Another captain of a vessel trading between Leith and London has told us of a singular passage he had thirty years ago. To oblige a friend, he agreed to convey a hare to another friend in the English metropolis. A fair wind carried the vessel past the Bass Rock, but then a storm sprang up, which kept the ship tossing about for days without reaching the English coast. An old sailor declared their retarded progress was due to the hare being on board. By consent of all the crew, the hare found a place overboard, and then the wind became so favourable that the ship made a quick run to the Thames.
A gentleman in Edinburgh told us recently he had frequently seen burning candles beside a corpse at mid-day, while at the same time a small plate or saucer with salt rested on the corpse's breast, and every one who looked on the body had to put his hand on the inanimate brow. He further told us he had seen a priest of the Roman Catholic Church put a half-crown into the mouth of a corpse at Portobello, to represent, we presume, the obolus exacted by Charon for ferrying the shades of the buried dead across the under-world rivers.
In Ireland, at a period not remote, an opinion prevailed that the spirit of a dead person went about deceased's former home for a month. During that length of time a fire was always kept burning in the house, and a jug of water stood in deceased's chamber, so that his spirit might refresh itself. At the month's end a clergyman, by means of prayer, put the spirit to rest.
Within the last decade (we think in 1872) a highly respectable family in the county of Edinburgh was greatly alarmed by a pheasant flying through their dining-room window, killing itself on the spot, and breaking a large pane of plate glass. To the family the event came as a warning of early calamity. Next day a messenger announced that a worthy doctor of divinity, a dear family friend, had died the previous night.
We hear occasionally of the impossibility of wiping out the traces of flagrant crimes. The blood of Rizzio, shed on the floor of Holyrood Palace, in presence of Queen Mary, has defied the rubbing of years to wipe it away. There the blood stains remain a wonder to the thousands who visit Scotland's royal palace. At a time almost forgotten, a good man was hurled from a window of Torwood Castle, not far from the field of Bannockburn. His blood stained the grass on which the body fell, and since that time the herbage there is mixed with red blades of grass and red clover.
A Saturday's flitting is followed by a short sitting. No one should take possession of a new house before throwing coals and salt into it. No important undertaking should be commenced on Friday or Saturday, nor yet at the end of a year. "Berchta spoils flax found unspun the last day of the year." A shooting star falling near a house, foretells an early death in that dwelling.
Old flint arrow-heads are worn as charms, under the belief that they were the points of elfin arrows. If a lady be wise, she will not have two tea-spoons in her saucer at the same time. If a young lady desire to know how many sweethearts she has, let her pull her fingers, and the number will be equal to the cracks heard. In fact we have nearly as many signs, omens, charms, and freits as our forefathers had. We have legendary lore concerning the supernatural, we have mythological fables, forecasts, fatalities, our spell-bound individuals, our fey persons, and those who have had glamour cast into their eyes. None of us are likely to forget the New Year, Christmas, St. Valentine's Day, Beltane, Hallow-e'en, and many other high days, which come to us, month after month, with their peculiar rites and ceremonies. Even Queen Victoria, with a desire to please, takes pleasure in observing Hallow-e'en at her Highland residence.
In 1876 Hallow-e'en was celebrated at Balmoral Castle with unusual ceremony, in presence of Her Majesty, the Princess Beatrice, the ladies and gentlemen of the royal household, and a large gathering of the tenantry and servants on the estates of Balmoral and Invergeldie. The leading features of the celebration were a torchlight procession, the lighting of large bonfires, and the burning in effigy of witches and warlocks. Upwards of 150 torchbearers assembled at the castle as darkness set in, and separated into two parties, one band proceeding to Invergeldie, and the other remaining at Balmoral. The order was given to light the torches at a quarter before six o'clock, and shortly after that hour the Queen and the Princess Beatrice drove to Invergeldie, followed by the Balmoral party of torchbearers. The two parties then united and returned in procession to the front of Balmoral Castle, where all were grouped round a large bonfire, which blazed and crackled merrily, the Queen's pipers playing the while. Refreshments were then served to all, and dancing was engaged in to the strains of the bagpipes. When the fun was at its height, there suddenly appeared from the rear of the castle a grotesque figure, representing a witch, with a train of followers dressed like sprites, who appeared terrified at the monster fire blazing, and danced and gesticulated in all fashions; then followed a warlock of demoniacal shape, who was succeeded by another warlock drawing a car, on which was seated a witch, surrounded by other figures in the guise of demons. The unearthly visitors having marched several times round the burning pile, the principal figure was taken from the car and tossed into the flames amid weird shrieks and howls, the burning of blue lights, and a display of crackers and other fireworks. The health of her Majesty the Queen was then pledged and drunk with Highland honours by the assembled hundreds; the health of the Princess Beatrice was also received with enthusiasm. Dancing was then resumed, and was carried on till a late hour at night. The scene was very picturesque, Lochnagar and other mountains in the neighbourhood being covered with snow. Although the wind blew piercingly cold from the north, her Majesty and the Princess remained a considerable time, viewing the sports with evident interest.
As to giving up faith in dreams, signs, omens, predictions, and warnings, some people would nearly as soon give up their belief in the Bible. Then add to these a belief in ghosts, and we have a catalogue before us so self-accusing that we dare not cast serious reflections on the memories of our ancestors.
Lizzie M'Gill, the Fifeshire Spaewife—Fortune-telling—Predicting a Storm at Sea—Servants alarmed thereby—Prediction Fulfilled—Adam Donald, an Aberdeenshire Prophet—Adam supposed to have been a Changeling—A Careless Mother—Adam as a Linguist—His Predictions and Cures—His Marriage—Valuable Charm—The Wise Woman of Kincardineshire—The Recruiting Sergeant—High-spirited Lady wooed and won—Lucky Lightfoot, the Spaewife—Charmed Ring and its Effects—Elopement and Marriage—An Enraged Father—Life in America—Sergeant Campbell's Death—Second Marriage—Literary Talents—Strong-minded Women.
In the spring of 1866, Eliza M'Gill, who resided near a romantic church in the Presbytery of St. Andrews, died at the advanced age of ninety-three years. For a long period almost every one, far and near, knew her as a spaewife of no ordinary knowledge. Lizzie (the name usually given her) could scarcely be called an impostor, for she appeared to have sincere faith in her profession. Often she exclaimed with solemn fervency, "The gift I hae is fae aboon, an' what He gies daurna be hidit." It was common for coy damsels and staid matrons to wend their way to Lizzie's cot about twilight, to have their fortunes spaed. About ten years before her death, when the prospects of the herring fishing were discouraging in the extreme, a buxom young woman, belonging to Pittenweem or St. Monance, repaired one evening to Carnbee to consult Lizzie. The damsel went with a heavy countenance, but she returned radiant with smiles, for the wise woman had said, "That altho' it was to be an awfu' puir draw, yet her folk was to hae a grand haul next e'enin'." And, true to the old wife's prediction, the crew in which she interested herself returned with a splendid prize from the fishing ground, followed, of course, with an increase of fame to the prophetess. On another occasion Lizzie was no less fortunate in the result foretold. A fisher-wife in the former place had received a sovereign from her husband, which, in the hurry of the moment, she had placed on the bedside. Going shortly afterwards to remove it, what was her consternation to find that the gold piece was gone! The most diligent search and inquiry were instituted after the lost treasure, but all to no purpose. In the extremity of her distress the poor woman thought of the "witch o' Carnbee," and, adjusting her cap, was soon on her journey thither. Lizzie's words fell on her troubled spirit like oil on the stormy sea; for she was told that, in the course of a day or two, the sovereign would be again in her possession. And so it proved: on drawing her husband's sea boots from under the bed, the coin fell from the toe of one of them.
On one occasion, a cheap trip by the steamer "Xantho" from Anstruther to Leith being advertised, many of the labouring classes, with their friends, arranged to visit Leith and Edinburgh. Unfortunately, however, the trip was to take place when the farmers of the district were very busy with the sowing of the turnips, and when, of course, their people were needed for that work. For the purpose, it is said, of keeping the men at home, a rumour circulated over the East Neuk, to the effect that the steamer and all on board were to perish in a fearful gale. The servants were so greatly alarmed by the prediction of Lizzie (it was she who spread the report), that they resolved to remain at home. The most remarkable feature of the affair is, that on the day in question a violent gale arose, which prevented the steamer returning to Anstruther until next morning. The non-arrival of the boat, as may be inferred, was the cause of the liveliest alarm to the friends of those on board, and an old worthy was heard to exclaim with respect to the prediction: "I dinna believe in sic things mysel', but, some way or ither, they aye come true." Lizzie's father and her whole family are said to have been highly respectable. Her truant and impulsive disposition led her, however, into conduct and habits that deprived her of the respect and help of her friends; and necessity at length appears to have constrained her to act the part of a fortune-teller, which she is known to have practised with success more than half a century.
