« VorigeDoorgaan »
at night. It is said that the creature can either dilate or contract the hood or bladder over its head at pleasure, and that when taken it hides all its light, which only when at liberty it affords plentifully."
We gather from Boreman's second volume of his Description of a great variety of Animals, Vegetables, &c. &c., that a respectable person in Hertfordshire, presuming upon the knowledge of the grounds about his house, was tempted one dark night to follow one of these lights, which he saw flying over a piece of fallow ground. It led him over a ploughed field, flying and twisting about from place to place-sometimes it would suddenly disappear, and as suddenly appear again. It once made directly to a hedge when it came near it mounted over, and he lost sight of it after a full hour's chase. On his return home he saw it again, but was already too much fatigued to think of renewing the pursuit.
At Astley, seven miles from Worcester, three gentlemen saw one of these appearances in a garden, about nine o'clock in a dark night. At first they imagined it to be some country fellow with a lantern, till approaching within about six yards, it suddenly disappeared. It became visible again in a dry field, thirty or forty yards off. It disappeared as suddenly a second time, and was seen again a hundred yards off. Whether it passed over the hedge, or went through it, could not be observed, for it disappeared as it passed from field to field. At another time, when one approached within ten or twelve yards, it seemed to pack off as in a fright.
Hutchinson, in his History of Cumberland, i. 552, speaking, in the parish of Whitbeck, of a lake on the estate of R. Gibson, at Barfield, he observes: "Here and in the adjoining morasses is much of that inflammable air which forms the lucid vapour vulgarly called Will with the wisp, frequently seen in the summer evenings."
In the Rustica Nundina, in Woodward's Poems, 8vo. Oxf. 1730, p. 139, we read:
"Sæpe autem, dum tecta petunt, vestigia fallit
(Quem densant tenebræ, circumdant frigora, donec
Another account of the ignis fatuus occurs in Fawkes's Poems, p. 174, by the Rev. R. Oakeley, M.A., Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge:
"Aspice! cum rebus nox abstulit atra colorem,
Jam varios meditans excursus ocyus Euro
Hinc sæpe obscænos iterat dum noctua cantus,
Quin et mille dolos volvens sub pectore flamma
Deserit immersum stagno squalenti colonum
The ignis fatuus is said to have been observed to stand still as well as to move, and sometimes seemed fixed on the surface of the water. In Italy two kinds of these lights are said to have been discovered, -one in the mountains, the other in the plains; they are called by the common people Cularsi, because they look upon them as birds, the belly and other parts of which are resplendent like the pyrausta, or fire-flies. Bradley supposed the Will with a wisp to be no more than a group of small enlightened insects. Dr. Derham, on the other hand, thought this phenomenon was composed of fired vapours.
The Scottish Encyclopædia (voce Ignis fatuus) defines it to be "a kind of light, supposed to be of an electric na
ture, appearing frequently in mines, marshy places, and near stagnating waters."2
So in the ode on the "Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland:"
"Ah, homely swains! your homeward steps ne'er lose;
The late Sir Joseph Banks could never, after the most laborious investigation on this head, satisfy himself, and doubted entirely, in frequent conversations, the existence of the phenomenon. Having summoned such respectable witnesses, and found their depositions so diametrically opposed to each other, we shall neither presume to sum up the evidence, nor pronounce sentence in the cause under consideration. We must leave the decision of the controversy to future discoveries in natural history, or the more successful investigations of succeeding times.
There is sometimes an appearance of light or fire upon the manes of horses, or men's hair; these (in Latin, flammæ lambentes), I know not why, are called "haggs." Blount, in verbo, says: "Haggs are said to be made of sweat or some other vapour issuing out of the head; a not unusual sight among us when we ride by night in summer time. They are
It is with great deference to the opinion of modern philosophers that I make the observation, but I cannot help suspecting that what our plain forefathers, in the unenlightened ages, attributed to supernatural agency, to elves and fairies, as being otherwise unable to account for or explain it, it is at present the fashion to ascribe to I know not what "electric fluid" or to huddle it up, as in this instance, under the vague idea of something" of an electric nature."
