Page images

peculiar presages of their deaths; amongst others are the Howling of Dogs.

Capitolinus tells us that the Dogs by their Howling presaged the death of Maximinus.

“Pausanias (in Messe) relates that before the destruction of the Messenians, the Dogs brake out into a more fierce howling than ordinary Eιδέρα τη κραυγή χρώμενοι: and we read in Fincelius that, in the year 1553, some weeks before the overthrow of the Saxons, the Dogs in Mysinia flocked together, and used strange howlings, in the woods and fields. The like howling is observed by Virgil, presaging the Roman calamities in the Pharsalick


Obscænique canes, importunæque Volucres Signa dabant.'

“So Lucan to the same purpose : 'flebile sævi latravere canes :' and Statius, 'Nocturnique Cænum gemitus.'”

To one inquiring in the “British Apollo," fol. Lond. 1708, vol. i. No. 26, “Whether the Dogs Howling may be a fatal prognostic, or no;" it is answered, “we cannot determine, but 'tis probable that out of a sense of sorrow for the sickness or absence of his master, or the like, that creature may be so disturbed.”


OMENS were drawn by ancient supers i. tion from the coming in and going out of strange Cats, as the learned Moresin informs us. ( )

Melton, in his “ Astrologaster," p. 45, tells us, “ 29. That when the Čat washes her face over her eares, wee shall have great store of raine.” (

Lord Westmoreland, in a poem To a Cat bore me company in Confinement,” says,

66 scratch but thine ear, Then boldly tell what weather's drawing

In the " Memoirs of Mr. Duncan Camp. bell,” we read, p. 76: “I have some little faith in the Howling of a Dog, when it does not proceed from hunger, blows, or confinement. As odd and unaccountable as it may seem, those animals scent death, even before it seizes a person."

Mr. Douce's Notes say, “ It was formerly believed that Dogs saw the ghosts of deceased persons. In the “Odyssey," b. xvi., the Dogs of Eumæus are described as terrified at the sight of Minerva, though she was then invisible to Telemachus. The Howling of Dogs has generally been accounted a sign of approaching death.”

Armstrong, in his “History of the Island of Minorca," p. 158, says: “We have so many owls, that we are everywhere entertained with their note all night long. Solaque culminibus ferali carmine Bubo Visa queri, & longas in fletum ducere noctes.'

Virg. Æn. iv. 1. 462. The ass usually joins in the melody, and when the moon is about the full, the Dog likewise intrudes himself as a performer in the concert, making night hideous."

The Cat sneezing appears to have been considered as a lucky omen to a bride who was to be married the next day. (8)

In Southey's “ Travels in Spain,” we read, “ The old woman promised him a fine day to-morrow, because the Cat's skin looked bright.”

It was a vulgar notion that Cats, when hungry, would eat coals. In the " Tamer tamed, or Woman's Pride," Izamo says to Moroso,

“I'd learn to eat coals with an hungry Cat:" and, in “ Bonduca,” the first daughter says, “ They are cowards : eat coals like com

pell’d Cats."


[blocks in formation]

Rats gnawing the hangings of a room, says edit. 4to. 1621, p. 214, says, “ There is a Grose, is reckoned the forerunner of a death feare, which is commonly caused by prodiin the family. He mentions also the follow- gies and dismal accidents, which much ing to the like purport: “ If the neck of a troubles many of us, as if a Mouse gnaw our child remains flexible for several hours after clothes." (*) its decease, it portends that some person in Willsford, in his “Nature's Secrets,' p. 134, that house will die in a short time."

says, “ Bats, or flying Mice, coming out of Melton, in his “ Astrologaster,” p. 45, tells their boles quickly after sunset, and sporting us,“ 21. That it is a great signe of ill lucke themselves in the open air, premonstrates fair if rats gnaw a man's cloathes.

and calm weather." Burton, in his “ Anatomy of Melancholy,"


(“ Felium peregrinarum Egressum, In- freshing of the moist season." It is added, gressum.”—“Ex Felis vel Canis transcursu “ The crying of Cats, Ospreys, Ravens, and qui inauspicati habebantur.” Casaubonus, other birds, upon the tops of houses, in the p. 341, ad Theophrasti Characteres. Fabricii night time, are observed by the vulgar to preBibliogr. Antiq. p. 421, edit. 1716.

signify death to the sick." (3) Herrick, in his "Hesperides,” p. 155, mentions

(3) Felis sternutans.