Adam Donald, the prophet of Bethelnie, a contemporary of Lizzie M'Gill, stood high in Aberdeenshire as a seer. From his peculiar appearance in early life, grave doubts existed as to whether he was actually the offspring of his reputed parents, or whether he had not been substituted by the fairies for a lovely boy, the son of a worthy pair who believed not in the existence of witches or fairies.
One day the mother went out, leaving the child well in his cradle, and on returning, about an hour afterwards, she found a cold, marble-like infant, that never throve, never smiled, but, on the contrary, cried from morning to night, and from night till morning. On hearing of the changed infant, people flocked to witness the sudden alteration which had taken place in Mr. and Mrs. Donald's child. One knowing dame thought she understood the whole matter. The fairies were the wicked beings that had done all the mischief; and that they were permitted to do so, arose entirely through the parents' carelessness or ignorance. "Would it be believed," said the dame when speaking of the extraordinary circumstance, "that the simple mother went out, leaving her child alone, uncrossed, without a charm about its person, and without a horse-shoe being nailed on the threshold or behind the door, or a piece of rowan-tree at the door or window or in the cradle?" The friend to whom the reflections were made shook her head, while she replied, "Ay, ay, unbelieving generation; they will be burning the Bible some day soon."
Adam grew up, and became a wonderful being. From his ability to tell secrets past and future, and his power to effect cures, he became known as the "prophet of Bethelnie." Owing to a distorted state of body, he could not engage in robust employment to obtain a subsistence. He therefore, to amuse himself, read such books as his parents' stinted means could afford. Though it was supposed he could scarcely read English, he carefully collected many curious books in French, Latin, Greek, Italian, and Spanish. He often retired to an old churchyard and church in ruins, near his residence, to hold converse (so he said) with spirits of the dead, which informed him of things unknown to ordinary men.
When property went amissing, the owner repaired to the "prophet;" when cattle died, he named the witch who had killed them; and when any one became sick, Adam Donald supplied a remedy either by charms or herbs. Every Sunday, for many years, people of all classes crowded to consult him either as a necromancer or physician. His fee seldom exceeded sixpence for each consultation, yet he lived in comparative comfort.
When far advanced in life, miserable-looking object though the "prophet" remained, he prevailed on one of the handsomest girls of his neighbourhood to marry him. This matrimonial alliance helped to strengthen the supposition that Adam possessed more than human power.
The prophet of Bethelnie, although he had offspring, went to his long home without instructing a successor in the secret art he for many years followed with pecuniary advantage. He saved his reputation by preserving silence. If the following anecdote be true, there can be little doubt that the prophet assisted to restore decaying nature by the use of amulets or charms.
An old woman, whose eyes had become dim by reason of years, purchased a charm from the prophet, which Adam assured her would revive her sight to its former clearness. On the charm—hieroglyphics traced on parchment—being suspended from the neck, it proved effectual. In a short time the old woman could thread a small needle, and see to pick up a pin from the floor. A female neighbour, with impaired sight, hearing of the cure, begged the charm from the lucky owner, but she would not part with it. All the favour the applicant could obtain was permission to copy the hieroglyphics on paper. The copy thus obtained and worn by the second patient brightened up her eyes also. Adam's medicines excited love, and his charms secured affection.
Fifty or sixty years ago Kincardineshire had its wise women. At the time referred to, a recruiting sergeant (whom we shall call Donald Campbell), equally devoted to his sovereign and the fair sex, made a favourable impression on the inhabitants of a small town fifteen or twenty miles from Aberdeen. The parish minister, the parochial teacher, and the doctor had something favourable to say of the sergeant. Nurses and other servant-maids could see nothing but the sergeant's red-coat; and it was whispered that even the young ladies smiled on him. Indeed that must have been so, for we are told that every one welcomed the Highlander: even the little children ran to meet him; and how heartily he did kiss them, but whether for their own sakes or the love he bore to their nurses, sisters, or aunts, none could tell. This, however, is certain: he did not encourage the shoemaker's sister, the tailor's daughter, nor the buxom widow who presided at the little inn. His affections were concentrated on a lady whom one could scarcely expect to yield her heart to such a humble son of Mars. The fair one was no less a personage than the daughter of Captain B—— of U——, a lady well known for miles around for her courage and love of out-door sports. Few could manage a high-spirited horse better than Rose Bloomer (by this name we introduce the young lady to our readers), or clear a fence with greater ease. And as for the fishing-rod and fowling-piece, she could handle them as dexterously as any disciple of Isaac Walton or of Nimrod could desire. True, she was not what is generally termed a beauty: her features, though not coarse, were scarcely those a sculptor or a painter would desire to have before him while completing his "Venus" for the next fine-art exhibition. In her short stout figure and determined look were indications of a strong-minded woman. Miss Bloomer, having lost her mother in early life, and her father being devoted to the chase, pedestrianism, and other athletic sports congenial to most country gentlemen, the young lady, his only child, had ample scope for indulging her inclinations.
Sergeant Campbell greatly admired Miss Bloomer's dexterity. Often did he watch her guidance of a high-mettled steed, now urging it to its utmost speed, and then reining in the impatient animal. The sergeant, we have said, greatly admired Miss Bloomer's dexterity; but, what is more, he resolved to secure her hand in marriage. Plan after plan, laid with the view of obtaining an introduction, failed. The lady frequently passed him without deigning to cast her eyes on his red-coat. Why should she? Was he not a poor soldier? and was she not a match for the best young gentleman in the county? These and like questions occurred to Campbell, and more than once made him almost despair of securing the lady's affections. Again and again his drooping spirits revived; his pertinacity had no bounds. What could not be secured, thought he, by ordinary means, might be obtained by extraordinary measures.
Sergeant Campbell, learned in the superstitions of his native land, believed them with a child-like faith. He had heard of Lucky Lightfoot, the spaewife; and to her he went for assistance. The old woman, on hearing the sergeant's tale, requested him to leave with her a gold ring he was wearing—a request he complied with. A few days afterwards the woman returned the soldier his ring, now charmed, with instructions to endeavour to get Miss Bloomer to wear it, though but for a few minutes.
In her frequent rambles along the banks of a meandering stream, the beauties of which Arthur Johnstone had celebrated in Latin verse, and regarding which Thomas the Rhymer had uttered prophecies, Campbell, unnoticed, followed Miss Bloomer, in the hope that fortune would favour him some day. She botanized, fished, and shot, unheeding her secret admirer. One day, to his delight, he observed her coming along a footpath, and resolved to drop the ring, in the hope that she would pick it up. Having left it in a conspicuous place, he retired into a thicket to watch the result. The lady, seeing the ring, took it up, examined it, and having no pocket or purse, put it on one of her fingers, and, as fate would have it, on the fourth finger of the left hand—the finger the Greeks discovered, from anatomy, had a little highly sensitive nerve going straight from it to the heart. "Now," thought he, "she is mine. I shall follow her, and ask whether she has found my ring;" but before he could muster courage to carry his resolution into effect, Miss Bloomer disappeared.
With the view of discovering the owner, she continued to wear the ring. Unexpectedly, Fred and Georgina Hopper, her cousins, while driving past, stopped to take dinner, and to them she showed the ring. Fred, who was an inveterate joker, made it the subject of several jests, all of which Miss Bloomer bore with good humour; but when Miss Hopper suggested that the ring might belong to some mean person, and hinted that it was an act of impropriety to wear it, the blood rushed to Miss Bloomer's cheeks; and she clenched her little fist, but for what purpose did not transpire.
In the evening the cousins drove away, leaving Miss Bloomer in anything but a pleasant mood. Evidently the charm had commenced to take effect, or Miss Hopper's remarks had disturbed the young lady's equanimity.
Still wearing the ring, Miss Bloomer retired to rest, or rather to bed, for during the night she was restless, tossing from side to side like one in delirium. One, two, three struck on the old clock, and still sleep did not come to soothe her disturbed brain. Whether in a sleeping or waking state she could not tell, but a regiment of armed men, with the recruiting sergeant at their head, seemed to pass before her, while in the distance there appeared ships at anchor in a large commodious bay. At four o'clock the lady stood at her window admiring the beautiful scenery. Retiring again to rest, she fell asleep, and did not waken before her accustomed time of rising.
After breakfast Miss Bloomer went out, as usual, to follow the bent of her mind. She had not gone far, before Sergeant Campbell approached her in a most respectful manner, and inquired if she had found a ring the previous day. It was scarcely necessary for her to return an answer, because there before him, on her ungloved hand, the ring appeared. As she handed it to him, an indescribable sensation ran through her whole frame. They entered into conversation; and how long they walked and chatted together, and what were the subjects of their conversation, we shall not pause to mention: sufficient to say that, before they parted, an early meeting was arranged. In due time, and quickly after each other, other meetings took place.
