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James, clearly prove that this relic of popish superstition was still a portion of the popular creed.

Another singular conception was, that it was necessary, in the agonies of death, to "Pluck—men's pillows from below their heads,”—Timon of Athens, act iv. sc. 3.

in order that they might die the easier; a practice founded on the ridiculous supposition that, if pigeons' feathers formed a part of the materials of the pillow, it was impossible the sufferer should expire but in great misery, and that he would probably continue to struggle for a prodigious length of time in exquisite torture. It was common at this period, and the practice, indeed, continued until the middle of the last century, to consider Wells and Fountains as peculiarly sacred and holy, and to visit them as a species of pilgrimage, or for the healing virtues which superstition had fondly attributed to them. Many of these wells, which had been much frequented in London, during the days of Fitzstephen, were closed or neglected, when Stowe wrote; but in the country the habit of resorting to such springs, and for purposes similar to those which existed in papal times, was generally preserved. Bourne, who published in 1725, speaks in language peculiarly descriptive of this superstitious regard for wells and fountains, not only as it was observed in ancient times, but at the period in which he lived. In the dark ages of popery," he says, "it was a custom, if any well had an awful situation, and was seated in some lonely melancholy vale; if its water was clear and limpid, and beautifully margin'd with the tender grass; or if it was look'd upon, as having a medicinal quality; to gift it to some Saint, and honour it with his name. Hence it is that we have at this day wells and fountains called, some St. John's, St. Mary Magdalen's, St. Mary's Well, etc.

"To these kind of wells, the common people are accustomed to go, on a summer's evening, to refresh themselves with a walk after the toil of the day, to drink the water of the fountain, and enjoy the pleasing prospect of shade and stream.

"Now this custom (though, at this time of day, very commendable, and harmless, and innocent) seems to be the remains of that superstitious practice of the Papists, of paying adoration to wells and fountains; for they imagined there was some holiness and sanctity in them, and so worshipped them." +

It was in the north especially, where Mr. Bourne resided, that wells of this description where most frequently to be found, possessing the advantages of a romantic situation, and preserved with care through the influence of traditionary legends of the neighbouring village; for these retreats were supposed to be the haunts of fairies and good spirits who were accustomed to meet

"in dale, forest, or mead,

By paved fountain, or by rushy brook."

At these wells offerings were frequently made, either owing to the conceived sanctity of the place, or from gratitude for imagined benefit received through the waters of the spring; and as those who had recourse to these fountains were usually of the lower class, small pieces of money were given, or even rags sus

*Stowe's Survey of London, p. 18. edit. of 1618.

Bourne's Antiquities apud Brand, p. 90.

A fountain of this hallowed and mysterious nature, has been described by Mr. Southey in language
most graphically and beautifully descriptive :—
*There is a fountain in the forest call'd
The fountain of the Fairies: when a child,
With most delightful wonder I have heard
Tales of the Elfin tribe that on its banks
Hold midnight revelry. An ancient oak,
The goodliest of the forest, grows beside;
Alone it stands, upon a green grass plat,
By the woods bounded like some little isle.
It ever hath been deem'd their favourite tree,
They love to lie and rock upon its leaves,
And bask them in the moon-shine. Many a time

Hath the woodman shown his boy where the dark round
On the green-sward beneath its boughs, bewrays
Their nightly dance, and bade him spare the tree.
Fancy had cast a spell upon the place

And made it holy; and the villagers

Would say that never evil thing approached
Unpunished there. The strange and fearful pleasure
That fill'd me by that solitary spring,
Ceas'd not in riper years; and now it woke
Deeper delight, and more mysterious awe."

Joan of Arc, vol. i. b. i. p. 126.

pended on the trees or bushes which overhung the stream; whence these fountains in many places obtained the name of Rag-wells. One thus termed is mentioned by Mr. Brand, as still exhibiting these tributary shreds at the village of Benton near Newcastle; Mr. Pennant records two at Spey and Drachaldy in Scotland; and Mr. Shaw tells us, that in the province of Moray pilgrimages to wells are not yet obsolete.* In many places in the North, indeed, there are wells still remaining which were manifestly intended for the refreshment of the wayworn traveller, and are yet held in veneration. We have seen some of these with ladles of brass affixed to the stone-work by a chain, a convenience probably as ancient as the Anglo-Saxon era.

