Page images

that of St. Elian, near Beltios Abergeley, in Denbighshire, is equally notorious for possessing an opposite influence. It is not only an opinion, but a firmly rooted belief, among the peasantry, that if any one be put into the well, as they call it, he will be afflicted with any malady or misfortune, which his enemy may desire. • I will put you into St. Elian's well, and have revenge of you !” said a choleric mountaineer to Mr. Pennant, in return for some trifling offence; and it was only so lately as April, 1820, that a person of the name of John Edwards, of the parish of Northop, in Flintshire, was tried at the Great Sessions, for defrauding one Edward Pierce, of Llandyrnog, in Denbighshire, of the sum of fifteen shillings, under the pretence, (to borrow the classical language of the indictment) " that the said Edward Pierce was put into Fynnon Elian, (Elian's Well) and that some great evil and misfortune would, in consequence, befal the said Edward Pierce; and that he, the said John Edwards, could avert the said evil and misfortune, by taking him, the said Edward Pierce, out of the said well, if he, the said Edward Pierce, would pay unto the said John Edwards, the sum of fifteen shillings."

This “ the said Edward Pearce" was silly enough to do, as well as to accompany the arch-enchanter to the well, where several mystic ceremonies were performed, to the no small satisfaction of both parties; and the ignorant dupe returned home with a full persuasion that his affairs, which had been long “ going cross,” would thenceforth be in a more prosperous state than ever. Deceived in this, however, he brought the offender to justice, and the “ said John Edwards” was rewarded for his ingenuity by an imprisonment for twelve months. *

The mode which was usually adopted to secure the good or evil influence of St. Elian's Well, was, in truth, sufficiently formal and elaborate to inspire the credulous with a perfect belief in its efficacy. Near the well resided some worthless and infamous woman, who officiated as priestess. To her, the person who wished to inflict the curse, applied, and, for a trifling sum, she registered in a book, kept for the purpose, the name of the individual upon whose hapless head the

malediction was to fall. A pin was then dropped into the well, in the name of the victim, and the report that such a one had been thus put into the well soon reached the ears of the devoted person. If the individual were cursed with a credulous disposition, the idea, like that of the West Indian Obi, soon preyed upon his spirits, and at length terminated in his destruction : for the poor

* Cambro Briton, vol. iii. p. 203.

[ocr errors]

unhappy object pined himself to death, unless a timely reconciliation should take place between the parties, in which case, the priestess, for a suitable fee, erased the name from her book, and took the poor wretch out of the well!

St. Dwynwen’s Well was in the very zenith of its attraction about the middle of the fourteenth century. Here,” says an eminent Welsh antiquary,“ were constantly wax lights kept at the tomb of this Virgin Saint, where all persons in love applied for a remedy, and which brought vast profit to the monks.Dwynwen, indeed, was as famous among the Britons in affairs of this nature, as Venus ever was among the Greeks and Romans; and we can easily imagine what a number of votaries flocked to her shrine. At the same time, we must be permitted to doubt the efficacy of her power, as far as regarded the satisfying of all her supplicants. The palsy it may cure, and the leprosy, and the gout, and the rheumatism, and the epilepsy, nay, even hydrophobia might yield to its power; but as för love-Oh, impossible!

Hitherto we have treated of superstitions not absolutely peculiar to Wales : indeed, it is a difficult matter to limit the extension of credulity, particularly when the nation, among which it was originally engendered, mixes freely with a neighbouring people. Hence, fairies and holy wells were as abundant in England as they were in Wales, however various may be their particular attributes or general character. But we question whether the delusion, which we are about to mention, has yet found its way beyond the Marches: we allude to the melancholy apparition of the Canwyllau Cyrph, or Corpse Candles. In many parts of Wales, more particularly at St. David's, in Pembrokeshire, the death of an individual is supposed to be announced by the appearance of a light, somewhat like that of a candle, which moves about from place to place, in the vicinity of the house in which the doomed person is residing. Sometimes, it proceeds in the direction of the churchyard, and, frequently, it appears in the hand of the spectre of the person whose fate it foretells.

Some of the apparitions, which are commonly supposed to forbode death, may, perhaps, be accounted for upon principles purely philosophical." The Jack-a-lantern, or Will-o'-the-wisp, is known to arise from a peculiar gas, or a mixture of gases, which proceed from the earth, mostly where coal abounds, and are phosphoretic, and kindled by atmospheric air, or the breath. In the latter case, the Will-o'-the-wisp appears to precede the person, being sustained by his breath. The Corpse Candle appears to be kindled and directed in its course precisely in the same way, and, probably, arises from a body already in a state

of incipient putrescence. It would, therefore, be worthy of philosophical observation, whether, when it does appear, it cannot always be traced to a body in such a state. In cases of cancer, a halo has, in more than one instance, been seen round the head of a patient at the point of death ; and this may be justly attributed to such a cause : and, in like manner, other phenomena, peculiar to such a time, may be rationally accounted for ; such as the birds of prey flapping their wings against the windows, and the howling of dogs, they being attracted by the peculiar effluvia : the ringing of bells, also, in the house, may be, probably, occasioned by the extrication of some electric principle after death, when putrescence commences.

