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Title: Strange Survivals - Some Chapters in the History of Man
Author: Baring-Gould, S. (Sabine)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: RIDGE TILE, TOTNES.



  Some Chapters in the History of Man




  Methuen & Co.

_Printed by Cowan & Co., Limited, Perth._



     I. ON FOUNDATIONS           1

    II. ON GABLES               36

   III. OVENS                   62

    IV. BEDS                    84

     V. STRIKING A LIGHT       110

    VI. UMBRELLAS              129

   VII. DOLLS                  139

  VIII. REVIVALS               149


     X. RIDDLES                220

    XI. THE GALLOWS            238

   XII. HOLES                  252

  XIII. RAISING THE HAT        282




On Foundations.

When the writer was a parson in Yorkshire, he had in his parish a
blacksmith blessed, or afflicted--which shall we say?--with seven
daughters and not a son. Now the parish was a newly constituted one,
and it had a temporary licensed service room; but during the week
before the newly erected church was to be consecrated, the blacksmith’s
wife presented her husband with a boy--his first boy. Then the
blacksmith came to the parson, and the following conversation ensued:--

Blacksmith: “Please, sir, I’ve gotten a little lad at last, and I want
to have him baptised on Sunday.”

Parson: “Why, Joseph, put it off till Thursday, when the new church
will be consecrated; then your little man will be the first child
christened in the new font in the new church.”

Blacksmith (shuffling with his feet, hitching his shoulders, looking
down): “Please, sir, folks say that t’ fust child as is baptised i’ a
new church is bound to dee (die). T’ old un (the devil) claims it. Now,
sir, I’ve seven little lasses, and but one lad. If this were a lass
again ’twouldn’t ’a’ mattered; but as it’s a lad--well, sir, I won’t
risk it.”

A curious instance this of a very widespread and very ancient
superstition, the origin of which we shall arrive at presently.

In the first place, let us see the several forms it takes.

All over the north of Europe the greatest aversion is felt to be the
first to enter a new building, or to go over a newly erected bridge.
If to do this is not everywhere and in all cases thought to entail
death, it is considered supremely unlucky. Several German legends
are connected with this superstition. The reader, if he has been to
Aix-la-Chapelle, has doubtless had the rift in the great door pointed
out to him, and has been told how it came there. The devil and the
architect made a compact that the first should draw the plans, and
the second gain the _Kudos_; and the devil’s wage was to be that he
should receive the first who crossed the threshold of the church when
completed. When the building was finished, the architect’s conscience
smote him, and he confessed the compact to the bishop. “We’ll do him,”
said the prelate; that is to say, he said something to this effect in
terms more appropriate to the century in which he lived, and to his
high ecclesiastical office.

When the procession formed to enter the minster for the consecration,
the devil lurked in ambush behind a pillar, and fixed his wicked
eye on a fine fat and succulent little chorister as his destined
prey. But alas for his hopes! this fat little boy had been given his
instructions, and, as he neared the great door, loosed the chain of a
wolf and sent it through. The evil one uttered a howl of rage, snatched
up the wolf and rushed away, giving the door a kick, as he passed it,
that split the solid oak.

The castle of Gleichberg, near Rönskild, was erected by the devil in
one night. The Baron of Gleichberg was threatened by his foes, and he
promised to give the devil his daughter if he erected the castle before
cockcrow. The nurse overheard the compact, and, just as the castle was
finished, set fire to a stack of corn. The cock, seeing the light,
thought morning had come, and crowed before the last stone was added to
the walls. The devil in a rage carried off the old baron--and served
him right--instead of the maiden. We shall see presently how this story
works into our subject.

At Frankfort may be seen, on the Sachsenhäuser Bridge, an iron rod with
a gilt cock on the top. This is the reason: An architect undertook
to build the bridge within a fixed time, but three days before that
on which he had contracted to complete it, the bridge was only half
finished. In his distress he invoked the devil, who undertook the job
if he might receive the first who crossed the bridge. The work was
done by the appointed day, and then the architect drove a cock over
the bridge. The devil, who had reckoned on getting a human being, was
furious; he tore the poor cock in two, and flung it with such violence
at the bridge that he knocked two holes in it, which to the present day
cannot be closed, for if stones are put in by day they are torn out by
night. In memorial of the event, the image of the cock was set up on
the bridge.

Sometimes the owner of a house or barn calls in the devil, and forfeits
his life or his soul by so doing, which falls to the devil when the
building is complete.

And now, without further quotation of examples, what do they mean? They
mean this--that in remote times a sacrifice of some sort was offered
at the completion of a building; but not only at the completion--the
foundation of a house, a castle, a bridge, a town, even of a church,
was laid in blood. In heathen times a sacrifice was offered to the god
under whose protection the building was placed; in Christian times,
wherever much of old Paganism lingered on, the sacrifice continued,
but was given another signification. It was said that no edifice would
stand firmly unless the foundations were laid in blood. Some animal was
placed under the corner-stone--a dog, a sow, a wolf, a black cock, a
goat, sometimes the body of a malefactor who had been executed for his

Here is a ghastly story, given by Thiele in his “Danish Folk-tales.”
Many years ago, when the ramparts were being raised round Copenhagen,
the wall always sank, so that it was not possible to get it to stand
firm. They, therefore, took a little innocent girl, placed her in a
chair by a table, and gave her playthings and sweetmeats. While she
thus sat enjoying herself, twelve masons built an arch over her,
which, when completed, they covered with earth to the sound of drums
and trumpets. By this process the walls were made solid.

When, a few years ago, the Bridge Gate of the Bremen city walls was
demolished, the skeleton of a child was actually found embedded in the

Heinrich Heine says on this subject: “In the Middle Ages the opinion
prevailed that when any building was to be erected something living
must be killed, in the blood of which the foundation had to be laid,
by which process the building would be secured from falling; and in
ballads and traditions the remembrance is still preserved how children
and animals were slaughtered for the purpose of strengthening large
buildings with their blood.”

The story of the walls of Copenhagen comes to us only as a tradition,
but the horrible truth must be told that in all probability it is no
invention of the fancy, but a fact.

Throughout Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and North Germany, tradition
associates some animal with every church, and it goes by the name of
Kirk-Grim. These Kirk-Grims are the goblin apparitions of the beasts
that were buried under the foundation-stones of the churches. It is the
same in Devonshire--the writer will not say at the present day, but
certainly forty or fifty years ago. Indeed, when he was a boy he drew
up a list of the Kirk-Grims that haunted all the neighbouring parishes.
To the church of the parish in which he lived, belonged two white sows
yoked together with a silver chain; to another, a black dog; to a
third, a ghostly calf; to a fourth, a white lamb.

Afzelius, in his collection of Swedish folk-tales, says: “Heathen
superstition did not fail to show itself in the construction of
Christian churches. In laying the foundations, the people retained
something of their former religion, and sacrificed to their old
deities, whom they could not forget, some animal, which they buried
alive, either under the foundation or without the wall. The spectre of
this animal is said to wander about the churchyard at night, and is
called the Kirk-Grim. A tradition has also been preserved that under
the altar of the first Christian churches, a lamb was usually buried,
which imparted security and duration to the edifice. This is an emblem
of the true Church Lamb--the Saviour, who is the Corner-Stone of His
Church. When anyone enters a church at a time when there is no service,
he may chance to see a little lamb spring across the quire and vanish.
This is the church-lamb. When it appears to a person in the churchyard,
particularly to the grave-digger, it is said to forbode the death of a

Thiele, in his “Danish Folk-tales,” says much the same of the churches
in Denmark. He assures us that every church there has its Kirk-Grim,
which dwells either in the tower, or in some other place of concealment.

What lies at the base of all stories of haunted houses is the same
idea. All old mansions had their foundations laid in blood. This fact
is, indeed, forgotten, but it is not forgotten that a ghostly guard
watches the house, who is accounted for in various ways, and very often
a crime is attributed to one of the former inhabitants to account for
the walking of the ghost. By no means infrequently the crime, which,
in the popular mind, accounts for the ghost, can be demonstrated
historically not to have taken place. Again, in a great number of
cases, the spectre attached to a building is not that of a human being
at all, but of some animal, and then tradition is completely at a loss
to explain this phenomenon.

The proverb says that there is a skeleton in every man’s house, and the
proverb is a statement of what at one time was a fact. Every house had
its skeleton, and every house was intended to have its skeleton; and
what was more, every house was designed to have not only its skeleton,
but its ghost.

We are going back to heathen times, when we say that at the
foundation-stone laying of every house, castle, or bridge, provision
was made to give to each its presiding, haunting, protecting spirit.
The idea, indeed, of providing every building with its spectre, as
its spiritual guard, was not the primary idea, it grew later, out of
the original one, the characteristically Pagan idea, of a sacrifice
associated with the beginning of every work of importance.

When the primeval savage lived in a hut of poles over which he
stretched skins, he thought little of his house, which could be carried
from place to place with ease, but directly he began to build of stone,
or raise earthworks as fortifications, he considered himself engaged on
a serious undertaking. He was disturbing the face of Mother Earth, he
was securing to himself in permanency a portion of that surface which
had been given by her to all her children in common. Partly with the
notion of offering a propitiatory sacrifice to the earth, and partly
also with the idea of securing to himself for ever a portion of soil by
some sacramental act, the old Pagan laid the foundations of his house
and fortress in blood.

Every great work was initiated with sacrifice. If a man started on
a journey, he first made an offering. A warlike expedition was not
undertaken till an oblation had been made, and the recollection of
this lingered on in an altered form of superstition, _viz._, that that
side would win the day which was the first to shed blood, a belief
alluded to in the “Lady of the Lake.” A ship could not be launched
without a sacrifice, and the baptism of a vessel nowadays with a bottle
of wine is a relic of the breaking of the neck of a human victim and
the suffusion of the prow with blood, just as the burial of a bottle
with coins at the present day under a foundation stone is the faded
reminiscence of the immuring of a human victim.

Building, in early ages, was not so lightly taken in hand as at
present, and the principles of architectural construction were ill
understood. If the walls showed tokens of settlement, the reason
supposed was that the earth had not been sufficiently propitiated, and
that she refused to bear the superimposed burden.

Plutarch says that when Romulus was about to found the Eternal City,
by the advice of Etruscan Augurs, he opened a deep pit, and cast into
it the “first fruits of everything that is reckoned good by use, or
necessary by nature,” and before it was closed by a great stone,
Faustulus and Quinctilius were killed and laid under it. This place
was the Comitium, and from it as a centre, Romulus described the
circuit of the walls.[1] The legend of Romulus slaying Remus because
he leaned over the low walls is probably a confused recollection of
the sacrifice of the brothers who were laid under the bounding wall.
According to Pomponius Mela, the brothers Philæni were buried alive
at the Carthaginian frontier. A dispute having arisen between the
Carthaginians and Cyrenæans about their boundaries, it was agreed that
deputies should start at a fixed time from each of the cities, and
that the place of their meeting should thenceforth form the limit of
demarcation. The Philæni departed from Carthage, and advanced much
farther than the Cyrenæans. The latter accused them of having set out
before the time agreed upon, but at length consented to accept the
spot which they had reached as a boundary line, if the Philæni would
submit to be buried alive there. To this the brothers consented. Here
the story is astray of the truth. Really, the Philæni were buried at
the confines of the Punic territory, to be the ghostly guardians of
the frontier. There can be little doubt that elsewhere burials took
place at boundaries, and it is possible that the whipping of boys
on gang-days or Rogations may have been a mediæval and Christian
mitigation of an old sacrifice. Certainly there are many legends of
spectres that haunt and watch frontiers, and these legends point to
some such practice. But let us return to foundations.

In the ballad of the “Cout of Keeldar,” in the minstrelsy of the
Border, it is said,

  “And here beside the mountain flood
     A massy castle frowned,
   Since first the Pictish race in blood
     The haunted pile did found.”

In a note, Sir Walter Scott alludes to the tradition that the
foundation stones of Pictish raths were bathed in human gore.

A curious incident occurs in the legend of St. Columba, founder of
Iona, which shows how deep a hold the old custom had taken. The
original idea of a sacrifice to propitiate the earth was gone, but the
idea that appropriation of a site was not possible without one took
its place. The Saint is said to have buried one of his monks, Oran by
name, alive, under the foundations of his new abbey, because, as fast
as he built, the spirits of the soil demolished by night what he raised
by day. In the life of the Saint by O’Donnell (Trias Thaumat.) the
horrible truth is disguised. The story is told thus:--On arriving at Hy
(Iona), St. Columba said, that whoever willed to die first would ratify
the right of the community to the island by taking corporal possession
of it. Then, for the good of the community, Oran consented to die. That
is all told, the dismal sequel, the immuring of the living monk, is
passed over. More recent legend, unable to understand the burial alive
of a monk, explains it in another way. Columba interred him because he
denied the resurrection.

It is certain that the usage remained in practice long after Europe had
become nominally Christian; how late it continued we shall be able to
show presently.

Grimm, in his “German Mythology,” says: “It was often considered
necessary to build living animals, even human beings, into the
foundations on which any edifice was reared, as an oblation to the
earth to induce her to bear the superincumbent weight it was proposed
to lay on her. By this horrible practice it was supposed that the
stability of the structure was assured, as well as other advantages
gained.” Good weather is still thought, in parts of Germany, to be
secured by building a live cock into a wall, and cattle are prevented
from straying by burying a living blind dog under the threshold of a
stable. The animal is, of course, a substitute for a human victim, just
as the bottle and coins are the modern substitute for the live beast.

In France, among the peasantry, a new farmhouse is not entered on
till a cock has been killed, and its blood sprinkled in the rooms. In
Poitou, the explanation given is that if the living are to dwell in
the house, the dead must have first passed through it. And in Germany,
after the interment of a living being under a foundation was abandoned,
it was customary till comparatively recently to place an empty coffin
under the foundations of a house.

This custom was by no means confined to Pagan Europe. We find traces of
it elsewhere. It is alluded to by Joshua in his curse on Jericho which
he had destroyed, “Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up,
and buildeth this city Jericho: _he shall lay the foundation thereof in
his firstborn_, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of
it.” (Josh. vi. 26.)

The idea of a sacrifice faded out with the spread of Christianity, and
when tenure of soil and of buildings became fixed and usual, the notion
of securing it by blood disappeared; but in its place rose the notion
of securing a spiritual protector to a building, sacred or profane, and
until quite late, the belief remained that weak foundations could be
strengthened and be made to stand by burying a living being, generally
human, under them. The thought of a sacrifice to the Earth goddess was
quite lost, but not the conviction that by a sacrifice the cracking
walls could be secured.

The vast bulk of the clergy in the early Middle Ages were imbued with
the superstitions of the race and age to which they belonged. They were
of the people. They were not reared in seminaries, and so cut off from
the influences of ignorant and superstitious surroundings. They were
a little ahead of their fellows in culture, but only a little. The
mediæval priest allowed the old Pagan customs to continue unrebuked,
he half believed in them himself. One curious and profane incident of
the close of the fifteenth century may be quoted to show to how late
a date heathenism lingered mixed up with Christian ideas. An Italian
contemporary historian says, that when Sessa was besieged by the King
of Naples, and ran short of water, the inhabitants put a consecrated
host in the mouth of an ass, and buried the ass alive in the porch of
the church. Scarcely was this horrible ceremony completed, before the
windows of heaven were opened, and the rain poured down.[2]

In 1885, Holsworthy parish church was restored, and in the course of
restoration the south-west angle wall of the church was taken down. In
it, embedded in the mortar and stone, was found a skeleton. The wall of
this portion of the church was faulty, and had settled. According to
the account given by the masons who found the ghastly remains, there
was no trace of a tomb, but every appearance of the person having been
buried alive, and hurriedly. A mass of mortar was over the mouth, and
the stones were huddled about the corpse as though hastily heaped about
it, then the wall was leisurely proceeded with.

The parish church of Kirkcudbright was partially taken down in 1838,
when, in removing the lintel of the west doorhead, a skull of a man was
found built into the wall above the doorway. This parish church was
only erected in 1730, so that this seems to show a dim reminiscence, at
a comparatively recent date, of the obligation to place some relic of a
man in the wall to insure its stability.

In the walls of the ancient castle of Henneberg, the seat of a line
of powerful counts, is a relieving arch, and the story goes that a
mason engaged on the castle was induced by the offer of a sum of money
to yield his child to be built into it. The child was given a cake,
and the father stood on a ladder superintending the building. When
the last stone was put in, the child screamed in the wall, and the
man, overwhelmed with self-reproach, lost his hold, fell from the
ladder, and broke his neck. A similar story is told of the castle of
Liebenstein. A mother sold her child for the purpose. As the wall rose
about the little creature, it cried out, “Mother, I still see you!”
then, later, “Mother, I can hardly see you!” and lastly, “Mother, I see
you no more!” In the castle of Reichenfels, also, a child was immured,
and the superstitious conviction of the neighbourhood is, that were the
stones that enclose it removed, the castle would fall.

In the Eifel district, rising out of a gorge is a ridge on which stand
the ruins of two extensive castles, Ober and Nieder Manderscheid.
According to popular tradition, a young damsel was built into the wall
of Nieder Manderscheid, yet with an opening left, through which she was
fed as long as she was able to eat. In 1844 the wall at this point was
broken through, and a cavity was discovered in the depth of the wall,
in which a human skeleton actually was discovered.

The Baron of Winneburg, in the Eifel, ordered a master mason to erect
a strong tower whilst he was absent. On his return he found that the
tower had not been built, and he threatened to dismiss the mason.
That night someone came to the man and said to him: “I will help you
to complete the tower in a few days, if you will build your little
daughter into the foundations.” The master consented, and at midnight
the child was laid in the wall, and the stones built over her. That is
why the tower of Winneburg is so strong that it cannot be overthrown.

When the church of Blex, in Oldenburg, was building, the foundations
gave way, being laid in sand. Accordingly, the authorities of the
village crossed the Weser, and bought a child from a poor mother at
Bremerleke, and built it alive into the foundations. Two children were
thus immured in the basement of the wall of Sandel, one in that of
Ganderkesee. At Butjadeirgen, a portion of the dyke gave way, therefore
a boy named Hugo was sunk alive in the foundations of the dam. In 1615
Count Anthony Günther of Oldenburg, on visiting a dyke in process of
construction, found the workmen about to bury an infant under it. The
count interfered, saved the child, reprimanded the dam-builders, and
imprisoned the mother who had sold her babe for the purpose. Singularly
enough, this same count is declared by tradition to have buried a
living child in the foundations of his castle at Oldenburg.

When Detinetz was built on the Danube, the Slavonic settlers sent out
into the neighbourhood to capture the first child encountered. A boy
was taken, and walled into the foundations of their town. Thence the
city takes its name, _dijete_ is the Slavonic for boy.

In the life of Merlin, as given by Nennius and by Geoffrey of Monmouth,
we are told that Vortigern tried to build a castle, but that the
walls gave way as fast as he erected them. He consulted the wise men,
and they told him that his foundations could only be made to stand
if smeared with the blood of a fatherless boy. Thus we get the same
superstition among Celts, Slaves, Teutons, and Northmen.

Count Floris III. of Holland, who married Ada, daughter of Henry, the
son of David, King of Scotland, visited the island of Walcheren in
1157, to receive the homage of the islanders. On his return to Holland
he despatched a number of experienced workmen to repair the sea-walls
which were in a dilapidated condition. In one place where the dam
crossed a quicksand, they were unable to make it stand till they had
sunk a live dog in the quicksand. The dyke is called Hontsdamm to this
day. Usually a live horse was buried in such places, and this horse
haunts the sea-walls; if an incautious person mounts it, the spectre
beast plunges into the sea and dissolves into foam.

The dog or horse is the substitute for a child. A few centuries earlier
the dyke builders would have reared it over an infant buried alive.
The trace of the substitution remains in some folk-tales. An architect
promises the devil the soul of the first person who crosses the
threshold of the house, or church, or goes over the bridge he has built
with the devil’s aid. The evil one expects a human victim, and is put
off with a wolf, or a dog, or a cock. At Aix-la-Chapelle, as we have
seen, a wolf took the place of a human victim: at Frankfort a cock.

In Yorkshire, the Kirk-Grim is usually a huge black dog with eyes like
saucers, and is called a padfoot. It generally frequents the church
lanes; and he who sees it knows that he must die within the year.
And now--to somewhat relieve this ghastly subject--I may tell an odd
incident connected with it, to which the writer contributed something.

On a stormy night in November, he was out holding over his head a big
umbrella, that had a handle of white bone. A sudden gust--and the
umbrella was whisked out of his hand, and carried away into infinite
darkness and mist of rain.

That same night a friend of his was walking down a very lonely
church lane, between hedges and fields, without a house near. In the
loneliest, most haunted portion of this lane, his feet, his pulsation
and his breath were suddenly arrested by the sight of a great black
creature, occupying the middle of the way, shaking itself impatiently,
moving forward, then bounding on one side, then running to the other.
No saucer eyes, it is true, were visible, but it had a white nose that,
to the horrified traveller, seemed lit with a supernatural phosphoric
radiance. Being a man of intelligence, he would not admit to himself
that he was confronted by the padfoot; he argued with himself that
what he saw was a huge Newfoundland dog. So he addressed it in broad
Yorkshire: “Sith’ere, lass, don’t be troublesome. There’s a bonny dog,
let me pass. I’ve no stick. I wi’nt hurt thee. Come, lass, come, let me

At that moment a blast rushed along the lane. The black dog, monster,
padfoot, made a leap upon the terrified man, who screamed with fear. He
felt claws in him, and he grasped--an umbrella. Mine!

That this idea of human victims being required to ensure the stability
of a structure is by no means extinct, and that it constitutes a
difficulty that has to be met and overcome in the East, will be seen
from the following interesting extract from a recent number of the
_London and China Telegraph_. The writer says:--“Ever and anon the
idea gets abroad that a certain number of human bodies are wanted,
in connection with laying the foundation of some building that is in
progress; and a senseless panic ensues, and everyone fears to venture
out after nightfall. The fact that not only is no proof forthcoming of
anyone having been kidnapped, but that, on the contrary, the circle of
friends and acquaintances is complete, quite fails to allay it. But
is there ever any reasoning with superstition? The idea has somehow
got started; it is a familiar one, and it finds ready credence. Nor
is the belief confined either to race, creed, or locality. We find
it cropping up in India and Korea, in China and Malaysia, and we
have a strong impression of having read somewhere of its appearance
in Persia. Like the notions of celibacy and retreat in religion, it
is common property--the outcome, apparently, of a certain course of
thought rather than of any peculiar surroundings. The description of
the island of Solovetsk in Mr. Hepworth Dixon’s ‘Free Russia’ might
serve, _mutatis mutandis_, for a description of Pootoo; and so a report
of one of these building scares in China would serve equally well for
the Straits. When the last mail left, an idea had got abroad among the
Coolie population that a number of heads were required in laying the
foundations of some Government works at Singapore; and so there was a
general fear of venturing out after nightfall, lest the adventurer
should be pounced on and decapitated. One might have thought the ways
of the Singapore Government were better understood! That such ideas
should get abroad about the requirements of Government even in China
or Annam is curious enough; but the British Government of the Straits
above all others! Yet there it is; the natives had got it into their
heads that the Government stood in need of 960 human heads to ensure
the safe completion of certain public works, and that 480 of the
number were still wanting. Old residents in Shanghai will remember
the outbreak of a very similar panic at Shanghai, in connection with
the building of the cathedral. The idea got abroad that the Municipal
Council wanted a certain number of human bodies to bury beneath the
foundation of that edifice, and a general dread of venturing out after
nightfall--especially of going past the cathedral compound--prevailed
for weeks, with all kinds of variations and details. A similar notion
was said to be at the bottom of the riots which broke out last autumn
at Söul. Foreigners--the missionaries for choice--were accused of
wanting children for some mysterious purpose, and the mob seized and
decapitated in the public streets nine Korean officials who were
said to have been parties to kidnapping victims to supply the want.
This, however, seems more akin to the curious desire for infantile
victims which was charged against missionaries in the famous Honan
proclamation which preceded the Tientsin massacre, and which was one
of the items in the indictment against the Roman Catholics on the
occasion of that outbreak. Sometimes children’s brains are wanted for
medicine, sometimes their eyes are wanted to compound material for
photography. But these, although cognate, are not precisely similar
superstitions to the one which now has bestirred the population of
Singapore. A case came to us, however, last autumn, from Calcutta,
which is so exactly on all fours with this latest manifestation, that
it would almost seem as if the idea had travelled like an epidemic
and broken out afresh in a congenial atmosphere. Four villagers of
the Dinagepore district were convicted, last September, of causing
the death of two Cabulis and injuring a third, for the precise reason
that they had been kidnapping children to be sacrificed in connection
with the building of a railway bridge over the Mahanuddi. A rumour
had got abroad that such proceedings were in contemplation, and when
these Cabulis came to trade with the villagers they were denounced as
kidnappers and mobbed. Two were killed outright, their bodies being
flung into the river; while the third, after being severely handled,
escaped by hiding himself. We are not aware whether the origin of
this curious fancy has ever been investigated and explained, for it
may be taken for granted that, like other superstitions, it has its
origin in some forgotten custom or faded belief of which a burlesque
tradition only remains. This is not the place to go into a disquisition
on the origin of human sacrifice; but it is not difficult to believe
that, to people who believe in its efficacy, the idea of offering up
human beings to propitiate the deity, when laying the foundations of
a public edifice, would be natural enough. Whether the notion which
crops up now and again, all over Asia, really represents the tradition
of a practice--whether certain monarchs ever did bury human bodies,
as we bury newspapers and coins, beneath the foundations of their
palaces and temples, is a question we must leave others to answer. It
is conceivable that they may have done so, as an extravagant form of
sacrifice; and it is also conceivable that the abounding capacity of
man for distorting superstitious imagery, may have come to transmute
the idea of sacrificing human beings as a measure of propitiation, into
that of employing human bodies as actual elements in the foundation
itself. It is possible that the inhabitants of Dinagepore conserve
the more ideal and spiritual view, which the practical Chinese mind
has materialised, as in the recent instance at Singapore. Anyhow, the
idea is sufficiently wide-spread and curious to deserve a word of
examination as well as of passing record.”