Several traditions of a peculiarly superstitious hue, have been cherished in this country with regard to the bird-tribe, and most of them have been introduced by our great poet as accessory either to the terrible or the pathetic. The ominous croaking of the raven and the crow have been already mentioned, and we shall therefore, under the present head, merely advert to a few additional notices relative to the owl and the ruddock, the former the supposed herald of horror and disaster, the latter the romantic minister of charity and pity.


To the fearful bodings of the clamorous owl, which we have already introduced when treating of omens, may now be added a superstition which formerly rendered this unlucky bird the peculiar dread of mothers and nurses. It was firmly believed, that the screech-owl was in the habit of destroying infants by sucking out their blood and breath as they laid in the cradle. "Lamiæ," observes Lavaterus, are things that make children afrayde. Lamiæ are also called Striges. Striges (as they saye) are unluckie-birds, whiche sucke out the blood of infants lying in their cradles. And hereof some men will have witches take their name, who also are called Volatica." This credulity relative to the Strix or screech-owl may be traced to Ovid, and is alluded to by Shakspeare in the following lines:"We talk of goblins, owls, and elvish sprites;

If we obey them not, this will ensue,

They'll suck our breath, and pinch us black and blue."

Comedy of Errors, act ii. sc. 2. Another strange legend in the history of the owl is put into the mouth of the hapless Ophelia :

"Well, God 'ield you! They say the owl was a baker's daughter;"-Hamlet, act iv. sc. 5. a metamorphosis of which Mr. Douce has given us the origin; he tells us that it is yet a common story among the vulgar in Gloucestershire, and is thus related:"Our Saviour went into a baker's shop where they were baking, and asked for some bread to eat. The mistress of the shop immediately put a piece of dough into the oven to bake for him; but was reprimanded by her daughter, who insisting that the piece of dough was too large, reduced it to a very small size. The dough, however, immediately afterwards began to swell, and presently became of a most enormous size. Whereupon the baker's daughter cried out Heugh, heugh, heugh,' which owl-like noise probably induced our Saviour for her wickedness to transform her into that bird." He adds that this story was often related to children, in order to deter them from such illiberal behaviour to poor people.

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The partiality shown to the ruddock or red-breast seems to have been founded on the popular ballad of The Children in the Wood," and the play of Cymbeline. The charitable office, however, which these productions have ascribed to Robin, has an earlier origin than their date; for in Thomas Johnson's "Cornucopia," 4to, 1596, it is related that "the robin redbreast, if he find a man or woman dead, will cover all his face with mosse, and some thinke that if the body should reBourne's Antiquities apud Brand, p. 94, 95. + Of Ghostes and Spirites walking by nyght, p + Fast. lib. vi.


maine unburied that he would cover the whole body also." It is highly probable that this anecdote might give birth to the burial of the babes, whom no one heeded,

"Till robin red-breast painfully

Did cover them with leaves ;"

for, according to Dr. Percy, this pathetic narrative was built upon a play published by Rob. Yarrington in 1601. It is likewise possible that the same passage occasioned the beautiful lines in the play of Cymbeline, performed about 1606, where Arviragus, mourning over Imogen, exclaims

"With fairest flowers,

Whilst summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele,

I'll sweeten thy sad grave: Thou shalt not lack
The flower, that's like thy face, pale primrose; nor
The azur'd hare-bell, like thy veins; no, nor
The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander,
Out-sweeten'd not thy breath: the ruddock would,
With charitable bill-bring thee all this;

Yea, and furr'd moss besides, when flowers are none,
To winter-ground thy corse."

Act iv. sc. 2.

