Page images


In the Injunctions at the Visitation of Edmunde (Bonner) Bishop of London from September 3d, 1554, to October 8th, 1555, 4to., we read : “A mydwyfe (of the diocese and jurisdiction of London) shal not use or exercise any

witchecrafte, charmes, sorcerye, invocations or praiers, other then suche as be allowable and may stand with the lawes and ordinances of the Catholike Churche.” In John Bale’s Comedye concernynge thre Lawes, 1538, Idolatry says:

“ Yea, but now ych am a she
And a good MyDWYFE perdé,

Yonge chyldren can I charme,
With whysperynges and whysshynges,
With crossynges and with kyssynges,
With blasynges and with blessynges,

That spretes do them no harme.” In the same Comedy, Hypocrysy is introduced mentioning the following charms against barrenness :

" In Parys we have the mantell of Saynt Lewes,

Which women seke moch, for helpe of their barrennes :
For be it ones layed upon a wommanys bellye,
She go thens with chylde, the myracles are seene there daylye.
And as for Lyons, there is the length of our Lorde
In a great pyller. She that will with a coorde
Be fast bound to it, and take soche chaunce as fall,

Shall sure have chylde, for within it is hollowe all." In the Articles to be enquired in the Visitacyon in the fyrst yeare of Queen Elizabeth, 1559, the following occurs: “Item, whether you

that doe use charmes, sorcery, enchauntmentes, invocations, circles, witchecraftes, southsayinge, or any lyke craftes or imaginacions invented by the Devyl, and specially in the tyme of women's travayle.It appears from Strype's Annals of the Reformation, i. 537, under 1567, that then midwives took an oath, inter alia, not to “suffer any other bodies child to be set, brought, or laid before any woman delivered of child, in the place of her natural child, so far forth as I can know and understand. Also I will not use any kind of sorcery or incantation in the time of the travail of any woman.”

In the collection entitled Sylva, or the Wood, p. 130, we read that “a few years ago, in this same village, the women in labour used to drinke the urine of their husbands, who were

knowe anye

all the while stationed, as I have seen the cows in St. James's Park, straining themselves to give as much as they can.”

The following passage from the Lucky Idiot, or Fools have Fortune, from the Spanish of Don Quevedo de Alcala, by a a Person of Quality, 1734, mentions a custom in Spain : “I remember once that in the dead time of the night, there came a country fellow to my uncle in a great haste, intreating him to give order for knocking the bells, his wife being in labour (a thing usual in Spain); my good curate then waked me out of a sound sleep, saying, Rise, Pedro, instantly, and ring the bells for child-birth quickly, quickly. I got up immediately, and as fools have good memories, I retained the words quickly, quickly, and knocked the bells so nimbly, that the inhabitants of the rown really believed it had been for fire.” p. 13.

The subsequent poem, founded on a singular custom is from Lucasta, Posthume Poems of Richard Lovelace, Esq., 1659, p. 27:

To a Lady with Child that asked an old Shirt.

“And why an honour'd ragged shirt, that shows

Like tatter'd ensigns, all its bodies blows ?
Should it be swathed in a vest so dire,
It were enough to set the child on tire.
But since to ladies 't hath a custome been
Linnen to send, that travail and lye in ;
To the nine sempstresses, my former friends,
I su’d, but they had nought but shreds and ends.
At last, the jolli'st of the three times three
Rent th' apron from her smock, and gave it me.
'Twas soft and gentle, subtly spun, no doubt.
Pardon my boldness, madam; here's the clout."


AGAINST the time of the good wife's delivery, it has been everywhere the custom for the husband to provide a large cheese and a cake. These, from time immemorial, have been the objects of ancient superstition. It was not unusual to preserve for many years, I know not for what superstitious intent, pieces of “the Groaning Cake.” Thus I read in

Gayton's Festivous Notes upon Don Quixot, p. 17, “And hath a piece of the Groaning Cake (as they call it), which she kept religiously with her Good Friday bun, full forty years unmouldy and un-mouse-eaten.” Misson, in his Travels in England, translated by Ozell, p. 35, says: “The custom here is not to make great feasts at the birth of their children; they drink a glass of wine, and eat a bit of a certain cake, which is seldom made but upon these occasions.”

In the Descriptive Account of Eastbourne in Sussex, p. 123, there is a very singular custom recited under the name of Sops and Ale, which still prevails in that place, after any lady, or respectable farmer or tradesman's wife, is delivered of a child.

It is customary at Oxford to cut the cheese (called in the north of England, in allusion to the mother's complaints at her delivery, “the Groaning Cheese") in the middle when the child is born, and so by degrees form it into a large kind of ring, through which the child must be passed on the day of the christening. In other places, the first cut of the sick wife's cheese so also they call the Groaning Cheese) is to be divided into little pieces, and tossed in the midwife's smock, to cause young women to dream of their lovers. Slices of the first cut of the Groaning Cheese are in the north of England laid under the pillows of young persons for the above purpose.

