vol II date / index
Eighteen Martyrs of Saragossa, and St. Encratis, or Engratia, A.D. 304. St. Turbius, Bp. 420. St. Fructuosus, Abp. A.D. 665. St. Druon, or Drugo, A. D. 1186. St. Joachim of Sienna, A.D. 1305. St. Mans, or Magnus, A. D 1104.
"BENEDICT JOSEPH LABRE,
"Who died in the odour of sanctity
"On the 16th of April, 1783."
If such a creature as the venerable B. J. Labre can be called a man, he was one of the silliest that ever lived to creep and whine, and one of the dirtiest that ever "died in the odour of sanctity;" and yet, for the edification of the English, his life is translated from the French "by the rev. M. James Barnard, ex-president [o]f the English college at Lisbon and Vicar General of the London district."
From this volume it appears that Labre was born at Boulogne, on the 26th of March, 1748. When a child he would not play as other children did, but made little oratories, and "chastised his body." Having thus early put forth "buds of self-denial and self-contempt," he was taught Latin, educated superior to his station, did penance, made his first general confession, and found his chief delight at the feet of altars. At sixteen years old, instead of eating his food he gave it away out of the window, read pious books as he walked, turned the house of his uncle, a priest, into "a kind of monastery, observed religious poverty, monkish silence, and austere penance, and, by way of humility, performed abject offices for the people of the parish, fetched provender for their animals, took care of their cattle, and cleaned the stalls. The aversion which he entertained against the world, induced him to enter into a convent of Carthusians; there he discovered that he disliked profound retirement, and imagined he should not be able to save his soul unless he embraced an order more austere. Upon this he returned home, added extraordinary mortifications to his fasts and prayers, instead of sleeping on his bed lay on the floor, and told his mother he wished to go and live upon roots as the anchorets did. All this he might have done in the Carthusian convent, but his brain seems to have been a little cracked, for he resolved to go into another Carthusian convent, the prior of which would not admit him till he had studied 'philosophy' for a year, and learned the Gregorian chant." Church music was very agreeable to him—but it was not so with regard to logic; "notwithstanding all his efforts, he was never able to conquer his repugnance to this branch of study;" yet he somehow or other scrambled through an examination; got admitted into the convent; "thought its rules far too mild for such a sinner as he looked upon himself to be;" and after a six weeks' trial, left it in search of admission into the order of La Trappe, as the most rigid of any that he knew. The Trappists would not have him; this refusal he looked upon as a heavenly favour, because the monastery of Sept-Fonts surpassed La Trappe in severe austerities and discipline, and there he became a "novice" till the life he fancied, did not agree with him. "Having a long time before quitted his father's house he could not think of returning to it again;" and at two and twenty years of age he knew not what to do. His biographer says, that "little fit for the cloister, and still less fit for the world, he was destitute of the means of getting a livelihood; and being now persuaded of what were the designs of God concerning him, he resolved to follow the conduct, the light, and the inspirations of the holy spirit, and to submit himself to all the sufferings and afflictions which might await him." If in this condition some one had compelled him to eat a good dinner every day, made him go to bed at a proper hour and take proper rest, and then set him on horseback and trotted him through the fresh air and sun-shine every forenoon, he might have been restored; or if his parents, as in duty they ought, had bound him apprentice at a proper age to a good trade, he might have been an useful member of society. These thoughts, however, never appear to have entered Labre's head, and in the dilemma represented "his love of humility, poverty, and a penitential life, presented to his zealous mind the practice of that kind of piety which he afterwards put in execution[.]" His first step to this was writing a farewell letter to his parents, on the 31st of August, 1770, "and from that time they never received any account of him till after his death." His next steps were pilgrimages. First he went to Loretto "from tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin, whom he looked on as his mother;" next to Assissium the birthplace of St. Francis, where he, "according to custom, got a small blessed cord which he constantly wore;" then he went to Rome where he sojourned for eight or nine months and wept "in the presence of the tomb of the holy apostles;" afterwards "he visited the tomb of St. Romuald at Fabrieno, where the inhabitants immediately began to look upon him as a saint;" from thence he returned to Loretto; he then journeyed to Naples, and had the pleasure of seeing the blood of St. Januarius which would not liquify when the French entered Naples, till the French general threatened the priests who performed the miracle that the city would suffer, if the saint remained obstinate; "and in short," says the rev. Vicar General of the London district, "there was hardly any famous place of devotion in Europe which was not visited by this servant of God;"— the Vicar General's sentence had concluded better with the words "this slave of superstition." To follow Labre's other goings to and fro would be tedious, suffice it to say that at one of his Loretto trips some people offered him and abode, in order to save him the trouble of going every night to a barn at a great distance; but as they had prepared a room for him with a bed in it he thought this lodging was too sumptuous; and he therefore retired into a hole "cut out of the rock under the street." Labre at last favoured the city of Rome by his fixed residence, and sanctified the amphitheatre of Flavian by making his home in a hole of the ancient ruins.