2 The account adds: "It was formerly thought, and is still by the superstitious believed, to have something ominous in its nature, and to presage death and other misfortunes. There have been instances of people being decoyed by these lights into marshy places, where they have pe- I rished; whence the names of ignis fatuus, Will with a wisp, and Jack with a lanthorn, as if this appearance was an evil spirit which took delight in doing mischief of that kind."
extinguished like flames by shaking the horses' manes, but I believe rather it is only a vapour reflecting light, but fat and sturdy, compacted about the manes of horses, or men's hair." See also White's Peripateticall Institutions, p. 149, whence Blount has had his account.
In a rare work by Thomas Hyll, entitled A Contemplation of Mysteries, 12mo., are the following passages: "Of the fire cleaving and hanging on the partes of men and beastes. This impression for troth is prodigious without any phisicke cause expressing the same, whenas the flame or fire compasseth about anye person's heade. And this straunge wonder and sight doth signifie the royal assaultes of mightie monarchies, and kinges, the governementes of the emperie, and other matters worthie memorie, of which the phisicke causes sufficient can not be demonstrated. Seeing, then, such fyers or lightes are, as they wer, counterfets or figures of matters to come, it sufficiently appeareth that those not rashely do appeare or showe but by God's holy will and pleasure sent, that they may signifie some rare matter to men. This light doth Virgill write of in the seconde booke of Eneados, of Ascanius, which had a like flame burning without harme on his heade. Also Livius in his first book, and Valerius Maximus, reporte of Tullius Servius, a childe, who sleeping on bedde, such a flame appeared on his heade and burned rounde aboute the heade without harme, to the wonder of the beholders: which sight pronounced after his ripe age, the coming unto royall estate."
"What is to be thought of the flame of fyre which cleaveth to the heares of the heade, and to the heares of beastes.-Experience witnesseth, that the fyre to cleave manye times to the heads and eares of beastes, and often times also to the heades and shoulders of men ryding and going on foote. For the exhalations dispearsed by the ayre cleave to the heares of horses, and garments of men, which of the lightnesse doe so ascend, and by the heate kindled. Also this is often caused when men and other beastes by a vehement and swift motion wax very hote, that the sweate, fattie and clammye, is sent forth, which kindled yeldeth this forme. And the like manner in all places (as afore uttered), as eyther in moyst and clamnie places and marishes, in church-yards, cloysters, kitchins, nder galosses, valleys, and other places where many deade bodies are laide, doe such burning lightes often appeare. The
reason is, in that these places in the earth continually breatheth forth fatte fumes, grosse and clammy, which come forth of dead bodyes; and when the fume doth thus continually issue forth, then is the same kindled by the labouring heate, or by the smiting togither, even as out of two flint stones smitten togither fyre is gotten. To conclude, it appeareth that such fyres are seene in moyst kitchins, sinckes, or guttours, and where the orfall of beastes killed are throwne, or in such places most commonly are woont to be seene. Such fyres cleaving, doe marveylously amase the fearfull. Yet not all fires which are seene in the night are perfite fiers, in that many have a kinde without a substaunce and heate, as those which are the delusions of the devill, well knowne to be the prince of the world, and flyeth about in the ayre."
So in a curious book entitled A Wonderful History of all the Storms, Hurricanes, Earthquakes, 1704, p. 79, occurs the following account "of flames that appear upon the haires of men and beasts, their cause. These are sometimes clammy exhalations scattered in the air in small parts, which, in the night, by the resistance of the cold, are kindled, by cleaving to horses' ears and men's heads and shoulders, riding or walking; and that they cleave to hair or garments, it is by the same reason the dew cleaves to them, they being dry and attractive, and so more proper to receive them. Another kind of these flames are when the bodies of men and beasts are chafed and heated, they send forth a clammy sweat, which in like manner kindles, as is seen by sparkles of fire that fly about when a black horse is very hard curryed in the dark, or as the blue fire on the shells of oysters, caused by the nitrous salt."
Livy reports, as has been already noted, of Servius Tullius, "that sleeping, when a child, his hair seemed to be all on a flame, yet it did him no harm; he also tells us of one Marius, a knight of Rome, who as he was making an oration to his soldiers in Spain with such vehemency as heated him, his head appeared to them all in a flame, though himself was not aware of it."
By the subsequent description, also from Blount, the firedrake should seem to be a distinct appearance from the ignis fatuus: "There is a fire sometimes seen flying in the night, like a dragon: it is called a fire-drake. Common people think