There is another forerunner of death, which has sometimes appeared in South Wales, before the decease of some person of more than ordinary rank,-namely, a coffin and burial train, proceeding from the house, in the dead of the night, towards the church-yard. Sometimes a hearse and mourning coaches form the cavalcade, which moves in gloomy silence, and with the most methodical formality. Not a footstep is heard, as the procession moves along ; and the terror of the persons who happen to see it, is soon communicated to all the neighbouring peasantry. Was Lear's idea of shoeing a troop of horse with felt suggested by a knowledge of this superstition?

And is there care in Heaven? and is there love
In heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
That may compassion of their evils move ?
There is : else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts. But, oh! th' exceeding grace
Of highest God! that loves his creatures so,

And all his works with mercies doth embrace,
That blessed angels he sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked man-to serve this wicked foe.

How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succour us, that succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skies, like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant !
They for us fight, they watch, and daily ward,

And their bright squadrons round about us plant,
And all for love, and nothing for reward:
Oh, why should heavenly God to men have such regard ;

Faërie Queene. Canto vii.

But we must bring this rambling article to a conclusion. Before we do so, however, we should mention, that the superstitious creed of the Welsh comprises a sturdy belief in the existence of all the more common kinds of supernatural beings; such as ghosts, goblins, witches, “ black spirits and white, red spirits and grey, with all their trumpery." 'We should observe, also, that the constant communication which now exists between the English and the Welsh, is gradually weaning the mountaineer from many of his ancient customs and superstitions : and a period, perhaps, will arrive, when all his strange and extravagant ideas of the delusions, which we have adverted to, will cease to exist; and when the mere traditionary remembrance of such fantasies will alone remain, to amuse the inmates of the peasant's cottage, during the long and dreary nights of winter.

ART. V.- The Magnificent Entertainment given to King James,

Queen Anne, his wife, and Henry Frederick, the Prince, upon the day of his Maiesties Triumphant Passage (from the Tower) through his Honourable Citie (and Chamber) of London, being the 15 of March, 1633, as well by the English as by the Strungers: With the Speeches and Songes delivered in the severall Pageants. Thomas Dekker.

Imprinted at London, by T.C.for Tho. Man, the yonger. 1604.

As it is our intention to speak hereafter of Dekker, in his quality of a dramatist, we shall not at present trouble the reader with any enumeration of his merits or defects. He was one of the best of the dramatic writers of the celebrated

age of Elizabeth; and composed, besides divers plays, certain

Masques,” or “ Triumphs,” some of which have now become exceedingly scarce. From one of them, we shall venture to make a few extracts, for the benefit of the reader; partly because it is not to be obtained, (although only a small quarto pamphlet, of about thirty-six leaves,) under a considerable sum money,

and partly because there are some passages in it, which are sufficiently good to justify our laying them before the public.

The Masque or Triumph, so much in fashion with our forefathers, was, generally speaking, some little allegorical, or mythological, device; consisting partly of dialogue, serious or


comic, and partly of lyrical verses, adapted to music. It was used on great festivals, such as a coronation, or the birth of an heir to a noble family, or on the occasion of the visit of great persons, whose welcomes were pronounced by gods and goddesses, by satyrs and nymphs, and shepherdesses, and all the rest of those poetical people, who, if we trust the figments of ancient times, haunted the blue heights of Olympus, or the laurel-covered hills of Thessaly.

Doctor Johnson, we believe, defines a Masque to be “a dramatic performance, written in a tragic style, without attention to rules or probability.” What the rules were, which belong to the Masque, or by whom they have been disregarded, he does not specify. In support of its "tragic style,” the reader may take the following passage, which forms the commencement of one of the Masques of Ben Jonson:

“ Room! Room! make room for the bouncing belly,

First father of sauce, and deviser of jelly,
Prime master of arts, and the giver of wit,
That found out the excellent engine, the spit,
The plough and the flail, the mill and the hopper,
The hutch and the halter, the furnace and copper,
The oven and baven, the mawkin and peel,
The hearth and the range, the dog and the wheel ;
He—he first invented the hogshead and tun,
The gimblet and vice, too, and taught 'em to run,” &c.

[Pleasure reconciled to Virtue, a Masque.]

Nor is this comic vein peculiar to this production alone, for it pervades most of Ben Jonson's Masques ; and there is a lighter comic character discernible, indeed, in most of the Masques extant. “Our great lexicographer,” as he is called, is, therefore, in the wrong,--for once.

The principal writers of this species of poetry are, in the first place, Milton, who, in his grand poem of “ Čomus," has gone beyond all competitors; and, secondly, Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton, Dekker, and Carew. In the “ Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn," (which is attributed to Beaumont alone,) there are some delightful passages. The reader will, we are sure, forgive us for quoting part of a speech addressed by Mercury to Iris :

Thou shalt stand
Still as a rock, while I, to bless this feast,
Will summon up, with my all-charming rod,
The nymphs of fountains; from whose watery locks,

« PreviousContinue »