When the north wall of the parish church of Chulmleigh in North Devon
was taken down a few years ago--a wall of Perpendicular date--in it was
found laid a very early carved figure of Christ crucified to a vine,
or interlacing tree, such as is seen in so-called Runic monuments.
The north wall having been falling in the fifteenth century, had been
re-erected, and this figure was laid in it, and the wall erected over
it, just as, in the same county, about the same time, the wall of
Holsworthy Church was built over a human being. At Chulmleigh there was
an advance in civilisation. The image was laid over the wall in place
of the living victim.

When, in 1842, the remains of a Romano-Batavian temple were explored
at Stinvezand, near Rysbergen, a singular mummy-like object was found
under the foundation. This was doubtless a substitute for the human

The stubborn prejudice which still exists in all parts against a first
burial in a new cemetery or churchyard is due to the fact that in Pagan
times the first to be buried was the victim, and in mediæval times was
held to be the perquisite of the devil, who stepped into the place of
the Pagan deity.

Every so-called Devil’s Bridge has some story associated with it
pointing to sacrifice, and sometimes to the substitution of an animal
for the human victim. The almost invariable story is that the devil
had been invoked and promised his aid, if given the first life that
passed over the bridge. On the completion of the structure a goat, or
a dog, or a rabbit is driven over, and is torn to pieces by the devil.
At Pont-la-Ville, near Courbières, is a four-arched Devil’s Bridge,
where six mice, then six rats, and lastly six cats, were driven across,
according to the popular story, in place of the eighteen human souls
demanded by the Evil One.

At Cahors, in Ouercy, is a singularly fine bridge over the Lot, with
three towers on it. The lower side of the middle tower could never
be finished, it always gave way at one angle. The story goes that
the devil was defrauded of his due--the soul of the architect--when
he helped to build the bridge, and so declared that the bridge never
should be finished. Of late years the tower has been completed, and
in token that modern skill has triumphed, the Evil One has been
represented on the angle, carved in stone. The legend shows that the
vulgar thought that the bridge should have been laid in blood, and as
it was not so, concluded that the faulty tower was due to the neglect
of the Pagan usage.

The black dog that haunts Peel Castle, and the bloodhound of Launceston
Castle, are the spectres of the animals buried under their walls, and
so the White Ladies and luminous children, who are rumoured to appear
in certain old mansions, are the faded recollections of the unfortunate
sacrifices offered when these houses were first reared, not, perhaps,
the present buildings, but the original manor-halls before the Conquest.

At Coatham, in Yorkshire, is a house where a little child is seen
occasionally--it vanishes when pursued. In some German castles the
apparition of a child is called the “Still child;” it is deadly pale,
white-clothed, with a wreath on the head. At Falkenstein, near Erfurth,
the appearance is that of a little maiden of ten, white as a sheet,
with long double plaits of hair. A white baby haunts Lünisberg, near
Aerzen. I have heard of a house in the West of England, where on a
pane of glass, every cold morning, is found the scribbling of little
fingers. However often the glass be cleaned, the marks of the ghostly
fingers return. The Cauld Lad of Hilton Castle in the valley of Wear
is well known. He is said to wail at night:

  “Wae’s me, wae’s me,
   The acorn’s not yet
   Fallen from the tree
   That’s to grow the wood,
   That’s to make the cradle,
   That’s to rock the bairn,
   That’s to grow to a man,
   That’s to lay me.”

At Guilsland, in Cumberland, is another Cauld Lad; he is deadly white,
and appears ever shivering with cold, and his teeth chattering.

An allied apparition is that of the Radiant Boy. Lord Castlereagh is
said to have seen one, a spectre, which the owner of the castle where
he saw it admitted had been visible to many others. Dr. Kerner mentions
a very similar story, wherein an advocate and his wife were awakened by
a noise and a light, and saw a beautiful child enveloped in a sort of
glory. I have heard of a similar appearance in a Lincolnshire house.
A story was told me, second-hand, the other day, of a house where
such a child was seen, which always disappeared at the hearth, and
sometimes, instead of the child, little white hands were observed held
up appealingly above the hearthstone. The stone was taken up, quite
recently, and some bones found under it, which were submitted to an
eminent comparative anatomist, who pronounced them to be those of a

Mrs. Crowe, in her “Night Side of Nature,” gives an account of such
an apparition from an eye-witness, dated 1824. “Soon after we went to
bed, we fell asleep: it might be between one and two in the morning
when I awoke. I observed that the fire was totally extinguished; but,
although that was the case, and we had no light, I saw a glimmer in
the centre of the room, which suddenly increased to a bright flame.
I looked out, apprehending that something had caught fire, when, to
my amazement, I beheld a beautiful boy standing by my bedside, in
which position he remained some minutes, fixing his eyes upon me with
a mild and benevolent expression. He then glided gently away towards
the side of the chimney, where it is obvious there is no possible
egress, and entirely disappeared. I found myself in total darkness,
and all remained quiet until the usual hour of rising. I declare this
to be a true account of what I saw at C---- Castle, upon my word as a

When we consider that the hearth is the centre and sacred spot of a
house, and that the chimney above it is the highest portion built,
and the most difficult to rear, it is by no means improbable that the
victim was buried under the hearthstone or jamb of the chimney. The
case already mentioned of a child’s bones having been found in this
position is by no means an isolated one.

It would be impossible to give a tithe of the stories of White Ladies
and Black Ladies and Brown Ladies who haunt old houses and castles.

The latest instance of a human being having been immured alive, of
which a record remains and which is well authenticated, is that of
Geronimo of Oran, in the wall of the fort near the gate Bab-el-oved,
of Algiers, in 1569. The fort is composed of blocks of _pise_, a
concrete made of stones, lime, and sand, mixed in certain proportions,
trodden down and rammed hard into a mould, and exposed to dry in the
sun. When thoroughly baked and solid it is turned out of the mould, and
is then ready for use. Geronimo was a Christian, who had served in a
Spanish regiment; he was taken by pirates and made over to the Dey of
Algiers. When the fort was in construction, Geronimo was put into one
of the moulds, and the concrete rammed round him (18th Sept., 1569),
and then the block was put into the walls. Don Diego de Haedo, the
contemporary author of the “Topography of Algiers,” says, “On examining
with attention the blocks of pise which form the walls of the fort, a
block will be observed in the north wall of which the surface has sunk
in, and looks as if it had been disturbed; for the body in decaying
left a hollow in the block, which has caused the sinkage.”

On December 27, 1853, the block was extracted. The old fort was
demolished to make room for the modern “Fort des vingt-quatre-heures,”
under the direction of Captain Susoni, when a petard which had been
placed beneath two or three courses of pise near the ground, exploded,
and exposed a cavity containing a human skeleton, the whole of which
was visible, from the neck to the knees, in a perfect state of
preservation. The remains, the cast of the head, and the broken block
of pise, are now in the Cathedral of Algiers.

The walls of Scutari are said also to contain the body of a victim; in
this case of a woman, who was built in, but an opening was left through
which her infant might be passed in to be suckled by her as long as
life remained in the poor creature, after which the hole was closed.

At Arta also, in the vilajet of Janina, a woman was walled into
the foundation of the bridge. The gravelly soil gave way, and it
was decided that the only means by which the substructure could be
solidified was by a human life. One of the mason’s wives brought her
husband a bowl with his dinner, when he dropped his ring into the hole
dug for the pier, and asked her to search for it. When she descended
into the pit, the masons threw in lime and stones upon her, and buried

The following story is told of several churches in Europe. The masons
could not get the walls to stand, and they resolved among themselves
to bury under them the first woman or child that came to their works.
They took oath to this effect. The first to arrive was the wife of
the master-mason, who came with the dinner. The men at once fell on
her and walled her into the foundations. One version of the story is
less gruesome. The masons had provided meat for their work, and the
wife of the master had dealt so carelessly with the provision, that
it ran out before the building was much advanced. She accordingly put
the remaining bones into a cauldron, and made a soup of vegetables.
When she brought it to the mason, he flew into a rage, and built
the cauldron and bones into the wall, as a perpetual caution to
improvident wives. This is the story told of the church of Notre Dame
at Bruges, where the cauldron and bones are supposed to be still seen
in the wall. At Tuckebrande are two basins built into the wall, and
various legends not agreeing with one another are told to account for
their presence. Perhaps these cauldrons contained the blood of victims
of some sort immured to secure the stability of the edifice.[3]

A very curious usage prevails in Roumania and Transylvania to the
present day, which is a reminiscence of the old interment in the
foundations of a house. When masons are engaged on the erection of a
new dwelling, they endeavour to catch the shadow of a stranger passing
by and wall it in, and throw in stones and mortar whilst his shadow
rests on the walls. If no one goes by to cast his shade on the stones,
the masons go in quest of a woman or child, who does not belong to the
place, and, unperceived by the person, apply a reed to the shadow,
and this reed is then immured; and it is believed that when this is
done, the woman or child thus measured will languish and die, but
luck attaches to the house. In this we see the survival of the old
confusion between soul and shade. The Manes are the shadows of the
dead. In some places it is said that a man who has sold his soul to the
devil is shadowless, because soul and shadow are one. But there are
other instances of substitution hardly less curious. In Holland have
been found immured in foundations curious objects like ninepins, but
which are really rude imitations of babes in their swaddling-bands.
When it became unlawful to bury a child, an image representing it was
laid in the wall in its place. Another usage was to immure an egg. The
egg had in it life, but undeveloped life, so that by walling it in
the principle of sacrificing a life was maintained without any shock
to human feelings. Another form of substitution was that of a candle.
From an early period the candle was burnt in place of the sacrifice
of a human victim. At Heliopolis, till the reign of Amasis, three men
were daily sacrificed; but when Amasis expelled the Hyksos kings, he
abolished these human offerings, and ordered that in their place three
candles should be burned daily on the altar. In Italy, wax figures,
sometimes figures of straw, were burnt in the place of the former
bloody sacrifices.

In the classic tale, at the birth of Meleager, the three fates were
present; Atropos foretold that he would live as long as the brand
then burning on the hearth remained unconsumed; thereupon his mother,
Althæa, snatched it from the fire, and concealed it in a chest. When,
in after years, Meleager slew one of his mother’s brothers, she, in a
paroxysm of rage and vengeance, drew forth the brand, and burnt it,
whereupon Meleager died.

In Norse mythology a similar tale is found. The Norns wandered over the
earth, and were one night given shelter by the father of Nornagest;
the child lay in a cradle, with two candles burning at the head. The
first two of the Norns bestowed luck and wealth on the child; but the
third and youngest, having been thrust from her stool in the crush,
uttered the curse, “The child shall live no longer than these candles
burn.” Instantly the eldest of the fateful sisters snatched the candles
up, extinguished them, and gave them to the mother, with a warning to
take good heed of them.

A story found in Ireland, and Cornwall, and elsewhere, is to this
effect. A man has sold himself to the devil. When the time comes for
him to die, he is in great alarm; then his wife, or a priest, persuades
the devil to let him live as long as a candle is unconsumed. At once
the candle is extinguished, and hidden where it can never be found.
It is said that a candle is immured in the chancel wall of Bridgerule
Church, no one knows exactly where. A few years ago, in a tower of St.
Osyth’s Priory, Essex, a tallow candle was discovered built in.

As the ancients associated shadow and soul, so does the superstitious
mind nowadays connect soul with flame. The corpse-candle which comes
from a churchyard and goes to the house where one is to die, and hovers
on the doorstep, is one form of this idea. In a family in the West of
England the elder of two children had died. On the night of the funeral
the parents saw a little flame come in through the key-hole and run up
to the side of the cradle where the baby lay. It hovered about it, and
presently two little flames went back through the key-hole. The baby
was then found to be dead.

In the Arabic metaphysical romance of “Yokkdan,” the hero, who is
brought up by a she-goat on a solitary island, seeks to discover the
principle of life. He finds that the soul is a whitish luminous vapour
in one of the cavities of the heart, and it burns his finger when he
touches it.

In the German household tale of “Godfather Death,” a daring man enters
a cave, where he finds a number of candles burning; each represents
a man, and when the light expires, that man whom it represents dies.
“Jack o’ lanterns” are the spirits of men who have removed landmarks.
One of Hebel’s charming Allemanic poems has reference to this

The extinguished torch represents the departed life, and in Yorkshire
it was at one time customary to bury a candle in a coffin, the modern
explanation being that the deceased needed it to light him on his road
to Paradise; but in reality it represented an extinguished life, and
probably was a substitute for the human sacrifice which in Pagan times
accompanied a burial. In almost all the old vaults opened in Woodbury
Church, Devon, candles have been found affixed to the walls. The lamps
set in graves in Italy and Greece were due to the same idea. The candle
took the place of a life, as a dog or sow in other places was killed
instead of a child.

It is curious and significant that great works of art and architecture
should be associated with tragedies. The Roslyn pillar, the Amiens rose
window, the Strassburg clock, many spires, and churches. The architect
of Cologne sold himself to the devil to obtain the plan. A master and
an apprentice carve pillars or construct windows, and because the
apprentice’s work is best, his master murders him. The mechanician of a
clock is blinded, some say killed, to prevent him from making another
like it. Perdix, for inventing the compass, was cast down a tower by

It will be remembered that the architect of Cologne Cathedral,
according to the legend, sold himself to the devil for the plan, and
forfeited his life when the building was in progress. This really means
that the man voluntarily gave himself up to death, probably to be
laid under the tower or at the foundation of the choir, to ensure the
stability of the enormous superstructure, which he supposed could not
be held up in any other way.

An inspector of dams on the Elbe, in 1813, in his “Praxis,” relates
that, as he was engaged on a peculiarly difficult dyke, an old peasant
advised him to get a child, and sink it under the foundations.

As an instance of even later date to which the belief in the necessity
of a sacrifice lingered, I may mention that, in 1843, a new bridge was
about to be built at Halle, in Germany. The people insisted to the
architect and masons that their attempt to make the piers secure was
useless, unless they first immured a living child in the basement. We
may be very confident that if only fifty years ago people could be
found so ignorant and so superstitious as to desire to commit such an
atrocious crime, they would not have been restrained in the Middle
Ages from carrying their purpose into execution.

I have already said that originally the sacrifice was offered to
the Earth goddess, to propitiate her, and obtain her consent to the
appropriation of the soil and to bearing the burden imposed on it. But
the sacrifice had a further meaning. The world itself, the universe,
was a vast fabric, and in almost all cosmogonies the foundations of the
world are laid in blood. Creation rises out of death. The Norsemen held
that the giant Ymir was slain, that out of his body the world might be
built up. His bones formed the rocks, his flesh the soil, his blood
the rivers, and his hair the trees and herbage. So among the Greeks
Dionysos Zagreus was the Earth deity, slain by the Titans, and from
his torn flesh sprang corn and the vine, the grapes were inflated with
his blood, and the earth, his flesh, transubstantiated into bread. In
India, Brahma gave himself to form the universe. “Purusha is this All;
his head is heaven, the sun is fashioned out of his eyes, the moon out
of his heart, fire comes from his mouth, the winds are his breath, from
his navel is the atmosphere, from his ears the quarters of the world,
and the earth is trodden out of his feet” (“Rig. Veda” viii. c. 4, hymn

So, in Persia, the Divine Ox, Ahidad, was slain that the world might
be fashioned out of him; and the Mithraic figures represent this myth.
If we put ourselves back in thought to the period when the Gospel
was proclaimed, we shall understand better some of its allusions;
with this notion of sacrifice underlying all great undertakings, all
_constructive_ work, we shall see how some of the illustrations used by
the first preachers would come home to those who heard them. We can see
exactly how suitable was the description given of Christ as the Lamb
that was slain from the foundation of the world. As the World-Lamb,
He was the sustainer of the great building, He secured its stability;
and just as the sacrifice haunts the building reared on it, so was the
idea of Christ to enter into and haunt all history, all mythology, all

We see, moreover, the appropriateness of the symbol of Christ as the
chief Corner-stone, and of the Apostles as foundation stones of the
Church; they are, as it were, the pise blocks, living stones, on whom
the whole superstructure of the spiritual city is reared.

With extraordinary vividness, moreover, does the full significance of
the old ecclesiastical hymn for the Dedication of a Church come out
when we remember this wide-spread, deeply-rooted, almost ineradicable

  “Blessèd city, heavenly Salem,
     Vision dear of peace and love,
   Who _of living stones_ upbuilded,
     Art the joy of heaven above.

         *       *       *       *       *

   Many a blow and biting sculpture
     Polished well those stones elect,
   In their places now compacted
     By the heavenly Architect.

         *       *       *       *       *

   Christ is made the sure foundation
     And the precious corner-stone,
   Who, the twofold walls uniting,
     Binds them closely into one.”


On Gables.

The tourist on the Rhine, as a matter of duty, visits in Cologne three
points of interest, in addition to providing himself with a little box
of the world-famous _Eau_, at the real original Maria Farina’s factory.
After he has “done” the Cathedral, and the bones of the Eleven Thousand
Virgins, he feels it incumbent on him to pay a visit to the horses’
heads in the market-place, looking out of an attic window.

[Illustration: _Fig. 2._--THE HORSES’ HEADS, COLOGNE.]

Myths attach equally to the Minster, the Ursuline relics, and to the
horses’ heads. The devil is said to have prophesied that the cathedral
would never be completed, yet lo! it is finished to the last stone of
the spires! The bones of the eleven thousand virgins have been proved
to have come from an old neglected cemetery, broken into when the
mediæval walls of Cologne were erected. It will be shown that the heads
of the two grey mares near the Church of the Apostles have a very
curious and instructive history attaching to them, and that, though the
story that accounts for their presence on top of a house is fabulous,
their presence is of extreme interest to the antiquary.

The legend told of these particular heads is shortly this:[4] Richmod
of Adocht was a wealthy citizen’s wife at Cologne. She died in 1357,
and was buried with her jewelry about her. At night the sexton opened
her grave, and, because he could not remove the rings, cut her finger.
The blood began to flow, and she awoke from her cataleptic fit. The
sexton fled panic-stricken. She then walked home, and knocked at her
door, and called up the apprentice, who, without admitting her, ran
upstairs to his master, to tell him that his wife stood without.
“Pshaw!” said the widower, “as well make me believe that my pair of
greys are looking out of the attic window.” Hardly were the words
spoken, than, tramp--tramp--and his horses ascended the staircase,
passed his door, and entered the garret. Next day every passer-by
saw their heads peering from the window. The greatest difficulty was
experienced in getting the brutes downstairs again. As a remembrance of
this marvel, the horses were stuffed, and placed where they are now to
be seen.

Such is the story as we take it from an account published in 1816. I
had an opportunity a little while ago of examining the heads. They are
of painted wood.

The story of the resuscitation of the lady is a very common one, and
we are not concerned with this part of the myth. That which occupies
us is the presence of the horses’ heads in the window. Now, singularly
enough, precisely the same story is told of other horses’ heads
occupying precisely similar positions in other parts of Germany. We
know of at least a dozen.[5] It seems therefore probable that the
story is of later origin, and grew up to account for the presence of
the heads, which the popular mind could not otherwise explain. This
conjecture becomes a certainty when we find that pairs of horses’ heads
were at one time a very general adornment of gable ends, and that they
are so still in many places.

[Illustration: _Fig. 3._--GABLE OF A FARM-HOUSE IN MECKLENBURG.]

In Mecklenburg, Pomerania, Luneburg, Holstein, it is still customary
to affix carved wooden horse-heads to the apex of the principal gable
of the house. There are usually two of these, back to back, the heads
pointed in opposite directions. In Tyrol, the heads of chamois occupy
similar positions. The writer of this article was recently in Silesia,
and sketched similar heads on the gables of wooden houses of modern
construction in the “Giant Mountains.” They are also found in Russia.

[Illustration: _Fig. 4._--ANCIENT GERMAN HOUSE.]

Originally, in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and indeed England,
all houses were built of timber, and those which were not of circular
form, with bee-hive roofs, had gables. Unfortunately, we have but one
very early representation of a Teutonic village, and that is on the
Antonine column at Rome. One of the bas-reliefs there shows us the
attack by Romans on a German village. The houses are figured as built
of wattled sides, and thatched over. Most are of bee-hive shape, but
one, that of the chief, is oblong and gabled. The soldiers are applying
torches to the roofs, and, provokingly enough, we cannot see the gable
of the quadrangular house, because it is obscured by the figure of a
German warrior who is being killed by a Roman soldier. Though this
representation does not help us much, still there is abundance of
evidence to show that the old German houses--at least, those of the
chiefs--were like the dwellings of the Scandinavian Bonders, with
oblong walls with gables, and with but a single main front and gable
a-piece. The Icelandic farmhouses perpetuate the type to the present
day, with some modifications. These dwellings have lateral walls of
stone and turf scarcely six feet high, and from six to ten feet thick,
to bank out the cold. On these low parallel walls rest the principals
of the roof, which is turf-covered. The face of the house is to the
south, it is the only face that shows; the back is banked up like
the sides, so that from every quarter but one a house looks like a
grassy mound. The front consists of two or more wooden gables, and is
all of wood, often painted red. Originally, we know, there was but a
single gable. At present the subsidiary gable is low, comparatively
insignificant, and contains the door. Now the old Anglo-Saxon, Norse,
and German houses of the chiefs were all originally constructed on the
same principle, and the timber and plaster gable fronts of our old
houses, the splendid stone and brick-gabled faces of the halls of the
trade guilds in the market-place at Brussels, and the wonderful stepped
and convoluted house-fronts throughout Holland and Germany, are direct
descendants of the old rude oblong house of our common forefathers.

We come now to another point, the gable apex. A gable, of course, is
and must be an inverted _v_, [Illustration: inverted V]; but there are
just three ways in which the apex can be treated. When the principals
are first erected they form an _x_, [Illustration: X], the upper limbs
shorter than the lower. Sometimes they are so left. But sometimes
they are sawn off, and are held together by mortices into an upright
piece of timber. Then the gable represents an inverted [Illustration:
inverted Y]. If the ends are sawn off, and there be no such upright,
then there remains an inverted _v_, but, to prevent the rotting of the
ends at the apex, a _crease_ like a small _v_ is put over the juncture,
[Illustration]. These are the only three variations conceivable. The
last is the latest, and dates from the introduction of lead, or of
tile ridges. By far the earliest type is the simplest, the leaving
of the protruding ends of the principals forming [Illustration: X].
Then, to protect these ends from the weather, to prevent the water
from entering the grain, and rotting them, they were covered with
horse-skulls, and thus two horse-skulls looking in opposite directions
became an usual ornament of the gable of a house. Precisely the same
thing was done with the tie-beams that protruded under the eaves. These
also were exposed with the grain to the weather, though not to the same
extent as the principals. They also were protected by skulls being
fastened over their ends, and these skulls at the end of the tie-beams
are the prototypes of the corbel-heads round old Norman churches.

