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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.
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. 6. 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
Yea, and furr'd moss besides, when flowers are none,
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"
"Cov'ring with moss the deads unclosed eye,
The little red-breast teacheth charitie;"†
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 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,
* Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 171. 4to. edit. Chalmers's 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.
**Chalmers's English Poets, vol. i. p. 179. #Description of King Priam's Palace, lib. ii.
++ Ibid. vol. ii. p. 177.
gg Vide Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, vol. ii. P
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,
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
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
that admired, mighty stone,
The carbuncle that's named;
That in the very darkest night
The eye to it directeth." S
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:
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. 5.
scription, as copied by Scot, contributed, no doubt, to prolong the public credulity in this kingdom; though the English philosopher attempts to explain the pheno menon 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 fatuus; 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.
Biography of Shakspeare resumed-His Irregularities-Deer-stealing in Sir Thomas Lucy's Park Account of the Lucy family-Daisy-hill, the keeper's Lodge, where Shakspeare was confined, on the Charge of stealing Deer-Shakspeare's Revenge-Ballad on Lucy-Severe Prosecution by Sir Thomas-never forgotten by Shakspeare this Cause, and probably also Debt, as his Father was now in reduced Circumstances, induced him to leave the Country for London about 1586-Remarks on this Removal.
AFTER the slight sketch of rural life which we have just given; of its manners, customs, diversions, and superstitions, as they existed during the latter part of the sixteenth century, we shall now proceed with the biographical narrative of our author, resuming it from the close of the fourth chapter.
To regulate the workings of an ardent imagination, and to control the effervescence of the passions in early life, experience has uniformly taught us to consider as a task of great difficulty; and seldom, indeed, capable of being achieved without the advice and direction of those, who, under the guidance of similar admonition, have successfully borne up against the numerous temptations to which human frailty is subjected. That Shakspeare possessed powers of fancy greatly beyond the common lot of humanity, and that with these is almost constantly connected a correspondent fervency of temperament and passion, will not probably be denied; and if it be recollected that the poet became the arbitrator of his own conduct at the early age of eighteen, not much wonder will be excited, although he was a married man, and a father, if we have to record some juvenile irregularities. Tradition affirms, and the report has been repeated by Mr. Rowe, that he had the misfortune, shortly after his settlement in Stratford, to form an intimacy with some young men of thoughtless and dissipated character, who, among other illegalities, had been in the habit of deer-stealing, and by whom, more than once, he was induced, under the idea of a frolic, to join in their reprehensible practice.
The scene of depredation when Shakspeare and his companions were detected, was Fulbroke Park, at that time belonging to Sir Thomas Lucy, knight. This gentleman, who has obtained celebrity principally, if not solely, as the prosecutor of Shakspeare, was descended from a family, whose pedigree has been deduced, by Dugdale, from the reign of Richard the First; the name of Lucy, however, was not assumed by his ancestors until the thirty-fourth of Henry the Third. Sir Thomas, in the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, built a noble mansion at Charlcott, near Stratford, but on the opposite side of the Avon; this edifice, which still exists, is constructed of brick with stone coins, and though somewhat modernized, still preserves, as a whole, its ancient Gothic character, especially the grand front, which exhibits pretty accurately its pristine state. Fuller has recorded Sir Thomas as sheriff for the county of Warwickshire in the tenth year of Elizabeth, and informs us, that his armorial bearings were Gul. Crusulee Or, 3 Picks (or Lucies) Hauriant Ar.*
That the rich woods, sequestered lawns, and romantic recesses of Fulbroke Park, would very frequently attract the footsteps of our youthful bard, independent of any lure which the capture of its game might afford, we may justly surmise; and still more confidently may we affirm, that his meditations or
* Fuller's Worthies, part iii. p. 132. The Luce or Pike is very abundant in this part of the Avon, and here may still be seen in the kitchen of Charlcott-house, the representation of a pike, weighing forty pounds, native of this stream, and caught in the year 1640,