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appear to have been so numerous that we must despair of ever being able to recover them all and to evince that in all ages men have been self-tormentors, the bad omens fill a catalogue infinitely more extensive than that of the good.
"Omens and prognostications of things," says Bourne, Antiq. Vulg. p. 20, are still in the mouths of all, though only observed by the vulgar. In country places especially they are in great repute, and are the directors of several actions of life, being looked upon as presages of things future, or the determiners of present good or evil." He specifies several, and derives them with the greatest probability from the heathens, whose observation of these he deduces also from the practice of the Jews, with whom it was a custom to ask signs. He concludes all such observations at present to be sinful and diabolical. The following lines, which have more truth than poetry in them, are from Withers's Abuses Stript and Whipt, 8vo. Lond. 1613, p. 167:
"For worthlesse matters some are wondrous sad,
Or any such like superstitious bable,
Their mirth is spoil'd, because they hold it true
The subsequent, on the same subject, from Dryden and Lee's Edipus, act iv. sc. 1, need no apology for their introduction:
"For when we think fate hovers o'er our heads,
In the Statistical Account of Scotland, xiv. 541, parish of Forglen, in the county of Banff, we read: "Still some charms
are secretly used to prevent evil; and some omens looked to by the older people."1
Dr. Hickes, in a letter to Dr. Charlett, Master of University College, Oxford, dated Jan. 23, 171, and preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, mentions "the OMENS that happened at the coronation of K. James the Second, which," says he, "I saw: viz. the tottering of the crown upon his head; the broken canopy over it; and the rent flag hanging upon the White Tower when I came home from the coronation. It was torn by the wind at the same time the signal was given to the tower that he was crowned. I put no great stress upon these omens, but I cannot despise them; most of them, I believe come by chance, but some from superior intellectual agents, especially those which regard the fate of kings and nations." See the Supplement to Seward's Anecdotes, p. 81. Of this unfortunate monarch, his brother, Charles the Second, is said to have prophesied as follows, with great success: the king said one day to Sir Richard Bulstrode, "I am weary of travelling, I am resolved to go abroad no more: but when I am dead and gone, I know not what my brother will do; I am much afraid when he comes to the throne he will be obliged to travel again." Ibid. p. 51.
Gay, in his fable of the Farmer's Wife and the Raven, ridicules, in the following manner, some of our superstitious
"Why are those tears? why droops your head?
Is then your other husband dead?
Or does a worse disgrace betide?
Hath no one since his death applied?
Alas! you know the cause too well.
The salt is spilt, to me it fell;
My knife and fork were laid across,
Omens are also noticed by Moulin: "Satan summus fallendi artifex, propensione hominum ad scrutanda futura abutitur ad eos ludificandos: eosque exagitans falsis ominibus et vanis terriculamentis, aut inani spe lactans, multis erroribus implicat. Hujus seductionis species sunt infinitæ et vanitas inexplicabilis, casum vertens in præsagia et capiens auguria de futuris ex bestiis, aquis, oculis, fumo, stellis, fronte, manibus, somniis, vibratione palpebræ, sortibus, jactis, &c., ad quæ præsagia homines bardi stupent attoniti: inquisitores futurorum negligentes præsentia." Petri Molinæi Vates, p. 151.
On Friday too! the day I dread
Last night, (I vow to Heav'n 'tis true,)
Next post some fatal news shall tell!
Rail'd, swore, and curst: Thou croaking toad,
I knew misfortune in the note.
Dame, quoth the raven, spare your oaths,
And you, good woman, sav'd your eggs."
"Nothing is more contrary to good sense than imagining everything we see and hear is a prognostic either of good or evil, except it be the belief that nothing is so." Secret Memoirs of the late Mr. Duncan Campbell, 8vo. Lond. 1732, p. 60.
Aubrey, in his Remains of Gentilisme, notices several portents which happened before changes of government in his time. At Sir Thomas Trenchard's, at Lichyat in Dorset, on the first day of the sitting of the parliament, 1641, while the family were at dinner, the sceptre fell out of the king's hand, in plaister, in the hall. At his majesty's trial the head of his cane fell off. And before Cromwell's death a great whale came to Greenwich. He notices, also, the tearing of the canopy at James the Second's coronation, in returning from the Abbey adding, "'twas of cloth of gold (and my strength I am confident could not have rent it), and it was not a windy day."
[At Islip, co. Oxon, it is reckoned very unlucky to transplant parsley.]