Among the Anglo-Saxons the [Illustration: X] gable was soon displaced
by that shaped like [Illustration: inverted Y], if we may judge by
early illustrations, but the more archaic and simple construction
prevailed in North Germany and in Scandinavia. To the present day the
carved heads are affixed to the ends of the principals, and these heads
take the place of the original skulls. The gable of the Horn Church in
Essex has got an ox’s head with horns on it.



In one Anglo-Saxon miniature representing a nobleman’s house, a stag’s
head is at the apex. The old Norwegian wooden church of Wang of the
twelfth century, which was bought and transported to the flanks of the
Schnee-Koppe in Silesia by Frederick William IV. in 1842, is adorned
with two heads of sea-snakes or dragons, one at each end of the gable.
In the Rhætian Alps the gables of old timber houses have on them the
fore-parts of horses, carved out of the ends of the intersecting

But the horse’s head, sometimes even a human skull, was also affixed to
the upright leg of the inverted _y_--the hipknob,[6] as architects term
it--partly, no doubt, as a protection of the cross-cut end from rain
and rotting. But though there was a practical reason for putting skulls
on these exposed timber-ends, their use was not only practical, they
were there affixed for religious reasons also, and indeed principally
for these.

As a sacrifice was offered when the foundations of a house were laid,
so was a sacrifice offered when the roof was completed. The roof was
especially subject to the assaults of the wind, and the wind was among
the Northmen and Germans, Odin, Woden, or Wuotan. Moreover, in high
buildings, there was a liability to their being struck by lightning,
and the thunder-god Thorr had to be propitiated to stave off a fire.
The farmhouses in the Black Forest to the present day are protected
from lightning by poles with bunches of flowers and leaves on the top,
that have been carried to church on Palm Sunday, and are then taken
home and affixed to the gable, where they stand throughout the year.
The bunch represents the old oblation offered annually to the God of
the Storm.[7] Horses were especially regarded as sacred animals by
the Germans, the Norsemen, and by the Slaves. Tacitus tells us that
white horses were kept by the ancient Germans in groves sacred to
the gods; and gave auguries by neighing. The Icelandic sagas contain
many allusions to the old dedication of horses to the gods. Among the
Slaves, horses were likewise esteemed sacred animals; swords were
planted in the ground, and a horse was led over them. Auguries were
taken by the way in which he went, whether avoiding or touching the
blades. In like manner the fate of prisoners was determined by the
actions of an oracular horse. When a horse was killed at a sacrifice,
its flesh was eaten. St. Jerome speaks of the Vandals and other
Germanic races as horse-eaters, and St. Boniface forbade his Thuringian
converts to eat horse-flesh.

The eating of this sort of meat was a sacramental token of allegiance
to Odin. When Hakon, Athelstan’s foster-son, who had been baptised in
England, refused to partake of the sacrificial banquet of horse-flesh
at the annual Council in Norway, the Bonders threatened to kill him. A
compromise was arrived at, so odd that it deserves giving in the words
of the saga: “The Bonders pressed the King strongly to eat horse-flesh;
and as he would not do so, they wanted him to drink the soup; as he
declined, they insisted that he should taste the gravy; and on his
refusal, were about to lay hands on him. Earl Sigurd made peace by
inducing the King to hold his mouth over the handle of the kettle
upon which the fat steam of the boiled horse-flesh had settled; and
the King laid a linen cloth over the handle, and then gaped above it,
and so returned to his throne; but neither party was satisfied with
this.” This was at the harvest gathering. At Yule, discontent became
so threatening, that King Hakon was forced to appease the ferment by
eating some bits of horse’s liver.

Giraldus Cambrensis says of the Irish that in Ulster a king is thus
created: “A white mare is led into the midst of the people, is killed,
cut to pieces and boiled; then a bath is prepared of the broth. Into
this the King gets, and sitting in it, he eats of the flesh, the people
also standing round partake of it. He is also required to drink of the
broth in which he has bathed, lapping it with his mouth.” (“Topography
of Ireland,” c. xxv.) This is, perhaps, the origin of the Irish
expression, “a broth of a boy.”

Tacitus tells us that after a defeat of the Chatti, their conquerors
sacrificed horses, ate their flesh, and hung up their heads in trees,
or affixed them to poles, as offerings to Wuotan. So, after the
defeat of Varus and his legions, when Cæcina visited the scene of the
disaster, he found the heads of the horses affixed to the branches and
trunks of the trees. Gregory the Great, in a letter to Queen Brunehild,
exhorted her not to suffer the Franks thus to expose the heads of
animals offered in sacrifice. At the beginning of the fifth century,
St. Germanus, who was addicted to the chase before he was made Bishop
of Auxerre, was wont to hang up the heads and antlers of the game
killed in hunting in a huge pear-tree in the midst of Auxerre, as an
oblation to Odin, regardless of the reproof of his bishop, Amator, who,
to put an end to this continuance of a heathenish ceremony, cut down
the tree.

Adam of Bremen tells of the custom of hanging men, horses, and dogs
at Upsala; and a Christian who visited the place counted seventy-two
bodies. In Zeeland, in the eleventh century, every ninth year, men,
horses, dogs, and cocks were thus sacrificed, as Dietmar (Bishop of
Merseburg) tells us. Saxo, the grammarian, at the end of the twelfth
century, describes how horses’ heads were set up on poles, with
pieces of wood stuck in their jaws to keep them open. The object was
to produce terror in the minds of enemies, and to drive away evil
spirits and the pestilence. For this reason it was, in addition to
the practical one already adduced, that the heads of horses, men, and
other creatures which had been sacrificed to Odin were fastened to the
gables of houses. The creature offered to the god became, so to speak,
incorporate in the god, partook of the Divine power, and its skull
acted as a protection to the house, because that skull in some sort
represented the god.

In the Egil’s saga, an old Icelandic chief is said to have taken
a post, fixed a horse’s head on the top, and to have recited an
incantation over it which carried a curse on Norway and the King and
Queen; when he turned the head inland, it made all the guardian spirits
of the land to fly. This post he fixed into the side of a mountain,
with the open jaws turned towards Norway.[8] Another Icelander took a
pole, carved a human head at the top, then killed a mare, slit up the
body, inserted the post and set it up with the head looking towards the
residence of an enemy.[9]

These figures were called Nith-stangs, and their original force and
significance became obscured. The nith-stang primarily was the head
of the victim offered in sacrifice, lifted up with an invocation to
the god to look on the sacrifice, and in return carry evil to the
houses of all those who wished ill to the sacrificer. The figure-head
of a war-ship was designed in like manner, to strike terror into the
opponents, and scare away their guardian spirits. The last trace of
the nith-stang as a vehicle of doing ill was at Basle, where the
inhabitants of Great and Little Basle set up figures at their several
ends of the bridge over the Rhine to outrage each other.

[Illustration: _Fig. 6._--A GABLE, GUILDFORD.]

In Ireland we meet with similar ideas. On the death of Laeghaire (King
Lear), his body was carried to Tara and interred with his arms and
cuirass, and with his face turned towards his enemies, as if still
threatening them. Eoghan, King of Connaught, was so buried in Sligo,
and as long as his dead head looked towards Ulster, the Connaught
men were victorious; so the Ulster men disinterred him and buried
him face downwards, and then gained the victory. According to Welsh
tradition, the head of Bran was buried with the face to France, so that
no invasion could come from thence. A Welsh story says that the son of
Lear bade his companions cut off his head, take it to the White Hill
in London, and bury it there, with the face directed towards France.
The head of man and beast, when cut off, was thought to be gifted with
oracular powers, and the piping of the wind in the skulls over the
house gables was interpreted--as he who consulted it desired.

In an account we have of the Wends in the fifteenth century, we are
told that they set up the heads of horses and cows on stakes above
their stables to drive away disease from their cattle, and they put
the skull of a horse under the fodder in the manger to scare away the
hobgoblins who ride horses at night. In Holland, horses’ heads are hung
up over pigstyes, and in Mecklenburg they are placed under the pillows
of the sick to drive away fever. It must be remembered that pest or
fever was formerly, and is still among the superstitious Slaves, held
to be a female deity or spirit of evil.

Now we can understand whence came the headless horses, so common in
superstition, as premonitions of death. Sometimes a horse is heard
galloping along a road or through a street. It is seen to be headless.
It stops before a door, or it strikes the door with its hoof. That is a
sure death token. The reader may recall Albert Dürer’s engraving of the
white horse at a door, waiting for the dead soul to mount it, that it
may bear him away to the doleful realms of Hæla. In Denmark and North
Germany the “Hell-horse” is well known. It has three legs, and is not
necessarily headless. It looks in at a window and neighs for a soul
to mount it. The image of Death on the Pale Horse in the Apocalypse
was not unfamiliar to the Norse and German races. They knew all about
Odin’s white horse that conveyed souls to the drear abode.

Properly, every village, every house had its own hell-horse. Indeed,
it was not unusual to bury a live horse in a churchyard, to serve the
purpose of conveying souls. A vault was recently opened in a church
at Görlitz, which was found to contain a skeleton of a horse only,
and this church and yard had long been believed to be haunted by a
hell-horse. The horse whose head was set up over the gable of a house
was the domestic spirit of the family, retained to carry the souls away.

The child’s hobby-horse is the degraded hell-horse. The grey or white
hobby was one of the essential performers in old May Day mummings, and
this represents the pale horse of Odin, as Robin Hood represents Odin
himself.[10] We see in the hobby-horse the long beam of the principal
with the head at the end. It was copied therefrom, and the copy remains
long after the original has disappeared from among us.

A man was on his way at night from Oldenburg to Heiligenhafen. When
he came near the gallows-hill he saw a white horse standing under it.
He was tired, and jumped on its back. The horse went on with him, but
became larger and larger at every step, and whither that ghostly beast
would have carried him no one can say; but, fortunately, the man flung
himself off the back. In Sweden the village of Hästveda is said to take
its name from häst-hvith, a white horse which haunts the churchyard and

In Bürger’s ballad of Leonore, the dead lover comes riding at night to
the door of the maiden, and persuades her to mount behind him. Then the
horse dashes off.

  “How fast, how fast, fly darting past
     Hill, mountain, tree, and bower;
   Right, left, and right, they fly like light,
     Hamlet, and town, and tower.
   ‘Fear’st thou, my love? The moon shines bright.
     Hurrah! the dead ride fast by night,
     And dost thou dread the silent dead?’”

They dash past a graveyard in which is a mourning train with a coffin.
But the funeral is interrupted; the dead man must follow horse and

[Illustration: _Fig. 7._--OLD TEMPLE BAR, WITH TRAITORS’ HEADS.]

They pass a gallows, round which a ghostly crew are hovering. The
hanging men and the spectral dance must follow.

The rider carries his bride to a churchyard, and plunges down with her
into a vault.

Bürger has utilised for his ballad a tradition of Woden as the God of
the Dead, carrying off the souls on his hell-horse. The story is found
in many places; amongst others in Iceland, and variously modified.

The nightmare is the same horse coming in and trampling on the
sleeper’s chest. The reader will remember Fuseli’s picture of the head
of the spectre horse peering in at the sleeper between the curtains of
her bed, whilst an imp sits on and oppresses her bosom.

But the horse is not always ridden. Modern ideas, modern luxury, have
invaded the phantom world, and now--we hear of death-coaches drawn by
headless horses. These are black, like mourning carriages, and the
horses are sable; a driver sits on the box; he is in black, but he
has no weeper to his hat, because he has not a hat. He has not a hat,
because he is without a head. The death-coach is sometimes not seen,
but heard. At others it is seen, not heard. It rolls silently as a
shadow along the road.

But, indeed, Woden had a black horse as well as one that was white.
Rime-locks (Hrimfaxi) was his sable steed, and Shining-locks (Skinfaxi)
his white one. The first is the night horse, from whose mane falls the
dew; the second is the day horse, whose mane is the morning light.
One of the legends of St. Nicholas refers to these two horses, which
have been transferred to him when Woden was displaced. The saint was
travelling with a black and a white steed, when some evil-minded man
cut off their heads at an inn where they were spending the night. When
St. Nicholas heard what had been done, he sent his servant to put on
the heads again. This the man did; but so hurriedly and carelessly,
that he put the black head on the white trunk, and _vice versâ_. In
the morning St. Nicholas saw, when too late, what had been done. The
horses were alive and running. This legend refers to the morning and
the evening twilights, part night and part day. The morning twilight
has the body dark and the head light; and the evening twilight has the
white trunk and the black head.

St. Nicholas has taken Odin’s place in other ways. As Saint Klaus he
appears to children at Yule. The very name is a predicate of the god
of the dead. He is represented as the patron of ships; indeed, St.
Nicholas is a puzzle to ecclesiastical historians--his history and his
symbols and cult have so little in common. The reason is, that he has
taken to him the symbols, and myths, and functions of the Northern god.
His ship is Odin’s death-ship, constructed out of dead men’s finger and

[Illustration: _Fig. 8._--A GABLE, CHARTRES.]

In Denmark, a shovelful of oats is thrown out at Yule for Saint Klaus’s
horse; if this be neglected, death enters the house and claims a soul.
When a person is convalescent after a dangerous illness, he is said to
have “given a feed to Death’s Horse.” The identification is complete.
Formerly, the last bundle of oats in a field was cast into the air by
the reapers “for Odin at Yule to feed his horse.” And in the writer’s
recollection it was customary in Devon for the last sheaf to be raised
in the air with the cry, “A neck Weeday!” That is to “Nickar Woden.”

The sheaf of corn, which is fastened in Norway and Denmark to the gable
of a house, is now supposed to be an offering to the birds; originally,
it was a feed for the pale horse of the death-god Woden. And now we see
the origin of the bush which is set up when a roof is completed, and
also of the floral hip-knobs of Gothic buildings. Both are relics of
the oblation affixed to the gable made to the horse of Woden,--corn,
or hay, or grass; and this is also the origin of the “palms,” poles
with bouquets at the top, erected in the Black Forest to keep off

A little while ago the writer was at Pilsen in Bohemia, and was struck
with the gables in the great square. Each terminated in a vase of
flowers or fruit, or some floral ornament, except only the Town Hall,
which had three gables, each surmounted by spikes of iron, and spikes
stood between each gable, and each spike transfixed a ball. The floral
representations are far-away remembrances of the bunch of corn and
hay offered to Woden’s horse, but the balls on the spikes recall the
human skulls set up to his honour. That the skulls were offerings to
a god was forgotten, and those set up were the heads of criminals.
The Rath-Haus had them, not the private houses, because only the town
council had a right to execute.

Throughout the Middle Ages, among ourselves down to the end of last
century, heads of traitors and criminals were thus stuck up on spikes
over city gates, and town halls, and castles. Those executed by justice
were treated according to immemorial and heathen custom. A new meaning
was given to the loathsome exhibition. It deterred from treason and
crime. Nevertheless, our Christian mediæval rulers simply carried
out the old custom of offering the heads to Odin, by setting them up
above the gables. Skulls and decaying heads came to be so thoroughly
regarded as a part--an integral ornament of a gate or a gable--that
when architects built renaissance houses and gateways, they set up
stone balls on them as substitutes for the heads which were no more
available. A lord with power of life and death put heads over his
gate; it was the sign that he enjoyed capital rights. The stone balls
on lodge gates are their lineal descendants. Some manors were without
capital jurisdiction, and the lords of these had no right to set up
heads, or sham heads, or stone balls. If they did so they were like
the modern _parvenu_ who assumes armorial bearings to which he has no
heraldic right.

When the writer was a boy, he lived for some years in a town of the
south of France, where was a house that had been built by one of the
executioners in the Reign of Terror. This man had adorned the pediment
of his house with stone balls, and the popular belief was that each
ball represented a human head that he had guillotined. Whether it
was so or not, we cannot say. It was, perhaps, an unfounded belief,
but the people were right in holding that the stone balls used as
architectural adornments were the representatives of human heads.

[Illustration: _Fig. 9._--RIDGE-TILE, TOTNES.]

In the Pilsen market-place, it was remarkable that only the Town Hall
had balls on it, and balls in the place where there had previously been
spiked heads. No private citizen ventured to assume the cognisance of
right of life and death.

At Chartres all the pinnacles of the cathedral are surmounted by carved
human heads.

In the farmhouse of Tresmarrow in Cornwall, in a niche, is preserved a
human skull. _Why_ it is there, no one knows. It has been several times
buried, but, whenever buried, noises ensue which disturb the household,
and the skull is disinterred and replaced in its niche. Formerly it
occupied the gable head.

As already said, these heads were regarded as oracular. In one of
Grimm’s “Folk-Tales” a King marries a chamber-maid by mistake for her
mistress, a princess, who is obliged to keep geese. The princess’s
horse is killed, and its head set up over the city gate. When the
princess drives her geese out of the town she addresses the head, and
the head answers and counsels her. So in Norse mythology Odin had a
human head embalmed, and had recourse to it for advice when in any
doubt. In the tale of the Greek King and Douban, the Physician, in the
Arabian Nights’ Tales, the physician’s head, when he is decapitated, is
set on a vase, where it rebukes the King. Friar Bacon’s brazen head
whereby he conjured is a reminiscence of these oracular heads.

[Illustration: _Fig. 10._--RIDGE-TILE, TOTNES.]

In one of the Icelandic Sagas, the gable ends whistle in the wind, and
give oracles according to the tone or manner in which they pipe.

The busts that occupy niches in Italian buildings are far-off
remembrances of the real human heads which adorned the fronts of the
wigwams of our savage ancestors. So, also, as already said, are the
head corbels of Norman buildings.

On old Devonshire houses, the first ridge-tile on the main gable was
very commonly moulded to represent a horse and his rider. The popular
explanation is that these tiles were put up over the houses where
Charles I. slept; but this is a mistake; they are found where Charles
I. never was.

At one time they were pretty common. Now some remain, but only a few,
at Plymouth, Exeter, Totnes, Tavistock, and at East Looe, and Padstow,
in Cornwall. One at Truro represents a horse bearing skins on the
back, and is so contrived as to whistle in the wind. None are earlier
than the seventeenth century, yet they certainly take the place of more
ancient figures, and they carry us back in thought to the period when
the horse or horse-head was the ornament proper to every gable. These
little tile-horses and men are of divine ancestry. They trace back to
Wuotan and his hell-horse.[11]

The historical existence of the leaders Hengest and Horsa, who led the
Anglo-Saxons to the conquest of Britain, has long been disputed. There
probably never were such personages. What is more likely is that they
were the horse-headed beams of the chief’s house of the invading tribe.
Both names indicate horses. When the Norsemen moved their quarters,
they took the main beams of their dwellings with them, and they took
omens from these beams, when they warped or whistled in wet and wind.
The first settlers in Iceland threw their house-beams into the sea off
Norway, and colonised at the spot where they were washed ashore on the
black volcanic sands of Iceland.

[Illustration: _Fig. 11._--RIDGE-TILE, WEST LOOE.]

The white horse in the arms of Kent, the white horse on the Hanovarian
coat, the white horses on the chalk downs throughout Wessex, have all
reference to Woden and his grey hell-horse. The greatest respect
was paid to the main principals of the roof with their horse-heads.
We can understand how that when the old house in the market-place at
Cologne was rebuilt, the old heads were retained; and when the original
skulls decayed, they were replaced with painted wooden imitations;
just as in the Norman churches the skull-like corbels of stone, and in
Gothic churches the monstrous gaping gurgoyles, and on our Elizabethan
mansions the stone balls, also the figure-heads on ships, all trace
back to real heads of sacrificed beasts and men.

In 1877 it was found necessary to pull down the spire terminating the
bell-turret surmounting the western gable of St. Cuthbert’s Church,
Elsdon, Northumberland. In the spire, immediately over the bell, was
discovered a small chamber, without any opening to it, and within this,
nearly filling the cavity, were three horse-heads, or rather skulls,
piled in a triangular form, the jaws uppermost. The receptacle had
been made for them with some care, and then they had been walled up in

[Illustration: _Fig. 12._--RIDGE-TILE, EXETER.]

On the tower of the Church of Sorau in Lusatia are two heads, one is
that of a woman, the other that of a horse. The story told to account
for them is this. A girl was drawing water at the fountain in the
market-place, when a horse, filled with madness, rushed at her. She
fled round the market-place pursued by the horse, which was gaining on
her, when, seeing the door into the tower open, she ran in, and up the
winding stair. Arrived at the top, she stopped to breathe, when, to
her dismay, she heard the clatter of the horse’s hoofs on the steps;
the creature was pursuing her up the tower. In her terror she leaped
from the bell window, and the horse leaped after her. Both were dashed
to pieces on the pavement. The heads were set up on stone as a memorial
of the event.

In 1429 the town of Budissin was besieged by the Hussites. The town
notary, Peter Prichwitz, promised to open the gates to the investing
forces, but his treachery was discovered in time, and the traitor was
executed on December 6th, in the market-place, and when he had been
drawn and quartered, his quarters were set up over the bastions, and
his head carved in stone above the city gate, and this remains to the
present day.

Here we have two instances, and many more could be adduced, of these
carved heads being made to represent the heads of certain persons who
have died violent deaths.

The first instance is peculiarly interesting. The story, however,
as little explains the figures as does that of Richmod of Adocht at
Cologne. There is a great deal of evidence to show that till a late
period, when a lofty tower or spire was erected, human or animal
victims were cast from the top, to ensure the erection from being
struck by lightning. The woman and the horse at Sorau had been thus
offered. We know that this was a mode of sacrifice to Odin. Victims to
him were flung down precipices.

In North Germany, at the close of the last century, on St. James’s day,
it was customary to throw a goat with gilt horns and adorned with
ribbons from the top of a church or town hall tower. At Ypres, on the
second Wednesday in Lent, cats were flung down from the tower. Abraham
à Santa Clara says that three illustrious Italian families, those of
Torelli, Pieschi, and Gonzaga, have white ladies who appear before
death; these are the spirits of three damsels who were falsely accused
of incontinence, and were precipitated from the topmost battlements
of the towers belonging to these three families. Now it is clear that
Abraham à Santa Clara has got his story wrong. The coincidence would be
extraordinary in all three families. The real explanation is, that when
the several castles of these families were erected, from the highest
tower of each a virgin was cast down as a superstitious insurance
against lightning, actually--though this was forgotten--because from
immemorial times such a sacrifice had been offered.

[Illustration: _Fig. 13._--TOP OF SPIRE, ASSIER.]

In 1514 the spire of the Cathedral Church of Copenhagen was erected. A
carpenter’s assistant had an altercation with his master, as to which
had the steadiest brain. Then the master ran a beam out from the top of
the tower, took an axe in his hand, walked out on the beam, and struck
the axe into the end of it. “There,” said he to his man, on his return,
“go out and recover the axe.”

The assistant instantly obeyed. He walked out; but when he was stooping
to take hold of the axe it seemed to him that it was double. Then he
asked, “Master, _which_ of them?”

The master saw that he had lost his head, and that it was all up with
the man, so he said, “God be with your soul!” At the same moment the
man fell, and was dashed to pieces in the market-place at the foot of
the tower.

It is possible that this may be the true version of the story; but it
is much more likely that the man was flung down by his master, with
deliberate purpose, to secure by his death the stability of the spire
he had erected.

A very similar story is told of the tower of Assier Church in the
Department of Lot. This singular renaissance church was erected by
Galiot de Ginouillac, Grand Master of Artillery under Francis I. On
the roof of the central tower are three wooden pinnacles. The story
goes that De Ginouillac ascended with his son to the top of the tower,
and bade the boy affix the cross. The lad walked along the ledge and
exclaimed, “Father, which of the pinnacles is in the middle?” When
the father heard that, he knew his son had lost his head. Next moment
the boy fell and was dashed to pieces. Popular superstition held that
so high a tower, with so steep a roof, must be consecrated by the
sacrifice of a life.

