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Henry the Sixth's body, Stow says, was brought to Saint Paul's in an open coffin, barefaced, where he bled; thence he was carried to the Blackfriers, and there bled. Annals, p. 424. This circumstance is alluded to by Shakespeare.
At Hertford Assizes, 4 Car. I., the following was taken by Sir John Maynard, sergeant-at-law, from the deposition of the minister of the parish where a murder was committed: "That the body being taken out of the grave thirty days after the party's death, and lying on the grass, and the four defendants (suspected of murdering her) being required, each of them touched the dead body, whereupon the brow of the dead, which before was of a livid and carrion colour, began to have a dew, or gentle sweat, arise on it, which increased by degrees, till the sweat ran down in drops on the face, the brow turn'd to a lively and fresh colour, and the deceased opened one of her eyes and shut it again three several times; she likewise thrust out the ring or marriage finger three times, and pulled it in again, and the finger dropt blood on the grass." The minister of the next parish, who also was present, being sworn, gave evidence exactly as above. See Gent. Mag. for Sept. 1731, i. 395.
Mr. Park, in his copy of Bourne and Brand's Popular Antiquities, p. 101, on the prevailing opinion that when a person is murdered the corpse will bleed at the approach of the murderer, has inserted the following note: "This opinion is sarcastically alluded to in the following lines of an early English epigrammist :
'Phisition Lanio never will forsake
His golden patiente while his head doth ake;
He must be absent-lest the corpse should bleed.'
Bastard's Chrestoleros, lib. v. ep. 22, ed. 1598."
One might add to this the very ill-timed jocular remark made by one to a physician attending a funeral: "So, doctor, I see you are going home with your work."
In Wits, Fits, and Fancies, 4to. p. 83, is the following: "A gentlewoman went to church so concealed, that she thought
nobody could know her. It chanced that her lover met her, and knew her, and spake unto her. Sir (she answered), you mistake me; how know ye me? All too well (replied the gentleman); for so soone as I met you, behold my wounds fell fresh a bleeding! Oh, hereof you only are guilty."
The dead rattle, a particular kind of noise made in respiring by a person in the extremity of sickness, is still considered in the North, as well as in other parts of England, as an omen of death. Levinus Lemnius, in his Occult Miracles of Nature, lib. ii. ch. 15, is very learned concerning it: "In Belgica regione, totoque septentrionalis plaga tractu, morituri certa argumenta proferunt emigrandi, edito sonitu murmuloso, nec est, qui absque hujusmodi indicio vitam non finiat. Siquidem imminente morte sonum edunt, tanquam aquæ labentis per salebras, locaque anfractuosa atque incurva, murmur, aut qualem siphunculi ac fistula in aquæ ductibus sonitum excitant. Cùm enim vocalem arteriam occludi contingat, spiritus qui confertim erumpere gestit, nactus angustum meatum, collapsamque fistulam, gargarismo quodam prodit, ac raucum per lævia murmur efficit, scatebrisque arentes deserit artus. Conglomeratus itaque spiritus, spumaque turgida commixtus, sonitum excitat, reciprocanti maris æstui assimilem. Quod ipsum in nonnullis etiam fit ob panniculos ac membranas in rugas contractas, sic ut spiritus obliquè acsinuoso volumine decurrat. Hi, autem, qui valido sunt vastoque corpore, et qui violenta morte periunt, gravius resonant, diutiusque cum morte luctantur, ob humoris copiam ac densos crassosque spiritus. Iis vero qui extenuato sunt corpore, ac lenta morte contabescunt, minus impetuose lenique sonitu fertur spiritus, ac sensim placideque extinguuntur, ac quodammodo obdormiscunt."
Among the superstitions relative to death may be ranked the popular notion that a pillow filled with the feathers of a pigeon prevents an easy death. To an inquiry of the British Apollo, fol. Lond. 1710, vol. ii. No. 93, "that if any body be sick and lye a dying, if they lie upon pigeons' feathers they will be languishing and never die, but be in pain and torment." Answer is given: "This is an old woman's story. But the scent of pigeons' feathers is so strong, that they are not fit to make beds with, insomuch that the offence of their smell may be said (like other strong smells) to revive anybody dying, and if
troubled with hysteric fits. But as common practice, by reason of the nauseousness of the smell, has introduced a disuse of pigeons' feathers to make beds, so no experience doth or hath ever given us any example of the reality of the fact."
Reginald Scot, too, in his Discovery of Witchcraft, p. 170, says: "I have heard, by credible report, that the wound of a man murthered, renewing bleeding at the presence of a dear friend, or of a mortal enemy. Divers also write that if one pass by a murthered body (though unknown), he shall be stricken. with fear, and feel in himself some alteration by nature." "Three loud and distinct knocks at the bed's head," says Grose, "of a sick person, or at the bed's head or door of any of his relations, is an omen of his death."
Among death omens the withering of bay trees was, according to Shakespeare, reckoned one. Thus Richard II. :
""Tis thought the king is dead; we will not stay.
