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light in the dark, evaporated out of a fat earth, and flying in the air. It commonly haunts churchyards, privies, and fens, because it is begotten out of fatness; it flies about rivers, hedges, &c., because in those places there is a certain flux of air. It follows one that follows it, because the air does so.
One of the popular attributes of the ignis fatuus, as has been already noticed, is the love of mischief in leading men astray in dark nights, which, in Drayton’s Nymphidia, is given to the fairy Puck:
“Of purpose to deceive us :
He doth with laughter leave us.' Hentzner, in his Travels in England, A.D. 1598, tells us, that returning from Canterbury to Dover,
“ there were a great many Jack-w'-a-lanthorns, so that we were quite seized with horror and amazement. Strawberry Hill edition, 1757,
The author of the Comical Pilgrim's Pilgrimage into Ireland, 1723, p. 92, says: "An ignis fatuus the silly people
· deem to be a soul broke out of purgatory ;” and, in a Wonderful History of all the storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, &c. &c., and lights that lead people out of their way in the night, &c., 8vo. Lond. 1704, p. 75, we are told of these “lights usually seen in churchyards and moorish places,” that in superstitious times "the Popish clergy perswaded the ignorant people they were souls come out of purgatory all in flame, to move the people to pray for their entire deliverance; by which they gulled them of much money to say mass for them, every one thinking it might be the soul of his or her deceased relations."
In the account of the surprising preservation and happy deliverance of the three women buried thirty-seven days in the ruins of a stable, by a heavy fall of snow from the mountains, at the village of Bergemoletto, in Italy, 1755, by Ignazio Somis, physician to his Sardinian Majesty, it is stated, p. 114 of the English translation, published in 1768, 8vo., that on the melting of the snow, &c., when the unhappy prisoners “ seemed for the first time to perceive some glimpse of light, the appearance of it scared Anne and Margaret to the last
degree, as they took it for a forerunner of death, and thought it was occasioned by the dead bodies : for it is a common opinion with the peasants, that those wandering wildfires which one frequently sees in the open country are a sure presage of death to the persons constantly attended by them, wbichever way they turn themselves, and they accordingly call them death-fires.
The ignis fatuus is not, it should seem, confined to the land ; sailors often meet with it at sea.
With them the appearance is ominous, and if in stormy weather a single one is seen flitting about the masts, yards, or sails, it is thought to indicate certain shipwreck: but if there are two of them, the crew hail them with shouts of joy, and argue from them that a calm will very shortly ensue.
Burton, in his Melancholy (p. 1, s. ii. p. 30, edit. 1632), says, that “the spirits of fire, in form of fire-drakes and blazing stars, sit on ship masts, &c." Hence the passage in Shakespeare's Tempest:
“On the top masts, The yards, and bowsprits, would I flame distinctly." We find the subsequent passage in Hakluyt's Voyages, 1598 : “I do remember that in the great and boysterous storme of this foule weather, in the night there came upon the top of our main yard and main mast a certaine little light, much like unto the light of a little candle, which the Spaniards call the cuerpo santo. This light continued aboord our ship about three houres, flying from maste to maste, and from top
"To an inquiry after the occasion of “a vapour which by mariners is called a corpo zanto, usually accompanying a storm, in the British Apollo, vol. iii. (fol. Lond. 1710), No. 94, there is the following answer : “ A. Whenever this meteor is seen, it is an argument that the tempest which it accompanied was caused by a sulphureous spirit, rarifying and violently moving the clouds. For the cause of the fire is a sulphureous and bituminous matter, driven downwards by the impetuous motion of the air, and kindled by much agitation. Sometimes there are several of these seen in the same tempest, wandering about in various motions, as other ignes fatui do, though sometimes they appear to rest upon the sails or masts of the ship; but for the most part they leap upwards and down. wards without any intermission, making a flame like the faint burning of a candle. If five of them are seen near together, they are called by the Portuguese cora de nostra senhora, and are looked upon as a sure sign that the storm is almost over."
to top; and sometimes it would be in two or three places at
The following is much to our purpose : * Experimento sane didicerunt nautæ quod in magnis tempestatibus conspiciantur sæpius flammulæ quædam velis navium insidentes, aut huc illuc tremulae volitantes : hæ si geminæ appareant, sedatum Neptunum portendunt; sin aliter, certa et imminentia naufragia prænunciant.” From a curious, though mutilated MS. written by the learned John Gregory, called, in Wood's Athenæ, “Observationes in loca quædam excerpta ex Johannis Malalæ,” &c., in the possession of the Rev. Mr. Wrighte, F.S.A.
In Erasmus's Dialogue, entitled Naufragium, the following account of a marine ignis fatuus occurs : “ Nox erat sublustris et in summo malo stabat quidam e nautis in Galea, circumspectans, si quam terram viderat : huic coepit adsistere sphæra quædam ignea : id nautis tristissimum ostentum est, si quando solitarius ignis est; felix, cum gemini. Hoc vestustas credidit Castorem et Pollucem. Mox globus igneus delapsus per funes devolvit sese usque ad nauclerum : ubi paullisper commoratus, volvit se per margines totius navis : inde per medios foros dilapsus evanuit. Fori sunt tabulata navis, ac veluti tectum, sub meridiem cepit magis ac magis incrudescere tempestas."
In the Scottish Encyclopædia, v. Lights, we read : “Dr. Shaw tells us that in thick hazy weather he has observed those luminous appearances which at sea skip about the masts and yards of ships, and which the sailors call corpusanse,' which is a corruption of the Spanish cuerpo santo.”
In the same work, under Meteor, we are told: “ Pliny, in his second book of Natural History, calls these appearances stars; and tells us that they settled not only upon the masts and other parts of ships, but also upon men's heads. Two of these lights forebode good weather and a prosperous voyage; and drive away the single one, which wears a threaten. ing aspect. This the sailors call Helen, but the two they call
1 A friend of the editor, towards the latter end of October 1813, coming from Guernsey to Southampton in the packet, saw one of these appearances on the spindle of the vane at the mast-head, in a gale of wind, near the Needles. The captain of the vessel, in the English sailor's style, upon his inquiring concerning it, called it a complaisance.
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.”2
“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
In Thomas Heyrick's Submarine Voyage, 4to. Camb. 1691, p. 2, we
“ For lo! a suddain storm did rend the air;
The sullen Heaven, curling in frowns its brow,
Did dire presaging omens show;
Ill-boding Helena alone was there." 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; wben 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 broad, by the same cause that the flame is divided; therefore no violent storm can ensue, but rather a calm is promised.”
3 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 moIII.
Thus in Greene in Conceipt, &c. 4to. Lond. 1598, p. 27:
Straies on a forraine coast, in danger still to be swallow'd,
Signes of a calme are seen, and seene, are shrilly saluted." 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,
Hob goblin, or mad Crisp,
by name of Will the Wispe :
I have studied on my pillow,
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.”
1“ Audivi sæpius a Buckingamiensibus meis tale quid (paivouéve) 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 tempesta. tibus 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."