Countless stories remain concerning spires and towers indicating
similar tragedies; but we are not further concerned with them than
to point out that the heads carved on towers may, and in some cases
certainly do, refer to a life sacrificed to secure the tower’s

An ancestor of the writer in the seventeenth century visited China,
and brought home a puzzle which became an heirloom in the family.
The puzzle, fast locked, remains; but the secret how to open it is
forgotten. Many a puzzling custom and usage comes down to us from the
remote past; the clue to interpret it has been lost, and wrong keys
have been applied to unlock the mystery, but the patience and research
of the comparative mythologist and the ethnologist are bringing about
their results, and one by one the secrets are discovered and the locks
fly open.



When Tristram and Ysonde were driven from the Court of Mark, King
of Cornwall, they fled to a forest of “holts and hills,” and there
found and inhabited an “erthe house” which “etenes, bi old dayse had
wrought;” that is to say, a house constructed by the giants of old.
King Mark came that way one day when hunting, and looking in saw Ysonde
asleep, with a patch of sunlight about to fall on her closed eyes
through the tiny orifice which alone served as chimney and window to
the “erthe house;” and, very considerately, he stuffed his glove into
the hole, so as to prevent her sleep being broken.[13]

That earth house built by the vanished race of the giants was, there
can be little question, a bee-hive hut such as are to be found over
the Cornish moors. When Thomas of Erceldoune wrote in the thirteenth
century, the origin of these bee-hive huts was already lost in fable.

Of these bee-hive huts there remain thousands--nay, tens of
thousands--in more or less ruinous condition, on the Cornish moors and
on Dartmoor. They are found also in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. The
structure of the bee-hive hut is this:--

A circle was described in the grass, in diameter from 6 feet to 9
feet. Then a second circle, concentric, 3 feet beyond the first,
that is to say, with a diameter 12 feet to 15 feet. Stones were set
up on end in the ground where these circles had been described, and
walls of horizontal slabs were laid between and on these uprights,
their interstices filled in with moss and turf. After the walls had
been carried to the height of four feet, the horizontal courses were
drawn together inwards, so as to form a dome of overlapping slabs,
and in the centre an opening was left to admit light and to serve as
a smoke-hole, but sufficiently small to be easily closed with a stone
or a wad of turf. On the south side of this bee-hive habitation a door
was contrived by planting two jambs in the soil at right angles to the
walls, standing about 2 feet 6 inches high, and placing over these a
broad flat slab as lintel, on which the structure of the dome could be
continued, and could rest.

There are several of these huts still in existence as perfect as when
first made. One is on the Erme on Dartmoor; it is almost buried in
heather, and might be passed without observation as a mere mound. The
door remains, and it will serve the pedestrian, as it has served many
a shepherd, as a place of refuge from a shower. There are three or
four under and on Brown Willy, the highest peak of the Cornish moors.
Connected with one of these is a smaller hut of similar structure that
served apparently as a store chamber.

Comparatively few are perfect. The vast majority have fallen in. All
were not originally domed over with stones, some--the majority--were
roofed over by planting sticks in the walls and gathering them together
in the centre, and then thatching them with reed, or packing turf round
the beams. This we judge from the ruins. Some give evidence of having
been domed, by the amount of stone that has fallen within the circle of
the foundations; others, on the other hand, are deep in turf and peat,
and show no fallen stones within the ring.

[Illustration: _Fig. 14._--GRIMSPOUND, DARTMOOR.]

Very often clusters of these circular hovels are enclosed within a
circular wall of defence. The villages were, in a word, defended
against assault. At Grimspound on Dartmoor is such a walled village.
The pound contains four acres; a stream is ingeniously diverted from
its course and brought within the enclosure. There remain the ruins of
about twenty-five huts, but there are scattered heaps that indicate the
former existence of other habitations which have been destroyed. Near
Post Bridge, in the heart of Dartmoor, are the remains of something
like fourteen village enclosures, whereof one contains about forty of
these huts.[14] An account of a very numerous and remarkable group
within fortifications, near Holyhead, was published by the Hon. W. O.
Stanley in 1871. He explored the settlement with the spade.

Who inhabited these bee-hive huts? Certainly the tin-workers. Mr.
Stanley satisfied himself that the dwellers in the bee-hive huts of
Holyhead were metal-workers. He found their tools, fused metal, and
scoria. The villages in Cornwall and on Dartmoor have unaccountably
been left unexplored, but there is some evidence to show that they were
occupied by those who “streamed” for tin.

It is remarkable how folk-tradition has preserved some reminiscence
of a large and of a small race as existing in Northern Europe before
the Keltic wave, and also before the Scandinavian wave rolled west.
The smallest race is generally associated in tradition with the rude
stone monuments. The dolmens are _cabannes des fees_, or caves of
dwarfs; whereas the giants are spoken of as inhabiting natural caverns.
The early mythical sagas of the Norse are full of such mention, and
the pedigrees give us evidence of the intermarriage between the
newly-arrived Scandinavians and the people they found in the land
before them. It is certainly a remarkable coincidence that the cave
men, as revealed to us by the skeletons of the Vézère, of Solutrè,
and Mentone, should have been men of about seven feet high. When the
Cymri and Gaels invaded our isles, a population of blended blood was
subjugated, and became vassal to the Kelt, worked for it in the mines,
and tended the flocks on the wolds, and the swine in the oak woods for
the new masters. The Kelt knew the use of iron. He had not come from
the East in quite the same way as the people of rude stone monuments.
He came along the shores of the Black Sea, passed up the Danube, and,
crossing the Rhine, poured over the Jura and the Vosges into the plains
of Gaul. He met the stone monument builder at the head waters of the
Seine, and drove him back; he stopped his passage of the Rhine; and it
is possible that it was this arrest which forced the polished-stone man
to cross the Pyrenees and people the Iberian peninsula.

[Illustration: _Fig. 15._--BEE-HIVE HUT, FENNACRE, CORNWALL.]

We have strayed from our subject--the bee-hive hut. On no part of
Dartmoor have the miners worked so vigorously and so continuously as
on the East Webber, at Vitifer. Here, on a slope, is to be found a
collection of bee-hive hut foundations. The ground below, above, and
along one side has been turned up to the depth of fourteen to twenty
feet; but the tin searchers have avoided the little settlement,
leaving the huts on a sort of peninsula of unworked gravel, a clear
evidence that the workers were those who occupied these huts. When we
come to the date of these habitations we are unable to arrive at any
very satisfactory conclusion. Some of these settlements certainly date
back from the age of the rude stone monument builders, and to that of
the polished stone weapons.

It is noticeable in Cornwall and on Dartmoor that the clusters of hut
circles are generally associated on the one hand with tin stream works,
and on the other with avenues and circles of upright stones, and that
the heights of the hills near them are topped with cairns that contain
kistvaens, or graves of rude stones, set on end and capped with large
granite coverers. It may be taken as almost certain that where there is
a large cluster of these dwellings, there will be found some megalithic
monument hard by, or if not, that the enclosures, or the moor, will
bear some name, such as Ninestones, or The Twelve Men (Maen = a stone),
that testifies to there having been a circle there, which has been
destroyed. With tin works the circles of hut foundations are invariably
associated. In Holyhead, where is the cluster of bee-hive huts examined
by Mr. Stanley, there also are to be found the Meinihirion, long
stones, two stones standing ten feet apart, rising eleven feet above
the soil, and originally surrounded by a circle of upright stones, now
removed to serve as gate posts, or to form fences. There is sufficient
evidence to show that the first builders of the bee-hive huts were
the men of that race which erected the rude stone monuments in our
island, and who also worked the tin. But what race was that? It was not
Keltic. It was in our island before the Britons arrived. We can trace
its course of migration from the steppes of Asia by the monuments it
erected. This mysterious people came to the Baltic and followed its
shores, some crossed into what was afterwards Scandinavia, but the
main tide rolled along the sea-shore. They have left their huge stone
monuments in Pomerania, in Hanover. They crossed the Rhine, and from
Calais saw the white cliffs of Albion and one large branch of the
stream invaded and colonised the British Isles. Another, still hugging
the sea, passed along the coast of Gaul to Brittany, thence descended
the shores of the Bay of Biscay, sent settlers up the Seine, the
Loire, and the Dordogne, swept on into the Iberian peninsula, crossed
into Africa, and after setting up circles and dolmens in Algeria,
disappeared. They never penetrated to the centre of Germany; the Oder,
and the Elbe, and the Rhine offered them no attractions. They were a
people of rocks and stones, and they were not attracted by the vast
plains of Lower Germany; they never saw, never set up a stone in the
highlands, in the Black Forest, or the Alps. But it was otherwise with
the great rivers of Gaul; with the sole exception of the Rhone they
followed them up. Their monuments are numerous on the Loire; they are
as dense in the upper waters of the Lot and Tarn as they are among
the islets and on the headlands of Brittany. It is doubtful if they
ever set foot in Italy. Such was the course taken by the great people
which migrated to Europe. But another branch had separated at the
Caspian, and had turned South. It passed over the Tigris and Euphrates,
and occupied both Palestine and Arabia. The Palestine exploration has
led to the discovery of numerous remains in that land, identical in
character with those found everywhere else where this people sojourned.
And Mr. Palgrave was startled to find that Arabia had its Stonehenges
precisely like that which figures on the Wiltshire Downs.

The researches of French antiquaries have led to the conclusion that
the men who set up these great stone monuments were those who used
weapons of polished flint and chert. Precisely the same conclusion
has been reached by the archæologists of Scotland. Bronze was indeed
employed, but at a later period; and then bronze and polished stone
were used together.

In the tumuli of Great Britain and of Gaul, two distinct types of heads
are found. These are the long and the round bullet skull. In France,
before the dawn of history, there seems to have been as great a mixture
of races as there is at present. It is not possible for us in England
to determine the succession of peoples and civilisations as nicely as
can be done in France, for we have not such deposits of the remains of
successive populations superposed as they have in Perigord. Under the
overhanging limestone cliffs on the Vézère, men lived in succession one
age on another to the present day, from the first who set foot on the
soil, and by digging through these beds to the depth of forty feet, we
obtain the remains of these men in their order--

  Modern men.
  Gallo-Roman (coins).
  Gauls (iron weapons).
  Neolithic men   { bronze.
                  { polished stone.
  [Gap. This gap questioned.]
                  { of ivory and bone weapons.
  Palæolithic men { of delicately-worked flint blades.
                  { of rudely-worked flint weapons. { Moustier.
                                                    { Chelles.[15]

The Palæolithic men were the great reindeer and horse hunters, and the
development of their civilisation may be followed in their remains.
What became of them we know not. Perhaps they migrated north after the

The Neolithic men erected the rude stone monuments, the circles of
upright stones. They were the men of Stonehenge and of Carnac. But this
race was not pure. Its skulls exhibit a great mixture of character
and kind, and it is probable that it took up into it other peoples
subjugated on its way west and south. Perhaps it also was conquered. We
cannot tell; but it seems from certain indications that it was so, and
that by the metal-working race.

When the Gaels and Cymri invaded our isles, they found them peopled,
and peopled by various races, and these they in turn subjugated.

We know but very little of the primitive populations of our isles
and of Europe; and a good deal of what we think we know is due to
guesswork based on a few observations.

As far as we can judge, the dwellers in bee-hive huts were the same as
those who erected the rude stone monuments, but it does not follow that
the Megalithic monument builders did not impose their customs on the
race they conquered; and indeed it is possible, even probable, that a
people conquering them may have adopted their religious ideas and their
methods of interment.

It is curious to note how that in legend the subjugated people are
supposed to live in earth mounds. No story is more common than that
of a man passing a mound at night and seeing it open, and finding
that merriment and drinking are going on within. Sometimes children
are snatched away, and are brought up in these mounds. He who desires
to have a sword of perfect temper goes to one of the mounds, taps,
and bargains with the mound-dweller to make him a sword. The name now
given to the race--not a pure, but a mixed one--that occupied the land
before the dawn of history, is Ivernian. It was a dark-haired and
sallow-complexioned race. The Kelt was fair; and if in Ireland, and in
Cornwall, and in France so much dark hair and dusky skin is found, this
is due to the self-assertion of the primitive race that was subjugated
by the blue-eyed, fair-haired conquerors from the Black Sea and the

What was the conquered race? “What,” asks the author of “Chaldæa,” in
the “Story of the Nations,” “What is this great race which we find
everywhere at the very roots of history, so that not only ancient
tradition calls them ‘the oldest of men,’ but modern science more and
more inclines to the same opinion? Whence came it?” And the answer Mme.
Ragozin gives to the question is--that this was the yellow Turanian
people which overflowed from the steppes of Northern Asia, which
carried with it thence acquaintance with the metals, and through this
acquaintance established itself as masters wherever it went. That may
be, but before this Ivernian race arrived in the west, whatever it was,
it found that man had been on the soil before it--aye, and for ages on
ages--occupying caves, hunting the reindeer and the horse, ignorant
of the art of the potter, and yet in some particulars his superior in
intellectual power.[16]

Although the bee-hive hut may have originated with the dark-haired
Ivernian metal-worker, it by no means follows that it was not in use
long after, to a comparatively recent period. As we have seen, Tristan
and Ysonde took refuge in one. The bee-hive hut is still in employ in
the Hebrides. I will quote a most interesting account of one by Dr. A.
Mitchell. “I turn now to a more remarkable form of dwelling which is
still tenanted, but is just passing into complete disuse. Nearly all
the specimens of it remaining in Scotland are to be found in the Lewis
and Harris, or other islands of the outer Hebrides. There are probably
only from twenty to thirty now in occupation, and although some old
ones may yet be repaired, it is not likely that a new one will ever
again be built. The newest we know of is not yet a century old. It was
still occupied in 1866, and was built by the grandfather of a gentleman
who died a few years ago in Liverpool.

[Illustration: _Fig. 16._--BO’H IN THE HEBRIDES.

(_From Mitchell: The Past and the Present._)]

“My first visit to one of these houses was paid in 1866, in the company
of Captain Thomas. They are commonly spoken of as bee-hive houses, but
their Gaelic name is _bo’h_ or _bothay_. They are now only used as
temporary residences or shealings by those who herd the cattle at their
summer pasturage; but at a time not very remote they are believed to
have been the permanent dwellings of the people.

“We had good guides, and were not long in reaching Larach Tigh
Dhubhstail. As we had been led to expect, we found one of these
bee-hive houses actually tenanted, and the family happened to be at
home. It consisted of three young women. It was Sunday, and they had
made their toilette with care at the burn, and had put on their printed
calico gowns. None of them could speak English; but they were not
illiterate, for one of them was reading a Gaelic Bible. They showed no
alarm at our coming, but invited us into the _bo’h_, and hospitably
treated us to milk. They were courteously dignified, neither feeling
nor affecting to feel embarrassment. There was no evidence of any
understanding on their part that we should experience surprise at their
surroundings. I confess, however, to having shown, as well as felt, the
effects of the wine of astonishment. I do not think I ever came upon a
scene which more surprised me, and scarcely know where and how to begin
my description of it.

“By the side of a burn which flowed through a little grassy glen, we
saw two small round hive-like hillocks, not much higher than a man,
joined together, and covered with grass and weeds. Out of the top of
one of them a column of smoke slowly rose, and at its base there was a
hole about three feet high and two feet wide, which seemed to lead into
the interior of the hillock--its hollowness, and the possibility of
its having a human creature within it being thus suggested. There was
no one, however, actually in the _bo’h_, the three girls, when we came
in sight, being seated on a knoll by the burnside, but it was really
in the inside of these two green hillocks that they slept, and cooked
their food, and carried on their work, and--dwelt, in short.

“The dwelling consisted of two apartments opening into each other.
Though externally the two blocks looked round in their outline,
and were in fact nearly so, internally the one apartment might be
described as irregularly round, and the other as irregularly square.
The rounder of the two was the larger and was the dwelling-room. The
squarish and smaller one was the store-room for the milk and food.
The floor space of this last was about six feet in its shorter and
nine feet in its longer diameter. The greatest height of the living
room--in its centre, that is--was scarcely six feet. In no part of
the dairy was it possible to stand erect. The door of communication
between the two rooms was so small that we could get through it only
by creeping. The great thickness of the walls, six to eight feet, gave
this door, or passage of communication, the look of a tunnel, and made
the creeping through it very real. The creeping was only a little less
real in getting through the equally tunnel-like, though somewhat wider
and loftier passage which led from the open air into the first, or

[Illustration: _Fig. 17._--PLAN OF BO’H.

_a a a._ Entrances; _b._ Sleeping platform; _c._ Range of cobble
stones; _d._ Hearth; _e e e._ Lockers; _f._ Dairy.]

“At the right hand side on entering there was the fireplace. The smoke
escaped at a small opening at the apex of the dome. The floor was
divided into two spaces by a row of curb-stones eight or nine inches
high. These served as seats, the only seats in the house; but they
at the same time cut off the part of the floor on which the inmates
slept, the bed, in short--the whole space behind the row of stones
being covered with hay and rushes. In the part of the wall bounding the
bed there were three niches or presses, in which, among other things,
we observed a hair-comb and some newly-made cheeses. The walls of these
bee-hive huts are built of rough, undressed stones gathered from the
moor, which are of fair size, but not larger than one or two men could
easily lift and put into position. The dome shape, or bee-hive form,
is given by making the successive courses of stone overlap each other,
till at length they approach so closely all round as to leave nothing
but a small hole, which can be either closed by a large sod, or left
open for the escape of smoke or the admission of light. I need scarcely
say that no cement is used. The principle of the arch is ignored, and
the mode of construction is that of the oldest known masonry. Though
the stone walls are very thick, they are soon covered on the outside
with turf, which soon becomes grassy like the land round about, and
thus secures perfect wind and water tightness.”[17]

Now, this extremely interesting account shows us two things. First,
that we can not safely conclude from the structure of a bee-hive hut
that it belongs to a pre-historic date. We are only justified in so
asserting when we find it in connection with megalithic monuments, or
when the spade in exploring it reveals implements of bronze or stone.
Secondly, we see how man clings to tradition, how that actually at the
present day men will occupy habitations on precisely the model of
those erected by the population of Great Britain ages before the Roman
set foot on our land.

It may be said, and with some justice, that there is no certainty
that the bee-hive hut was not a mode of construction adopted by many
different races. This is true. The huts in the vineyards on the
river Lot in France are of precisely the same construction. In the
south of Africa the Kaffir, at the sources of the Nile the Niams,
build themselves circular huts of clay and wattles. Nevertheless,
when we find this sort of hut identical in structure to the smallest
particular, as far apart as the Desert of Beersheba, and the dunes of
Brittany, the Hebrides, the Cornish peninsula, and the Pyrenees,[18]
and very generally associated with megalithic monuments, we may safely
conclude that they are the remains of one primitive people, and if in
later ages similar habitations have been raised, it is because that
with the blood, the traditions of that race have been continued.

[Illustration: _Fig. 18._--HUTS IN THE VINEYARDS, CAHORS.]

How striking is this passage from Dr. Geikie’s “Holy Land and the
Bible.” He says, “In the Wilderness of Beersheba are bee-hive huts
of stone, conjectured to be ancient native houses of the Amalekites.
They are from seven to eight ft. in diameter, with a small door of two
uprights and a lintel, about two ft. square. In one dwelling a flint
arrowhead and some shells were found. _Close by are some circles of
upright stones._ The whole country was at one time inhabited. Nearly
every hill has ancient dwellings on the top and stone circles, also
great cairns. The extraordinary resemblance, the identity in every
point so struck Professor Palmer, who discovered this settlement, that
in his ‘Desert of Exodus’ he engraved a Cornish bee-hive hut to show
how it was a counterpart to the huts of Beersheba.”

[Illustration: _Fig. 19._--OVEN AT NOUGARET, DEP. OF LOT.

(_Dog Kennel under Shelf._)]

But these bee-hive huts are themselves a reproduction in stone of the
tents with which the primeval race wandered on the steppes of the
Altai before ever they reached Palestine on the one hand and Europe
on the other. The Nomad made his tent of skins stretched on poles. It
was circular, and the smoke escaped through a hole in the top. When he
ceased to ramble, he constructed his habitation on the same principle
exactly as his tent, circular and domed. On the Siberian tundras and in
Lapland there are still in use two sorts of huts; one, the smoke-hut,
is precisely like a bee-hive habitation. It is, however, too small to
allow of a fire being kept burning in the centre, and it is heated in
this way--a fire is kindled and then allowed to go out. When extinct,
the chimney hole at the top is closed, and the owner retires into his
hut, which retains the heat for a great many hours. Sometimes, however,
like the _bo’h_ in the Hebrides, the fire is at the side, but owing to
the smallness of the hovel, must be kept low. Castrén, in his travels
among the Samojeds and Ostjaks, was sometimes obliged to spend months
in one of these huts. At first he was obliged to go outside in all
weathers, climb up the side of the hut and plug his chimney to keep
in the warmth; but after a while he rigged up a bundle of old cloth
attached to a pulley, and he was able by this means to block the
opening from within, by pulling a string.

[Illustration: _Fig. 20._--PLAN OF OVEN AT NOUGARET.]

A very similar hut is still in use among the Finns, but no longer as a
habitation. It is employed for bathing purposes. A fire is lighted in
it, and stones are heated in the fire red hot, then plunged in a vessel
of water. This generates steam, and the bather enters the bee-hive hut,
shuts the door, and is parboiled in the steam. Now, the inconvenience
of these bee-hive huts was obvious. Intense heat could be generated in
them, but owing to their smallness, a whole family could not live in
one. In the Fostbraethra Saga, an Icelandic account of transactions
in the eleventh century, that comes to us in a twelfth century form,
is an account of how one Thormod went to Greenland. Having committed
a murder there, he took refuge with an old woman in her hut. When his
foes came to seek him, she lit a fire on the hearth, and filled the
hut with smoke, so that they could not see who was in it. But one man
climbed on the roof and pulled the plug out of the chimney hole,
whereupon the atmosphere within cleared. In time the long house with
four corners to it was discovered or adopted. This was an immense
advance in comfort. But, at the same time, the peculiar advantage
of the bee-hive hut was not lost sight of. If human beings had been
baked and boiled therein--why not their bread and their meat? They saw
that a bee-hive hut was a hot-air chamber retaining the heat for an
extraordinary length of time. So the next step in civilisation was to
build the bee-hive hut on a smaller scale for the sake of boiling and
stewing. In the year 1891 I exhumed on the edge of Trewortha Marsh, on
the Cornish moors, an ancient settlement. The houses were all oblong.
The principal house consisted of two great halls. The upper hall was
divided by stone screens into stalls, and in front of each stall had
been formerly a hearth. In each stall a family had lived, each family
had enjoyed its own fire, burning on the ground. But such an open fire
would not bake. The inmates had knowledge of corn, for we found a hand
quern for grinding it. In order to bake, they had erected independent
huts, with bee-hive ovens in the walls, identical in structure with the
old bee-hive huts, and the reddened stones showed that fires had been
lighted in these for baking purposes. But that was not all, we found
heaps of burnt pebbles about the size of a goose-egg. These had been
employed for throwing into vessels of water either to boil them, or to
generate steam for baking purposes.

_Date, 16th century._]

A common English word has completely lost its primitive signification.
That word is _stove_. The stove is the Norse word _stofa_, and the
German _stube_. It does not mean a heating apparatus, but a warm

There is a curious old book, “The Gardener’s Dictionary,” by Philip
Miller, the fourth edition of which was published in 1754. He gives an
account of greenhouses and conservatories as places usually unheated.
“I suppose,” says he, “many people will be surprised to see me direct
the making of flues under a greenhouse; but though perhaps it may
happen that there will be no necessity to make any fires in them for
two or three years together, yet in very hard winters they will prove
extremely useful.” But when the author comes to hothouses, he describes
them under the name of “_stoves_.”

[Illustration: _Fig. 22._--EARTHENWARE OVEN AS IN USE AT PRESENT.]

The stove is a hot chamber, heated maybe by an oven, but we have turned
the name about, and we apply it mistakenly to the heating apparatus.

In Germany the room that is heated is the _stube_, but the heater is
the _ofen_. The _ofen_ is, however, itself a reproduction in small of
the hot chamber. The oven is employed to radiate outwards in heating a
room; it radiates inwards when employed for baking.