Upon which Steevens observes, that "some of these prodigies are found in Holinshed: In this yeare, in a manner throughout all the realme of England, old bai trees withered,' &c. This was esteemed a bad omen; for as I learn from Thomas Lupton's Syxt Book of Notable Thinges, 4to. b. l.: 'Neyther falling sicknes, neyther devyll, wyll infest or hurt one in that place whereas a bay tree is. The Romans calle it the Plant of the Good Angell."
Lupton, in his third book of Notable Things, 13 (edit. 8vo. 1660, p. 53), says: "If a firr tree be touched, withered, or burned with lightening, it signifies that the master or mistresse thereof shall shortly dye. Servius." Ibid. book ix. No. 6, we read: "If the forehead of the sick wax red, and his brows fall down, and his nose wax sharp and cold, and his left eye become little, and the corner of his eye run, if he turn to the wall, if his ears be cold, or if he may suffer no brightness, and if his womb fall, if he pull straws or the cloaths of his bed, or if he pick often his nostrils with his fingers, and if he wake much, these are most certain tokens of death."
Allan Ramsay, in his Poems, 1721, p. 276, speaking of Edgewell Tree, describes it to be "an oak-tree which grows on the side of a fine spring, nigh the Castle of Dalhousie, very much observed by the country people, who give out, that before any
of the family died, a branch fell from the Edge-well Tree. The old tree some few years ago fell altogether, but another sprung from the same root, which is now tall and flourishing, and lang be't sae."
Werenfels says, p. 7: "The superstitious person could wish indeed that his estate might go to his next and best friends after his death, but he had rather leave it to anybody than make his will, for fear lest he should presently die after it."
A writer in the Athenian Chronicle, vol. i. p. 232, asserts that he "knew a family never without one cricket before some one dyed out of it; another, that an unknown voice always called the person that was to die; another, that had something like a wand struck upon the walls; and another, where some bough always falls off a particular tree a little before death." He adds, inconsistently enough: "But ordinarily such talk is nonsense, and depends more upon fancy than anything else." In the same work, vol. iii. p. 552, we read of "its being a common thing that, before a king, or some great man, dies, or is beheaded, &c., his picture or image suffers some considerable damage; as falling from the place where it hung, the string breaking by some strange invisible touch." In Dr. Heylin's Life of Archbishop Laud, it is stated that "the bishop going into his study, which no one could get into but himself, found his own picture lying all along on its face, which extremely perplexed him, he looking upon it as ominous."
In the Glossary to the Complaynt of Scotland, 8vo. Edinb., 1801, we find the following observations on the word "Deithtthraw" (p. 188): "The Contortions of Death.-These are regarded by the peasants with a species of superstitious horror. To die with a thraw is reckoned an obvious indication of a bad conscience. When a person was secretly murdered, it was formerly believed that, if the corpse were watched with certain mysterious ceremonies, the death thraws would be reversed on its visage, and it would denounce the perpetrators and circumstances of the murder. The following verse occurs in a ballad, of which I have heard some fragments. A lady is mur
In Petri Molinæi Vates, p. 154, we read: "Si visitans ægrum, lapidem inventum per viam attollat, et sub lapide inveniatur vermis se movens, aut formica vivens, faustum omen est, et indicium fore ut æger convalescat, si nihil invenitur, res est conclamata, et certa mors, ut docet Buchardus Decretorum, lib. xix."
dered by her lover; her seven brothers watch the corpse; it proceeds
'Twas in the middle o' the night
Heron, in his Journey through Part of Scotland, 1799, ii. 227, says: "Tales of ghosts, brownies, fairies, witches, are the frequent entertainment of a winter's evening among the native peasantry of Kirkcudbrightshire. It is common among them to fancy that they see the wraiths of persons dying, which will be visible to one and not to others present with him. Sometimes the good and the bad angel of the person are seen contending in the shape of a white and a black dog. Only the ghosts of wicked persons are supposed to return to visit and disturb their old acquaintance. Within these last twenty years, it was hardly possible to meet with any person who had not seen many wraiths and ghosts in the course of his experience."
"The wraith, or spectral appearance, of a person shortly to die (we read in the introduction to the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, p. clxvi.), is a firm article in the creed of Scottish superstition." Nor is it unknown in our sister kingdom. See the story of the beautiful lady Diana Rich. Aubrey's Miscellanies, p. 89.
"The wraith of a living person," says Dr. Jamieson, "does not, as some have supposed, indicate that he shall die soon; although in all cases viewed as a premonition of the disembodied state. The season, in the natural day, at which the spectre makes its appearance, is understood as a certain presage of the time of the person's departure. If seen early in the morning, it forebodes that he shall live long, and even arrive at old age; if in the evening, it indicates that his death is at hand." Etymol. Dict. of Scot. Lang. in v. Wraith.
Connected with death omens are the following curious extracts. In the Dialogue of Dives and Pauper, fol. 1493, Firste Precepte, chap. xlii. we read: "Dives. Is it leful to trust in these fastinges new found, to fle sodeyne dethe? Pauper. It is a grete foly to trust therein: yf men were certayne by suche fastynge that they shuld nat dye sodeynly but have tyme of repentaunce, and to be shrevyne and houselyde, they shulde be the more rechelesse in their lyvynge, and the lesse tale yeve for to doo amys in hope of amendemente in their diyng. More