the temptations which he en-
countered. On his commemoration day there takes
place the annual benediction of beasts ; they are
blessed and sprinkled with holy water, and are then
considered under the saint's special protection for



ST. ANTHONY TIFK HREAT. (33

tliG ensuiiiir twelve nK^utlis, There is also at Rome,
in the Borgliese Palace, a painting in whicli tlie saint
is represented in the act of preaching to the fishes,
whose eyes are riveted upon him, and whom he dis-
misses with his blessing.

In the year 1095 a religions Order was founded
in France, called the Order of St. Anthony, the
members of which undertook the charge of persons
afflicted with erysipelas, a disease which raged
violently in various parts of that country at that
time. Allusion has already been made to the re-
moval of the saint's body to Montmajor, near
Vienne, where the monks built a cell, and where
persons suffering from the holy fire resorted in the
hope of being healed through the saint's influence.
Among other victims, particular mention is made
of Gaston, a rich nobleman of Vienne, and of his
son Guerin, both of whom visited the cell and
experienced a complete restoration to health. In
gratitude for this mercy they dedicated themselves
and all their property to St. Anthony, who had, they
believed, wrought their cures ; they therefore spent
their lives in works of kindness to those afflicted
with the same malady, and in extending help to the
sick and indigent generally.

No Life of St. Anthony, however brief, can well
omit to mention St. Paul, the hermit of Alexandria,
with whom he was miraculously brought in contact.
A Life of St. Paul was compiled by St. Jerome, but
is so full of statements clearly legendary in their



64 MODERN METHUSELAHS.

character that Neander questioned whether any such
saint ever had an existence. Those who believe in
him award him the honour of being the first Christian
recluse, and claim for him the long term of ninety
years' entire isolation from his fellow- men, for he
fled to the wilderness in his twenty-second year, and
he had exceeded his century of existence by more
than twelve years before death's summons reached
him. He was born twenty-three years before St.
Anthony, and lost both his parents when only fifteen;
he was left, however, with an ample provision, received
a learned education, and attained to great proficiency
in Greek and Egyptian scholarship. He was also an
open professor of Christianity, which compelled him,
during the persecution under Decius, to conceal him-
self in the house of a friend. Bat hearing that a
brother-in-law, in the expectation of obtaining his
estate, w^as on the eve of betraying him, he fled to
the desert, with the intention of hiding until the
persecution had passed away. When that time had
arrived, and he could have returned to social life in
safety, the inclination had left him ; the holy
solitude, the delights of heavenly contemplation, and
the spiritual benefits of penance, irresistibly impelled
him to eschew all earthly aff"airs, and to remember
the outside world as only a subject of earnest prayer.
He chose for his cell a cave near a palm-tree and a
clear spring of water. On the fruit of the tree he
lived until his forty-third year, from which time until
his death a raven brought him half a loaf daily.



ST. ANTHONY TlIK (iRKAT. C5

The day od w]ii(;li St. Paul IIlmI to the desert was
tlie very day of St. Anthony's birth. Ninety years
after, the latter saint became tempted to vanity ; he
considered that no one had served God in the wilder-
ness for the length of time he had, and tliat he was
the first example of so stern and consistent a recluse.
This pride had to be humbled ; a miraculous intima-
tion was therefore conveyed to him that a more
perfect solitary than himself had lived a still longer
time in his hermit cell, and a command was conveyed
that lie should immediately start in search of him.
He at once obeyed, but strange shapes confronted
liim in the way ; before him appeared centaurs — half
man and half horse — and satyrs danced about him,
but on his making the sign of the cross they all
disappeared. xVfter two days and a night spent in
the quest, St. Anthony found the cell of the ascetic
by perceiving rays of light issue from it ; he knocked,
the door was instantly opened by the holy inmate,
who called Anthony by name, embraced him, and
then fell into conversation with him, being particu-
larly anxious to know if idolatry still reigned in the
world. At this point a raven appeared, and droj^ped
before them a whole loaf of bread, upon which the
elder recluse remarked that their good God had
sent them a dinner, having doubled the quantity
hitherto provided. The \vhole night was spent in
prayer.

The followiusj mornino- St. Paul told his sfuest
that the hour of his death approached, and that he



66 MODERN METHUSELAHS.

had been sent by God to bury him ; he requested
Anthony to go back to fetch a cloak which he had
given him, who, hurrying to return, saw" his happy
soul carried up to heaven, attended by choirs of
angels, prophets, and apostles. Going into the cell
he found the body of St. Paul in a kneeling attitude ;
he carried it forth wdth the intention of burying it, but
was perplexed as to how he was to dig a grave, having
no appliances for the purpose. Two lions overcame
the difficulty ; they quietly walked up to the living
and dead saints, and then proceeded to scratch up a
quantity of earth with their paws, making a suffi-
cient excavation for the interment of the corpse.
St. Paul died in the year of our Lord 342, in the
hundred and thirteenth year of his age, and the
ninetieth of his solitude. The last rites over, St.
Anthony returned to his own cell, carrying with
him his deceased friend's garment of palm-leaves
patched together, in which he always afterwards
appeared on grand festivals.