The German _ofen_, or, as we would term it, stove, is an earthenware
vessel in a room. A fire is lighted in it, till it is thoroughly
heated. Then the fire is allowed to expire, and the damper is turned,
effectually closing the flue. Thenceforth all the heat within and in
the earthenware walls radiates into the apartment, and keeps it warm
for eight or nine hours. In the ancient oven, as in the bee-hive huts
at Trewortha, every precaution was adopted to retain the heat. The
outside was banked up with peat, and the heat gathered within baked
bread or meat.

The bee-hive oven of courses of stone was not all that could be
desired. The fire acted on the granite or limestone or slate, and split
or crumbled it, and when one or two stones gave way, the whole dome

After a while a further advance was made. The bee-hive hut was
constructed of earthenware, of clay baked hard, so as to resist fire
for an indefinite number of years. Now in the West of England in every
cottage may be seen one of these “cloam” ovens. It is in structure a
bee-hive hut precisely. The old tradition hangs on, is followed from
century to century and year to year, and he who looks at these ovens
may think of the story they tell--of the ages unnumbered that have
passed since the type was fixed by the tent of the wanderer on the
Siberian steppes, of the changes that type has gone through, of the
stone bee-hive hut supplanting the tent of skins, of the bee-hive hut
abandoned for the house with four corners, and the old hut converted
into a baking oven, and then finally of the adoption of the oven of
“cloam.” In another ten or fifteen years that also will have passed
away, to be replaced by the iron square oven, and then one of the links
that attach us to that remote past, to that mysterious race that Mme.
Ragotzin says “lies at the roots of all history,” a race which has
marked its course by gigantic structures, but has left behind it no
history--then, I say, one of the last links will be broken.



I had let my house. Two days after, I received the following letter:--



 “In the best bedroom is a four-post bed. Mrs. C. assures me that it
 will be quite impossible for her to invite any friend to stay with her
 unless the four-poster be removed, and its place occupied by a brass
 or iron double-tester. Four-posters are entirely exploded articles. I
 will trouble you to see to this at your earliest convenience this week.

  “Yours faithfully,
  “C. C.”

Of course I complied. Two years ago I went to a sale. As I was not
very well I did not remain, but left word with my agent to buy certain
articles for me. Next day a waggon arrived with my purchases, and among
them--a mahogany four-post bed. “Why, good gracious! I do not want
_that_.” “It was going so cheap, and is of solid mahogany,” answered my
agent, “so I thought you ought to have it.” That four-poster has never
been put together. It lies now in an outhouse with a chaff-cutter,
empty cement barrels, and much rubbish. It probably never will be used,
except by boring woodworms.

I saw some little while ago in one of the illustrated papers a
recommendation how to make use of old carved four-post beds--that is to
say, of the carved four posts. Let them be sawn through, and converted
into massive picture frames or ornamental chimney-pieces.

I am sorry that the four-poster is doomed to extinction, for it has a
history, and it attaches us to our Scandinavian ancestry.

The Greeks and Romans had nothing of the sort. Their beds were not
closed in on all sides; it is a little doubtful whether these beds
were very comfortable. In great houses they were richly ornamented,
the legs enriched with ivory, and were sometimes even of precious
metal. They were covered with silk and tissues of interwoven gold; but
somehow in classic literature we do not come upon much that speaks
of the luxurious comfort of a bed. In the charming passage on Sleep
in the first Ode of the Second Book, Horace makes no allusion to the
bed as having any relation to sleep, does not hang upon it tenderly
as something to be fond of. The bedroom of a Roman house was a mere
closet. The Roman flung himself on a bed because he was obliged to
take some rest, not because he loved to sink among feathers, and enjoy

The modern Italian bed is descended by direct filiation from the
classic _lectus_, and what an uncomfortable article it is! There are
plenty of representations of ancient beds on tombstones and on vases;
they are not attractive; they look very hard, unpleasantly deficient in
soft mattresses.

The Roman noble had his _lectica_--a litter enclosed within
curtains--in which he was carried about. One of bronze, inlaid with
silver, is preserved in the Palace of the Conservators at Rome. Now and
then mosquito curtains were used round a bed, and Horace represents
the rout of the forces of Antony at Actium as due to the disgust
entertained by the Roman legionaries at seeing their general employ
mosquito curtains to his bed at night. The couches on which guests and
host reclined at dinner were, in fact, beds, and they had curtains
or a sort of a canopy over them. Great fun is made by Fundanius in
his account to Horace of a banquet in the house of a _nouveau-riche_,
of the fall of the canopy on the table during dinner, covering all
the meats and dishes, and filling the goblets with a cloud of black

But the true four-poster derives from the north. The Briton had it not
when invaded by the Romans, and the Roman did not teach the Briton to
construct it.

The Saxon did not bring his four-poster with him, nor did the Jute or
the Angle, for the four-poster was unknown to these Teutonic peoples.
It came to us with the “hardy Norseman.”

[Illustration: _Fig. 23._--INTERIOR OF A SCANDINAVIAN HALL.

  A The fire in the midst. On great occasions goes the whole length of
    the hall.
  B The principal bench and its footstool F. D The second bench and its
    footstool F.
  C The high seat of honour. E The seat of secondary consideration.
  G The beds. On high occasions curtains hung before them. H Steps into
    the beds.
  I The lokrekkjur or lokhvilur, closed beds, bolted from within.
    M Windows.]

Let us see what was the construction of a Scandinavian house. The house
consisted of one great hall that served most purposes (_skali_). In it
men and women ate and drank, the dinner was cooked, work was done when
the weather was bad, and there also were the beds. In addition to the
hall, there was in the greatest houses a ladies’ bower (_badstòfa_),
but with that we need not concern ourselves. The hall consisted of
a nave and side aisles. The walls of the aisles were of stone, banked
up with turf, but the roof was of timber throughout. Down the centre
of the hall ran a trough, paved with stone, in which fires burnt, and
parallel with this long hearth were benches. It was not always that
fires were maintained through the whole length of the hall; one alone
was in general use in the centre, and here was the principal seat--that
occupied by the master of the house, and opposite him, beyond the fire,
was the second seat of honour. The roof was sustained by a row of
beams, or pillars, and the space of the aisles was occupied by beds. At
an entertainment, curtains were hung along the sides from post to post,
concealing the beds, but some of the bed compartments were boxed in,
both at back, foot, and front, between the pillars, and had in front
doors by which admission was obtained to them, and a man who retired to
rest in one of these _lokrekkjur_, or _lokhvilur_, as they were called,
fastened himself in. The object of these press beds was protection.
When, as among the Norsemen, every man revenged himself with his own
hand for a wrong done, it was necessary for each man who was sensible
that he had enemies, to provide that he was not fallen upon in his
sleep. In the Icelandic Saga of Gisli Sursson, relating to incidents in
the tenth century, is a story that illustrates this. As this saga is
exceedingly curious, I venture here to give the substance:--

In Hawkdale in Iceland lived two brothers, Thorkel and Gisli. “Sons
of Whey,” they were called, because, when their father’s house had
been set on fire, they and he had extinguished the flames with vats of
curds and whey. Thorkel had to wife a woman named Asgerda, and Gisli
was married to Auda, sister of his intimate friend Vestein. Their
sister Thordisa was married to a certain Thorgrim. The brothers and
brothers-in-law were great merchants, and went trafficking to Norway
and Denmark. Gisli and Vestein were partners in one vessel, and went
one way; Thorkel and Thorgrim were in partnership, and went their
way. But the brothers were very good friends; they and their wives
lived together in one house, and managed the farm in common. Thorkel,
however, was a proud man, and would not put his hand to farm work,
whereas Gisli was always ready to do what was needed by night or by
day. Things prospered, and it occurred to Gisli that if they took an
oath of close brotherhood, they would each stand by the other, and
would be too strong to meet with opposition in their quarter of the
island. Accordingly the four men proceeded to a headland, cut a piece
of turf so that it remained attached to the soil at both ends, raised
it on a spear, and passing under it, opened their veins and dropped
their mingled blood into the mould from which the strip of turf had
been cut. Then they were to join hands, and swear eternal fellowship.
But at this moment Thorgrim drew back his hand--he was ready to be
brother to Thorkel and Gisli, but not to Gisli’s brother-in-law,
Vestein. Thereat Gisli withdrew his hand, and declared that he would
not pledge eternal brotherhood with a man who would not be friends with

One day Gisli went to his forge and broke a coin there with the hammer
in two parts, and gave one half to Vestein, and bade him preserve it.
At any time, when one desired to communicate with the other in a matter
of supreme importance, he was to send to the other the broken token.

On one of his voyages, Gisli was a winter at Viborg, in Denmark, and he
there picked up just so much Christianity that he resolved never again
to sacrifice to Thor and Freya.

He returned to Iceland in the same week as did his brother Thorkel;
and as it was hay weather, at once turned up his sleeves, and went
forth with all his house churls, haymaking. Thorkel, on the other hand,
flung himself on a bench in the hall, and went to sleep. When he awoke,
he heard voices, and dreamily listened to the gossip of his wife and
sister-in-law, who were cutting out garments in the ladies’ bower. “I
wish,” said Asgerda, “that you would cut me out a shirt for my husband
Thorkel.” “I am no better hand at cutting out than you are,” answered
Auda. “I am sure of one thing, if it were anything that was wanted
doing for my brother, Vestein, you would not ask for my help or for
anyone else to assist you.” “Maybe,” said Asgerda, “I always did admire
Vestein, and I have heard it said that Thorgrim was sweet on you before
Gisli snapped you away.” “This is idle talk,” said Auda.

Then up stood Thorkel, and striding in at the door, said, “This is
dangerous talk, and it is talk that will draw blood.”

The women stood aghast.

Soon after this Thorkel told his brother that he wished to divide
the inheritance with him. Gisli regretted this, and endeavoured to
dissuade him, but in vain. They cast lots, and the movable goods fell
to Thorkel, the farm to Gisli. Thereupon Thorkel departed to Thorgrim,
his brother-in-law.

Sometime after this came the season of the autumn sacrifice. Gisli
would not sacrifice, but he was ready to entertain all his friends, and
invited to a great feast. Just before this, he heard that Vestein had
arrived in Iceland in his merchant vessel, and had put into a fiord
some way off. He immediately sent him the half-token by a servant, who
was to ride as hard as he could, and stop him from coming to Hawkdale.
The servant rode, but part of his way lay along a lava chasm, and as
ill fate would have it, he took the way above the rift at the very time
that Vestein was riding in the opposite direction through the bottom.
So he missed him, and on reaching the ship, learned that he had done
so. He turned at once, and rode in pursuit till his horse fell under
him just as he had caught sight of the merchant. He ran after him
shouting. Vestein turned and received the message and the token that
was to assure him the message that accompanied it was serious.

“I have come more than half way,” said he. “All the streams are running
one way--towards my brother-in-law’s vale--and I will follow them.”

“I warn you,” said the servant, “be on your guard.” Vestein had to
cross a river. As he was being put across, the boatman said, “Be on
your guard. You are running into danger.” As he rode near Thorgrim’s
farm, he was seen by a serf who belonged to Thorkel. The serf
recognised him, and bade him be on his guard. Just then, out came
the serf’s wife, Rannveig, and called to her husband to tell her who
that was in a blue cloak, and carrying a spear. The serf went in, and
Thorgrim, who was in the hall, inquired who had passed the garth. The
woman said it was Vestein, spear in hand, wearing a blue cloak, and
seated in a rich saddle. “Pshaw,” said her husband, “the woman can not
see aright. It was a fellow named Ogjorl, and he was wearing a borrowed
cloak, a borrowed saddle, and carrying a harpoon tipped with horn.”

“One or other of you is telling lies,” said Thorgrim. “Run, Rannveig,
to Hol, Gisli’s house, and ascertain the truth.”

When Vestein arrived at his brother-in-law’s, Gisli received him,
and again cautioned him. Vestein opened his saddlebags, and produced
some beautiful Oriental stuffs interwoven with gold, and some basins,
also inlaid with gold--presents for Gisli, for his sister Auda, and
for Thorkel. Next day Gisli went to Thorgrim’s house, carrying one of
these beautiful bowls, and offered it to his brother as a present from
Vestein; but Thorkel refused to receive it. Gisli sighed. “I see how
matters tend,” said he.

One night shortly after, a gale driving over the house, tore the thatch
off the hall, and the rain poured in through the roof. Everyone woke,
and Gisli summoned all to help. The wind had abated, but not the rain;
they must go to the stackyard and re-cover the roof as best they might.
Vestein volunteered his help, but Gisli refused it. He bade him remain
within. Vestein pulled his bed away from the locked compartment where
the water leaked in, drew it near the fire in the open hall, and fell
asleep on it. Then softly someone entered the hall, stole up to his
bedside, and transfixed him to the bed with a spear. Vestein cried out,
and was dead. Auda, his sister, woke, and seeing what had taken place,
call to a thrall, Witless Thord, to pull out the weapon. Thord was too
frightened to do so. He stood quaking with open mouth. Then in came
Gisli, and, seeing what had been done, drew out the weapon, and cast
it, all bloody, into a chest. Now according to Scandinavian ideas, not
only was Gisli solemnly bound to avenge Vestein’s death, as knit to him
by oath of brotherhood, but also by the fact of his having withdrawn
the weapon from the wound. He at once called his sister to him, and
said, “Run to Thorgrim’s house, and bring me word what you see there.”
She went, and found the whole house up, and armed.

“What news? what news?” shouted Thorgrim. The woman told him that
Vestein had been murdered.

“An honourable man,” said Thorgrim. “Tell Gisli we will attend the
funeral, and let the wake be kept as Vestein deserves.”

Gisli prepared for the burying of his brother-in-law according to the
custom of the times. The body was placed where a great cairn was to be
heaped over it. Then first Thorgrim stepped forward. “The death-shoes
must be made fast,” said he, and he shod the feet of the dead man with
a pair of shoes, in which he might walk safely the ways of Hela. “There
now,” said he, “I have bound the hell-shoes so fast they will never
come off.”

The summer passed, and winter drew on, then Thorgrim resolved on a
great sacrifice to Frey at the Solstice, and on a mighty feast, to
which a hundred guests were invited. Gisli would not hold a sacrifice,
but he sent out invitations to a banquet.

Whilst Thorgrim and Thorkel were preparing to receive their guests, it
occurred to one of them that Vestein had given splendid curtains to
Gisli and his sister for hanging along the sides of the hall. “I wonder
whether he would lend them?” asked Thorgrim. “For a banquet, everyone
is ready to lend anything,” answered Thorkel. Then Thorgrim called to
him the same thrall who had endeavoured to deceive him relative to
the passing by of Vestein, and bade him go to Gisli, and ask for the
curtains. “I don’t relish the job,” answered the man. Thorgrim knocked
him down, and bade him go as he was bid. The man’s name was Geirmund.
Geirmund went to Hol, and found Gisli and his wife engaged in hanging
up the very curtains in preparation for their feast. The serf proffered
his request. Gisli looked at his wife, and said, “What answer shall we
make to this?”

Then an idea struck him, and taking Geirmund by the arm, he led him
outside the hall, and said, “One good turn deserves another. If I
let you carry off the curtains, will you leave the hall door ajar
to-night?” Geirmund hesitated, looked steadily at Gisli, and said, “No
harm is intended against my master, your brother, Thorkel?” “None in
the least.” “Then,” said Geirmund, “I will do it.”

The snow fell thick that night, and the frost was keen. A hundred men
roystered in the hall of Thorgrim. Gisli entertained but sixty men.
In the night, when all had retired to their beds round the hall, and
were snoring, Gisli said to his wife, “Keep up one of the fires. I must
go out.” Then he drew from the chest the weapon wherewith Vestein had
been murdered, and stepped forth into the night. There was a little
brook ran down the vale, and he walked up the bed of the stream till
he came to the well-trodden way leading to the mansion of Thorgrim.
He went to that, and found, as he anticipated, that the door was not
locked. He entered the hall. Three fires were burning in the midst. No
one was stirring. He stood still and listened. Then he took the rushes
up from the floor, wove them together, and threw them as a mat on one
of the fires, and covered it. He waited a minute. No one stirred, so
he went on to the second fire, and treated it in the same manner. The
third was but smouldering, but there was a lamp burning. He saw a young
man’s hand thrust forth from a bed to the lamp, draw it to him, and
extinguish it. Then he knew that all slept save Geirmund, who had left
the door ajar.

On tiptoe Gisli stepped to the closed bed-recess of Thorgrim, and
found that it was not fastened from within. Thorgrim had not dreamed
of danger, with a hundred guests and all his servants about him. Gisli
put his hand into the bed, and touched a bosom. It was that of his
sister, the wife of Thorgrim, who slept on the outside. The icy touch
roused her, and she said, “Husband! how cold your hand is.” “Is it so?”
answered Thorgrim, half roused, and turned in bed. Then with one hand
Gisli sharply drew down the coverlet, and with the other drove the
spear--still stained with Vestein’s blood--through the heart of his
murderer. Thordisa woke with a cry, started up and screamed, “Wake, and
up all! my husband has been killed!” In the dark, Gisli escaped, and
returned home by the same way he had come.

Next morning very early, Thorkel and the nephews of Thorgrim came
to Hol. Thorkel led the way into the hall, and walked direct to the
closed bed of his brother. As he came to it, his quick eye detected
Gisli’s shoes frozen and covered with snow, and he hastily kicked them
under the stool lest the nephews should see them, and conclude who had
murdered their uncle.

“What news?” said Gisli, rousing and sitting up in bed.

“News serious and bad,” answered Thorkel. “Thorgrim, my brother-in-law,
is murdered.”

“Let him be buried as he deserves,” said Gisli. “I will attend and
greet him on his way.”

Now, at the funeral, Thorgrim was laid in a ship that was placed on
a hill-top, and all prepared to heap a cairn over the dead man. Then
Gisli heaved a mighty stone, and flung it into the ship of the dead,
so that the beams brake, and he said, “Let none say I cannot anchor a
death-ship, for I have anchored this that it will sail no more.” And
all who heard him remembered the words of Thorgrim when he bound the
hell-shoes on the feet of Vestein.

There are a good many passages in the sagas that refer to the
press-beds. In the saga of the Droplauga-sons we read--“It was
anciently the custom not to use the _badstòfa_ (the heated room); men
had instead great fires, at which they sat to heat themselves, for at
that time there was plenty of fuel in the country. The houses were
so constructed that one hall served all purposes for banqueting and
sleeping, and the men could lie under the tables and sleep, or each in
his own room, some of the bed places being enclosed, and in these lay
the most honourable men.”

In the saga of Gunnlaug with the Serpent’s Tongue, we are told how that
“One morning Gunnlaug woke, and everyone was on foot except himself. He
lay dozing in his press-bed behind the high seat. Then in came a dozen
armed men into the hall,” etc.

The Droplauga-sons saga tells us how one Helgi, Asbjorn’s son, slept
with his wife in one of these closed-in beds for fear of his mortal
enemies. One day a friend came to his house. In the evening Helgi said
to his wife, “Where have you put Ketilorm to sleep?” “I have made him
up a bed--a good one--out on the long bench in the hall.” Then Helgi
said, “When I go to Ketilorm’s house, he always turns out of his
press-bed and gives it up to me, so you and I must to-night lie in the
hall, and give up our close-bed to him.” They did so, and that night
the murderer came, and Helgi died through his hospitality.

In the saga of Egill Skallagrim’s son is a story that shows us how that
some of the closed bedchambers contained more than one sleeping place.
Egill, who lived in Iceland, had lost his son Bödvar, who was drowned.
The grief of the old man was excessive. He retired to his locked-up
bedchamber, fastened himself in, and, lying down, refused food. After
three days had elapsed, his wife, in serious concern, sent for his
married daughter, Thorgerthr, who, on entering the house, said loud
enough to be heard, “I intend not to touch food till I reach the halls
of Freya. I can do naught better than follow my father’s example.” Then
she knocked at the opening into the _lokhvila_, and called, “Father,
open, I desire to travel the same road with you.”

The old man let her in, and she laid herself down on another bed in the
same enclosed place.

After some hours had passed in silence, Egill said, “Daughter, you are
munching something.”

“Yes, father. It is sol (_alga saccharina_). It shortens life. Will you
have some?”

“If it does that, I will.”

Then she gave him some of the seaweed. He chewed it, and naturally both
became very thirsty.

Presently Thorgerthr said she must taste a drop of water. She rose,
went to the door, and called for water. Her mother brought a drinking
horn. Thorgerthr took a slender draught, and offered the horn to her

“Certainly,” said he, “that weed has parched my throat with thirst.” So
he lifted the horn with both hands, and drained it.

“Father,” said Thorgerthr, “we have both been deceived; we have been
drinking milk.” As she spoke, the old man clenched his teeth in the
horn, and tore a great shred from it, then flung the vessel wrathfully
on the ground.

“Our scheme has failed,” said Thorgerthr, “and we cannot now continue
it. I have a better plan to propose. Compose a death-lay on your son,
Bödvar, and I will carve it in runes on oaken staves.”

Then the spirit of song came on the old man, and he composed the long
Wake-song of Bödvar that goes by the name of the Sonartorrek, and in
singing it his grief was assuaged.

The invasion of the Northmen, of Dane and Viking of Norway, that
made the Saxons tremble, was an invasion of something more than
marauders--it was one of four-post beds. They did not, indeed, bring
their press beds with them in their “Long Serpents,” but no sooner
did they establish themselves in the land--Ragnar Lodbrog’s sons
in Northumbria, and King Knut in England--than they set up their
four-posters, and made themselves both secure and comfortable. They
shut themselves in for the night, pulled the bolt, and were safe till
next morning. We do not half understand the horrors of St. Brice’s
Day, 1002, when the Danes were massacred throughout the dominions of
Æthelred, unless we introduce these closed beds into the picture. We
must imagine the Saxons storming the closed and bolted boxes, and
the Danes within, unable to escape, as the axes and crowbars crashed
against the oak doors and hinges of their _lokhvilur_. They could but
muffle themselves in their feather beds, and endeavour to burst forth
when the entrance was forced.

The cairn, or tumulus, that covered a dead Norseman was heaped over a
sort of wooden or stone bed made after the fashion of a _lokhvila_. In
the Grettis saga we have the story of the hero breaking into the cairn
of an old king, and he found him enclosed in a box of boards--stout
oak planks--very much as he had been shut in every night when he
retired to sleep. The _kistvaens_ of stone, oblong boxes of stones set
on end, and covered over with great slabs, to contain the dead, are
nothing other than stone four-posters. And the modern coffin is nought
else but the wooden enclosed _lokhvila_--the Scandinavian close bed
reduced to the smallest possible dimensions. There is no particular
sense in the coffin, but it is a reminiscence of what the beds of our
Scandinavian forefathers were, and will continue to be used long after
the four-poster is banished from our bedrooms.

In the Völsunga saga is a ghastly story of two men buried alive in
a kistvaen. Sigmund was the sole surviving son of King Völsung, who
had been killed by King Siggeir of Gothland. Siggeir was married to
Signy, the sister of Sigmund. The duty to revenge the death of Völsung
lay on Sigmund, and Signy was by no means indisposed to further this
vengeance-taking. Sigmund and his son Sinfjotli came secretly to the
hall of King Siggeir, and concealed themselves in full harness in an
outhouse behind a cask of ale. The two boys of the king, running out,
saw them hiding there, and raised the alarm, whereupon Sigmund and
Sinfjotli cut them down. King Siggeir called together his men, and they
closed round Sigmund and his son and took them alive. Then the King of
Gothland declared he would bury them alive. Accordingly he ordered his
men to erect large stones set on end, and to cover them over with flat
stones, and then he placed the two men, Sigmund and Sinfjotli, in the
chamber thus formed, and heaped over them a cairn of earth and small
stones. Now, just before the last stone coverer was placed on this
living grave, Signy, the queen, flung in a big bundle. When the cairn
was raised the two men who were entombed alive felt the bundle, and
discovered that it consisted of a stout rope wrapped round the sword of
Sigmund. That gave to them hope. With the blade they dug at the bases
of the upright stones, and, raking out the small stuff between them,
managed to pass the rope round them, and drew them down. By the fall of
these stones a gap was made, the top of the cairn ran in, and the two
entombed men crawled out. They at once went to the hall of the king,
heaped wood about it, and set it on fire. As it flared, Signy came out,
kissed her brother, and his son, refused life, and went back into the
flames to die with her husband and his men.