CHILD'S CAUL, OR SILLY HOW.1
CAULS are little membranes found on some children, encompassing the head, when born. This is thought a good omen to the child itself, and the vulgar opinion is, that whoever obtains it by purchase will be fortunate, and escape dangers. An instance of great fortune in one born with this coif is given by Elius Lampridius, in his History of Diadumenus, who came afterwards to the sovereign dignity of the empire. This superstition was very prevalent in the primitive ages of the church. St. Chrysostom inveighs against it in several of his homilies. He is particularly severe against one Prætus, a clergyman, who, being desirous of being fortunate, bought such a coif of a midwife.2
In France it is proverbial: "être né coiffée" is an expression signifying that a person is extremely fortunate. This
1 "In Scotland," says Ruddiman in his Glossary to Douglas's Virgil v. How, "the women call a haly or sely How (i.e. holy or fortunate cap or hood), a film, or membrane, stretched over the heads of children new born, which is nothing else but a part of that which covers the fœtus in the womb; and they give out that children so born will be very fortunate."
"Quelques enfans viennent au monde avec une pellicule qui leur couvre le teste, que l'on appelle du nom de coëffe, et que l'on croit estre une marque de bonheur. Ce qui a donné lieu au proverbe François, selon lequel on dit d'un homme heureux, qu'il est né coeffé. On a vû autrefois des avocats assez simples pour s'imaginer que cette coeffe pouvoit beaucoup contribuer à les rendre eloquents, pouvoû qu'ils la portassent dans leur sein.
"Elius Lampridius en parle dans la vie d'Antonin Diadumene, mais se phylactere estant si disproportionné a l'effet qu'on luy attribue, s'il le produisoit, ce ne pourroit estre que par le ministere du demon, qui voudroit bien faire de sa fausse eloquence à ceux qu'il coeffe de la sorte."-Traité des Superstitions, &c., 12mo. Par. 1679, i. 316.
3 "Il est né coiffé.
"Cela se dit d'un homme heureux, à qui tout rif, à qui les biens viennent en dormant, et sans les avoir merités: comme on l'exprima il y a quelque temps dans ce joly rondeau.
"Coiffé d'un froc bien raffiné
Et revêtu d'un doyenné,
caul, thought medical in diseases, is also esteemed an infallible preservative against drowning: and, under that idea, is frequently advertised for sale in our public papers and purchased by seamen. Midwives used to sell this membrane to advocates, as an especial means of making them eloquent. They sold it also for magical uses. Grose says that a person possessed of a caul may know the state of health of the party who was born with it: if alive and well, it is firm and crisp: if dead or sick, relaxed and flaccid.'
Sir Thomas Browne thus accounts for this phenomenon. "To speak strictly," he says, "the effect is natural, and thus to be conceived: the infant hath three teguments, or membranaceous filmes, which cover it in the womb, i.e. the corion, amnios, and allantois; the corion is the outward membrane, wherein are implanted the veins, arteries, and umbilical ves
Ce n'est pas que frêre renè
D'aucun mérite soit orné,
Qu'il soit docte, ou qu'il sache écrire,
"Outre les tuniques ordinaires qui envelopent l'enfant dans le ventre de sa mere, il s'en trouve quelquefois une, qui luy couvre la teste en forme de casque, ou de capuchon, si justement et si fortement, qu'en sortant il ne la peut rompre, et qu'il naist coiffé. Voyes Riolan, du Laurens, et les autres anatomistes: on croit que les enfans qui naissent de la sorte sont heureux, et la superstition attribue à cette coiffure d'etranges vertus. Je dis, la superstition et credulité, non pas d'hier, ni d'aujourd'hui, mais dès les temps des derniers empereurs: car Ælius Lampridius, en la vie d'Antonin, surnommé Diadumène, remarque, que cet empereur, qui nâquit avec une bande, ou peau sur le front, en forme de diademe, et d'ou il prit son nom, jouit d'une perpetuelle felicité durant tout le cours de son regne, et de sa vie et il ajoûte, que les sages femmes vendoient bien cher cette coiffe aux avocats qui croyoient que la portant sur eux, ils acqueroient une force de persuader, à laquelle, les juges et les auditeurs ne pouvoient resister. Les sorciers mesmes, s'en servoient à diverses sortes de malefices, comme il se voit dans les Notes de Balsamon, sur les Conciles; où il reporte divers canons, condamnans ceux qui se servoient de cela, soit à bonne, soit a mauvaise fin. Voyes M. Saumaise, et, sur tout, Casaubon, en leurs Commentaires sur les Ecrivains de l'Histoire Auguste."
"Guianerius, cap. xxxvi. de Ægritud. Matr. speakes of a silly jealous fellowe, that seeing his child newborne included in a kell, thought sure a Franciscan that used to come to his house was the father of it, is was so like a frier's cowle, and thereupon threatened the frier to kill him."-Burton's Anat. of Melancholy, 4to. Oxf. 1621, p. 688.