In course of time, old dames hinted that if the lady continued to keep tryst in the romantic secluded spots of her father's domains with such a fine-looking soldier as Campbell, she would provoke the goddess supposed to preside over love affairs, and most likely entitle herself to a rush-ring only on her wedding-day, instead of the customary gold one. But the evil prophetesses were wrong for once. Seldom did a recruiting party forward more stalwart soldiers to headquarters than Sergeant Campbell and his subordinates did. Indeed he owed much of his success to Miss Bloomer's exertions. She proved a valuable assistant; for, through her persuasion, a large number of young men on her father's estate were induced to enlist, and leave the homes of their youth for ever.
Happy days of single bliss cannot last for ever. Before three short months had passed, Sergeant Campbell and Miss Bloomer observed more than once the finger of scorn pointed at them. Threats were made by the parents of certain young men who had enlisted, to make known the conduct of the young lady and her lover to Captain Bloomer. What was to be done? Miss Bloomer's reputation was at stake, and the sergeant's life endangered, as will afterwards appear.
The betrothed pair (by this time Sergeant Campbell and Miss Bloomer were engaged to be married) perceived the necessity of acting promptly, and therefore they resolved to elope. An obstacle, however, stood in the way of their doing so immediately. If the sergeant abandoned his station, he would be pursued, arrested, and dealt with as a deserter. Miss Bloomer, equal to the occasion, resolved to "buy him off."
The discharge from the army being obtained, and the indispensable arrangements for a long journey completed, the sergeant and his true love secretly departed for Aberdeen, where they were united for better and worse—not by a clergyman, but by a magistrate, before whom they went and declared themselves to be husband and wife—a ceremony as binding by the law of Scotland as if there had been regular proclamation of banns, according to custom, in the parish church, and they had been married by an ordained minister. In place of a new marriage ring being placed on the bride's finger by the gallant sergeant, he, at her request, put on the charmed ring, the magical power of which she confessed could not be resisted.
Having shown the effect of Lucky Lightfoot's subtle art, we might take leave of the subject; but as the career of Mrs. Campbell (Mr. Campbell did not survive long) is peculiarly interesting, particularly in connection with a class that has created no small stir on both sides of the Atlantic, we shall pursue our narrative a little further.
The newly married couple, not considering themselves safe from pursuit in the Granite City, posted south, and reached the Clyde in less than twenty-four hours, where they secured a passage on board a vessel bound for America.
As soon as Captain Bloomer heard of his daughter's elopement, his rage could not be restrained. Arming himself with a brace of pistols, and mounting his fleetest steed (and a valuable stud he had), he rode in pursuit, stopping not before he reached Aberdeen. Not finding the fugitives there, he hastened to Edinburgh, with the twofold object of bringing back his daughter and shooting her companion in flight. After diligent inquiry in the city, he obtained what he considered reliable information that they had proceeded in the direction of the Borders, to be married at Gretna Green, a village celebrated as a place where many distinguished and obscure persons have been married by a blacksmith. As the reader already knows, the offended father went in the wrong direction.
Months passed before the captain's equanimity became restored; but time, the alleviator of sorrow and best soother of a turbulent spirit, brought a favourable change.
Mr. and Mrs. Campbell arrived safe in America, the land of their adoption, with little more means than sufficient to provide for their immediate wants. After love's first fever ended, calm reflection followed. Romance disappeared before the stern realities of life. Friends they had few, relations none, in the wild wide expanse of America. Mrs. Campbell became home-sick: the scenes of her father's mansion, and everything pleasant connected with the estate, rose before her mind's eye. Above all, she constantly thought of her father with more than half regret at the rash act she had been guilty of. Then she did what most young ladies would do under similar circumstances—wrote to her father asking forgiveness. Before Captain Bloomer received the letter, the last spark of anger in his breast had given place to paternal anxiety. Left alone without wife or child, gladly would he have welcomed her home, had not prudential reasons rendered it necessary to keep father and daughter separate. Her letter gave great satisfaction; and he resolved to assist her and her husband. Through an English friend, a sufficient amount was remitted to America, to enable Mr. Campbell to purchase an estate. The young couple settled down comfortably in an improving locality, with every prospect of comfort and happiness.
Before the fifth winter of Mr. and Mrs. Campbell's married life had passed, Mr. Campbell died, leaving his wife alone (they had no issue) in a far distant country. Mrs. Campbell returned to Scotland, and took up her residence in Edinburgh for a few years. Again a brave defender of his country led the lady to the hymeneal altar. The union proved an unhappy one: Mrs. Smith (this, though a common name, is the cognomen by which she will now be known) separated from her husband, and sailed once more for America. Preferring town life to solitude in the forest, Mrs. Smith settled down (if such could be said of one possessed of bustling active habits like hers) in the greatest city of the United States. To augment an income rendered small through the misfortune and death of her father, she became a journalist. Her papers were favourably received, being pointed and piquant. Her talents were chiefly directed to the support of women's rights; and she became a leader of the class of strong-minded women, still seeking to assert their rights in politics, science, and art.
Superstition at Chelmsford—Woman Bewitched—Fortune-telling Quack—Old Zadkiel—Incantation in Somerset—Turning the Bible and Key—Woman assuming the form of a Hare—Woman ruling the Stars—Young Women Deceived—Superstition in London—Generality of Superstition—A Prediction—How to preserve Children from Disease—Dreams Fulfilled—Virtue of Holly and Ivy in Worcestershire and Herefordshire—Legend concerning the Tichborne Family—Romantic Divorce Case.
A case tried at Chelmsford, on the Home Circuit, in 1864, affords a curious proof how much antique superstition still lingers amongst the English peasantry. For twenty years before 1863 there had been living in one of the Essex villages an old man, deaf and dumb, who enjoyed the reputation of a wizard or fortune-teller. He was eighty years of age, and the singularities of his manner and appearance contributed to the impression he made on the rustic mind. The better sort of people treated the old man with a kindness due rather to his calamities than to his profession, while the more sceptical of the rabble who did not fear him, seem to have amused themselves occasionally at his expense.
Dummey had been at the village of Ridgewell, near Hedingham, in the summer of 1863, where there was a beer-house, the landlady of which was one Emma Smith. The old magician wanted to sleep in the beer-house instead of returning to his own hut, but Emma Smith refused to give him leave. He gesticulated menacingly in his own fashion with his stick, and went his way angrily. Soon after this Emma became ill. The image of Dummey rose before her mind, and she pronounced herself "bewitched."
After long misery, she went forth to seek the old man, found him at the "Swan," a public-house near his own den, and tried to persuade him to return with her, that his presence might break the spell which hung over her. She repeatedly offered him three sovereigns as payment for this service; but neither money nor words could move him. Meanwhile the news spread that a woman who had been bewitched by old Dummey was at the "Swan," and a crowd assembled and pulled the unlucky wizard about, so that he fell once or twice on the ground. Smith took an active part in the assault; and after the "Swan" was closed, she was seen beating him and tearing his clothes. Fear for herself—fear of his supernatural gifts—were both merged in the stronger feeling of rage; and at last she, assisted by one Stammers, a carpenter, pushed the old man into a brook. He died at Halsted poorhouse from the effects of the ill-usage. Emma Smith and Stammers were sentenced to six months hard labour for their share in this outrage—the judge excusing the leniency of the punishment on the ground of the woman's state of mental excitement, and of the man's having pulled Dummey out of the water when the ducking seemed likely to produce death.
Only a few years ago an example of superstition in England came prominently before a public court of justice. It appears that in the neighbourhood of South Molton, North Devon, an old man aged eighty-six, living at Westdown, near Barnstaple, was charged with "using certain subtle craft, means, or device by palmistry and otherwise, to deceive and impose on certain of her Majesty's subjects." For some time a woman named Elizabeth Saunders, then residing in an adjacent hamlet, had been ill. Doctors' remedies failed, and her husband sent for the old man named Harper, generally called the "White Witch," but who called himself an herbalist. He went to the house of the woman, and gave her four or five iron rods in succession, with which she tapped a piece of iron held by her in the other hand while in bed. At the ends of the rods were the names of planets, such as Jupiter and Mercury. He asked the age of the woman and the hour she was born, saying he wanted to find out under what planet she came into the world. He gave her some bitters to take, but she died a few days afterwards. The defence was that the rods and piece of metal were a rude method of using electricity, by which means the defendant had effected many cures; but no explanation was given as to the meaning of the names of the planets. It was stated that the "White Witch" charged the woman 25s. for his services. Several witnesses, called for the defence, said they had been cured of complaints in the legs and arms by the defendant's magic rods when nobody else could cure them. The Bench sentenced him to a month's imprisonment.