The Völsunga saga is valuable, as it carries us back to the
pre-Christian condition of life in the semi-mythical period. The
Völsungs are kings of the land of the Huns: they are not Huns
themselves, but belong to the Odin-born conquering race. The historic
Huns have the rude stone monuments attributed to them in Hanover,
Pomerania, and Mecklenburg, but they had nothing to do with their
erection. These monuments belong to a far earlier race.

When King Harold Fairhair converted Norway into a single monarchy, many
of the old chiefs fled the land rather than submit; but one, Herlaugi,
in Naumudal, went alive with twelve of his men into a cairn that
contained a kist, and had it closed upon him.

In the saga of Egil and Asmund is a queer story of two men who swore
brotherhood with each other, that he who survived the other should
spend three nights in the cairn with his dead brother, “and then depart
_if he liked_.” The saga goes on to tell how that one of these, Aran,
was slain, then his fellow, Asmund, “threw up a cairn, and placed by
the dead man his horse, with saddle and bridle, and all his harness
and his banner, his hawk, also, and his hound; Aran sat in the high
stool in full armour. Then Asmund had his chair brought into the cairn
and sat there, and the cairn was closed on them. In the first night
Aran rose from his stool and killed hawk and hound, and ate them both.
In the second night Aran stood up and slew his horse, and tore it in
pieces, rending it with his teeth, and he ate the horse, the blood
running over his jaws. And he invited Asmund to eat with him. The third
night Asmund felt heavy with sleep, and he snoozed off, and was not
aware before the dead man had gripped him by both ears and had torn
them off his head. Asmund then drew his sword, hewed off the head of
Aran, took fire, and burned him to ashes. Then he went to the rope and
was drawn up, and the cairn was closed. But Asmund carried away with
him all the treasure it contained.”[20]

The Norsemen were buried seated in their chairs or in their boats, but
the builders of the megalithic monuments were interred lying on their
sides, with their hands folded, as though in sleep. Their great dolmens
and covered avenues were family cemeteries. The slab at the east end
was movable, so as to allow of admission into the tomb on each fresh
death in the family. A hole in the stone at the foot is very usual. Of
that elsewhere. The latest interments in a dolmen are always nearest
the opening; sometimes the more ancient dead have been removed farther
back in the monument to make room for the new-comers. There is an
allusion in Snorn’s Heimskringla to these holes in the kists containing
the dead: “Freyr fell sick and his men raised a great mound, in which
they placed a door with three holes in it. Now when Freyr was dead they
conveyed him secretly into the mound, but told the Swedes he was alive;
and they kept watch over him for three years. They brought all the
taxes into the mound--through one hole they thrust in the gold, through
another they put in the silver, and through the third the copper money
that was paid.”[21]

It is probable that the Scandinavians followed to some extent the usage
of the race that preceded them, and used their megalithic monuments,
much as we know that tumuli were employed for later interments, and by
races different from that which raised the tumuli. That the idea of
sleep was connected with death in many cases of burials, is certain,
from the position given to the corpse, the hands are folded and the
knees drawn up.

We cannot say for certain that the dolmens, as the French call the
monuments which we term cromlechs, were reproductions in stone of
the closed beds of the men of the polished-stone age, but it is
probable. The great family dolmens were cemeterial big Beds of Ware
to accommodate a number, and the small kistvaens were single beds for
old bachelors. Some of the largest dolmens contain as many as forty
sleepers. Under Brown Willy, the highest point of the Cornish moors, is
one long kistvaen, and beside it a tiny one for a baby--the mother’s
bed and the cradle, side by side, for the long night of death.

[Illustration: _Fig. 24._--DOLMEN, GABAUDET, NEAR GRAMAT. DEP. DE LOT.]

It has been supposed that the cromlechs, or dolmens, and the kistvaens,
represent the ancient dwellings of the neolithic men. I do not think
so. The position of the bodies shows that they were intended, not as
dwellings, but as beds. If they resembled anything used in life, it
was the bed-compartments in the huts, not the huts themselves. These
bed-compartments were backed, walled, and roofed with stone.

I was once offered in Antwerp a very beautifully carved oak bed; it was
but an oblong box, with an opening on one side only, which could be
closed with a curtain, and very much like a berth in an old-fashioned

The reader will remember the graphic description, in “Wuthering
Heights,” of a very similar close-bed of boards as used in Yorkshire.
That Yorkshire bed was a lineal descendant from the _lokhvila_ of the
Scandinavian colonists of Northumbria.

When danger of assassination in bed ceased, men began to sleep easier,
breathe freer, and dispensed with the door and its bolts. They shut
themselves in with curtains instead; and as there were practical
inconveniences in making beds, where the bed maker could not go round
to the wall side, cautiously and with hesitation suffered the bed to
be pulled out, so that it might stand free on all sides save the head.
Then head and top alone remained of board, two sides and foot were
left open, or partially open; they could be closed with curtains, and
the sleeper could and did convert his bed into a sort of box when he
retired to rest.

So beds remained throughout the Middle Ages and to last century. Some
ancient beds had gabled roofs over them, and many remained fixed in
on all sides save one. But at the same time there was the truckle-bed
for the servant; even the iron bedstead without tester, precisely
like those turned out by every ironmonger. Viollet le Duc gives an
engraving of one such in his “Dictionnaire du Mobilier Français,”
from a miniature of the tenth century. He gives also a representation
of an iron bed thrust under a roof-like covering, with curtains, and
ventilating windows, on which Solomon is shown asleep, from a MS. of
the twelfth century. It would almost seem that in the Middle Ages a
contest raged between the four-poster and the bed without tester, and
in the MS. from which the illustration just mentioned is taken the
wisdom of Solomon is represented as combining both fashions.

Anyone who has taken lodgings in Germany is aware of the alcove-bed;
the curtains are let fall that conceal a recess, and, lo! the chamber
has ceased to be a bedroom and has become a reception-room. This is
another adaptation of the Northern conception of a bed. In the London
houses of Gower Street, and of streets built at the same period, the
same idea is carried out in a somewhat pretentious form. In front,
looking out on the street, is the sitting-room, opposite the window are
folding doors, and behind them the bedroom. The little back room behind
these doors is the _lokhvila_ somewhat enlarged.

[Illustration: _Fig. 25._--HUT, TREWORTHA MARSH, WITH STONE BED.

(_By kind permission of “The Daily Graphic.”_)]

Indeed, the two ideas of bed, the open and the closed, go back a long
way. I have mentioned in the preceding article the exploration of an
ancient settlement--date early but unfixed--on the Cornish moors. One
hut had in it both types of bed. We saw in the article on “Ovens” how
that in the Hebrides, in the bee-hive huts to this day, a portion of
the floor is marked off by curb stones, and this portion is converted
into a bed at night and a seat by day. So was it in one of the stone
huts on Trewortha Marsh. A set of granite blocks in a curve parted one
portion of the earth floor from the rest. That was the bed according
to the Keltic ideal. But, and this was curious, in the depth of the
wall at the farther end of the hut, was a hole seven feet deep in the
thickness of the wall, with a great slab of granite at the bottom
smoothed to serve as mattress. It was about 2 feet 3 inches wide at
the foot, as much at the head, but widened to 3 feet 4 inches in the
middle. The height above the floor was 4 inches. It adjoined the
oven--it was a bed according to Scandinavian ideas, with this sole
difference, that access to it was obtained at the foot, which alone was
open, and not at the side.

[Illustration: _Fig. 26._--A RUINED HUT, TREWORTHA.

_a._ Chamber, 11½ ft. × 10 ft.; _b._ Bed; _c._ Locker; _d._ Entrance, 2
ft. 3 in. high; _e._ Sunkenway leading to the door and beyond to water.]

Do those two types of bed in one hovel 10 feet square signify that men
of two nationalities occupied it, each with his bed-ideal, which he
would not abandon? We cannot say; probably it means no more than this,
the confluence of two streams of tradition.

The wooden coffin is neither more nor less than the wooden four-poster
or rather closed bed reduced to the smallest possible dimensions.
Among the megalithic people the stone grave was gradually reduced in
dimensions from the mighty dolmen to the small kistvaen. The great
tumulus or cairn is now represented by the little green mound in the
churchyard, and the menhir or long stone, rude and uninscribed, has its
modern counterpart much altered in the headstone. The enclosed box-like
stone tombs that were erected during last century were survivals of
the kistvaen, as were also the sarcophagi of the ancients. The wooden
coffin is but in small the wooden chamber of the dead of our Norse
ancestors, which was itself but a reproduction of the closed bedchamber.

For myself, when I think how much that is great and vigorous and
noble comes to us through our Norse ancestry, I regret that by the
abandonment of the four-poster we are casting aside one of its most
cherished traditions, and yet there remains matter of consolation in
the thought that, for the last sleep of all, we revert to the fashion
of bed _a la Scandinave_.


Striking a Light.

“Please, sir, the rats be a rampagin’ in the lumber-room as makes the
blood curl!”

For fifty years I had never been into that lumber-room. It is situated
up a steep flight of steps in the back kitchen, and had once been
inhabited by a button-boy. Here is an extract from my grandmother’s
account-book for the year 1803:--

  Footman      £14
  Page           4
  Cook          12
  Housemaid      7

Verily prices have risen since 1803.

However, to return to the four-pounder. He inhabited this room some
ninety years ago: then it was abandoned, finally locked up, and the key
lost. About fifty years ago, as a boy, I did explore the place, through
the window, after nests. My grandfather died. Then my father succeeded,
and the room remained unopened during his reign. My father died, and I
succeeded to the old house. I had been in it some years, when the other
day the kitchen-maid complained that the rats in this lumber-room over
the back kitchen made her blood “curl,” by which she meant, presumably,
“curdle;” till then I had never thought of an exploration.

To abate the nuisance, however, I broke open the door and entered the
long-abandoned room. Since the four-pounder had occupied it, for some
years that room must have been employed as a place for lumber, because
it proved to contain a quantity of old, disused articles in iron and
tin, and amongst these were two stands for rushlights, a tinder-box,
and a glass phosphorus bottle.

Such a find carried one back, as few other things could, to early days,
and showed one the enormous advance we have made in this century in the
comforts of life.

Some of us can remember the rushlight, a few the phosphorus bottle,
fewer the tinder-box.

Of the rushlights I found, one was familiar to me; the other, probably
an earlier type, I had never seen. The former consisted of a cylinder
of sheet-iron, perforated with round holes, the cylinder about two feet
high. This contained the rushlight. At the bottom was a basin for a
little water, that the sparks, as they fell, might be extinguished.

Well do I recall such rushlight lamps! One always burned at night in
my father’s bedroom, and when I was ill I was accommodated with one as
well. The feeble, flickering light issued through the perforations and
capered in fantastic forms over the walls and furniture.

The other rushlight lamp was of a different construction. It consisted
of a long spiral of iron wire, and was probably discarded for the newer
and safer invention of the lamp with perforated holes. The spiral coil
would prevent the lanky rushlight from falling over and out of the
lamp, but not the red-hot dock from spluttering on to the carpet or
boards of the floor.

[Illustration: _Fig. 27._--RUSHLIGHT-HOLDERS.]

There was in use, formerly, in England another sort of
rushlight-holder. It consisted of an iron rod planted in a socket of
wood that stood on the floor. To this rod, which was round, was affixed
a sliding contrivance that upheld a socket for the rushlight, which
might be raised or lowered as suited convenience. Connected with the
holder was the snuffer. The candle had to be taken _out_ of its socket
to have its wick pinched between the upright unremovable snuffers.
Conceive the inconvenience! The drip of tallow about fingers and floor!
We have indeed advanced since such candle-holders were in use. They
stood about four feet from the floor.

It was necessary in former times for a light to be kept burning all
night in one room, for to strike a light was a long and laborious
operation. There were little silver boxes that contained amadou, the
spongy texture of a puff-ball, and some matches dipped in sulphur,
also a flint. One side of the box was armed with a steel. In striking
a light the holder put the amadou in position to receive the sparks
from the steel as he struck the flint, then, when the amadou glowed,
he touched it with the brimstone end of the match and ignited that--a
matter of five to ten minutes. Why, a burglar could clear off with the
plate before the roused master of the house could strike a light and
kindle his candle to look for him.

The tinder-box employed commonly in kitchens and cottages was a
different application of the same principle. It consisted of a circular
tin or iron box, with the socket for a candle soldered on to the
top. This box contained a removable bottom. When opened it displayed
a steel and a lump of flint. These were taken out and the removable
bottom lifted up, when below was disclosed a mass of black tinder.
The manufacture of this tinder was one of the accomplishments of our
forefathers, or rather foremothers. It was made of linen rag burned
in a close vessel, completely charred, without being set on fire, and
the manufacture of tinder had to take place weekly, and consumed a
considerable amount of linen.

In the morning early, before dawn, the first sounds heard in a small
house were the click, click, click of the kitchen-maid, striking flint
and steel over the tinder in the box. When the tinder was ignited, the
maid blew upon it till it glowed sufficiently to enable her to kindle
a match made of a bit of stick dipped in brimstone. The cover was then
returned to the box, and the weight of the flint and steel pressing
it down extinguished the sparks in the carbon. The operation was not,
however, always successful; the tinder or the matches might be damp,
the flint blunt, and the steel worn; or, on a cold, dark morning, the
operator would not infrequently strike her knuckles instead of the
steel; a match, too, might be often long in kindling, and it was not
pleasant to keep blowing into the tinder-box, and on pausing a moment
to take breath, to inhale sulphurous acid gas, and a peculiar odour
which the tinder-box always exhaled.

[Illustration: _Fig. 28._--A TINDERBOX.]

[Illustration: _Fig. 29._--STEEL FROM A TINDERBOX.]

Here is a curious passage from an article on “The Production of Fire,”
in the _Penny Magazine_ for 26th July, 1834:--“The flint and steel,
with the tinder and match of some kind or other, have long been the
instruments of getting a light in the civilised world.... Within the
present century the aid of chemistry has been called in, ... and
instantaneous lights have become quite common, under the various names
of Promethians, Lucifers, etc., although, from its superior cheapness,
_the tinder-box will probably always keep its place in domestic use_.”
This article was published in the very year in which I was born, and
now it is extremely difficult to obtain an old tinder-box. I have
sought in the cottages and farmhouses in my own parish and those
adjoining, and have been unsuccessful in discovering more than one. A
generation has grown up that has never even heard of the tinder-box.

In or about 1673 phosphorus was discovered, and its easy ignition
by mere friction made known, and this opened the prospect of more
easy means of obtaining a light. But phosphorus was costly, and a
century and a half elapsed before the phosphorus match came into use.
Phosphoric tapers were employed; these were small wax tapers, the wicks
of which were coated with phosphorus; they were enclosed in glass tubes
hermetically sealed, and when a light was required, one end of the tube
was removed with a file, when the taper became ignited by exposure to
the air.

The plan was, however, clumsy, besides being dangerous and costly, and
never took hold of public estimation. The next attempt was to put a
piece of phosphorus into a small phial, and dissolve it at a moderate
heat, then keep the phial corked. The bottle was about the size of one
of smelling salts, and was kept at the head of the bed. When a light
was required, the glass stopper was removed, and a match coated with
sulphur was dipped into it, and worked about till a flame was produced,
when the match was withdrawn, and the phial hastily corked. Another
method was to rub the match, after dipping it in the bottle, against
a piece of cork or soft wood, the friction more certainly or less
dangerously promoting the combination of the sulphur and phosphorus,
and the consequent production of flame.

Another method of kindling a match was by means of Homberg’s
phosphorus, or fire-bearer. It was a black powder compound of flour,
sugar, and alum, which took fire on exposure to the air. But it never
came into general use. It remained in the hands of the curious. None of
these inventions displaced the old tinder-box, which maintained itself
to within the memory of many of us who are over fifty years.

Of all the ingenious attempts to get rid of the tinder-box, the
oxymuriate matches were the most successful. From them our present
lucifers are lineally descended. The oxymuriate matches were composed
of chlorate of potash and sugar coating a strip of wood. The match was
dipped into a bottle containing a piece of asbestos soaked in oil of
vitriol. The bottle and a number of these matches, with tipped ends
downwards, were put into a neat little case, and this was called the
“phosphorus box.” On their first introduction, these boxes sold as high
as 15s. each; they gradually fell to 10s., then 5s., but never went
below half-a-crown. But they were not altogether successful. The oil of
vitriol lost its force after a while, owing to the readiness with which
it absorbed moisture from the air, and then the matches smouldered
instead of bursting into flame.

The next advance was the lucifer-match, with phosphorus and sulphur
combined at the end. But this was dangerous, and frightful accidents
attended the manufacture. I spent some winters at Pau, in the south
of France, and near our house were the cottages of poor people who
worked at match-making. The pans of melted phosphorus into which the
heads of the matches were dipped would explode suddenly, and scatter
their flaming contents over the match-girls. My mother, as an angel of
goodness, was wont to visit and minister to many and many a poor little
burnt girl, who had thus been set fire to.

But the phosphorus match-making had another objection to it, besides
the accidents produced in the melting of phosphorus. It brought on a
frightful disease in the jaw. The bone was attacked, and rotted away.
In the “Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science” for 1852, the
nature of the disease is thus described:--“An affection ensues which is
so insidious in its nature that it is at first supposed to be common
toothache, and a most serious disease of the jaw is produced before
the patient is aware of his condition. The disease gradually creeps on
until the sufferer becomes a miserable and loathsome object, spending
the best period of his life in the wards of a public hospital. Many
patients have died of the disease; many unable to open their jaws have
lingered with carious and necrosed bones; others have suffered dreadful
mutilations from surgical operations, considering themselves happy to
escape with the loss of the greater portion of the lower jaw. In the
Museum of the Manchester Infirmary is the lower jaw of a young woman
who is now at work. Her face is much disfigured by the loss of her
chin, and, on looking into her mouth, the root of the tongue is seen
connected with her under lip, the space formerly occupied by the jaw
being obliterated by the contraction of the cheek.”

Thus, in the advance of civilisation, great agonies have been gone
through. Our present conveniences have been purchased at the cost of
throes and tears in the past. We should not forget that civilisation
has had its martyrs.

Lastly came the match made without phosphorus. When we think of the
toil and trouble that the lighting of a fire occasioned, we can
understand what store was set on never letting a fire on the hearth go
out. An old woman on Dartmoor, recently dead, boasted on her death-bed:
“I be sure I’se goin’ to glory; for sixty-three years have I been
married, and never in all them years once let the hearth-fire go out.”
But there the fire was of peat, which will smoulder on untouched for
many hours.

There was a stage of civilisation before the tinder-box came in, and
that was a stage when fire had to be kept in, and if it went out,
borrowed from a neighbour. In the earliest age, fire was obtained by
friction; a piece of wood with a hole in it was placed on the ground
between the feet. Then a man held a piece shaped like the letter T in
his hands, and rapidly twirled this about, with the long end inserted
in the hole of the piece he held between his feet, till by friction the
upright was ignited. The pieces of wood must be very dry, and requisite
dryness was not easily procurable in our moist northern climes,
consequently the labour of kindling a flame was proportionately great.
Sometimes a wheel was employed, and the axle turned in that to produce
a flame. It has been thought that the _fylfot_ [Illustration: fylfot],
the crook-legged cross found on so many monuments of antiquity, the
_Svastika_ of India, represents an instrument for the production of
fire by friction. But owing to the great difficulty in producing fire
by this means, the greatest possible care was taken of the household
fire, lest it should become extinguished. This originated the worship
of Vesta. The flame once procured was guarded against extinction
in some central spot by the unmarried women of the house, and when
villages and towns were formed, a central circular hut was erected in
which a common fire was maintained, and watched continuously. From this
central hearth all the hearths of the settlement were supplied. Ovid
tells us that the first temple of Vesta at Rome was constructed of
wattled walls, and roofed with thatch like the primitive huts of the
inhabitants. It was little other than a circular, covered fireplace,
and was tended by the unmarried girls of the infant community. It
served as the public hearth of Rome, and on it glowed, unextinguished
throughout the year, the sacred fire, which was supposed to have been
brought from Troy, and the continuance of which was thought to be
linked with the fortunes of the city. The name Vesta is believed to
be derived from the same root as the Sanscrit _vas_, which means “to
dwell, to inhabit,” and shows that she was the goddess of home, and
home had the hearth as its focus. A town, a state, is but a large
family, and what the domestic hearth was to the house, that the
temple of the perpetual fire became to the city. Every town had its
Vesta, or common hearth, and the colonies derived their fire from
the mother hearth. Should a vestal maiden allow the sacred fire to
become extinguished, she was beaten by the Grand Pontiff till her blood
flowed, and the new fire was solemnly rekindled by rubbing together dry
wood, or by focussing the sun’s rays. It might not be borrowed from a
strange place. The circular form and domed roof of the Temples of Vesta
were survivals of the prehistoric huts of the aborigines.

Among the legends of the early Celtic saints nothing is more common
than the story of the saint being sent to borrow fire, and carrying it
in his lap without the fire injuring his garment.

In Ireland, before St. Patrick introduced Christianity, there was a
temple at Tara where fire burned ever, and was on no account suffered
to go out.

When Christianity became dominant, it was necessary to dissociate
the ideas of the people from the central fire as mixed up with the
old gods; at the same time some central fire was an absolute need.
Accordingly the Church was converted into the sacred depository of the
perpetual fire, and a lamp was kept in it ever burning, not only that
the candles might be ignited from it for the services, without recourse
had to friction or tinder flint and steel, but also that the parish,
the village, the town, might obtain thence their fire.

[Illustration: _Fig. 30._--CRESSET-STONE, ST. AMBROGIO, MILAN.]

[Illustration: _Fig. 31._--CRESSET-STONE, LEWANNICK.]

There exist still a few--a very few--contrivances for this perpetual
fire in our churches; they go by the name of cresset-stones. The
earliest I know is not in England, but is in the atrium outside the
remarkable church of St. Ambrogio at Milan. It is a block of white
marble on a moulded base, it is now broken, but banded together with
iron. It stands 3 feet 10 inches high, and is 2 feet 6 inches in
diameter at top. It consists of a flat surface in which are depressed
nine cuplike hollows. These were originally filled with oil, and wicks
were placed in them and ignited. In England one is still _in situ_,
in the church of Lewannick, in Cornwall. There it is not far from the
door. It consists of a circular block containing on its flat upper
surface, which is twenty-two inches across, seven cuplike hollows,
four and a half inches deep. The stone stands on a rudely moulded
base, octagonal, and is in all about 2 feet 6 inches high. In Furness
Abbey, among the ruins, has been found another, with five cups in it;
at Calder Abbey another, with sixteen such cups for oil and wicks. At
York is another with six such fire-cups, and at Stockholm another with
the same number, in a square stone table. At Wool Church, Dorset, is
again another example built into the south wall of a small chapel on
the north side of the chancel. It is a block of Purbeck marble, and has
in the top five cup-shaped cavities quite blackened with the oil and
smoke. In some of the examples there are traces of a metal pin around
which the wick was twisted.

In addition to these, in several churches are to be found lamp-niches.
Some have chimneys or flues, which pass upwards, in some cases passing
into the chimneys of fireplaces. Others have conical hollows in the
heads or roofs, in order to catch the soot, and prevent it passing out
into the church.

