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Wife, uttered along the very path where the funeral is to pass ; and what in Wales are called Corpse Candles are often imagined to appear and foretell mortality. In the county of Carmarthen there is hardly any one that dies, but some one or other sees his light, or candle. There is a similar superstition among the vulgar in Northumberland. They call it seeing the waff of the person whose death it foretells.!
The Glossary to Burns's Scottish Poems describes “Wraith" to be a spirit, a ghost, an apparition, exactly like a living person, whose appearance is said to forebode the person's approaching death. King James, in his Dæmonology, says, that
Wraithes appeare in the shadow of a person newly dead, or to die, to his friends,” p. 125.
Wrack, in the Glossary to Gawin Douglas's Virgil, signifies a spirit or ghost. Wapian, too, Anglo-Saxon, is rendered horrere, stupere, fluctuare. In the Glossary to Allan Ramsay's Poems, 4to. 1721, Edinb., the word Waff is explained wand'ring by itself.”
“ These are,” says Grose, “the exact figures and resemblances of persons then living, often seen, not only by their friends at a distance, but many times by themselves ; of which there are, several instances in Aubrey's Miscellanies. These apparitions are called fetches, and in Cumberland swarths; they most commonly appear to distant friends and relations at the very instant preceding the death of the person whose figure they put on. Sometimes there is a greater interval between the appearance and death.”
In the Statistical Account of Scotland, xxi. 148, parish of Monquhitter, we read, under the head of Opinion: “The fye gave due warning by certain signs of approaching mortality.” Again, p. 149: “The fye has withdrawn his warning.” Ibid. p. 150: Some observing to an old woman,
: when in the 99th year of her age, that in the course of nature she could not long survive—“Aye,” said the good old woman, with pointed indignation, “what fye-token do you see about
'I conjecture this northern vulgar word to be a corruption of whiff, a sudden and vehement blast, which Davies thinks is derived from the Welsh chwyth, halitus, anhelitus, flatus. See Lye's Junius's Etymolog. in verbo. The spirit is supposed to glide swiftly by. Thus, in the Glossary of Lancashire words and phrases, “ wrapt by” is explained “ went swiftly by.” See a View of the Lancashire Dialect, 8vo. March 1763.
me ?”! In the same work, iii. 380, the minister of Applecross, in the county of Ross, speaking of the superstitions of that parish, says : " The ghosts of the dying, called tasks, are said to be heard, their cry being a repetition of the moans of the sick. Some assume the sagacity of distinguishing the voice of their departed friends. The corpse follows the track led by the tasks to the place of interment; and the early or late completion of the prediction is made to depend on the period of the night at which the task is heard."
King James, in his Dæmonology, p. 136, says : “In a secret murther, if the dead carkasse be at any time thereafter handled by the murtherer, it will gush out of blood, as if the blood were crying to heaven for revenge of the murtherer."2
In Five Philosophical Questions answered, 4to. London, 1653, is the following:-"Why dead bodies bleed in the presence of their murtherers ?” “Good antiquity was so desirou to know the truth, that as often as naturall and ordinary proofes failed them, they had recourse to supernatural and extraordinary wayes. Such, among the Jewes, was the Water of Jealousie, of which an adulteresse could not drink without
1 In the same volume and page of the Statistical Account of Scotland, is another anecdote, which shows with what indifference death is sometimes contemplated. James Mackie, by trade, a wright, was asked by a neighbour for what purpose some fine deal that he observed in his barn. • It is timber for my coffin,' quoth James. “Sure,' replies the neighbour,
you mean not to make your own coffin ;' you have neither resolution nor ability for the task.' Hoot away, man !' says James, 'if I were once begun, I'll soon ca't by hand. The hand, but not the heart, failed him, and he left the task of making it to a younger operator.”
This calls to my remembrance what certainly happened in a village in the county of Durham, where it is the etiquette for a person not to go out of the house till the burial of a near relation. An honest simple countryman, whose wife lay a corpse in his house, was seen walking slowly up the village. A neighbour ran to him, and asked, “Where, in heaven, John, are you going?" “ To the joiner's shop,” said poor John," to see them make my wife's coffin ; it will be a little diversion for me."
?“ Who can alleage,” says the author of the Living Librarie, &c., fol. Lond. 1621, p. 283," any certaine and firme reason why the blood runnes out of the wounds of a man murdred, long after the murder committed, if the murderer be brought before the dead bodie? Galeotus Martius, Jeronymus Maggius, Marsilius Ficinus, Valleriola, Joubert, and others, have offered to say something thereof." The same author immediately asks also: “Who (I pray you) can shew why, if a desperate bodie hang himselfe, suddenly there arise tempests and whirlewinds in the aire ?"
discovering her guiltinesse, it making her burst. Such was the triall of the sieve, in which the vestall nun, not guilty of unchastity, as she was accused to be, did carry water of Tiber without spilling any. Such were the oathes upon St. Anthonies arme, of so great reverence, that it was believed that whosoever was there perjured would, within a year after, bee burned with the fire of that saint; and even in our times it is commonly reckoned that none lives above a yeare after they have incurred the excommunication of St. Geneviefe. And because nothing is so hidden from justice as murder, they use not only torments of the body, but also the torture of the soule, to which its passions doe deliver it over, of which feare discovering itselfe more than the rest, the judges have forgotten nothing that may make the suspected person fearfull;
for besides their interrogatories, confronting him with witnesses, sterne lookes, and bringing before him the instruments of torture, as if they were ready to make him feele them, they persuade him that a carkase bleeds in the presence of his murtherers, because dead bodies, being removed, doe often bleed, and then he whose conscience is tainted with the synteresis of the fact, is troubled in such sort, that, by his mouth or gesture, he often bewrayes his owne guiltinesse, as not having his first motions in his owne power.'
See, in the Athenian Oracle, i. 106, a particular relation of a corpse falling a bleeding at the approach of a person supposed to have any way occasioned its death ; where the phenomenon is thus accounted for : “The blood is congealed in the body for two or three days, and then becomes liquid again, in its tendency to corruption. The air being heated by many persons coming about the body, is same thing to it as motion
'Tis observed that dead bodies will bleed in a concourse of people when murderers are absent, as well as present, yet legislators have thought fit to authorise it, and use this tryal as an argument, at least, to frighten, though 'tis no conclusive one to condemn them.” See more to the same purpose, p. 193.
That this has been a very old superstition in England may be learned from Matthew Paris, who states that, after Henry the Second's death, at Chinon, his son Richard came to view the body. "Quo superveniente, confestim erupit sanguis ex naribus regis mortui ; ac si indignaretur spiritus in adventu ejus, qui ejusdem mortis causa esse credebatur, ut videretur sanguis clamare ad Deum.” Edit. 1684, p. 126.
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
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 plagæ 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 fistulæ 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
anguishing 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