These interesting pictures of the red-breast would alone be sufficient to create an affectionate feeling for him; the attachment however has been ever since kept alive by delineations of a similar kind. In our author's time, Drayton, Webster, and Dekker, have all alluded to this pleasing tradition: the first in his "Owl, 1604"

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the second in his Tragedy, called "The White Devil, or Vittoria Corombona." 1612

"Call for the robin red-breast and the wren,

Since o'er shady groves they hover,

And with leaves and flowers do cover

The friendless bodies of unburied men;""

and the third in one of his pamphlets printed in 1616-"They that cheere up a prisoner but with their sight, are robin red-breasts that bring strawes in their bills to cover a dead man in extremitie." S

Some wonderful properties relative to an imaginary gem, called a carbuncle, formed likewise a part of the popular creed. It was supposed to be the most transparent of all the precious stones, and to possess a native intrinsic lustre so powerful as to illuminate the atmosphere to a considerable distance around it. It was, therefore, very appositely adopted by the writers of romance, as an ornament and source of light for their subterranean palaces, and almost all our elder poets have gifted it with a similar brilliancy; thus Chaucer, in his "Romaunt of the Rose;"** Gower, in his "Confessio Amantis;" ++ Lydgate, in his "Description of King Priam's Palace;" ++ and Stephen Hawes, in his "Pastime of Pleasure," SS have all celebrated it as a kind of second sun, and the most valuable of earthly products. Chaucer, more particularly, mentions it as so clear and bright,—

"That al so sone as it was night,
Den mightin sene to go for nede
A mile, or two in length and brede,
Such light ysprange out of that stone."

Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 171. 4to. edit.
Chalmers's English Poets, vol. iv. p. 408.

Ancient British Drama, vol. iii. p. 41.

Villanies discovered by lanthorn and candle light, chap. xv.-For some modern tributes to the supposed charity of this domestic little bird, I refer my readers to the first volume of Literary Hours, 3d. edit." p. 65. el sq.

**Chalmers's English Poets, vol. i. p. 179.

# Description of King Priam's Palace, lib. ii.

99 Vide Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, vol. ii p 229.

++ Ibid. vol. ii. p. 177.

That this fiction was credited in the days of Elizabeth and James, may be conceded, not only from the familiar allusions of the poets, but from the philosophic writers on the superstitions of the age. To the unborrowed light of the carbuncle, Shakspeare has referred in King Henry the Eighth, where the Princess Elizabeth is prophetically termed,

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and in Titus Andronicus (if that play can be deemed his), upon the discovery of Bassianus slaughtered in a pit;

"Martius. Upon his bloody finger he doth wear
A precious ring, that lightens all the hole,
like a taper in some monument;"

Act ii. sc. 4.

He also mentions this "rich jewel" by way of comparison in Coriolanus; appropriates it as an ornament to the wheels of Phoebus's chariot in Cymbeline;÷ and in the Player's speech in Hamlet, the eyes of Pyrrhus are said to be "like carbuncles." +

Drayton describes this fabled stone with nearly as much precision as Chaucer; he calls it

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A modern poet, remarkable for his powers of imagination, has beautifully and very happily availed himself of these marvellous attributes, in describing the magnificent palace of Shedad, a passage which we shall transcribe, as it leads to an illustrative extract from a writer of Shakspeare's age:


"Here self-suspended hangs in air,

As its pure substance loathed material touch,
The living carbuncle ;
Sun of the lofty dome,

Darkness has no dominion o'er its beams;
Intense it glows, an ever-flowing tide

Of glory, like the day-flood in its source."

'I have no where seen," says Mr. Southey in a note on these lines, "so circumstantial an account of its (the carbuncle's) wonderful properties as in a passage of Thuanus, quoted by Stephanius in his notes to Saxo-Grammaticus.