Now, although these lamps and cressets had their religious
signification, yet this religious signification was an afterthought.
The origin of them lay in the necessity of there being in every place
a central light, from which light could at any time be borrowed;
and the reason why this central light was put in the church was to
dissociate it from the heathen ideas attached formerly to it. As it
was, the good people of the Middle Ages were not quite satisfied with
the central church fire, and they had recourse in times of emergency to
others--and as the Church deemed them--unholy fires. When a plague and
murrain appeared among cattle, then they lighted need-fires, from two
pieces of dry wood, and drove the cattle between the flames, believing
that this new flame was wholesome to the purging away of the disease.
For kindling the need-fires the employment of flint and steel was
forbidden. The fire was only efficacious when extracted in prehistoric
fashion, out of wood. The lighting of these need-fires was forbidden
by the Church in the eighth century. What shows that this need-fire
was distinctly heathen is that in the Church new fire was obtained at
Easter annually by striking flint and steel together. It was supposed
that the old fire in a twelvemonth had got exhausted, or perhaps that
all light expired with Christ, and that new fire must be obtained.
Accordingly the priest solemnly struck new fire out of flint and steel.
But fire from flint and steel was a novelty; and the people, Pagan at
heart, had no confidence in it, and in time of adversity went back to
the need-fire kindled in the time-honoured way from wood by friction,
before this new-fangled way of drawing it out of stone and iron was

The curious festival of the Car of Fire observed on Easter Eve every
year at Florence carries us back to a remote period when fire was a
sacred and mysterious thing. As is well known, in the Eastern Church,
also in the Roman Catholic Church, all fires are extinguished before
Easter; and in the Cathedral, the Bishop, on Easter morning, strikes
new fire, blesses it, and all the hearths in the city receive the new
fire from this blessed spark. It is vulgarly supposed that the old fire
has got worn out, and has lost its full vigour by use throughout the
year, and that the new fire is full of restless and youthful energy.
There can be little doubt that this idea goes back to a remote and
Pagan time, and the Church accepted what was a common custom, and gave
it, or tried to give it, a new and Christian idea, connecting it with
the resurrection of Him who is the Light of the World. The same custom
of striking and blessing new fire exists in many parts of the West as
well as the East, and is sanctioned by the Roman Church. But nowhere
does this ancient usage assume so quaint and picturesque a form as
at Florence. There, however, the primitive significance is completely
forgotten, and the people have endeavoured to explain the ceremony
which I will now describe in various mutually contradictory ways.

On Easter Eve, four magnificent white oxen, their huge horns wreathed
with flowers, and with garlands about them, as though they were being
conveyed to sacrifice, draw a huge car, painted black, some twenty-five
feet high, pyramidal in shape, and crowned with a mural coronet,
into the piazza before the west doors of the white marble cathedral.
The car is itself wreathed with flowers to its highest pinnacle, and
with the flowers various fireworks are interspersed. As soon as this
great trophy is in place, and the oxen unyoked, the west doors of the
cathedral are thrown open, and a rope is strained from the top of the
car to a pillar that is erected in front of the high altar, a distance
of some two hundred yards. On this cord is seen perched a white dove,
composed of some white substance, probably plaster. For two hours
before the event of the day takes place the great piazza and the nave
of the vast cathedral are crowded. Villagers from all the country round
have arrived; but there are also present plenty of townsfolk, and
strangers from foreign lands. At half-past eleven, the archbishop and
all his clergy come in procession down the body of the church, pass
out of the west doors, and make the circuit of the cathedral. Before
twelve o’clock strikes they are again in their places in the choir.
At the stroke of noon the newly-blessed fire is applied to a train
of gunpowder at the foot of the pillar. In another moment the pigeon
skims down the nave, pouring out a shower of fire, sweeps out of the
west door of the cathedral, reaches the trophy in the square, sets
fire to a fusee there, then turns and flies back along the rope, still
discharging a rain of fire, till it has reached its pillar before the
altar, and there is still.

[Illustration: _Fig. 32._--THE CARRO, FLORENCE.]

But in the meantime the fusee at the car has set fire to various squibs
and petards and crackers there, and the whole structure is speedily
enveloped in fire and smoke, from which explosions issue every few
moments. As soon as the last firework has expired, the white oxen are
again yoked to the car, and it is drawn away.

The flight of the dove is watched by the peasants with breathless
anxiety, for the course it takes indicates, in their idea, the sort
of weather that is likely to ensue during the year. If the bird moves
slowly, halts, then goes on again, halts, and is sluggish in its
flight, they conclude the year will be tempestuous and the harvest
bad. If the dove skims along to the car and back without a hitch, they
calculate on a splendid summer and autumn, on a rich yield of corn, and
overflowing presses of grapes.

And now for the legends whereby the people explain this curious custom.
According to one, a certain Florentine named Pazzino went to Jerusalem
in the twelfth century, kindled a torch there at the Holy Sepulchre
on Easter Eve, and resolved to bring this same sacred fire with him
back to Florence. But as he rode along, the wind blew in his face and
well-nigh extinguished his torch, so he sat his steed with his face
to the tail, screening the flame with his body, and so rode all the
way home! The people along his route, seeing him thus ride reversed,
shouted out, “Pazzi! Pazzi!” (“O fool! fool!”) and that name of “fool”
he and his family assumed; and the family is still represented in

There is another version of the story; one Pazzino, seeing the Holy
Sepulchre in the hands of the infidels, broke off as much of it as he
could carry to convey home to his dear Florence. As he was pursued
by the Saracens, he reversed the shoes of his horse to avoid being
tracked. On reaching Florence it was resolved that the new Easter fire
should always be kindled on the stone of the Holy Sepulchre he had
brought home. In honour of his achievement, moreover, the municipality
ordered that the ceremony of the Car of Fire and the fiery dove should
be maintained every year. For many centuries the expenses were borne by
the Pazzi family; but of late years they have been relieved of these by
the municipality.

The third version of the story is, that Pazzino was a knight with
Godfrey de Bouillon in the first Crusade, and that he was the first
of the besiegers to mount the walls and plant on them the banner of
the cross. Moreover, he sent the tidings of the recovery of the Holy
Sepulchre home to Florence by a carrier-pigeon, and thus the news
reached Florence long before it could have arrived in any other way.

Such are the principal legends connected with this curious ceremony,
and we are constrained to say that we believe that one is as fabulous
as another. The explanation of the custom is really this.

The rite of striking the new fire was observed at Florence, as
elsewhere, from an early date, but the _communication_ of the new fire
from the newly-ignited candle was both a long affair, and occasioned
noise, struggle and inconvenience. Accordingly--partly to save the
church from being the scene of an unseemly scramble, and partly to
make the communication of the fire an easy matter to a large number
of persons at once--an ingenious contrivance was made, whereby a dove
should carry the flame from the choir of the cathedral, above the reach
of the people, who therefore could not scuffle and scramble for it, to
the market-place outside, where it ignited a bonfire, to which all the
people could apply their candles and torches. After a while the real
intention was forgotten, and the bonfire was converted into a great
exhibition of fireworks in the daytime.

The whole ceremony has a somewhat childish character, but then it dates
back to a period when all men were children; and it serves, if rightly
understood, to link us with the past, and enables us to measure the
distance we have trodden since those ages when fire was one of the most
difficult things to be re-acquired, if once lost, and the preservation
of fire and the striking of fire were matters of extreme importance,
and were after a while reserved to a sacred class.[22]



Some years ago I happened to be at that most picturesque old city of
Würzburg on a showery May market-day. The window of my hotel commanded
the square. The moment that the first sprinkle came over the busy scene
of market women and chafferers, the whole square suddenly flowered
like a vast garden. Every woman at her stall expanded an enormous
umbrella, and these umbrellas were of every dye--crimson, blue, green,
chocolate, and--yes, there was even one of marigold yellow, under which
the huckstress crouched as beneath a mighty inverted eschscholtzia. Nor
were these umbrellas all _selfs_, as horticulturists describe monotoned
pansies; for some were surrounded with a perfect rainbow of coloured
lines as a border; and others were wreathed about with a pattern of
many-hued flowers. Presently, out came the May sun, and, _presto_,
every umbrella was closed and folded and laid aside: the flower garden
had resolved itself into a swarm of busy marketers.

On reaching Innsbruck, I lighted on an umbrella-maker’s shop under
one of the arcades near the Golden Roof of Frederick with the Empty
Pockets. I saw suspended before the vault in which the man dwelt or
did business, umbrellas the exact reproductions of what I had seen at
Würzburg--red, green, brown, blue, even white--lined with pink, like
mushrooms: and for the sum of about fifteen shillings I became the
happy possessor of one of these articles, which I proceed to describe.
The covering was of a brilliant red, and imprinted round it was a
wreath of flowers and foliage, white, yellow, blue, and green; around
the ferule also was a smaller wreath similar in colour and character.
This cover was stretched on canes, such canes as are well known in
schools; and the canes were distended by twisted brass strainers,
rising out of a sliding tube of elaborately hammered brass, through
which passed the stick of the umbrella. The whole, when expanded,
measured nearly five feet, and was not extraordinarily heavy, nothing
like the weight of a gig-umbrella. Walking under it was like walking
about in a tent, taking the tent with one; and walking under it in the
rain filled one with sanguine hopes that the day was about to mend, so
surrounded was one with a warm and cheerful glow. On a hot climb over
a pass, when I spread this shelter above my head against the sun, I
felt that I must appear to the shepherds on the high pastures like a
migratory Alpine rose.

I met with no inconvenience whatever from my umbrella till I reached
Heidelberg on my way home, and innocently walked with it under my
arm in the Castle gardens on Sunday afternoon. Then I found that
it provoked attention and excited astonishment. Such an umbrella
had its social level, and that level was the market-place, not the
Castle gardens; it was sufferable as spread over an old woman vending
_sauerkraut_, but not as carried furled in the hand of a respectably
dressed gentleman. So much comment did my umbrella occasion that it
annoyed me, spoiled the pleasure of my walk, and I accepted the offer
of a friend to relieve me of it. He took my umbrella and thrust it up
his back under his coat, and with crossed arms to the rear, hugged
it to his spine. But even so it was not to escape observation, for
the black handle, crooked, appeared below his coat, a fact to which I
was aroused as I dropped behind my friend, by the exclamations of a
nursemaid: “_Ach Tausend!_ the Herr has a curly tail!” and then of a
Professor, who, beckoning some students to him, said: “Let us catch
him--the Missing Link, _homo caudatus_.”

On reaching England, the great scarlet-crimson (it was neither exactly
one nor exactly the other) umbrella was consigned to the stand in the
hall. Those were not the days when ladies spread red parasols above
their bonnets, and had sunshades to match their gowns: in those days
all parasols were brown or black; consequently the innovation of a red
umbrella would be too great, too startling for me to attempt. But one
morning--it was that on which the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh made
their entry into London after their marriage--I started early to drive
to the station and go to town and join the sightseers. It may be in the
recollection of those who were out that day that snow fell. Early in
the morning in the country there was a good deal of snow, so much, that
I thought I might safely take my Tyrolese umbrella to cover me in my
gig. I intended to furl it before I reached the station and such places
where men do congregate. It was remarkable that although the snow
spoiled the picturesque effect of the procession in Regent’s Street by
making the redcoats draw on their overcoats, it induced me to unfurl my
marvellous red travelling tent--which is an instance, may be, of the
compensation there is in nature.

As I drove along, I chanced on an umbrella-maker, trudging through the
snow, head down, with a bundle of his manufacture under his arm. He
neither saw nor heard the dogcart till it was close on him, when the
driver shouted to him to stand aside. Then he started back, looked
up, and I saw the change of expression in the man’s face, as his
eyes took in the apparition above him of the expanded red umbrella,
flower-wreathed and brass-mounted. The face had been inanimate; then,
a wild enthusiasm or astonishment kindled it, and down into the snow
at his feet fell the umbrellas he was carrying. I drove on, but looked
back at intervals, and as long as he was in sight, I saw him standing
in the road, with eyes and mouth open, hands expanded and every finger
distended, and his umbrellas, uncollected, scattered about him in the

These reminiscences of my remarkable umbrella lead me to say something
of umbrellas in general.

I hardly think that the true origin, development, and, shall I say,
degradation of the umbrella, is generally known. Yet it deserves to
be known, for it supplies a graphic and striking condensation of vast
social changes.

The umbrella comes to us from the East, from nations living under a
burning sun, to whom shade is therefore agreeable. We can understand
how the giving of shade came easily to be regarded as a symbol of
majesty. In the apocryphal book of Baruch occurs the passage, “We shall
live under the shadow of Nebucodonosor, king of Babylon, and under the
shadow of Balthasar, his son.” Primitively, kings gave audience and
delivered judgment seated under trees, not only because of the comfort
of the shade, but also because of the symbolism. So, when Ethelbert,
King of Kent, received St. Augustine, he was seated under an oak; and
Wagner is quite right when, in the opening scene in _Lohengrin_, he
makes King Pepin hold his court enthroned under a tree.

But when sovereigns took to receiving suitors and dispensing justice
indoors, they transferred with them to within the symbol of the tree.
Phylarchus, in describing the luxury of Alexander, says that the
Persian kings gave audience under plane trees or vines made of gold
and hung with emeralds, but that the magnificence of the throne of
Alexander surpassed theirs. Curtius relates how the kings of India had
golden vines erected in their judgment halls so as to overspread their
thrones. The throne of Cyrus was over-canopied by a golden vine of
seven branches. Firdusi describes a similar throne-tree at the festival
given by Kai Khosru:

  “A tree was erected, many-branched,
   Bending over the throne with its head:
   Of silver the trunk, but the branches of gold;
   The buds and the blossoms were rubies;
   The fruit was of sapphire and cornelian stone;
   And the foliage all was of emerald.”

From the East, the idea or fashion was transplanted to Byzantium,
and the emperors there had similar trees erected above their thrones
overshadowing them. William of Rubruquis describes a great silver tree
in the Palace of the Khan of the Tartars, in 1253, of which leaves and
fruit, as well as branches, were of silver. But kings went about, and
wherever they went their majesty surrounded them; and consequently,
with the double motive of comfort and of symbolism, the umbrella was
invented as a portable canopy or tree over the head of the sovereign.

The Greeks noticed and disapproved of the use of the umbrella.[23]
Xenophon says that the Persians were so effeminate that they could
not content themselves in summer with the shade afforded by trees and
rocks, but that they employed portable contrivances for producing
artificial shade. But when he says this, he most certainly refers to
the kings, for they alone had the right to use umbrellas.

On Assyrian and Persepolitan reliefs we have an eunuch behind the
sovereign holding an umbrella over him when walking, or when riding
in his chariot, or when seated; on a bas-relief of Assur-bani-pal,
however, the king is figured reclining under an overshadowing vine,
which is probably artificial. Firdusi says of Minutscher: “A silken
umbrella afforded shade to his head.”

M. de la Loubière, envoy extraordinary from the French King in 1687
and 1688 to the King of Siam, says in his narrative that the use of
the umbrella was granted by the sovereign to certain highly honoured
subjects. An umbrella with several rings of very wide expansion was
the prerogative of the king alone, but to certain nobles was granted
by princely condescension the right to have their heads and faces
screened from the sun by smaller shades. In his quaint old French, M.
de la Loubière says that in the audience-chamber of the king:--“Pour
tout meuble il n’y a que trois para-sols, un devant la fenêtre, á neuf
ronds, et deux á sept ronds aux deux côtéz de la fenêtre. Le para-sol
est en ce Pais là, ce que le Dais est en celui-ci”--that is to say, a
mark of the highest power.

The Mahratta princes had the title of “Lords of the Umbrella.” The
chàta of these princes is large and heavy, and requires a special
attendant to hold it, in whose custody this symbol of sovereignty

In Ava it seems to have been part of the royal title that the sovereign
was “King of the White Elephant and Lord of Twenty-four Umbrellas.” In
1855 the King of Burmah directed a letter to the Marquis of Dalhousie
in which he styles himself “His glorious and most excellent Majesty,
reigning over the umbrella-wearing princes of the East.”

Among the Arabs the umbrella is a mark of distinction. Niebuhr says
that it is a privilege confined to princes of the blood to use an

In the East the umbrella has come to be regarded as connected with
royalty as much as the crown and the throne; and among the Buddhists
it has remained so. Four feet from the throne of the Great Mogul, as
described by Tavernier, were two spread umbrellas of red velvet fringed
with pearls, the sticks of which were wreathed with pearls. Du Halde
says that in the Imperial palace at Pekin there were umbrellas always
ready for the Emperor; and when he rode out, a canopy was borne on two
sticks over his head to shade him and his horse. Of Sultan Mohammed
Aladdin we are told that he adopted insignia of majesty hitherto used
in India and Persia and unknown in Islam; among these was a canopy
or umbrella held over his head when he went abroad. Of one Sultan’s
umbrella we are told that it was of yellow embroidered with gold and
surmounted by a silver dove.

But as the umbrella was the symbol of majesty held over the king’s
head, it behoved the royal palace to imitate the same, and by its
structure show to all that it was the seat of majesty. Thus came
into use the cupola or dome, and what was given to the king’s house
was given also to the temples. In Perret and Chapui’s conjectural
reconstruction of the temple of Belus, near Babylon, above the seven
stages of the mighty pyramid, is the shrine of the god surmounted by a
dome. In all likelihood this really was the apex of the pyramid; the
dome was a structural umbrella held over the supreme god.

The great hall of audience of the Byzantine emperors was surmounted by
a cupola. Two Councils of the Church, in 680 and 692, were held in
it, and obtained their designation _in Trullo_ from this fact. From
the royal palace the cupola passed to the church, as the crown of the
House of the King of Kings; and a dome was erected over the church of
the Holy Sepulchre by Constantine, and over the church of the Eternal
Wisdom by Justinian. But it had already been employed as the crown of a
temple, not only in the Pantheon at Rome, but in the Tholos, the temple
of Marnas or Dagon at Gaza.

The great dome or umbrella by no means excluded the lesser one beneath
it, and kings’ thrones under cupolas were also over-canopied by
structures of wood, or marble, or metal. Such a _baldacchino_ is seen
over the sun-god in a bas-relief at Sippar. It became common, and
when of wood or metal, was sculptured, or when of textile work, was
embroidered with leaf and flower-work, retaining a reminiscence of the
original tree beneath which the king sat and held court. It also passed
to the church, and became a subsidiary umbrella over the altar. Paul
the Silentiary in the sixth century describes that in the Church of
St. Sophia at Constantinople as a dome resting on four silver pillars.
Constantine erected much the same sort of domed covering above the tomb
of the Apostles in Rome.

In the catacombs, the vaulted chapels and the over-arched recessed
tombs are all attributable to the same idea; nor has the original
notion been lost in them, for they are frescoed over with vines, bays,
and other foliage. The most beautiful instance is also the earliest,
the squire crypt in the cemetery of Prætextatus, which dates from the
second century. Here the entire vault is covered with trailing tendrils
and leaves with birds perched on them. A couple of centuries later the
original idea was gone, and we find, instead of a growing tree, only
bunches and sprigs of flowers.

So!--the umbrellas that pass in the rain under the shadow of the mighty
dome of St. Paul’s are its poor relations, and my flower-wreathed
_regenschirm_ preserves in its leafage a reminiscence of the original
tree; and the old German woman sits and vends carrots under what
was once the prerogative of the sovereign. Is this not a token that
sovereignty has passed from the despot to the democracy?[25]



A white marble sarcophagus occupies the centre of one of the rooms on
the basement of the Capitoline Museum in Rome. The cover has been taken
off and a sheet of glass fastened over the coffin, so that one can
look in. The sarcophagus contains the bones and dust of a little girl.
Her ornaments, the flowers that wreathed the poor little head, are all
there, and by the side is the child’s wooden doll, precisely like the
dolls made and sold to-day.

[Illustration: _Fig. 33._--DOLL OF IVORY, FROM THE CATACOMB OF ST.

In the catacomb of St. Agnes one end of a passage is given up to form a
museum of the objects found in the tombs of the early Christians, and
among these are some very similar dolls, taken out of the graves of
Christian children. It was very natural that the parents, whether Pagan
or Christian, should put the toys of their dear ones into the last
resting-place with them, not with the idea that they would want them
to play with in the world beyond the veil, but because the sight of
these dolls would rouse painful thoughts, and bring tears into the eyes
of the mourners whenever come across in some old cupboard or on some

Of the greatest interest to the student of mankind are the deposits
some 40 ft. deep at La Laugerie on the banks of the Vézère in Dordogne.
Here at the close of the glacial period lived the primeval inhabitants
of France, at the time of the cave lion, reindeer, and mammoth. That
race knew nothing of the potter’s art. The reindeer hunter was,
however, rarely endowed with the artistic faculty, and numerous
sketches by him on ivory and bone remain to testify to his appreciation
of beauty of animal form. One day a workman turned up a doll carved in
ivory beside one of the hearths of this primeval man. He secreted and
sold it, being under a bond to deliver all such finds to the proprietor
of the land. A fellow-workman betrayed him, and he was obliged to pay
back the money he had received and take the doll to M. de Vibraye,
to whom it was due. In a rage he said, “Anyhow, he shall not have it
perfect,” and he knocked off the head. In the accompanying sketch
the head is conjecturally restored. The arms were broken off when
discovered, if there ever had been arms, which is uncertain.

[Illustration: _Fig. 34._--DOLL OF IVORY FROM LAUGERIE HAUTE.

(The head restored.)]

Was this a child’s toy or an idol of adults? Probably the former. On
some of the engraved bones of the reindeer have been found sketches of
singular objects which bear more resemblance to fetishes, or the images
made and venerated by Ostjaks and Samojeds, than any thing else. With
the savage, as with the child, that doll receives most regard which
is most inartistic, for it allows greater scope for the imagination
to play about it. The favourite miraculous images are invariably the

In one of the Bruges churches is a beautiful Virgin and Child in white
marble, one of the few refined and beautiful things that Michael
Angelo’s hand turned out. But this lovely group does not attract
worshippers, who will be found clustered about, offering their candles,
hanging up silver hearts about a little monstrosity with a black face,
and neither shape nor limbs.

Whosoever has little children of his own can learn a great deal from
them relative to the early stages of civilisation of mankind. Every
race of men that has not been given revelation from above has passed
through a period of intellectual and spiritual infancy, and though
men grew to be adults, they never grew out of the thoughts of a child
relative to what was beyond their immediate sensible appreciation.

I knew a case of a woman of fifty who insisted that a certain river
changed the colour of its water as it flowed in one place under the
shadow of a wood, there it turned black, in another part of its course
it was white. To the intelligent mind it was obvious enough that the
water remained unaltered, but that it looked dark where the shadows cut
off the light from the sky. No amount of reasoning could convince the
woman that the water itself did not change its colour from black to
white. She thought as a child, and was incapable of thinking otherwise.

Now observe a little child playing with a doll. It does not regard the
doll as a symbol, a representation of a man or babe, it treats it as a
creature endowed with an individuality and a life of its own. It talks
to it, it feeds it, it puts it to bed, it conjures up a whole world of
history connected with it. It believes the doll to be sensible to pain,
and will cry to see it beaten. The doll is to it as real a person as
one of its playmates.

[Illustration: _Fig. 35._--MIRACULOUS IMAGE AT HAL, BELGIUM.]

Now take a savage and his idol. The idol to him is precisely what the
doll is to the child. It thinks, it eats, it suffers, it is happy. It
requires clothes, it is subject to the same passions as the savage.
When a heathen people has advanced to regard an image as the symbol
of a deity, it has mounted to a higher intellectual plane; it has
stepped from the mental condition of a child of five to that of one of
twelve. If we want to see what are the thoughts of a savage, who is
in the earliest stage relative to his idol, we must go to the Ostjak
or Samojed on the Siberian tundra, or to the negro in Central Africa.
The Greek, the Roman, the Egyptian were long past that stage when
they become known to us through history and their monumental remains.
Their images were symbols, and not properly idols, though there always
remained among them individuals, perhaps whole strata of people, whose
intellectual appreciation of the images was that of babes. This is not
marvellous, for human progress is always subject to this check, that
every individual born into the world enters, as to his intellectual
state, in the condition of the earliest savage, and has to run through
in a few years what races have taken centuries to accomplish. Where
this is the case, and it is the case everywhere, there will ever be
individuals, perhaps whole classes, whose mental development will
suffer arrest at points lower than that attained by the general bulk of
the men and women among whom they move.

Even in our own country, the most low and to us inconceivable ideas
relative to God may be found among the ignorant. If I tell a story it
is not to raise a laugh, but to lift a corner of the veil which covers
these dull minds, to show how little they have reached the level to
which we have ascended.