Crastina nupturæ lux est prosperrima 6. True calendars, as Pusses eare

Sponsæ : Wash't o're to tell what change is neare,” Felix fele bonum sternuit Omen Amor." Gaule, in his “Mag-astromancers posed

Roberti Keuchenii Crepundia, p. 413. and puzzeld,” p. 181, ranks “ The Cats lick- (*) Cicero, in his Second Book on Diviing themselves' among " Vain Observations nation, $ 27, observes: “Nos autem ita leves, and Superstitious Ominations thereupon." atque inconsiderati sumus, ut, si Mures cor

In Willsford's “ Nature's Secrets,” &c., roserint aliquid, quorum est opus hoc unum, 8vo. Lond. 1658, p. 131, speaking of the monstrum putemus? Ante vero Marsicum weather's prediction, he says, “ Cats coveting bellum quod Clypeos Lanuvii-mures rosisthe fire more than ordinary, or licking their sent, maxumum id portentum haruspices feet and trimming the hair of their heads and esse dixerunt. Quasi vero quicquam intersit, mustachios, presages rainy weather.”'

mures, diem noctem aliquid rodentes, scuta Mr. Park's Notes in his copy of Bourne and

an cribra corroserint. Nam si ista sequimur; Brand's “ Popular Antiquities,' p. 92, say,

quod Platonis Politian nuper apud me mures “ Cats sitting with their tails to the fire, or corroserint, de Republica debui pertimescere: washing with their paws behind their ears, are aut, si Epicuri de Voluptate Liber corrosus said to foretell change of weather.”

esset, putarem Annonam in macello cariorem In the Supplement to the “ Athenian fore. Oracle," p. 474, we are told: “ When Cats “ Cum Vestis a soricibus roditur, plus comb themselves (as we speak) 'tis a sign of timere suspicionem futuri mali, quam præsens rain; because the moisture which is in the damnum dolere. Unde illud eleganter dicair before the rain, insinuating itself into the tum est Catonis, qui cum esset consultus a fur of this animal, moves her to smooth the quodam, qui sibi erosas esse Caligas diceret same and cover her body with it, that so she a Soricibus respondit, non esse illud monmay the less feel the inconvenience of winter; strum; sed verè monstrum habendum fuisse, as, on the contrary, she opens her fur in sum- si Sorices a Caligis roderentur." Delrio, Dismer that she may the better receive the re- quisit. Magic. p. 473.


In Pet. Molinæi “Vates," p. 155, we read : Apud Romanos Soricis vox audita, turbabat Comitia. Domitores Orbis ex stridore Muris pendebant. Valerius Maximus, lib. i. cap. 3, hæc habet. Occentus soricis auditus, Fabio

Maximo Dictaturam, Caio Flaminio Magisterium, Equitum deponendi causam præbuit:" and again, p. 219, “ Homines qui ex Salino, aut Muribus aut Cineribus capiunt Omina, Deum in Scriptura loquentem non audiunt."


It is a lucky sign to have Crickets in the The following line occurs in Dryden's and house. () Grose says it is held extremely Lee's" Edipus :" unlucky to kill a Cricket, perhaps from the

“ Owls, Ravens, Crickets, seem the watch idea of its being a breach of hospitality, this

of death.” () insect taking refuge in houses.

Melton, in his “ Astrologaster,' p. 45, says, Pliny, in his “ Natural History," book xxix. “ 17. That it is a signe of death to some in mentions the Cricket as much esteemed by that house where Crickets have been many the ancient magicians: there is no doubt but yeares, if on

a sudden they forsake the that our superstitions concerning these little chimney."

domestics have been transmitted to us from Gay gives the following, in his Pastoral bis times. Dirge, among the rural prognostications of Willsford, in his “ Nature's Secrets,” p. 135, death :

says, “Flies in the spring or sommer season,

if they grow busier or blinder than at other “ And shrilling Crickets in the chimney times, or that they are observed to shroud cry’d.”

themselves in warm places, expect then So also in Reed's Old Plays:

quickly for to follow, either hail, cold storms

of rain, or very much wet weather; and if " And the strange Cricket i’ th' oven sings those little creatures are noted early in auand hops."

tumn to repair into their winter quarters, it Vol. vi.


presages frosty mornings, cold storms, with

the approach of hoary winter. The voice of a Cricket, says the “Spec “Atomes or Flies swarming together and tator," has struck more terror than the roaring sporting themselves in the sun-beams is a of a lion.

good omen of fair weather.”


(") Ad Grillum.
O qui meæ Culinæ
Argutulus choraules,
Et Hospes es canorus
Quacunque commoreris

Felicitatis Omen.
Bourne, Poematia, edit. 1764, p. 133.

Gaule, in his “ Mag-astromancers posed and puzzel’d,” p. 181, mentions among other vain observations and superstitious ominations thereupon, “ The Crickets chirping behind the chimney stock, or creeping upon the foot-pace."