"Whilst the King was at Bologna, a stone, wonderful in its species and nature, was brought to him from the East Indies, by a man unknown, who appeared by his manners to be a Barbarian. It sparkled as though all burning, with an incredible splendour; flashing radiance, and shooting on every side its beams, it filled the surrounding air to a great distance with a light scarcely by any eyes endurable. In this also it was wonderful, that being most impatient of the earth, if it was confined, it would force its way, and immediately fly aloft; neither could it be contained by any art of man in a narrow place, but appeared only to love those of ample extent. It was of the utmost purity, stained by no soil or spot. Certain shape it had none, for its figure was inconstant, and momentarily changing, and though at a distance it was wonderful to the eye, it would not suffer itself to be handled with impunity, but hurt those who obstinately struggled with it, as many persons before many spectators experienced. If by chance any part of it was broken off, for it was not very hard, it became nothing less." **

An account equally minute, and in terms nearly similar, occurs in Scot's "Discoverie of Witchcraft," 1584, and both were probably taken from the same source. the writings of Fernel or Fernelius. This physician died in 1558; and his de

Act i. sc. 4."

§ Chalmers's English Poets, vol. iv. p. 465.

Act. v. sc.

Act ii. sc. 2

1. Chalab the Destroyer, vol i. p. 3941. edit. 1801

scription, as copied by Scot, contributed, no doubt, to prolong the public credulity in this kingdom; though the English philosopher attempts to explain the phenomenon by supposing that actual flame was concentrated and burning in the centre

of the gem.

"Johannes Fernelius writeth of a strange stone latelie brought out of India, which hath in it such a marvellous brightness, puritie, and shining, that therewith the aire round about is so lightened and cleared, that one may see to read thereby in the darkness of night. It will not be conteined in a close roome, but requireth an open and free place. It would not willingly rest or staie here belowe on the earth, but alwaies laboureth to ascend up into the aire. If one presse it downe with his hand, it resisteth, and striveth verie sharplie. It is so beautiful to behold, without either spot or blemish, and yet verie unpleasant to taste or feele. If any part thereof be taken awaie, it is never a whit diminished, the forme thereof being inconstant, and at everie moment mutable." *

The carbuncle was believed to be an animal substance generated in the body of a serpent, to possess a sexual distinction, the males having a star-formed burning nucleus, while the females dispersed their brilliancy on all sides in a formless blaze; and, like other transparent gems, to have the power of expelling evil spirits.

While on the subject of superstitious notions relative to luminous bodies, we may remark, that in the age of Shakspeare, the wandering lights, termed Will-o-wisp and Jack-o-lantern, were supposed by the common people to be occasioned by demons and malignant fairies, with the view of leading the benighted traveller to his destruction.

"Many tymes," says Lavaterus, "candles and small fiers appeare in the night, and seeme to run up and downe;-those fiers some time seeme to come togither, and by and by to be severed and run abroade, and at the last to vanish clean away. Sometime these fiers go alone in the night season, and put such as see them, as they travel by night, in great fear. But these things, and many such lyke, have their natural causes and yet I will not denye, but that many tymes Dyvels delude men in this manner." †

Stephano, in the Tempest, attributes this phenomenon to the agency of a mischievous fairy; "Monster, your fairy, which, you say, is a harmless fairy, has done little better than played the Jack with us."-Act. iv. sc. 1.

Various causes have been assigned for the appearance of the ignis futuus; modern chemistry asserts it to be occasioned by hydrogen gas, evolving from decaying vegetables, and the decomposition of pyritic coal; and when seen hovering on the surface of burial grounds, to originate from the same gas in a higher state of volatility, through the agency of phosphoric impregnation.

The partial view which we have now taken of the superstitions of the country, as they existed in the age of Shakspeare, will, in part, demonstrate how great was the credulity subsisting at this period; how well calculated were many of these popular delusions for the purposes of the dramatic writer, and how copiously and skilfully have these been moulded and employed by the great poet of our stage. A considerable portion also of the manners, customs, and diversions of the country, which had been necessarily omitted in the preceding chapters, will be found included in this sketch of a part of the popular creed, and will contribute to heighten the effect of a picture, which can only receive its completion through the mutual aid of various subsequent departments of the present work.

*Discoverie of Witchcraft, p. 306

+ Of Ghostes and Spirites walking by nyght, p. 51.

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