« VorigeDoorgaan »
Castor and Pollux, and invoke them as gods. These lights do sometimes about the evening rest on men's heads, and are a great and good omen.'
"These appearances are called by the French and Spaniards inhabiting the coasts of the Mediterranean, St. Helme's or St. Telme's fires; by the Italians the fires of St. Peter and St. Nicholas, and are frequently taken notice of by the writers of voyages.
In Thomas Heyrick's Submarine Voyage, 4to. Camb. 1691, p. 2, we read:
"For lo! a suddain storm did rend the air;
The sullen Heaven, curling in frowns its brow,
2 Mr. Wrighte's MS. has the following also: "Hoc certum satis, cum ejusmodi faculæ ardentes olim insidissent super capita Castoris et Pollucis ad expeditionem Argonauticam, exinde dioscuri in Deos indigites relati et tanquam, solida et sola maris numina ab omnibus navigantibus summa in veneratione habiti, cumque procellis suborientibus tempestas immineat, astraque illa ab olim ominosa antennis incubent, Castorem et Pollucem in auxillium adesse nemo dubitat." Hence Gregory adds, that through the superstition of ancient sailors the signs of Castor and Pollux were placed on the prows of ships.
So, in a Wonderful History of all the Storms, Hurricanes, Earthquakes, &c., 8vo., Lond. 1704, p. 82, there occurs the following account" of fiery impressions that appear mostly at sea, called by mariners Castor and Pollux; when thin clammy vapours, arising from the salt water and ugly slime, hover over the sea, they, by the motion in the winds and hot blasts, are often fired; these impressions will oftentimes cleave to the masts and ropes of ships, by reason of their clamminess and glutinous substance, and the mariners by experience find that when but one flame appears it is the forerunner of a storm; but when two are seen near together, they betoken faire weather and good lucke in a voyage. The naturall cause why these may foretell fair or foul weather is, that one flame alone may forewarn a tempest, forasmuch as the matter being joyn'd and not dissolved, so it is like that the matter of the tempest, which never wanteth, as wind and clouds, is still together, and not dissipate, so it is likely a storm is engendering; but two flames appearing together denote that the exhalation is divided, which is very thick, and so the thick matter of the tempest is dissolved and scattered abroad, by the same cause that the flame is divided; therefore no violent storm can ensue, but rather a calm is promised."
In Cotgrave we read: "Feu d'Hélène, Feu S. Herme, St. Helen's or St. Herme's Fire; a meteor that often appears at sea: looke furole." Furole, a little blaze of fire appearing by night on the tops of souldiers' lances, or at sea on the sayle yards, where it whirles, and leapes in a mo
Thus in Greene in Conceipt, &c. 4to. Lond. 1598, p. 27:
A species of this phenomenon, known in Buckinghamshire by the name of "the Wat," is said also to haunt prisons. The night before the arrival of the judges at the assizes it makes its appearance like a little flame, and by every felon to whom it becomes visible is accounted a most fatal omen. The moment the unhappy wretch sees this, he thinks that all is over with him, and resigns himself to the gallows.
["Some call him Robin Good-fellow,
The Merry Puck, n.d.]
ment from one place to another. Some mariners call it St. Herme's Fire; if it come double, 'tis held a signe of good lucke, if single otherwise."
Among the apothegmes at the end of Herbert's Remains, 12mo. Lond. 1652, p. 194, is the following: "After a great fight there came to the camp of Gonsalvo, the great captain, a gentleman, proudly horsed and armed. Diego de Mendoza asked the great captain, Who's this? who answered, 'Tis St. Ermyn, that never appears but after a storm."
"Audivi sæpius a Buckingamiensibus meis tale quid (paivoμive) nebulonibus desperatis accidens ad regium carcerem Ailesburiensem, ubi nocte præeunte judicis adventum, prodigiosa quædam flammula apparere solet in carcere, illis omnibus fatalis a quibus visitur. Unusquisque enim ex incarceratis cui contigit hanc flammulam (quem vocant the Wat) conspexisse, actum est de illo; nihilque in posterum expectat præter patibulum. Non adeo sum infeliciter peritus ut hæc ex propria experientia affirmare ausim; at ex oppidanis ipsis diligenter didici ; iisque hominibus fide dignis." Gregory's MS. in Mr. Wrighte's possession. In this curious work, the ignis fatuus is thus explained: "Hujusmodi flammulas philosophi ad meteora traducunt, causantes exhalationem ad infimam aeris regionem elevatam, ibique per antiperistasin accensam (garatum leges) quæ dum ascendere nititur, frigore mediæ regionis depellitur, et apparet quasi saltans loca decliviora quærens, unde et ad aquas sequentem ducit, sæpe etiam in magnis tempestatibus aut velis affigitur aut præcedit vel sequitur. Meteorol. fol. 50. Stellulas istas sic a philosophis fabrefactas, ne non sibi aliisve quid altum sapere videantur, vocaverunt ignes fatuos."
Some have thought the ignis fatuus to arise from a viscous exhalation, which being kindled in the air, reflects a sort of thin flame in the dark without any sensible heat. I know not whether the learned reader will think himself much edified with the following account of the ignis fatuus in a curious old book, entitled a Helpe to Discourse, 12mo. Lond. 1633, in question and answer: "Q. What fire is that that sometimes followes and sometimes flyeth away? A. An ignis fatuus, or a walking fire (one whereof keepes his station this time near Windsor), the pace of which is caused principally by the motion of the ayre enforcing it."
