Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

ture,' appearing frequently in mines, marshy places, and near stagnating waters."2*

Šo in the ode on the “Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland :"

“Ah, homely swains ! your homeward steps ne'er lose;

Let not dank Will mislead you on the heath;
Dancing in murky night o'er fen and lake,
He glows to draw you downward to your death,
In his bewitch'd, low, marshy, willow brake.
What though far off, from some dark dell espied,
His glimmering mazes cheer th' excursive sight,
Yet turn, ye wand'rers, turn your steps aside,

Nor trust the guidance of that faithless light." p. 15. 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. 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.”

[ocr errors]

extinguished like flames by shaking the horses' mánes, 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 Æneados, 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 ihe sweate, fattie and clammye, is sent forth, which kindled yeldeth this forme. And the like manner in all places (as afore uttered), aš eyther in moyst and clammie places and marishes, in church-yards, cloysters, kitchins, under galosses, valleys, and other places where many

deade hodies 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

a

а

it a spirit that keeps some treasure hid ; but philosophers affirm it to be a great unequal exhalation inflamed between two clouds, the one hot, the other cold (which is the reason that it also smokes), the middle part whereof, according to the proportion of the hot cloud, being greater than the rest, makes it seem like a belly, and both ends like a head and tail.” I suppose our author, when he says the above is like a dragon, refers to the common graphic descriptions of that imaginary creature. It should seem that Blount only copied the above from Bullokar's Expositor, 8vo.

A fire-drake,” says Steevens, “ is both a serpent, anciently called a brenning-drake or dipsas, and a name formerly given to a Will o' the wisp, or ignis fatuus. So in Drayton's Nymphidia :

By the hissing of the snake,

The rustling of the fire-drake.'' Again, in. Cæsar and Pompey, a tragedy, by Chapman, 1607:

“ So have I seene a fire-drake glide along

Before a dying man, to point his grave,

And in stick and hide." Again, in Albertus Wallenstein, 1640 :

“Your wild irregular lust, which, like those fire-drakes

Misguiding nighted travellers, will lead you
Forth from the fair path,” &c.

6

[ocr errors]

MERMAIDS, WATER-BULLS, &c.?

[The natives of the Isle of Man say that, many centuries before the Christian era, the island was inhabited by fairies, and that all business was carried on in a supernatural manner. They affirm that a blue mist continually hung over the land, and prevented mariners, who passed in ships that way,

a

66

1 White, in his Peripateticall Institutions, p. 156, calls the fiery dragon a weaker kind of lightning. Its livid colour and its falling without noise and slowly, demonstrate a great mixture of watry exhalation in it.

'Tis sufficient for its shape, that it has some resemblance of a dragon not the expresse figure.”

From Train's Account of the Isle of Man, vol. ii.

a

from even suspecting that there was an island so near at hand, till a few fishermen, by stress of weather, were stranded on the shore. As they were preparing to kindle a fire on the beach, they were astounded by a fearful noise issuing from the dark cloud which concealed the island from their view. When the first spark of fire fell into their tinder-box, the fog began to move up the side of the mountain, closely followed by a revolving object, closely resembling three legs of men joined together at the upper part of the thighs, and spread out so as to resemble the spokes of a wheel—hence the arms of the island.

Collins, the poet, in a note to his Ode to Liberty, gives a different version of this story. “ There is,” says he,“

a tradition in the Isle of Man, that a mermaid having become enamoured of a young man of extraordinary beauty, took an opportunity of meeting him one day as he walked on the shore, and opened her mind to him; but her proposal being received with much coldness, occasioned by his horror and surprise at her appearance, was so misconstrued by the sealady, that in revenge for his treatment of her, she punished the whole island by covering it with mist, so that all who attempted to carry on any commerce with it, either never arrived there, or were, upon a sudden, wrecked upon its cliffs, till the incantatory spell or pishag, as the Manks say, was broken by the fishermen stranded there, by whom notice was given to the people of their country, who sent ships in order to make a further discovery. On their landing, they had a fierce encounter with the little people, and having got the better of them, possessed themselves of Castle Rushen, and, by degrees, of the whole island.”

Waldron tells another story of a mermaid, in the words of a native fisherman, whom he happened to meet at Port Iron. “During the time that Oliver Cromwell usurped the government of England, few ships resorted to this island, which gave the mermen and mermaids frequent opportunities of visiting the shore, where, on moonlight nights, they have been seen combing their hair; but as soon as they saw any one coming near them, they jumped into the water, and were soon out of sight. Some people who lived near the shore spread nets, and watched at a convenient distance for their approach, but only one was taken, which proved to be a fe

« VorigeDoorgaan »