In the old play of the Vow-Breaker, or the Fayre Maid of Clifton, 1636, in a scene where is discovered “a bed covered with white, enter Prattle, Magpy, Long Tongue, Barren with a child, Anne in bed ; " Boote says, “ Neece, bring the groaning cheece, and all requisites; I must supply the father's place, and bid god-fathers.” [The following allusion to this cheese occurs in Westward for Smelts, 1620: “At last, hee looked out of the window, asking who knockt at the doore? 'Tis I, kinde husband (answered shee), that have beene at a womans labour; prethee, sweet heart, open the doore. All these kinde words would not get her admittance, but gained this churlish answere at his hands : Hast thou beene at a woman's labour? Then prethee, sweet heart, returne, and amongst the residue of the

1 [In some parts of the north of England, at the birth of a child, the first slice of the Groaning Cake is cut into small pieces, and well shaken in the smock of the howdie wife: or should a man attend on the occasion, it undergoes the same process in the shirt of the accoucheur.]

wives, help thou to devoure the groning cheese, and sucke up the honest mans ale till you are drunke; by that time 'twill be day light, and I will have thy friends at thy returne, who shall give thee thankes for thy charitie.”]

In a Voyage to Holland, being an Account of the late Entertainment of King William the Third and the several Princes there, by an English Gentleman attending the Court of the King of Great Britain, 1691, p. 23, we read : “Where the woman lies in, the ringle of the door does pennance, and is lapped about with linnen, either to shew you that loud knocking may wake the child, or else that for a month the ring is not to be run at ; but if the child be dead, there is thrust out a nosegay tied to a stick's end, perhaps for an emblem of the life of man, which may wither as soon as born ; or else to let you know, that though these fade upon their gathering, yet from the same stock the next year a new shoot may spring." So, in an old translation of Erasmus's Dialogues, by William Burton, 4to., in that of the Woman in Child-bed, occurs the following passage :'"Eut. By chaunce I (passing by these houses) sawe the crowe, or the ring of the doore bound about with white linnen cloth, and I marvelled what the reason of it should be. Fab. Are you such a stranger in this countrey that

you doe not know the reason of that? doe not you knowe that it is a signe that there is a woman lying in where that is ?”

In Poor Robin's Almanack for the year 1676, that facetious periodical, noting the expenses of breeding wives to their husbands, introduces the following items :

For a nurse, the child to dandle,

Sugar, sope, spic'd pots, and candle,
A groaning chair,' and eke a cradle.
Blanckets of a several scantling,
Therein for to wrap the bantling;
Sweetmeats from comfit-maker's trade,
When the child's a Christian made ;
Pincushions and such other knacks
A child-bed woman always lacks,
Caudles, grewels, costly jellies,” &c.

1 Au essayist in the Gent. Mag. for May 1732, ii. 740, observes : “ Among the women there is the groaning chair, in which the matron sits to receive visits of congratulation. This is a kind of female ovation due to every good woman who goes through such eminent perils in the service of her country.”

Bartholinus informs us, that the Danish women, before they put the new-born infant into the cradle, place there, or over the door, as amulets, to prevent the evil spirits from burting the child, garlic, salt, bread, and steel, or some cutting instrument made of that metal.' Something like this obtained in England. Gregory, in his Posthuma, p. 97, mentions "an ordinarie superstition of the old wives, who dare not intrust a childe in a cradle by itself alone without a candle.” This he attributes to their fear of night-hags.

In Scotland, children dying unbaptised (called Tarans) were supposed to wander in woods and solitudes, lamenting their hard fate, and were said to be often seen. In the North of England it is thought very unlucky to go over their graves. It is vulgarly called going over "unchristened ground.” In the Gentle Shepherd, Bauldy describing Mause as a witch,

says of her:

“At midnight hours o'er the kirk-yard she raves,

And howks unchristen'd weans out of their graves."

In the Highlands of Scotland, as Mr. Pennant informs us, children are watched till the christening is over, lest they should be stolen or changed by the fairies. To this notion Shakespeare alludes when he makes King Henry the Fourth, speaking of Hotspur in comparison with his own profligate son, say as follows:

“O that it could be prov'd
That some night-tripping fairy had exchang'd,
In cradle-clothes, our children where they lay,
And call'd mine Percy, his Plantagenet !
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine."

I In his Century of rare Anatomical Histories, p. 19, “ Mulierculæ superstitiosæ nostrates statim antequam infantem nuper natum in cunis reponunt, huic Caprimulgo (a spirit so called that is supposed to hurt infants) occurrunt allio, sale, pane et chalybe, vel instrumento incisorio ex chalybe, sive in cunis posito, sive supra ostium.” We read also in Bartholinus's treatise de Puerperio Veterum, p. 157, “Pueris, sive ante lustrationem sive post, dormientibus Caprimulgus insidiatur et Lilith, item sagæ seu stryges variis fascinis, quæ vel allio, vel alysso, vel re turpi in collo ex annulo appensa abiguntur. Res illa turpis non Satyri fuit species, sed Priapi. Fascinus erat res turpicula e collo pueris appensa, teste Varrone.” Lib. vi.

« PreviousContinue »