It is distinctly recorded of St. Anthony that he
visited all the famous ascetics which were reported
to him, in order to ascertain the distinctive virtues
of each, that he might combine them all in his own
practice. If, therefore, such an aged and a holy
hermit as St. Paul had been brought under his
notice, he would no doubt have sought him out ;
putting aside the miracles of the story, and granting
that St. Paul had a real existence, the meeting of the
two ancient eremites may be regarded as extremely



ST. ANTITONV TIM-; ORKAT. 67

probable, and would allord an artist no bad subject
for an easel picture.

In one of Latimer's sermons another anecdote,
taken from St. Athanasius, is told of St. Anthony;
*'a pretty story," the good old Bishop calls it, for
he had small respect for the useless life of a hermit.
A voice came from heaven, saying : " Anthony, thou
art not so perfect as is a cobbler that dvvelleth at
Alexandria." The old saint immediately set out for
the city, found the cobbler, and questioned him of
his whole conversation, and how he spent his time.
" Sir," said the poor man, " as for me, good works
iiavc I none, for my life is but simple and slender ;
I am but a poor cobbler : in the morning when I rise,
I pray for the whole city wherein I dwell, especially
for all such neighbours and poor friends as I have :
after, I set me at my labour, where I spend the whole
day in getting my living, and I keep me from all
falsehood, for I hate nothing so much as I do
deceitfulness ; wherefore, when I make any man a
promise, I keep it, and perform it truly ; and thus
I spend my time poorly, with my w^ife and children,
whom I teach and instruct, as far as my wit will
serve me, to fear and dread God. And this is the
sum of my simple life."

There exists an original sketch by Titian of St.
Anthony granting speech to an infant, in order that
it might testify to the innocency of its mother.
Competent judges pronounce this study to be a
very beautiful production.

F 2



CHAPTER III.

JOA?s^NES CAKTACUZENUS, EMPEROE OF THE EAST.

Kebel though he was,
Yet with a noble nature and great gifts
"Was he endowed — courage^ discretion, wit,
An equal temper, and an ample soul.

******
So prompt and capable, and yet so calm,
He nothing lacked in sovereignty but the right,
I^othing in soldiership except good fortune.

Sir Henry Taylor.

The character which the author of " Philip Van
Artevelde " ascribes to that hero, as given in the
motto to this chapter, is remarkably applicable to
the rebel emperor whose career is now to be briefly
traced. Gibbon tells his readers that the name of
Cantacuzenus may " well inspire the most lively
curiosity." Each of the two epochs of his life excites
interest and sympathy : as a statesman, warrior,
and crowned ruler of men, he played a conspicuous
and distinguished part ; retired to the cell of a
monk, he wrote valiantly for what he considered
to be truth, added new chapters to early history.



JOANNES CANTACUZEXUS, EMl'EROR 01' THE EAST. CM

and left a name enrolled among the world's energetic
thinkers and eloquent authors. Whether he really
attained to his centennial birthday is a little un-
certain, for the exact date of his birth is unknown ;
the historical evidence is, however, sufficient to prove
that he must have reached the very fringe of a
century before his eventful life closed. It is not
certain but that he died the oldest eminent man on
record since the days of ]\Ioses.

Although not absolutely of royal blood, Canta-
cuzenus came of a highly distinguished family, some
of whose members stood in very near relationship
to the royal line. Mention is made of an ancestor
who, in 1107, commanded the Greek fleet; one of
his immediate descendants married the niece of the
Emperor Manuel, and was killed in action against
the Turks about 1174. Other members of the family
appear on the page of history, and sufficiently attest
the influential position to which it had attained.
The father of the subject of the present sketch
was Governor of the Peloponnesus, but died at the
early age of thirty, leaving a widow with one
daughter and two sons, the elder being Joannes,
who early wrought out a name for himself in letters,
arms, and statecraft. These qualifications naturally
gained for him an exalted position at the Court of
the elder Andronicus, by whom he was made, in
1320, Grand Domestic, one of the highest offices
which could be given to a subject. The violent
death of Michael, who shared with his father the



70 MODERN METHUSELAHS.

imperial purple, made the grandson heir to the
throne, a position at all times full of temptation,
and especially such in the age and the land in
which his lot was cast.