In this "hole of sufficient depth to hold and shelter him in a tolerable degree from the weather," he deposited himself every night for several years. He employed the whole of every day, "sometimes in one church and sometimes in another, praying most commonly upon his knees, and at other times standing, and always keeping his body as still as if he were a statue." Labre's daily exercise in fasting and lifelessness reduced him to a helpless state, that a beggar had compassion on him, and gave him a recommendation to an hospital, where "by taking medicines proper for his disorder, and more substantial food, he soon grew well;" but relapsing into his "constant, uniform and hidden life," he became worse. This opportunity of exhibiting Labre's virtues is not neglected by his biographer, who minutely informs us of several particulars. 1st. He was so careful to observe the law of silence, that in the course of a whole month, scarcely any one could hear him speak so much as a few words. 2dly. He lived in the midst of Rome, as if he had lived in the midst of a desert. 3dly. He led a life of the greatest self-denial, destitute of every thing, disengaged from every earthly affection, unnoticed by all mankind, desiring no other riches than poverty, no other pleasures than mortification, no other distinction than that of being the object of universal contempt. 4thly. He indulged in rigorous poverty, exposed to the vicissitudes and inclemencies of the weather, without shelter against the cold of winter or the heat of summer, wearing old clothes, or rather rags, eating very coarse food, and for three years living in the "hole in the wall." 5thly. To his privations of all worldly goods, he joined an almost continual abstinence, frequent fasts, nightly vigils, lively and insupportable pains from particular mortifications, and two painful tumours which covered both his knees, from resting the whole weight of his body on them when he prayed. 6thly. ""He looked upon himself as one of the greatest of sinners;" and this was the reason why "he chose to lead a life of reproach and contempt," why he herded "among the multitude of poor baggars," "why he chose to cover himself with rags and tatters instead of garments, why he chose to place a barrier of disgust between himself and mankind," why "he abandoned himself to the bites of disagreeable insects," and why he coveted to be covered with filthy blotches.
Labre's biographer, who was also his confessor, says that his "appearance was disagreeable and forbidding; his legs were half naked, his clothes were tied round the waist with an old cord, his head was uncombed, he was badly clothed and wrapped up in an old and ragged coat, and in his outward appearance he seemed to be the most miserable beggar that I had ever seen." His biographer further says, "I never heard his confession but in a confessional, on purpose that there might be some kind of separation between us." The holy father's lively reason for this precaution, any history of insects with the word "pediculus" will describe accurately.
Thus Labre lived and died: and here it might be supposed would end his memoirs. But, no. In whatever odour he lived, as he "died in the odour of sanctity," and enthusiasm seized some persons to touch Labre dead, who, when living, was touchless. Labre being deceased, was competent to work miracles; accordingly he stretched out his left hand, and laid hold on the board of one of the benches. On Easter-day being a holiday, he worked more miracles, and wonders more wonderful than ever were wondered in our days, as may be seen at large, in the aforesaid volume, entitled—"The Life of the venerable Benedict Joseph Labre, who died at Rome, in the Odour of sanctity." The portrait, from which the engraving on this page is taken, was published immediately after his death by Mr. Coghlan, Catholic bookseller, Duke-street, Grosvenor-square, from a drawing in his possession.