A case of witchcraft came recently to our knowledge from Stonehouse. Ann Bond, a professed herbalist, stood charged before a bench of justice with having obtained L1 by means of a subtle device. Mary Ann Pike said her sister, Mrs. Summers, having a bad leg, had been advised to let the prisoner see it. Bond, after looking at the limb, declared that it was not an affliction by God. She went away, and afterwards returned with some cards. These she arranged, and, after looking at them, said her sister was so ill-wished that her face would be drawn to her toes, and that she would die at the age of thirty-seven. Mrs. Summers asked the prisoner if she could do her any good. Bond replied, "Yes; if you come at once under my demand; my usual price is 25s., but I'll do it for L1." Deponent lent her sister a sovereign to give to the woman. Bond turned up a bottle, and said to witness, "There is one dark woman, and a tall woman, doing your sister injury; the circle was not laid intentionally for her, but for her husband." The prisoner was convicted and punished. She had formerly been imprisoned for a similar offence.
In 1878, at a meeting of the guardians of the Coventry Union, an inmate named Arnold, alias "Old Zadkiel," a professor of astrology, was the subject of inquiry. A letter had been addressed to him by a lady at Dorchester, anxious to learn "what planet she was born under, and the position of her future husband." She forwarded a number of postage stamps. There was another letter from a lady at Leamington, asking Arnold to keep an appointment with her, to "read her destiny." The astrologer formerly lived in Coventry, and carried on an extensive trade until he was sent to Warwick gaol, which he left for the workhouse. He was cautioned by the Board. "Old Zadkiel," taking offence, left the workhouse, saying he "should resume his astrology" and the "ruling of the planets."
Not long ago a well-to-do farmer near Ilchester, in Somerset, had the misfortune to have several of his cattle taken away by disease. A veterinary surgeon who was consulted, thought the remainder of the herd were in a fair way of recovery; the farmer, however, insisted that he and his cows had been "overlooked," and immediately sought out a "wise woman" residing in an adjacent town. Acting upon the advice of the old hag, the farmer returned home, and encircled with a faggot the last bullock that died, ignited the pile, and burnt the carcase, an incantation being pronounced over the burning beast. The remainder of the herd became well, and their recovery was attributed by the farmer and his simple-minded neighbours, not to the skill of the veterinary surgeon, but to the success of the weird ceremonial prescribed by the fortune-teller.
A remarkable case of credulity came before Ludlow police court, in January of this year (1879). Mary A. Collier was summoned under the local bye-laws for using abusive language to Elizabeth Oliver. Both parties, it transpired, lived in Lower Gouldford; and a sheet having been lost off a garden line, with a view to discover the thief, the superstitious practice of "turning the key and the Bible" was resorted to. Complainant said Collier met her in the street, and said the Bible had been turned down for Jones' yard, Martha Cad's yard, and Burnsnell's yard, and when Mrs. Oliver's name was mentioned, "the Bible fled out of their hands." The Bible was then turned to see if the sheet was stolen during the day or night, and Mrs. Collier then called her "a daring daylight thief." Mrs. Collier informed the Court that "the key turned for Mrs. Oliver and no one else, and the words in the Bible were for her." Mrs. Oliver said the sheet had been found under the snow. The Bench dismissed the case, and said such gross superstition was more like a relic of the past, and would not have believed that such a thing existed in this advanced age.
In the village of East Knighton, Dorsetshire, in the year above mentioned, a remarkable case reached the public ears. In a cottage dwelt a woman named Kerley and her daughter, a girl of about eighteen years, supposed to be bewitched. It was positively stated that they had been thrown out of the cottage into the street, although neither window nor door was open, and heavy articles of furniture were sent flying about in all directions.
An old woman called Burt was named as the cause of all the mischief, and she was declared to have assumed the form of a hare, to have been chased by the neighbours, and then to have sat up and looked defiantly at them. It is positively believed that until blood is drawn from the witch the manifestations will not cease.
We must confess that superstition is stripped of its romance by prosaic courts and stern judges. A case tried at Newbury quarter-sessions is fresh in the memory of many. Maria Giles, alias "The Ranter," well known as the "Newbury Cunning Woman," was tried on the charge of having obtained sums of money from two women living at villages in a wild district in North Hants, by falsely pretending she had the power to recover some goods they had lost. The women travelled twelve miles to consult the prisoner. She went through some absurd proceedings, and pretended she saw in a glass the parties who had taken the goods. Prisoner had practised witchcraft for many years. She professed to rule the stars, and said that if the nights were clear and fine she would be able to recover the goods sooner. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and sentenced her to five years penal servitude.
The proceedings of a professional fortune-teller formed the subject of investigation by the mayor and other magistrates of Newbury in 1871. A widow named Maria Moss had been pretending to tell the fortune of divers persons, particularly young women, whom she had induced to go to her house. The principal witnesses called were Alice Prior and Maria Low, two young women, who proved that the prisoner had promised to tell their fortunes. Her practice had been to produce a pack of cards, which she placed upon the table, and told each girl to cut them into three parts. In one case she said she saw "London," and told Prior that she would get a good situation there, and be married to a widower. She represented to Low that she would also have an excellent situation in London, and be married to a gentleman with plenty of money. She induced the girls to obtain goods from tradesmen in the town and bring them to her house, and the girls also removed wearing apparel from their own homes and deposited the same with the prisoner, who promised to send the goods after the girls had arrived in the metropolis. However, the mother of Low discovered that clothes had been taken away from her house, and the intended journey of the girls was of course prevented. The Bench dealt with the case under the Vagrant Act, and sentenced the woman to fourteen days in Reading gaol.
In the beginning of 1879 a photographer named Henry, of Cooper's Road, Old Kent Road, London, was charged at the Southwark police court with obtaining money by false pretences. The prisoner issued an advertisement, offering for eighteen stamps to send to unmarried persons photographs of their future wives or husbands, and for twenty-four stamps a bottle of magnetic scent, or Spanish love scent, which were described, the first as "so fascinating in its effects as to make true love run smooth," and the other as "delicious, and captivating the senses," so that "no young lady or gentleman need pine in single blessedness." Several witnesses stated that they had answered these advertisements; and numbers of letters—some from Australia, China, and other places abroad, relating to them—were found at the defendant's house. It appeared that he had been carrying on a very successful fraud for some time. The magistrate sentenced the prisoner, under the Vagrant Act, to three months hard labour.
Four men were charged at the Marylebone police court, London, in 1871, with telling fortunes. They had a place in that district, in which the police found a magic mirror, cards, nativities, planetary schemes, and all the paraphernalia of fortune-telling imposition. On the police going to the house, they found no fewer than thirty or forty young women in a waiting-room, each having paid a fee. A book was found in which were entries of the dupes in each week, the numbers varying from 89 to 662. The prisoners were sentenced to three months hard labour.
Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, London, and nearly all the other cities, towns, and country districts of England continue to have their fortune-tellers and reputed witches and ghosts. There are still many believers in the prophecies of Mother Shipton, but none believe more implicitly in her sayings than the labouring classes of Somerset. Recently a report, put in circulation in the neighbourhood of Ham Hill, made them think a great catastrophe was about to occur in that particular locality. Mother Shipton had predicted that Ham Hill, one of the great stone quarries of Somerset and a prominent feature in the landscape for many miles, would be swallowed up on Good Friday. The collapse of this immense hill was to ensue from a terrible earthquake, the effect of which would be felt especially in that part of Somersetshire. One result of this belief was that persons left the neighbourhood temporarily in order to escape the disaster. Other people removed their household goods from shelves and cupboards, in order that they might not be thrown down by the upheaval of the earth; and in some cases, we are told, people delayed planting and cultivating their gardens. The residents who believed in the predicted event said that Yeovil would also be visited at the same time by a great and disastrous flood. One case was that of a man who delayed planting his garden with potatoes because he believed there would be a terrible frost, and that the River Thames would be covered with ice. This he connected in some way with the Ham Hill affair. Amongst the labouring classes considerable alarm existed, and Good Friday was looked forward to with no little amount of anxiety in that part of Somerset.
Good Friday came and passed without any untoward event. Yet that is not enough to dispel the faith in Mother Shipton's prediction. She is not at fault. Some blundering calculator made a mistake as to time, and the people of Somerset are yet to have their great catastrophe.
A curious superstitious custom is observed in the Isle of Man. Mothers believe their children may be preserved from disease by placing them in the hopper of a water flour-mill while the wheel makes three revolutions. On a Sunday not long since a number of children were taken to the Grenaby mill, in the parish of Malew, three miles from Castletown, in order to be subjected to the "charm" we have mentioned. Two hoppers of the mill were crammed full of children, and, as soon as they were settled, the miller caused the wheel to revolve three times, the parents of the children being present at the time. In order to be efficacious, the ceremony must be gone through at a time when the ministers of the district are preaching in their pulpits. For this reason, about noon on Sundays is generally the time chosen for the performance of this curious rite.
At an inquest lately held in London on the body of a woman aged eighty-two years, the evidence showed that the woman's death resulted from injury to the head, caused by a fall from her chair. One of the witnesses told the coroner that he believed the time had come for the woman to die. His reason for that opinion was, that she had dreamed, a fortnight before her death, that she had a fall, and cut open her head, and was likely to die in consequence.