Ramesey says, in his “ Elminthologia," 8vo. Lond. 1668, p. 271, “ Some sort of people,

at every turn, upon every accident, how are the cold uncomfortable months in profound they therewith terrified! If but a Cricket un slumber, but these residing as it were in a usually appear, or they hear but the clicking torrid zone, are always alert and merry: a of a death-watch, as they call it, they, or good Christmas fire is to them like the heats some one else in the family, shall die."

of the dog-days.” “ Though they are freIn White's Selborne, p. 255, that writer, quently heard by day, yet is their natural speaking of Crickets, says, “ They are the time of motion in the night." housewife's barometer, foretelling her when () Dr. Nathaniel Home, iu his “ Dæmonit will rain; and are prognostic sometimes, ologie,” 8vo. Lond. 1650, p. 59, after saying she thinks, of ill or good luck, of the death that, “ by the flying and crying of Ravens of a near relation, or the approach of an ab over their houses, especially in the dusk of sent lover. By being the constant companions | evening, and where one is sick, they conclude of her solitary hours, they naturally become death ;" adds, “ the same they conclude of the objects of her superstition.” “ Tender in a Cricket crying in a house where there was sects that live abroad, either enjoy only the wont to be none." short period of one summer, or else doze away


[blocks in formation]

THE “ Guardian,” No. 61, speaking of the common notion that it is ominous or unlucky to destroy some sorts of birds, as Swallows and Martins, observes that this opinion might possibly rise from the confidence these birds seem to put in us by building under our roofs ; so that it is a kind of violation of the laws of hospitality to murder them. As for Robin Redbreasts in particular, 'tis not improbable they owe their security to the old ballad of the Children in the Wood. The subsequent stanza of that well-known song places them in a point of view not unlikely to conciliate the favour of children:

“No burial this pretty pair

Of any man receives,
Till Robin Redbreast painfully

Did cover them with leaves."

Percy's Old Ballads, vol. iii. p. 176. Ofthe Robin Redbreast, says Grey on Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 226, it is commonly said, that if he finds the dead body of any rational creature he will cover the face at least, if not the whole body, with moss. An allusion probably to the old ballad. (1)

The office of covering the dead is likewise

Without a monument!) bring thee all this;
Yea, and furr’d moss besides, when flower3

are uone,
To winter-ground thy corse."
Again in Reed's Old Plays, vol. vi. p. 358 :
“ Call for the Robin Redbreast and the Wren,

Since o‘er shady groves they hover,

And with leaves and flow'rs do cover The friendless bodies of unburied men."

Thomson, in his Winter, thus mentions the familiarity of this bird :

“One alone, is alluded to in the following lines of a The Red breast sacred to the household gods, modern poet, which occur in an ode to the Wisely regardful of th’embroyling sky, Robin : In joyless fields and thorny thickets leaves

• For ever from his threshold fly, His shiv'ring mates, and pays to trusted

Who, void of honour, once shall try,

With base inhospitable breast, His annual visit."

To bar the freedom of his guest; Mr. Park has inserted the following note

O rather seek the peasant's shed, in his copy of Bourne and Brand's “ Popular For he will give thee wasted bread, Antiquities,” p. 92: “ There is also a popular

And fear some new calamity, belief in many country places that it is un Should any there spread snares for thee.' lucky either to kill or keep Robins. This

J. H. Pott's Poems, 8vo. 1780, p. 27."



(') An Essayist in the “Gent. Mag." for Sept. 1735, vol. v. p. 534, observes: “ It is well known the ancient Romans relied very much upon birds in foretelling events; and thus the Robin Redbreast hath been the cause of great superstition among the common people of England ever since the silly story of the Children in the Wood. One great instance of this is their readiness to admit him into their houses and feed him on all occasions; though he is certainly as impudent and as mischievous a little bird as ever flew."

Thus, in Herrick's " Hesperides," p. 49:
“Sweet Amarillis, by a spring's
Soft and soule-melting murmurings,
Slept : and thus sleeping thither flew
A Robin Redbrest; who at view
Not seeing her at all to stir

Brought leaves and mosse to cover her."
Also, ibid.


126: To the Nightingale and Robin Redbrest. “When I departed am, ring thou my knell,

In Stafford's “Niobe dissolved into a Nilus," 12mo. Lond. 1611, p. 241, it is said, “ On her (the Nightingale) waites Robin in his redde livorie ; who sits as a crowner on the murtbred man; and seeing his body naked, plays the sorrie tailour to make him a mossy rayment."

Thou pittifull and pretty Philomel :
And when I'm laid out for a corse, then be

Thou sexton (Redbrest) for to cover me."
Pope thus speaks of this bird :
“ The Robin Redbreast till of late had rest,

And children sacred held a Martin's nest.



It is held extremely unlucky, says Grose, to kill a Cricket, a Lady-Bug, a Swallow, Martin, Robin Redbreast, or Wren; perhaps from the idea of its being a breach of hospitality, all these birds and insects alike taking refuge in houses. There is a particular dis

tich, he adds, in favour of the Robin and
“A Robin and a Wren

Are God Almighty's cock and hen."()
Persons killing any of the above-mentioned

« PreviousContinue »