Should this be considered as not very satisfactory, what will be thought of the subsequent explanation from a very rare book, entitled Curiosities, or the Cabinet of Nature, 1637, p. 79, which, too, is in question and answer? "Q. What is the cause of the ignis fatuus, that either goes before or follows a man in the night? 4. It is caused of a great and well-compacted exhalation, and, being kindled, it stands in the aire, and by the man's motion the ayre is moved, and the fire by the ayre, and so goes before or follows a man; and these kind of fires or meteors are bred near execution places, or churchyards, or great kitchens, where viscous and slimy matters and vapours abound in great quantity."
Willsford, in his Nature's Secret's, 1658, p. 56, says: "The lowest meteor in the air is the burning candle, or, as some call it, ignis fatuus. This is a hot and moist vapour which, striving to ascend, is repulsed by the cold, and fiered by antiperistasis, moves close by the earth, carried along with the vapours that feed it, keeping in low or moist places. The light is of an exceeding pale colour, very unwholesome to meet withal, by reason of the evil vapours it attracts unto it, which nourishes the pallid flame, and will often ascend (as those exhalations do), and as suddainly fall again, from whence the name is derived." He adds, p. 120: "These pallid fires appear but at some times of the year, and that in certain places; and in those parts where they are most usual, they are not commonly seen, but as forerunners of sultry heat in sommer, and wet in the winter: they are usually observed to appear in open weather."
The following elegant simile, founded on this popular superstition of the ignis fatuus conducting its followers into dan
gerous situations, is taken from the Times Anatomized in severall Characters, by T. F., 1647, Character 24th, “A Novice Preacher;" of whom the author says: "No wonder that instead of shining lights they prove foolish fires, to lead their flocks into a maze of errours, in which they wander, not having the clue of learning or judgment to guide them out."
Sir Isaac Newton calls it a vapour shining without heat, and says that there is the same difference between this vapour and flame, as between rotten wood shining without heat, and burning coals of fire. Some have supposed, among whom were Mr. Francis Willoughby and Mr. Ray, that the ignis fatuus is nothing more than some nocturnal flying insect. In favour of this hypothesis, we are informed that the ignes fatui give proof, as it were of sense by avoiding objects; that they often go in a direction contrary to the wind; that they often seem extinct, and then shine again; that their passing along a few feet above the ground or surface of the water agrees with the motion of some insect in quest of prey, as does also their settling on a sudden, as well as their rising again immediately. Some, indeed, have affirmed that ignes fatui are never seen but in salt marshes, or other boggy places. On the other hand, it is proved that they have been seen flying over fields, heaths, and other dry places.
The appearance commonly called a falling star, or more properly a fallen star," has, by a late writer been referred to the half-digested food of the winter gull, or some other bird of that kind.
Dr. Charlton's description of this in his Paradoxes has, perhaps, the quaintest thought on it that can be found in any language: "It is," says he, "the excrement blown from the nostrils of some rheumatic planet falling upon plains and sheep pastures, of an obscure red or brown tawny; in consistence like a jelly, and so trembling if touched," &c.
Widely different are the sentiments of Pennant, in his Zoology, ii. 538; on this subject, speaking of the winter gull, he says: "That it frequents, during winter, the moist meadows in the inland parts of England, remote from the sea. The gelatinous substance known by the name of star-shot, or starjelly, owes its origin to this bird, or some of the kind; being nothing but the half-digested remains of earthworms, on which these birds feed, and often discharge from their sto
machs." He refers to Morton's Natural History of Northamptonshire.
In a very rare book, entitled Peripateticall Institutions in the way of that eminent person and excellent philosopher Sir Kenelm Digby, &c., by Thomas White, 1656, at p. 148, speaking of the matter of falling starres, the author says: Amongst ourselves, when any such matter is found in the fields, the very countreymen cry it fell from heav'n and the starres, and, as I remember, call it the spittle of the starres." He tells us, ibid.: "An ignis fatuus has been found fallen down in a slippery viscous substance full of white spots." He defines "ignes fatui (or Wills o' the wisp) to be a certain viscous substance, reflecting light in the dark, evaporated out of a fat earth and flying in the aire. They commonly haunt churchyards, privies, and fens, because they are begotten out of fatnesse. They follow one that flies them, and fly one that follows them; because the aire does so. They stay upon military ensigns and spears, because such are apt to stop, and tenacious of them. In the summer, and hot regions, they are more frequent, because the good concoction produces fatnesse.'
In the Statistical Account of Scotland, xix. 351, parish of Bendothey, Perthshire, we read: "The substance called shot stars is nothing else than frosted potatoes. A night of hard frost in the end of autumn, in which those meteors called falling stars are seen, reduces the potato to the consistence of a jelly, or soft pulp, having no resemblance to a potato, except when parts of the skin of the potato adhere below undissolved. This pulp remains soft and fluid, when all things else in nature are consolidated by frost; for which reason it is greedily taken up by crows and other fowls, when no other sustenance is to be had, so that it is often found by man in the actual circumstance of having fallen from above, having its parts scattered and dispersed by the fall, according to the law of falling bodies. This has given rise to the name and vulgar opinion concerning it."
Merian has given us an account of the famous Indian lanthorn fly, published among her Insects at Surinam. "It has a hood or bladder on its head, which gives a light like a lanthorn in the night, but by daylight is clear and transparent, curiously adorned with stripes of red or green colour. Writing of tolerable large character may be read by the light of it