An awful fulfilment of a dream took place at a calico-printing establishment at Sunnyside. A clerk in the work remarked to one of the machine printers that he was glad to see him at his employment; the printer asked his reason for his congratulations, when the clerk observed that during the previous night he (the clerk) had dreamed that he (the printer) had, while at his work, dropped down dead. The printer replied, in a jocular way, "You see you were mistaken, for I am alive yet." The printer being in his usual health and spirits, no further notice was taken of the matter; but singularly, at three o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, while attending to his duties at his machine, he dropped down dead without the least warning.
This year (1879) the Deal magistrates sentenced a man named George Wylds to two months imprisonment for refusing to proceed to sea in the barque "Umzinto," on a voyage from London to Port Natal. The man told the magistrate that he was satisfied with the ship, officers, and food, but he had had a dream that the ship would be lost, and would not go to sea in her for any amount of money. Once before he had a dream that a vessel in which he was sailing would be lost, and it was lost.
It is worth recording that in many parishes of Worcestershire and Herefordshire the holly and ivy that have adorned churches at Christmas-time are much esteemed and cherished.
If a small branch of holly, with the berries upon it, is taken home and hung up in the house, it is considered sure to bring a lucky year. A little of this church ivy given to sheep is considered likely to make them bring forth two lambs a-piece. The evergreens that were hung up in the house must, however, all be burned, except the mistletoe bough, which should be kept throughout the year; and it generally is in farmhouses, as, according to old people, it prevented any bad effect from the evil eye, and fiends and hobgoblins were scared away by it, as stated in this verse of an old sagacious adviser:
"On Candlemas eve kindle the fire, and then Before sunset let every leaf it bren; But the mistletoe must hang agen Till Christmas next return; This must be kept, wherewith to tend The Christmas bough, and house defend, For where it's safely kept, the fiend Can do no mischief there."
Some country churches in Worcestershire and Herefordshire are still usually decked with sprigs of yew at Easter, and boughs of fragrant fresh-leaved birch at Whitsuntide; and a sprig of yew thus consecrated, when taken and kept in the house, is deemed a preservative from the influence or entrance of any malignant spirits. In like manner, a branch of the birch is honoured by being placed on or over the kneading-trough; for, thus placed, it is considered to be a sure antidote against heavy bread.
A celebrated case, in which the pursuer, newly returned from Australia, sought to establish, in the Court of Common Pleas (we think in 1871 or 1872), his claim to the ancient baronetcy of Tichborne, recalls to mind a legend current in the Tichborne family for many generations relative to the "Tichborne Dole." The house of Tichborne dates the possession of its right to the manor of Tichborne, near Winchester, as far back as two centuries before the Norman Conquest.
About the middle of the twelfth century the then head of the family married Mabel, only daughter and heiress of Sir Ralph de Lamerston, of Lamerston, in the Isle of Wight, by which he acquired considerable estates in that part of England, in addition to his own possessions in Hampshire. After many years of wedded happiness, during which the Lady Mabel became celebrated for her kindness and care of the poor, and death approaching, she besought her husband to grant her the means of leaving behind her a charitable bequest, in the shape of a dole, or measure of bread, to be distributed annually, on the 25th of March (the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary), to all needy and indigent people who should apply for it at the hall door. The said bread was to be the produce of a certain piece of ground containing an area of fifteen acres, and of known value; but should the applicants be greater in number than the measures produced, twopence in money was to be given as the dole.
Lady Mabel's husband was induced to consent to his wife's request, only on condition of her being able to crawl or walk round the piece of ground demanded—a condition of apparent impracticability, from the fact of her having been bedridden for many years previous; and this task was to be performed while a certain brand, or billet of wood, was burning on the fire in the hall at Tichborne. The dame, nothing daunted, ordered her attendants to carry her to the place she had selected, where, being set down, she seemed to receive a renovation of strength, and, to the surprise of admiring onlookers, she succeeded in crawling round several rich and goodly acres within the required time. The field which was the scene of Lady Mabel's extraordinary feat retains the name of "Crawls" to the present day.
On the task being completed, the lady was re-conveyed to her chamber, and, summoning the family to her bed-side, she proceeded in a most solemn manner to deliver a prophecy respecting the future inheritors of Tichborne—predicting its prosperity as long as the annual dole existed, and leaving her malediction on any of her descendants who should discontinue or divert it, and declaring that, when such event should happen, the old house would fall, the family would become extinct from the failure of heirs-male, and that—as a final warning of the approach of their decay—a generation would appear of seven sons, followed immediately by one with seven daughters and no sons.
The dole continued to be regularly given from the time of Henry II. to 1799, when Sir Henry Tichborne discontinued it. Then began the fulfilment of Lady Mabel's prediction. In 1803, four years after the cessation of the gift, a portion of the house fell, and the remainder was pulled down. Sir Henry, the seventh baronet of the name of Tichborne, who had abolished the dole, had seven sons. Sir Henry, the eighth baronet, and eldest of the seven sons, married Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Burke, Bart., of Marble Hill, and by her had seven daughters. Sir Henry died leaving no sons.
In 1826 Sir Henry's second brother, Edward, who eventually became the ninth baronet, having inherited the extensive property of Miss Elizabeth Doughty of Snarford Hall, was obliged, by the terms of her will, to drop the name of Tichborne and assume that of Doughty, thus fulfilling, in some measure, that part of Lady Mabel's prediction which foretold that the name would become extinct. Sir Edward Doughty married in 1827, and had an only son, who died before he attained the age of six years. Sir Edward's brother James, who eventually became the tenth baronet, married, and had two sons—Roger Charles, who was supposed to have been lost at sea off the coast of South America in the spring of 1854 (the claimant of the baronetcy from Australia called himself the said Roger); and Alfred Joseph, the eleventh baronet, whose son Henry—a posthumous child, born in 1866—is now in possession of the title and estates.
When the only son of Mr. Edward Doughty (subsequently the ninth baronet) died, the hitherto singular fulfilment of Lady Mabel's prediction struck him so forcibly that he besought his elder brother, Sir Henry Joseph, to restore the ancient dole, which he agreed to do; and it was again distributed, with certain restrictions, in flour, confining it to the poor of the parish of Tichborne; and in this manner it continues to be distributed to the present day.
Whether the resumption of Lady Mabel's gift may prove sufficient to ward off the fatal prediction, time alone will show. The male race is supposed to depend upon the life of a single heir in his minority.
This cause celebre, one of the most important disposed of this century, not only ended, in the claimant's defeat, but in his conviction for perjury and attempted fraud—a fraud which, if successful, would have secured him estates worth between L20,000 and L30,000 a year.
A romantic divorce case came before the High Court of Justice in England in 1876, in which the superstitious element was strongly blended. The proprietor of an extensive estate asked for a divorce from his wife, belonging to the gipsy tribe. The petitioner became interested in a family of gipsies, who were in the habit of pitching their tents on his ground. He visited their encampment, and became familiar with them. The member of the company who most excited the petitioner's attention was a daughter, by name Esmeralda, whose charms ultimately captivated the petitioner, and they were married in Norway in June 1874. The co-respondent, stated to be an Oxford man, and who also interested himself in the welfare of the gipsy race, seemed to have made the acquaintance of the parties some time after the marriage. The lady became enamoured of the Oxford gentleman. She went with him to Bristol, and after that the petitioner did not see his wife for some time. The husband received a letter from his wife stating that she was ready to be reconciled to him. They accordingly came together, and his wife suggested to him that they were both bewitched, and she stated that in order to have such bewitchment removed she would go to the Gussoree Gorge, a fabled deity in the Roman Camp, who had the power to dispel the bewitchment and restore the parties to their status quo. They did go to this famed astrologer, Gussoree Gorge, who turned out to be none other than the co-respondent, with whom Esmeralda was afterwards found living as his wife in Edinburgh.
The petitioner, on being examined, said the respondent complained of being bewitched, and went to Cardiff to consult the wise men of the tribe. On another occasion she went again to consult the Gussoree Gorge, or wise man, and brought back two letters from the astrologer. It occurred to witness that they were in the co-respondent's handwriting. He, on receipt of another letter after his wife left him again, went to Edinburgh, where he found her. She threw herself on her knees and craved forgiveness. He promised to forgive her. She asked to go home at once, but there was a difficulty about the train. That night they slept at Melrose, and in the morning she said she had had a dream that her lover whom she had left in Edinburgh had committed suicide. Witness agreed to allow her to go to Edinburgh, it being understood she should immediately return. She never did so, and witness did not see her again until the 31st of January.
Here the romance and superstition end. The petitioner became a wiser and sadder man. Esmeralda lived to repent of her folly, and so did the Oxford man of learning.
Spiritualism—Spiritualism not a new Delusion—Phantoms at a Seance—Juggling of a Medium—Unsuccessful Effort at a Vulgar Deception—Spiritualists exposed—A Medium's Deception discovered—Foolish Exhibitions—Russian Peasants and their House Spirits—Spirits' Care over Persons and Property—Death, Pestilence, War, and other Evils foretold by Spirits—A Suggestion.