Miracle at Somers Town.
The authenticity of the following extraordinary fact can be verified. Mr. H— a middle-aged gentleman, long afflicted by various disorders, and especially by the gout, had so far recovered from a severe attack of the latter complaint, that he was enabled to stand, yet with so little advantage, that he could not walk more than fifty yards, and it took him nearly an hour to perform that distance. While thus enfeebled by suffering, and safely creeping in great difficulty, on a sunny day, along a level footpath by the side of a field near Somers Town, he was alarmed by loud cries, intermingled with the screams of many voices behind him. From his infirmity, he could only turn very slowly round, and then, to his astonishment, he saw, within a yard of his coat-tail, the horns of a mad bullock; when, to the equal astonishment of its pursuers, this unhappy gentleman instantly leaped the fence, and overcome by terror, continued to run with amazing celerity nearly the whole distance of the field, while the animal kept its own course along the road. The gentleman, who had thus miraculously recovered the use of his legs, retained his power of speed until he reached his own house, where he related the miraculous circumstance; nor did his quickly-restored faculty of walking abate, until it ceased with his life several years afterwards. This "miraculous cure" can be attested by his surviving relatives.
Somers Town Miracle.
In April, 1818, London was surprised by the sudden appearance of an optical instrument for creating and exhibiting beautiful forms, which derives its name from [Greek KALOS] beautiful, [Greek EIDOS] a form, and [Greek skopeo] to see. The novelty was so enchanting, that opticians could not manufacture kaleidoscopes fast enough, to meet the universal desire for seeing the delightful and ever-varying combinations, presented by each turn of the magical cylinder.
The kaleidoscope was invented by Dr. Brewster, to whom, had its exclusive formation been ensured, it must have produced a handsome fortune in the course of a single year. Unhappily, that gentleman was deprived of his just reward by fraudful anticipation.* He says, "I thought it advisable to secure the exclusive property of it by a patent; but in consequence of one of the patent instruments having been exhibited to one of the London opticians, the remarkable properties of the kaleidoscope became known before any number of them could be prepared for sale. The sensation excited in London by this premature exhibition of its effects is incapable of description, and can be conceived only by those who witnessed it. It may be sufficient to remark, that, according to the computation of those who were best able to form an opinion on the subject, no fewer than two hundred thousand instruments have been sold in London and Paris during three months."
Mystic trifle, whose perfection
Lies in multiplied reflection,
Let us from thy sparkling store
Draw a few reflections more:
In thy magic circle rise
All things men so dearly prize,
Stars, and crowns, and glitt'ring things,
Such as grace the courts of kings;
Beauteous figures ever twining,—
Gems with brilliant lustre shining;
Turn the tube;—how quick they pass—
Crowns and stars prove broken glass!
Trifle! let us from thy store
Draw a few reflections more;
Who could from thy outward case
Half thy hidden beauties trace?
Who from such exterior show
Guess the gems within that glow?
Emblem of the mind divine
Cased within its mortal shrine!
Once again—the miser views
Thy sparkling gems—thy golden hues—
And, ignorant of thy beauty's cause,
His own conclusions sordid draws;
Imagines thee a casket fair
Of gorgeous jewels rich and rare;—
Impatient his insatiate soul
To be the owner of the whole,
He breaks thee ope, and views within
Some bits of glass—a tube of tin!
Such are riches, valued true—
Such the illusions men pursue!
W. H. M.
Yellow Tulip. Tulipa Sylvstris.
Dedicated to St. Joachim of Sienna.
Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:
1. Brewster's Hist. of the Kaleidoscope. [return]