A spoiled childhood soon developed into vicious
youth and early manhood, not unstained by terrible
crimes. Such a career lost him the affections of his
grandfather, who transferred them to another grand-
son, whom he intended to make heir to his dominions;
this aroused the anger of the younger Andronicus,
and in time the unhappy differences deepened from
mere disputes to open defiance and rebellion. The
grandson filled the palace with his armed followers,
while the capital, clergy, and senate remained faithful
to the aged grandfather. Cantacuzenus is accursed of
having connived at the vices of the former, to have
sided with him in his undutiful opposition, and to
have been, by his zeal and ability, the very soul
of his revolutionary action. On the other hand, it is
distinctly stated that the Grand Domestic was op-
posed to the harsh measures by which the emperor's
life was so embittered that, after having resigned
in favour of his grandson, he was glad to exchange
the palace, which he still shared, for the cell of a
monk, and the imperial purple, which he was still
allowed to wear, for the coarse garments of the
Order upon which he threw himself. Thus, after
seven years of civil turmoil, the grandson was left,
in 1328, in sole possession of the throne.

Cantacuzenus was immediately entrusted with the



JOANNKS CANTACL'ZEXUS, EMl'EROU OF THE EAST. 71

supreme administration of the affairs of the empire, in
which he acquitted himself witli a prudence, an ability,
and an energy which called forth the approbation
of his sovereign, his Court, and his people generally.
Masterly in measures, spotless in honour, he upheld
the tottering State both in peace and in war ; he re-
united Lesbos and Anatolia to the empire; he negotiated
a treaty by which the constant piracies of the Genoese
in the Archipelago were to cease. In an age of un-
blushing corruption and of foul crimes, he was pure
from malversations and free from violence, setting a
noble example to all beneath him. Whatever natural
abilities were possessed by the youthful emperor —
and they were many — he managed to render them
useless by carelessness, and gradually to destroy them
by vicious pleasures ; he had, however, the sagacity
to perceive his own inadequacy to govern alone, and
to feel the value of a Minister who could hold the
reins so firmly for him. Accordingly, in 1329, he
proposed that his Grand Domestic should be associated
with him as joint occupant of the imperial throne,
such a dual monarchy having had many precedents.
This arrangement did not commend itself to the mind
of Cantacuzenus ; he therefore declined the honour,
but retained the favour of the emperor, and con-
tinued to hold his influential position as the second
power in the realm. Death was, however, at hand to
change the form of oovernment. Andronicus had
grown old before his time ; the excesses of youth had
accelerated the infirmities of age, and before he had



73 MODERN METHUSELAHS.

reached liis forty -fifth year his throne became vacant.
He left a signal proof of his confidence in the ability
and fidelity of his Grand Domestic, for he entrusted
him with the guardianship of his infant son, and with
the mission to govern the empire under the regency
of Anne of Savoy, the empress-mother. Jean
Palseologus, the child emperor, was only nine years
old ; Cantacuzeniis accepted the double trust confided
to him, and set himself faithfully to discharge its
duties. Nor does the whole tenour of his life warrant
any other belief than that he was naturally inclined
to loyalty to the throne, and wished for the happiness
of its subjects. His desire for the good of the State
was such that he employed his own private means to
pay the troops when the public finances were not
available. But he was soon taii^'ht that the higher
the place the greater the danger. The empress-
mother and some of the nobles before loner ovew
jealous of his exalted position and great power. One,
bold, subtle, and rapacious — the Grand Duke or
Admiral Apocaucus — combined with the proud and
feeble John of Apri, Patriarch of Constantinople, to
compass the downfall of the boy emperor's guardian.
At first secret slanders were circulated ; by degrees
his opinions were slighted ; his prerogatives were dis-
puted, and during his absence from the city, which
he had left to accompany an expedition against the
Bulgarians and Turks, he v*'as publicly denounced as a
traitor, proscribed as an enemy of Church and State,
delivered, with all his adherents, to " the sword of



JOANNES CAXTACUZENDS, EMPEROR OF TUE EAKT. 73

justice, the vengeance of the people, and tlie power
of the devil." Even his nf]jed mother was cast into
prison, where deatli soon released her from her
inftituated foes.

Nothin2[ could have been more unfortunate than
the absence of the guardian from the imperial city ;
it deprived him of the opportunity of facing his
enemies and of takincj counsel with his friends. On
hearing all that had occurred, his first impulse was
to return immediately, in order to throw himself
at the feet of the emperor, and on the justice of
the people ; his friends, both among the nobles and
in the army, strongly opposed such a course, which
they represented could only have a fatal termination.
They convinced him at length that his sacred duty
was to endeavour to save himself, his family, and
his friends by the only path which lay open to him,
which was to draw the sword, and to grasp at the
supreme power. The standard of rebellion was
therefore raised, although avowedly not against
the emperor, but against his evil counsellors, and
although Cantacuzenus was crowned at Demotica,
the names of Jean Palseologus and his mother were
proclaimed before his own. This took place in 1342,
and resulted in a civil war of five years' duration.
Constantinople adhered to its rightful sovereign ; the
principal cities of Thrace and Macedonia rendered
obedience to the usurper. His cause, however, did
not flourish ; small success attended his arms ; his
soldiers melted away; their oJQficers accepted bribes