Much might be written concerning spiritualism (already alluded to in these pages); but really the subject deserves little attention, further than that it might be worth serious consideration whether the class of persons who lay claim to the power of raising the dead, and of being able to command responses from spirits, should not be prosecuted as rogues and cheats. Spiritualists cannot even pretend they have discovered anything new. We have repeatedly, particularly under the head "Laws against and Trials of Witches," shown that deceitful girls and old crones could perform all the sleight-of-hand and delusions practised by modern spiritualists.
Spiritualists have grossly imposed upon credulous persons; and others, without much consideration, attend seance after seance, for no other reason than that the manifestations displayed by the tricksters have become the grand arcana of fashion. The phantoms raised at a seance are in proportion to the gloom surrounding the audience. It cannot be doubted by men of penetration, that spiritualism, in its birth and maturity, is associated with sordidness and wickedness. At best, the spiritual operations are childish, or at least they fall short of the tricks of a Chinese juggler.
One gentleman, writing of the spiritualistic movement in 1871, says:—
"A new movement on behalf of spiritualism has sprung up in the metropolis, and Miss Kate Fox, Rochester, United States, in whose family the phenomena were first discovered, is now in England on a propagandist mission. I was invited last night to meet Miss Fox, but owing to a cold the lady was unable to come. A celebrated medium was, however, present, as were some half-dozen ladies and gentlemen well known in society—one of the latter being a sergeant-at-law, and a judge accustomed to sift evidence and determine the difference between truth and falsehood. The seance was not, however, productive of anything very strange. The only curious manifestation occurred with a lath about two feet long and a quarter of an inch thick, which most certainly rose off the table apparently of its own accord, and at one time seemed disposed to walk about the room, but didn't. Two glass ornaments, filled with flowers, were also attracted towards each other, and subsequently parted company though no hands were near them. The great anticipated incident of the evening was, however, a failure. A Morse writing telegraphic machine had been prepared, and it was hoped that the lever would be worked with spirit hands, but, after waiting two hours, no indication was given of any movement, and the experiment was abandoned in despair."
The well-known Walter Thornbury relates as follows his experience at a spiritual seance:—
"I went up into a stuffy parlour and found about fourteen people, hot, nervous, and evidently uncomfortable. They were staring at some weird-looking pictures. On a long table were several speaking-trumpets, formed of stiff brown and gilt paper. Some of the visitors took up these, talked hollowly through them, and laughed with uneasy scepticism. There were two ladies, several young men who looked like clerks, a bluff man from Liverpool, and a dwarf. Presently Messrs. A. and C. (two coarse-looking young men) entered, seated us round the table, and requested us to join hands. The gas was then turned down, and the seance began. A. was at the end of the table, facing C. at the other. There was at first a good deal of half-hysterical laughing and nervous talking, and shy or bold voices from here and there in the dark. The bluff Liverpool man objected to joining hands—he had been to successful seances, where hands were not joined. Mr. A. said that joining hands often improved 'the conditions.' One did not know what was passing behind one, or what was coming. So even the boldest of us 'held his breath for a time.' All at once Mr. C., at the further end from me, began to gurgle and groan like a person in an epileptic fit. Some one cried, 'Turn up the gas.' It was done, and we beheld the medium with his head twisted like a young laocoon in the folds of a red tablecloth. He disentangled himself with a disturbed, suffering air. The spirits were upon us, though why they should stifle their interpreter I could not quite see. The sceptics smiled sardonically. I suspected the lady in nankeen colour next me, and the dwarf and people immediately round both mediums. A female voice tremulously suggested that singing might 'improve the conditions;' on which Mr. C. struck up 'Power of Love Enchanting' in maudlin spiritualistic words. Things looked dull. All at once we were hailed by one of the most tremendous gruff bass voices that ever hailed a man-of-war. John King, the favourite spirit of Mr. A., had appeared with a grumbling announcement of his presence. 'Who is this John King?' inquired the Liverpool man, who, if he was a confederate, acted peculiarly well. 'He lived about three hundred years ago,' said some one in the dark. 'Then he must have fought with the Armada,' suggested the Liverpool representative. Mr. A. leaped at the suggestion, and replied, 'It is supposed he did.' On John King again growling that there he was and what did they want, a sceptic opposite me exclaimed in the true dramatic manner, 'Rest, rest, perturbed spirit,' which so enraged John King (whom the lady in buff next me whispered 'had been a notorious pirate') that he bellowed in his ear, 'You seem very fond of Shakspere.' A few minutes after there were sounds of violent blows, and several sceptics were struck on the head by John King's speaking-trumpet; a sofa cushion was flung at me, and something else was thrown at the gentleman from Liverpool. A sceptic who had said that any ventriloquist could imitate a deep voice, got rapped violently on the head, and John King bellowed at the same time, 'Is that ventriloquism?' A man near me said he thought he felt a cold breeze passing over his hands, and a cold finger touch his. One thing I could not help observing: this was, that the missiles hurled at sceptics came in a slanting line from where Mr. A. sat. I also noticed that a singular creaking of the medium's chair usually preceded any utterances of John King. The lady in nankeen now began, in a wheedling, coaxing voice, to beg 'Kate' to appear. Kate is Mr. A.'s second 'familiar,' and he described her to us as a short person with dark ringlets, and wearing a blue robe fastened by a girdle—facts which seemed to deeply interest the lady in nankeen. Presently a little whiffling voice announced Kate, who, however, only said something about 'Jenny Jones, of Hampstead,' and then withdrew. To Kate Mr. A. assumed a gallant, lover-like manner; to John King an air of half-amused defiance. By-and-bye two stones were thrown violently upon the table, but no one expressed any audible alarm. Still the room was hot and stifling, the darkness affected the coolest imagination, and straining one's eyes and ears for spiritual manifestations produced a not unnatural feeling of uneasiness in the mind. Sometimes I fancied the table jerked or reared a little, sometimes I thought I heard animals' feet pattering up and down the table. It is on such workings of the imagination that spiritualists, and especially the professional mediums, trade. No more voices coming, Mr. A. proposed our changing places to 'improve the conditions'—that is to say, to re-pack the confederates, and still more isolate the sceptics; but no result came. A grosser and more unsuccessful effort at a vulgar deception I never saw; and I only ask whether it is just to prosecute poor women for getting a few shillings by telling servants' fortunes, and leave professional spiritualists like Messrs. A. and C. unprosecuted? If pretending to evoke the dead and predict death for hire is not obtaining money under false pretences, what is?"
For a short time the spiritualists created a considerable sensation, but their prosperity did not long continue. Mr. W. Irving Bishop, an American gentleman, who came to Great Britain recommended by Dr. Carpenter and other members of the Royal Society, exposed the phenomena attributed to the influence of spirits, in the Windsor Hotel, Edinburgh, in January 1879.
There was a distinguished company present, including Principal Sir Alexander Grant, Lord Curriehill, Archbishop Strain, and a number of the University professors. A committee of four gentlemen having been chosen to watch the proceedings, Mr. Bishop gave an exposure of the galvanometer test, accepted by a number of scientific men in London as conclusive proof of the bona fides of spirit manifestations. Mr. Bishop next gave an illustration of the theory of "unconscious cerebration." Archbishop Strain, having written on a slip of paper a number of figures and the name of a deceased person, took in his left hand the end of a long wire. Mr. Bishop, taking the other, recited the numerals from 1 to 9, and stopped at the figures in one of the papers. Afterwards he recited the alphabet in the same manner, stopping at the letters in the name on the same slip. The figures 6952 were found to be those which had been written. The archbishop stated before the paper was opened that he did not himself remember the figures he had put down, and that he had never mentioned what they were to any one. Mr. Bishop explained that he detected the figures when naming them, from the unconscious action of the archbishop's mind on his nervous system as it affected the wire. In the same way he informed the archbishop correctly that the name of a deceased person written in the enclosed piece of paper was Sir Walter Scott. Mr. Bishop also furnished illustrations of the manner in which sounds were produced from instruments of music, and bells rung by persons tied with their hands and legs to seats, and how, even in that situation, he could put a ring upon a handkerchief placed round his neck—a feat which had been considered impossible by one fastened as he was, without the loosing of the knots of the cords with which he was bound. His last exposure was the Katie King mystery, the calling of 'material spirits' from the other world, and exhibiting them in the room. This performance puzzled the audience as much as any of the others while it proceeded, and the explanation given of it was as amusing as it turned out to be ingenious.
Another spiritualist exposure recently created a sensation in "spiritualistic circles," by the detection of a medium fraud in Portland, Maine, United States. Doctors Gerrish and Greene, of Portland, were instrumental in bringing about the issue. The medium in question was a female, who, after hiding herself behind a screen in the corner of her parlour, was enabled to send out "spirits" for the inspection of her select audiences. Attired in the ordinary way, she would allow her skirts to be pinned to the floor; and while she was seated upon a stool, the lower portion of the screen being some distance from the floor, the audience were invited to satisfy themselves that the medium did not move from her position. Dr. Greene, on one occasion, while the so-called spirit was moving around, asked it to shake hands. This request being granted, he firmly grasped the hand, and found the spirit to be the medium herself, who struggled in a very unbecoming way to free herself. While Dr. Greene thus secured the medium, Dr. Gerrish quickly drew the screen aside, and discovered the apparel of the lady in a heap at the foot of her stool, and still pinned to the floor. The trick was then shown to consist in wearing under-garments, with which she could emerge from her external apparel with ease, and, to all outside appearance, without any disturbance.
To our mind, the most foolish of all foolish exhibitions is that at which one has the presumption to stand before an intelligent audience and declare his ability to call one from the dead for his or their amusement. But if we can by any great stretch of imagination suppose that Englishmen and Americans have succeeded in opening up a communication between them and spirits, they are still far behind the Russian peasants, who have their house spirits, who are of considerable use. These spirits take persons, houses, cattle, and chattels of every description under their care. They are heard wailing before a death. One of them rouses the inmates of a house if fire or robbery be threatened. Pestilence and war are foretold by such spirits lamenting in the meadows. Here we have useful spirits, worth having—not like our ones, capable of communicating only by means of knocks and through showmen. If spirits can do no more for living men than they have done, they may remain away, and let the showman medium return to honest labour, or be sent to seek knowledge and truth within the walls of a prison or in a house of correction.
Superstition in Roman Catholic Countries—Miracle-working Images, Winking Madonnas and Apparitions—Image paying Homage to the Virgin Mary—St. Dominic—Madonnas at Trastevere—Girl carrying the Sacred Stigmata of the Passion—Miraculous Cures—The Virgin Mary appearing to Children—Superstitious Ceremony at Dieppe—Blessing the Neva—Lady offering up her Life to save the Pope—A Legend—Superstitious Belief of Napoleon's Mother—Trust in Amulets—Zulu Superstition—Witchcraft forbidden under Treaty of Peace with Great Britain—Eating Fetish—Superstition among the Ashantees—Endeavour to prevent the Advance of the British Army—Shah of Persia's Talismans—Bathing Fair—Indian Princes consulting Fortune-tellers—The Queen of Hearts—Procuring Rain in India—Superstition in America—Mysterious Lights at St. Lawrence—Superstitious Artists—Hogarth's last Picture, "The End of all Things."
In Roman Catholic countries superstition frequently culminates in miracle-working images, winking madonnas, and apparitions resembling the Virgin Mary. For not a few delusions the priests and nuns are responsible. We are not speaking without authority. The Very Rev. Father A. Vincent Jandel, General of the Dominican Order, addressed from Rome a circular letter in 1870 to all the provincials of his order, giving an account of what he considered a wonderful occurrence that took place at Soriano, in Calabria. There is at Soriano a celebrated Sanctuary of St. Dominic, and in the church an ancient image of that saint, life-size, carved in wood, held in high veneration. On the 15th of September of that year, which is its festa, another image of wood is carried processionally with much pomp. Thirty persons, who had remained after the conclusion of the solemnity to pray before the ancient image, suddenly perceived it to move, as if alive. It came forward, then retreated, and turned towards the image of the Virgin of the Holy Rosary. The cry of "St. Dominic! St. Dominic! A miracle! a miracle!" burst from every lip. The wonderful news sped like lightning through the town. Men and women left their occupations to crowd to the sanctuary; and soon no fewer than two thousand persons had witnessed the strange movements, which continued for about an hour and a half, amidst prayers, tears, and acclamations.
To the great joy of the monks of the Holy Trinity, in 1871, two madonnas, in an obscure, out-of-the-way church of St. Grisogono, in Trastevere, melted multitudes to tears by the miraculous movements and expressions of their eyes. The most remarkable in its exercises was an oil painting in the interior of the church. To such a height did the excitement reach amongst the crowd privileged to witness it, that the friars judged it prudent to bring its performances to a close by removing it from the church, and shutting it up in a press in the convent. The second madonna is a fresco in the open piazza as one approaches the church and convent. It is a recent painting, of life-size, with eyes lowered on the spectators looking at it from below, in such a manner that the movements of the pupils (if movements there be) should be very sensible. The madonna is but one of three figures on the fresco. On her right is John the Baptist in the dress of the monks of the establishment, and on the left Pio Nono as Pontiff. This madonna began to move its eyes as soon as its companion was locked up, and the wonder lasted for many days.
In the same year (1871) the Rev. Father Ubald sent a letter to a colleague, the following passages of which were quoted in the Bulletin Religieux of Versailles:—"I arrive from Belgium; this time I have seen Louise Lateau. I do not know whether you ever heard of her, but at present the name is in everybody's mouth in Belgium and Northern France. Louise Lateau is a girl of 21, who carries the sacred stigmata of the Passion, and every week on Friday is in a state of profound ecstacy. Dr. Lefevre, professor of medicine at the University of Louvain, has published a medical examination, in which he says: 'The flow of blood begins in the night (from Thursday to Friday generally), between midnight and one o'clock.' It took place for the first time on the 24th April 1868, by her losing blood on the left side of her chest. On the Friday following, hemorrhage was observed at the same place, and, moreover, blood oozed out from the top or instep of the foot. On the third Friday—viz. the 8th May—blood came out at the left side and from the feet during the night. Towards nine in the morning blood rushed out copiously from both hands, back and palm. Finally, on the 27th September, a percolation of blood also set in on the forehead, as if the young girl had been crowned with thorns. Since then the marvellous phenomenon never missed a Friday, except once or twice. Doctors affirm that Louise thus loses from five to ten ounces of blood every Friday. In spite of this, and albeit she has not taken food for the last six months, she has, I assure you, quite ruddy cheeks (teint vermeil), and seems to enjoy capital health (sante florissant)."
The correspondent of the Paris Ultramontane paper L'Univers wrote from the Lourdes in 1876: "I have just been witness of a marvel, of which I hasten to send you an account. Several other miracles have taken place within the last couple of days, but I have said nothing about them, as they did not come under my own observation. However, I can assure you of the accuracy of the following statement:—Madeleine Lansereau, aged 33 years, broke one of her legs about 19 years ago, and became lame, her left leg being fearfully twisted. She came to Lourdes with the pilgrimage from Picardy, and was radically cured at the moment the Papal Nuncio sent to crown the Holy Virgin was saying the paternoster in the mass he was celebrating in the grotto. She told the crowd that, having walked into the little pool, a lively internal emotion took possession of her, and she cried out, 'I am cured! I am cured!' Her companions wept with joy and admiration at the miracle. When they asked her what she had done for that great grace, her simple reply was, 'I have prayed to St. Radogonde and St. Joseph, but especially to the Holy Virgin, and now I am cured.' While she was speaking, the Bishop of Poictiers came and said, 'Madeleine, thank the Holy Virgin fervently.'"
The Rev. Canon Tandy, D.D., writing from St. Paul's Convent, Birmingham, in 1871, to a reverend brother, informs him, in pious phraseology, that two nuns had been suddenly cured of serious disorders of long standing by drinking a bottle of water from Lourdes. In acknowledgment of the favours shown by our Lady of Lourdes, the Te Deum was recited.
A deaf and dumb girl from Blois was made whole at Lourdes a few years ago by the Virgin Mary.
Not long since the Bishop of Laval wrote a pastoral letter on the subject of the miraculous appearance of the Virgin to four children in a village in Mayence, and was so convinced of the reality of the fact that he decided to erect a chapel in honour of Mary on the ground upon which she had condescended to appear.
Recently there might be seen emerging from a church at Dieppe, on a Saturday morning, a religious procession, headed by a person carrying a silver processional cross, and accompanied by choristers singing penitential psalms, proceeding to the eastern pier of the harbour to perform a curious Roman Catholic ceremony. Taking up a position beside the rolling water, the priests prayed for the success of the fishing, then said a paternoster, while the people knelt; then a priest, dipping a brush in holy water (which was carried in a swinging silver vase), sprinkled three times the salt water of the ocean with the holy fluid, making the sign of the cross with the brush at the words, Seo sibera nos a malo. Then came a collect of repose for the souls of the dead whose bodies had not been recovered from the depths of the sea; and, all being over, the priests, with the choristers, people, and cross-bearers, returned, chanting their psalms to the church, where the high mass of the festival of St. Luke was celebrated.
This ceremony at Dieppe reminds one of the well-known annual ceremony in Russia, of blessing the Neva in presence of the Czar and other members of the Imperial Family; but, as the performance has been described by numerous writers, we shall not further refer to it.