74 MODERX METHUSELAHS.

from his enemies ; false rumours were circulated of
crushing defeats which had overtaken him, and even
that he had been slain. At length he was compelled
to seek refuge with the Cral of Servia, in the first
instance, and afterwards with the Turkish chiefs of
Asia Minor. But reverses neither quenched his spirits
nor paralysed his efforts, and in time the vicissitudes
of war turned in his favour, for friends who remained
in Constantinople were watchful of their opportunity
to act on his behalf, and at length they saw the right
time arrive. The infamous Apocaucus had met at the
hands of an assassin a bloody death, and the gates
of the imperial city were thrown open to Canta-
cuzenus. His ward was now fifteen years old ; he
seems to have discerned the desirability of coming
to some arranojemeut with his ouardian : his mother
did not at first favourably receive his suggestions,
but was at last won over to his views. On February
8th, 1347, his late foe entered the palace as joint
emperor, having acknowledged by a treaty drawn up
by himself the hereditary right of Jean Palaeologus
to the throne of his family. The guardian reserved
to himself, however, the sole administration of the
affairs of the empire for a period of ten years, and
cemented the whole arrangement by giving his
daughter in marriage to the young emperor ; there
were thus seated on the Byzantine throne two
emperors and three empresses. Again the late rebel
distinguished himself by great moderation ; he allowed
no vindictive spirit to influence his conduct towards



JOANNES CANTACUZENUS, KMPETIOU OF TIIK KAST. ?■'»

thosewlio liailjie kiicwjx'cii liis enemies; he manifested
an earnest desire to heal the wounds of the State
whieh civil war had inHicted. llis own pen has
described how far less injurious is a foreign than a
civil war; as given by Gibbon his words are, "the
former is the external warmth of summer, always
tolerable, and often beneficial ; the latter is the
deadly heat of a fever, which consumes without a
remedy the vitals of the constitution."

But a permanent peace was still very far off ;
the young emperor began to act for liimself, and
daily manifested a growing jealousy of the joint
occupant of his throne, and also of his son Matthew.
Jean Palosologus added to an impatient ambition
the vices of his father, which his guardian in vain
exerted himself to check. The empire was once more
torn asunder by internal factions, and very soon
civil war again raged. In 1348 Constantinople was
besieged, and although the enemy was repulsed, plots
and seditions continued. After a war with Servia,
the young monarch, was left at Thessalouica with
some companions who taught him to hate his guardian
with intensified hatred, and to be sorely impatitnt
of his exile from Constantinople. He eflfected a treaty
with the Cral of Servia, and immediately followed
it up by open revolt. At the request of his guardian
the empress-mother made a journey to Thessalouica
to mediate, but returned without success. By the
aid of the Turks, Cantacuzeuus became master of the
field, and his ward, driven from sea and land, took



76 MODERN METHUSELAHS.

shelter among the Latins of the isle of Tenedos, where
his obstinacy and insolence so provoked his guardian
that he associated his own son Matthew with him-
self in the government, and altogether set aside
the succession previously agreed upon, in which he
manifested an unwisdom rarely to be found in his
proceedings. But again the fortune of war changed ;
Constantinople was restored to Jean Palseologus, in
whose favour a general rising took place. A large
party still remained faithful to the rebel emperor,
whose cause, though sorely tried, did not appear
hopeless, and whose wife strongly leaned to a con-
tinuance of the struggle. There is every reason to
believe that better feelinsrs than ambition or reveno;e
now took possession of the breast of Cantacuzenus ;
that he felt more deeply than ever the compli-
cated evils into which the State had been thrown,
and perceived that the only way to heal them was
for him to resign all claims to the imperial purple.
He hastened, therefore, in 1355, to conclude a treaty
by wdiich he renounced the crown,, and even his
exalted positions under it ; he stripped himself of all
his influence and power, and retired to the monastic
cells of Mount Athos, adopting the name of Joasaph
Christodulus. At the same time his wife retired to a
nunnery, changing her name from Irene to Eugenia.
A complete reconciliation with the emperor followed,
who henceforth accepted his former foe as his friend
and the spiritual father of his people. The ex-rebel
monarch also induced his son to lay down the arms



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Online LibraryJohn Burn BaileyModern Methuselahs; or, Short biographical sketches of a few advanced nonagenarians or actual centenarians who were distinguished in art, science, literature, or philanthropy. Also, brief notices of some individuals remarkable chiefly for their longevity → online text (page 5 of 32)