The Marquis of Segur, a zealous Catholic, relates that, in 1866, when the Pope was seriously ill, Mdlle. Leautard, a lady of Marseilles, resolved to offer up her life in place of his Holiness, and sought his permission to do so. The Pope, after long silence, placed his hand on her head, and said, "Go, my daughter, and do what the Spirit of God has suggested to you." Next day, on receiving the consecrated wafer, the lady fervently expressed her desire to die, and was immediately seized with a sharp pain, which carried her off three days afterwards. The Pope, on hearing of her death, exclaimed, "So soon accepted!" The Marquis believes this sacrifice accounted for the Pope's prolonged life.
A Hohenzollern legend was brought to mind in Germany through a serious illness of the Emperor, who, however, fortunately recovered, and continues to adorn his exalted position. The legend runs thus:—
Many years ago there was a Hohenzollern Princess (a widow with two children), who fell in love with a foreign Prince—rich, handsome, and brave. She sent him a proposition of marriage; but the Prince declined her suit, explaining that "four eyes" stood between him and acceptance. He referred to his parents, whose consent he could not obtain. But the Princess understood him to refer to the four eyes of her two children—to his unwillingness, in fact, to become a stepfather. So she suffocated the infant obstacles, and wrote to her lover that the way was clear. He was stricken with horror at the cruel deed, and died cursing her bloodthirsty rashness. The Princess, in her turn, became overwhelmed with remorse. After lingering a day or two in indescribable anguish, she too died, and was buried under the old castle at Berlin; but not to rest quietly in her unhappy grave. At rare intervals she appears at midnight, clad in white, gliding, ghost like, about the castle; and the apparition always forebodes the death of some member of the Hohenzollern family. The white lady has been seen, we are assured, three times within about a year—once just before the death of Prince Albrecht; again, to announce the end of Prince Adalbert; and the last time while Queen Elizabeth lay on her deathbed.
We have shown that the great Napoleon Bonaparte was superstitious in the highest degree; and so was his mother before him. Both believed in fate or destiny. She was surrounded by luxury and pomp; but her solicitude about her son, and the belief that his glory could not last, rendered her miserable. The divorce of Josephine, the retreat from Russia, the exile to Elba, the final overthrow at Waterloo, and the banishment to St. Helena, were heavy blows; but she was prepared for them. While the sun of the Emperor's fortunes blazed in the zenith, she shivered under the shadow of her fear; and her fear proved prophetic. She witnessed the downfall of every one of her children; but she bore her adversity with dignity and resignation, and died in her eighty-seventh year.
Indeed not only were Napoleon and his mother superstitious, but the whole Bonaparte family were believers in fate. Napoleon III. says in his will, "With regard to my son" (the late Prince Imperial, who perished at the hands of Zulus), "let him keep, as a talisman, the seal attached to my watch." True to the traditions of his family, the young Prince put trust in amulets. When the Prince's body was discovered (here we have a double case of superstition), it lay stripped of all its clothing, but there were left with the body a locket and a gold amulet, admittedly the seal bequeathed to him by his Imperial father, as the Zulus were afraid they were charms—articles they stand in great dread of.
Thinking of Prince Napoleon's untimely death, brings the Zulu character to remembrance. Among the Zulus a belief prevails that kindly and angry spirits hover around them—the former endeavouring to do them good; the latter trying to do them harm. Zulus also believe in divine smoke, witchcraft, and dreams. Whenever a charge of witchcraft is made against any one, no mercy is shown him. Such an accusation affords a pretext to a king or chief for getting rid of an obnoxious person and acquiring his substance. The Inyanga, like our witch-finder of old, has no difficulty in bringing home guilt to the unfortunate accused. A Zulu judge, before pronouncing sentence, pretends that he consults the divine oracles of his nation. When a Zulu sneezes he says, "I am blessed, and the ancestral spirit is with me." So he praises the family manes, and ends by asking blessings, such as cattle and wives.
In September 1879 official news came from Sir Garnet Wolseley that King Cetewayo had been captured, that the Zulu war had come to an end, and that the following were among the terms of peace, signed by the chiefs of Zululand: "I will not tolerate the employment of witch doctors, or the practice known as smelling out, or any practices of witchcraft."
Not unfrequently the representatives of Great Britain, in concluding peace with heathen nations, have, as in the case of the Zulus, to respect the superstitious notions of the people they have to deal with, so as to make the agreement more binding in the minds of the heathen contracting parties.
On one occasion the Ashantees put up a fetish to stop the advance of the British army. It consisted of a kid transfixed through the throat and heart, and staked to the ground; six cooking-pots, inverted, were stuck on stakes round the kid, and, a few feet from it, another kid was found buried: this, according to Ashantee custom, had been buried alive. A similar fetish had been put up at a river near Moinsey to stop the British troops. The advancing army found almost every turn of the road to Coomassie strewn with fetish documents. Near Fommanah nearly every tree had a white rag fastened to it as a charm. On the King hearing of the British victory, he went to pour libation to the spirits of his ancestors, and to ask their assistance against the enemies of his country.
The Shah of Persia has numerous talismans, exceeding two hundred in number. We give details of four of them. One is a gold star, supposed to have been possessed by the legendary Rustem. It is called Merzoum, and has the reputation of making conspirators immediately confess. When the Shah's brother was accused of treason some time since, the star was shown him, and, terrified and overcome by remorse, he avowed his iniquities. His confession was, of course, attributed to its efficacy. He was banished. The next important talisman is a cube of amber, which, we are told, fell from heaven in Mohammed's time. It is supposed to render the Shah invulnerable, and he wears it about his neck. Another is a little box of gold, set in emeralds, and blessed by the Prophet. It renders the Royal Family invisible as long as they are celibates. Another is a diamond set in one of the Shah's scimitars, which renders its possessor invincible; and there is also a dagger with the same property, but it is ordained that those who use it shall perish by it. It is therefore carefully kept shut up in a sandal-wood box, on which is engraved a verse of the Koran.
As of old, superstition prevails all over India. Semi-religious ceremonies are gone through in seasons of drought, to procure rain. At other times means are taken to propitiate the gods, to subdue enemies, and to secure good fortune to individuals, households, and communities. There are Indian princes who regularly consult their fortune-tellers regarding public and private affairs.
A curious bathing fair was held at Ajudhia, in Oude, in February 1878. When a peculiar conjunction of the planets takes place (which occurs only once in eighty years), the natives rush in crowds to the river, as they believe that if they manage to bathe and go through certain ceremonies in four minutes and a half, they will obtain the remission of their own sins and those of millions of their ancestors. On this occasion the rush to the river turned out so great that numbers were trodden under foot, and sixty-five persons lost their lives.
The mysterious lights in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which are believed by mariners to be warnings of great tempests and shipwreck, were unusually brilliant in 1878. It is said to be a fact, established by the experience of a century, that when these lights blaze brightly in the summer nights, the phenomena are invariably followed by great storms. They give the appearance to spectators on the shore of a ship on fire. The fire itself seems to consist of blue and yellow flames, now dancing high above the water, and then flickering, paling, and dying out, only to spring up again with fresh brilliancy. If a boat approaches, it flits away, moving further out, and is pursued in vain. The lights are plainly visible from the shore from midnight until two in the morning. They appear to come from the sea shoreward, and at dawn retire gradually, and are lost in the morning mist. Paradis, the French pilot, who took charge of the British Fleet under Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker when it sailed up the St. Lawrence to seize Quebec in 1711, declared he saw one of these lights before that armada was shattered by a dreadful gale on the 22d of August. The light, he said, danced before his vessel all the way up the gulf. Every great wreck that has taken place there since Sir Hovenden Walker's calamity has been preceded, if tradition is to be believed, by these mysterious lights, and they have thus warned the mariner of fatal storms.
In July last (1879) a woman, known as the Queen of Hearts, who had attained the age of one hundred years, and who had been known for three quarters of a century as a fortune-teller, died in Vienna. Apparently gifted with the faculty of prescience, intimately acquainted with the shuffling of cards, deeply learned in the lore of the prophetic lines traced by the graver of Fate upon human hands and feet, this lady devoted her days to the unravelling of the tangled secrets of the future, charging those whose curiosity prompted them to pry into the regions of the unknown, five ducats per revelation. As many of the leading ladies of the Austrian aristocracy were among her clients, and the accuracy of her forecasts having earned for her a mighty reputation throughout the realms of the Hapsburgs, she contrived to amass a handsome fortune. "Herz-Dame" was a person of extraordinary acumen, and a physiognomist of the highest order. Her sources of private information were numerous, and her ramifications are believed to have permeated every class of Austrian society.
A comparatively recent instance of superstition in America is that of an old Indian woman being suspected of witchcraft, and stoned to death in Pine Nut Valley, Nevada; and in another part of the world, far separated from America, a similar act of superstition was committed, in which a human creature fell a victim to the gross delusions of her neighbours. We refer to a case of witch-burning in Russia. In October 1879 seventeen peasants were tried for burning to death a supposed witch, who resided near Nijni-Novgorod. Of the accused persons, fourteen were acquitted, and three sentenced to church penances—sentences which, if rigorously carried out, will not be easily borne.