A middle-aged man declared to the parson of his parish that he had seen
and spoken with the Almighty. He was asked what He was like. He replied
that He was dressed in a black swallow-tailed coat of the very best
broadcloth and wore a white tie. This was said with perfect gravity,
and with intense earnestness of conviction. His highest conception of
the Deity was that of a gentleman dressed for a dinner party. Anyone
who has had dealings in spiritual matters with the ignorant will be
able to cap such a story. This is not to be taken as laughing matter,
but as a revelation of a condition of mind to us scarcely intelligible.
I feel some hesitation in repeating the incident, but do so because
I do not see in what other way I can make those who have not been in
communication with the very ignorant understand the full depth of their

Now let us look at the ideas that those of a low mental condition
among the savage races have relative to their idols. I will take the
instance of the Ostjaks and Samojeds. The latter have their _Hakes_.
They are figures--sometimes only bits of root of tree or wood that have
a distant resemblance to the human form, or some unusual shape. Every
family has its _Hake_--sometimes has several. These are wrapped up in
coloured rags, given necklaces and bangles, and a tent or apartment to
themselves. They have their own sledge, the _haken-gan_, and following
after a Samojed family, on its journey from one camping place to
another, may be seen a load of these unsightly dolls in their sledge.
If some figure out of the usual, in wood or stone, attracts general
attention, and is too big to be carried about, it is regarded as the
_hake_ of a whole tribe. These images are provided with food. Family
affairs are communicated to them, and they are supposed to rejoice with
domestic joys, and lament family losses.

When their help is required, offerings are made to them, but if the
desired help be not given, the _hake_ gets scolded, refused his food,
and sometimes is kicked out into the snow. The face of the _hake_, or
what serves as face, is smeared with reindeer blood. It is the same
with the Ostjaks. Their idols are dressed in scarlet, furnished with
weapons, and their faces smeared with ochre. They are called _Jitjan_.
“Often,” says Castrén, “each of these figures has its special office.
One is supposed to protect the reindeers, another to help in the
fishery, another to care for the health of the family, etc. When need
arrives, the figures are drawn forth and set up in a tent at the
reindeer pastures, the hunting or fishing grounds. They are presented
with sacrifices now and then, which consist in smearing their lips
with train oil or blood, and putting before them a vessel with fish or

It is very much the same thing with the negro, who stands on the same
intellectual level as the Siberian savage. His fetish is anything
out of the way--a strangely-shaped stone or bit of bone, a bunch of
feathers, a doll, anything about which his imagination may work, and
his reason remain torpid.

I have watched a little boy of six play with a piece of ash twig. I
drew it, and noted what his proceedings were. He had picked up this
twig, and suddenly exclaimed, “I have found a horse. It is lying down.
Get up, horse! Get up!” He took it to some grass to make it eat, then
went with it to a pond, and made it drink. There the twig fell in, and
he cried out that the horse was swimming. I picked out the twig for
him. Presently, by throwing it into the air, he found that his horse
could fly. Finally, he set to work to build a stable, and furnish it
for his horse.

[Illustration: _Fig. 36._--THE HORSE.]

I had been reading Castrén’s account of the _hakes_ and _jitjan_ at the
time, and under my eyes was a child doing with a bit of stick exactly
what a Turanian nomad of full age does now, and has done for thousands
of years. In two or three years this boy’s mind will have expanded,
and his reason have got in the saddle, and will hold in the imaginative
faculty with bit and bridle, and then he will cease to see horses in
ash twigs; but the wanderers on the Asiatic tundras have never got
beyond the stage of an English child of six and never will.

I quote a passage from “The Beggynhof; or, City of the Single,” to show
how that it is possible for a tolerably-educated, religious Belgian of
the present day to stand at the same point as that of a child of six,
and of an Ostjak savage.

“St. Anthony is a favourite saint with the good, holy, simple-minded
Beguines; but woe betide him if he refuse his powerful intercession. I
once saw a poor little statuette of this domestic saint left outside
on the window-sill when the snow lay deep on the ground. On inquiring
why it did not occupy its place on the mantelshelf, I was told that
the saint had been refractory; that the Beguine who occupied that room
had been very patient and forbearing for some days, but that, finding
gentleness had no effect in obtaining what she wanted, she now thought
herself justified in trying what effect punishment would have, so she
had turned the effigy of the rebellious saint out into the snow, and
sat with her back towards it, that her patron might understand she did
not intend to address him again until he granted her his protection and
influence.”[27] Precisely in like manner, when Germanicus died, did the
rabble of Rome pelt the temples and statues of the gods with mud and
stones, because they had failed to hear their prayers for the recovery
of their beloved prince.

We all of us pass through this stage of intellectual and spiritual
growth, except a few who never get beyond it. It is said of the negro
that as a child he is clever and bright, but that he never attains the
mental condition of an European of fifteen. But there are men and women
among us who, in certain matters, never get beyond the condition of
mind of a child of six. We may be shocked at this, but we cannot help
it; they are so constituted--something in their cranial structure, or
some natural deficiency in mental vigour is the occasion of this. In
religious matters they cannot get beyond Fetishism; and if we deny
them that, we deny them all religious comfort and worship. Sometimes,
through some accident, a leg or an arm gets diseased, whereas the
rest of the body grows; so is it with the mind--certain faculties get
diseased, perhaps the reasoning power, and then the imagination runs

To an ordinary cultured Pagan of Rome, or Greece, or Egypt, idolatry
was impossible. The gods, figured in marble and bronze, were to them
symbols and nothing else, precisely as to us the letters of the
alphabet are symbols of certain sounds, and the pictographic characters
of cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing were anciently symbols of certain
ideas. So also idolatry is absolutely impossible to anyone who has
gone through the elements of modern education. Religious statues and
pictures are historic representations of personages and events in
the sacred story, but to look upon them with the eyes of an Ostjak
or a child of six is a psychological impossibility, except only
for such as are mentally stunted like the Beguine of Ghent. It is,
therefore, without the smallest scruple that we can employ imagery
in our churches, knowing that the possibility of misusing it is gone
past reversion to it in nine hundred and ninety-nine persons out of
a thousand, and that the thousandth person who would misuse it is
incapable of any other religious exercise, and it were better that he
had some religious conceptions, however low these were, than none at

To draw this moral has not been my object in penning this article, but
to direct the attention of the intelligent to the nursery, and show
them how that the elements for the study of primitive culture, the
means of following the development of ideas in man are to be found
wherever there are little children.



Of the three factors that go to make up man--body, intellect, and the
spiritual faculty, the last has been allowed somewhat to fall into
neglect in the present age, when special stress has been laid on the
education and development of the intellect. Nevertheless it is a factor
that must not be ignored, and it is one that is likely to revenge
itself for neglect by abnormal action.

In the Middle Ages it was the reverse; under the preponderating
influence of the Church, the spiritual faculty was cultivated to
extreme of mysticism, and the intellect on one side, and the body on
the other, hardly received sufficient recognition. When an ascetic
would neither think out a problem nor keep himself clean, he exhibited
a monstrosity, not as repulsive, but as certainly a monstrosity,
as one of the gladiators depicted on the pavement of the Baths of
Caracalla--this latter, a man cultivated to the highest point of
animal strength and physical activity. It is probable that a purely
intellectual man without idealism, without religiosity, is as much a
monster as either of the other, though not in the nineteenth century as
repugnant to us as they are.

A religion that is good for anything must not only be one that is
intelligible and reasonable, but must satisfy the spiritual cravings,
and also exercise moral control over the animal nature. At the same
time, it is liable to undue stress in each direction; it may become a
mere theological speculation, mere mysticism, or resolve itself into
exterior formalism. Whenever it manifests a preponderating tendency in
one or other of these directions--the element in man that is not given
its adequate scope will revolt, and fling itself into an opposite scale.

The function of the reason in religion is to act as the balance wheel
of the spirit. Reason is not the mainspring, not the motive power of
religion; it is its controlling, moderating faculty.

Throughout the history of mankind we are coming continually upon
phenomena of a spiritual nature, outbursts of the spiritual faculty in
strange and often in very repulsive manifestations, and it may not be
amiss to look at some of these and to learn what is their real nature.

Among the primitive races which at this day represent the earliest
phases of psychological development, the savage man has a vague
apprehension of the existence of a spiritual world, haunted by the
souls of the dead which have not been absorbed into the universal
spirit from which they emanated. He has no definite belief, he has
only an apprehension. In the spiritual world, the existence of which
he suspects, there is no system; concerning it he has no doctrine. Its
existence implies no responsibilities.

Even the idea of an all-pervading spirit is inchoate. All that man
is confident about is that he is surrounded by and subject to the
influences of spirits, now beneficent, then malevolent, always
capricious, that have to be humoured and propitiated, and that allow
themselves to be consulted.

There is but one, so to speak, natural mode of holding intercourse with
the spirits, and that is by ecstasy, whether natural or superinduced by
narcotics. The man who falls into hysterics, the man who is cataleptic,
is the natural priest. An hysterical, a cataleptic condition, is not
understood, and just as the unusual and contorted bit of wood or stone
receives reverence as a fetish, so does the man subject to unusual fits
become a priest. To him the man of less nervous organism applies when
he desires to hold intercourse with the unseen world. Incantation,
whereby the hysterical work themselves into hysteria, and religious
rite are one. The Shaman or Medicine-man is the only priest.

Indeed, there is not a people, at a low stage of mental and moral
development, among which this phase of religion is not found, before
the spirit world coagulates into distinct beings, the rudiments of a
theology appear, the priesthood emerges as a caste, and worship is
fixed in ceremonial observance.

As man advances in the scale of general culture, and thinks more of the
unseen world, his reason or fancy, or reason and fancy acting together,
become creative; in the protoplastic, nebulous spirit-world points of
light appear, the light is divided from the darkness, and the spiritual
entities take rank, and assume characteristics. Religion enters on the
polytheistic phase.

At the same time the moral sense has advanced; it has seen that there
is some relation between the two worlds determined by good and bad. An
ethic code is evolved, imposed on man by the superior beings in the
world unseen.

But whilst some of the more gifted in a generation attain to this
religious and moral conception, there remain others, at the same time,
unable to rise, who still occupy the same low level as the earlier men,
who are conscious of spiritual forces, but unable to differentiate
them, who are lost in a vague dream, incapable of accepting a theologic
system, and unwilling to submit to moral restraint. Such men will
always turn away from a definite creed, view a priestly caste with
suspicion, and kick against an ethical code. To them the Schaman is
still the only priest, and delirious ecstasy the only sacrament that
unites the worlds. Their psychic development is so rudimentary, that
they are ready to accept as consecrated whatever utterance is vented,
whatever act is performed in the transport of temporary delirium.

Before proceeding any further with the account of the growth of
religion, it will be well here to give an account of Schamanism as
it at present exists. For this I will quote a description given by
Lieutenant Matjuschin who accompanied Baron Wrangel on his Polar
Expedition in 1820-3. Lieutenant Matjuschin visited a Tungu Schaman
near the Lena, in 1820.

“In the midst of the gurte (hut) burnt a fire, round which was laid a
circle of black sheepskins. On this the Schaman paced, uttering his
incantations in an undertone. His black, long, coarse hair nearly
covered his dark-red face; from under his bushy eyebrows gleamed a
pair of glowing bloodshot eyes. His kirtle of skins was hung with
amulets, thongs, chains, bells, and scraps of metal. In his right hand
he held his magic drum, like a tambourine, in his left an unstrung bow.
By degrees the flame died away; he cast himself on the ground; after
five minutes he broke out into a plaintive muffled sound like the moans
of several voices. The fire was fanned into a blaze again. The Schaman
sprang up, planted his bow on the earth, rested his brow on the upper
end, and ran at a rapidly increasing pace round the bow. Suddenly he
halted, made signs with his hands in the air, grasped his drum, played
a sort of melody on it, leaped and twisted his body into strange
contortions, and turned his head about so rapidly that it seemed to us
more like a ball attached to the trunk by a string. All at once he fell
rigid on the ground; two men whetted great knives over him, he uttered
his mournful tones, and moved slowly and convulsively. He was forced
upright, and he was as one unconscious, only with a slight quiver in
his body; his eyes stared wildly and fixedly out of his head, his
face was covered with blood, which poured out with sweat incessantly
from his pores. At last, leaning on the bow, he swung the tambourine
hastily, clattering over his head, then let it fall to earth. Now he
was fully inspired. He stood motionless with lifeless eyes and face;
neither the questions put to him, nor the rapid unconsidered answers
he gave, produced the slightest alteration in his frozen features.
He replied to the queries, of the majority of which he can have had
no comprehension, in an oracular style, but with great firmness of
assurance. Matjuschin asked how long our journey would last? Answer,
‘Over three years.’ ‘Would we effect much?’ ‘More than was expected
at home.’ ‘Should we all keep our health?’ ‘All but you; but you will
not be really ill?’ (Matjuschin suffered for a long time with a wound
in the throat.) ‘How is Lieutenant Anjou?’ ‘He is three days distant
from Bulun, where he has taken refuge, having barely saved his life
from a frightful storm on the Lena.’ (This was afterwards found to be
true.) Many answers were so vague and poetical as to be unintelligible.
When we had done questioning him, the Schaman fell down and remained a
quarter of an hour on the ground suffering from violent convulsions.
‘The devils are departing,’ said the Tungu, and opened the door. Then
the man awoke as out of a deep sleep, looked about in a bewildered
manner, and seemed unconscious of what had taken place.

“At another place a Schaman went into ecstasies. The daughter of the
house, a Jakutin, became white, then red, then the bloody sweat broke
out, and she fell unconscious on the ground. Matjuschin ordered the
Schaman to desist; as he did not, he flung him out of the house, but he
continued his leaps and contortions outside in the snow. The girl lay
stiff, the lower part of her body swelled, she had cramps, shrieked,
wrung her hands, leaped and sang unintelligible words; at last she
fell asleep, and when she woke after an hour, knew nothing of what had
happened. Her father told us she often had these ecstasies, foretold
the future, and sang in the Lamutisch and Tungu languages, which she
did not know.”

Matjutschin remarks on what he saw: “The Schamans have been represented
as being mere gross deceivers; no doubt this is true of many of
them, but the history of others is very different. Born with ardent
imaginations and excitable nerves, they grow up amidst a general belief
in the supernatural. The youth receives strong impressions and desires
to obtain communication with the invisible world. No one teaches him
how to do so. A true Schaman is not a cool and ordinary deceiver, but a
psychological phenomenon.”

These hysterical transports are infectious. Several cases have been
known where a Schaman has begun his operations, that onlookers have
been convulsed, have communicated their agitation to others, and it
has run through an entire settlement, all becoming frantic, shouting,
rolling on the ground, with nervous jerks of the head and spasms of the

We find precisely analogous practices everywhere among men on the
same psychological platform as Lapps, Ostjaks, and Tungus. Sometimes
medicinal plants and drugs are used to provoke intoxication or excite

Madness, epilepsy, catalepsy, hysteria, in fact all nervous maladies
are at present little understood by science, and among rude nations,
where there is no science, are not understood at all, and are regarded
with superstitious terror. The violence of the patient, the fancies
that possess him, his incoherent cries, the distortion of his body,
the alteration in his features, all seem to point out that he has
fallen under the domination of a foreign power, and such a person is
said to be _possessed_. His actions, his words, are no longer his own,
but those of the spirit that occupies his body. There was not of old,
nor is there still among savages, any sharp distinction between good
spirits and bad. All spirits are those of the dead. It is only by those
who have advanced to a higher stage that these are classified as angels
or devils. In Baron Wrangel’s “North Polar Travels,” already quoted,
is another significant passage which illustrates this point. He says
that in Northern Siberia an epidemic disease called the Mirak appears,
which, according to the universal belief of the people, proceeds from
the ghost of a dead sorceress entering into and tormenting the patient.
But Wrangel says, “The Mirak appears to me to be only an extreme form
of hysteria; the persons attacked are chiefly women.”

Our word _mania_ traces back to the period when the madman was supposed
to be possessed by the _manes_, the spirit of some dead man; but such
an idea was already abandoned by the classic Roman, who gave the word
to us.

As already said, it was inevitable that Schamanism should co-exist
along with an organised religion, for only one portion of a people
would have made sufficient progress to be able to receive a dogmatic
faith and accept a formulated worship. There would always remain a
substratum of ignorance and unintelligence which would have recourse
to diviners and dealers with familiar spirits, that is to Schamans
or medicine-men. And now we can understand the true position of
the Witch of Endor. The faith of the Jewish people had taken shape;
it had its monotheistic creed, its altars, and its priesthood, but
the religious development of the people was not on a level with the
scheme of Mosaism. The law was formal, unspiritual--that is to say,
unsensational--to those to whom the only religion that was acceptable
was one of vague spiritualism and ecstatic hallucination. Saul himself
was one of these. As long as all went well with him he adhered to the
authorised religion, but the moment he was in real distress and alarm
he had recourse to the baser, proscribed system, level with his own low
spiritual perceptions.

All the denunciations in the Old Testament against witchcraft are
properly denunciations not of devil worship, but of a relapse from the
highly organised faith, to the inchoate form of religion suitable only
for savages, from which the Divine Revelation had lifted the sons of
Israel. We find precisely the same condition among the Greeks. They
had their temples, their priests, their mythology. But this was beyond
the spiritual range of some, and these had recourse to the Goetoi,
true Schamans, that took their title from the cries they uttered.
These Goetoi were, in fact, the successors of the medicine-men of
pre-historic Hellas. They were looked upon with mistrust and some fear
by the superior, cultured classes, and laws were passed, but always
evaded, prohibiting these men from exercising their functions, and the
people from having recourse to them.

Superstition has been called the Shadow of Religion. It may be
so regarded, as it always dogs its steps; but a more exact and
philosophic view of superstition is to regard it as the protoplasm of
belief, co-existing alongside with fully articulated religion, as the
jelly-fish floats in the same wave where the vertebrate-fish swims.
Superstition is the pap of religion to those incapable of digesting
and assimilating a solidified creed. To those low in the psychic scale
there is a consciousness of spirit; but spirit must be vague, and the
means of holding communion with spirit must be something that appeals
to their coarse, uneducated fancy, as hysteric convulsions or maniacal

The Gospel was preached to Jew and Gentile, and a change came over the
face of the religious world. Religion was carried into an infinitely
higher sphere. Christianity stood above classic Paganism, as classic
Paganism stood above Schamanism.

Let us take a passage from the history of the Church in Apostolic
times, and we shall see the reappearance of the same phenomenon.

During the course of his second missionary journey, St. Paul came to
Corinth, and abode there eighteen months, during which time he laboured
to spread the Gospel. He addressed himself first to the Jews residing
in Corinth, but roused so great an opposition that he turned to the
Greeks, and succeeded so well in gathering about him a crowd of persons
who made profession of conviction, that the Jews seized and dragged him
before Gallio, the Roman proconsul, accusing him of opposition to the
law of Moses. But the Governor put the whole matter from him, as one
out of his jurisdiction, if not beneath his notice. Shortly after St.
Paul departed to Syria by ship.

It is worth considering the quality of the converts made at Corinth,
that we may understand what followed. Corinth, the capital of Achaia,
was noted for its wealth and luxury. It was the place for the
performance of the Isthmean games, in which boxing, horse-racing, and
musical contests formed the great attraction. It was the Newmarket of
Greece, and swarmed with those doubtful characters, of low intellect
and depraved morals, who generally congregate about the race-course,
the boxing-ring, and the music-hall. The heathen orator, Dio
Chrysostom, who lived at the same time as St. Paul, says of Corinth
that it was verily the most licentious of all the cities that ever
were, and that ever had been.

It was to the people of such a city that St. Paul addressed himself,
and amongst whom he met with a certain amount of success. He tells
us himself to what class the bulk of his converts belonged. There
were “not many wise men after the flesh,” that is, very few of the
philosophers, the only representatives of a higher life and clear
intelligence, the only men who struggled after a knowledge of God, and
for pure morality. They stood aloof. There were also “not many mighty,”
few in authority; “not many noble,” few of the respectable citizens.
In fact, he got his converts from the riff-raff of an utterly vicious
town. We must bear this in mind.

A community of believers gathered from among the inhabitants of Corinth
must have presented phenomena deserving special attention. Surrounded
by the prevailing immorality, open, flagrant, stalking the streets,
they had ceased from earliest infancy to blush at evil sights, and
words, and thoughts. They were tainted to the heart’s core. At the
same time they were an excitable people, with high-strung nervous
temperaments, such as are found in a nursery of the arts, where the
sense of physical not of moral beauty is cultivated.

Such persons were ready, for the sake of its novelty, to embrace the
new religion preached in their midst. They ran after the new preacher
as they ran to hear a new singer; they took up his doctrine as they
took up a new philosophy, for the sake of its newness. They rushed into
the Church as they elbowed their way into the theatre. As to realising
the purity, the self-denial that Christianity requires--of that they
had not the faintest idea.

The profession of Christianity subdued these converts for a while--for
a few months; but though regenerate in baptism, the old “phronema
sarkos” remained like a sleeping leopard waiting its time to awake,
stretch itself, and seek its prey. Regeneration is not a magic spell;
it is an initiation, not an act. St. Paul was in Corinth eighteen
months only, and in this short time it was impossible for him to
establish the Church on firm foundations. Besides, he was an initiator
and not by any means an organiser.

He had not been long gone before the natural result of an
indiscriminate conversion made itself apparent, and St. Paul had to
write to the young Church at Corinth a letter which has been lost or
suppressed. This was followed by a second, and that by a third, and we
have got only the two latter. Probably, the Church of Corinth thought
it best to put the first in the fire and not publish its shame. But
the second and third--the first and second, as we call them--throw a
tolerably clear light on the state of this Church.

There were dissensions in it, and no wonder; then scandal, and,
again,--no wonder. Of the dissensions I need not speak.

First among the scandals came the Love Feasts. The feast was instituted
in order that all the faithful might meet, and eat and drink together,
the rich contributing the provisions and sitting down with the poor. It
is not to be confounded with the Holy Eucharist, which was something
quite distinct. The Love Feast took place at night, the Eucharist in
the early morning.

However excellent in intention the institution might be, in a very
short time it was abused. The well-to-do brought food and wine with
them, and ate and drank by themselves, apart from the slaves and
the members whom poverty prevented from contributing. The poor were
compelled to look hungrily on, while the rich brethren, having more
than sufficed, indulged to excess. One was hungry, and another was

It is not difficult to trace the origin of these Love Feasts; they
were a local adaptation from the heathen ceremonial of the Temple of

The Greeks had mysteries in their principal temples, into which the
devout were initiated. Baptism was one of the initiatory acts. Then
the neophytes were taught certain secret doctrines which they were
forbidden to reveal to the profane without. After that they partook
together of a sacred feast, and then ensued ecstatic raptures,
hysterical ravings, and orgies of a licentious character in those
shrines dedicated to the goddess of love.

The newly converted Christians of Corinth were desirous of getting
as much excitement out of their new religion as they could. So they
treated Christian baptism as an initiation into Christian mysteries;
they instituted the Love Feast as a close reproduction of the banquet
with which they were familiar in the Temple of Aphrodite, and then
followed a condition of disorder very little more decent than the
heathen orgies.

St. Paul notes three abuses, into which these Corinthians fell, all
three borrowed from the heathen mysteries. They revelled at the Love
Feasts, they fell into moral disorder, and they gave way to hysterical
ravings. The third abuse St. Paul was a little puzzled at, and he dealt
with it more leniently than with the drunkenness and debauchery of
his converts. He was prepared to humour the wild exhibition, perhaps
in hopes that by degrees the converts, as they mended their morals,
would mend in this particular also. The outburst of incoherent ravings
to which he referred was much the same as what had occurred in the
heathen mysteries, and the same phenomena are met with to the present
day among North American Indians and negroes. We have seen a Schaman
in the same state in Siberia. These Corinthians, some tipsy with the
wine they had drunk in excess, others half starved, but frenzied by
their easily-wrought-on religious feelings, jabbered disconnected,
unintelligible words. They raved, fell into cataleptic fits, and made a
scene of confusion and uproar such as is hardly to be found out of the
wards of Bedlam.

In the heathen temples women were placed over cracks in the rock,
whence exhaled intoxicating vapours, and becoming giddy, they uttered
oracular sentences, which were generally nonsense, and could,
therefore, be interpreted to mean anything. The apostle now met with
the outbreak of a phenomenon among his converts very similar, which
he could not understand, and did not know in what manner to treat. He
contented himself with giving rules for its direction. He struck at
the root of the spiritual disturbances when he insisted on a moral
reformation. Till that was effected, there would be no abatement
of these perplexing and indecent manifestations. Where there were
incoherent ravings, there “an interpreter” was to be set in the
assemblies to make what sense he could out of the unintelligible noises.

The discipline to which the Corinthians were subjected by St. Paul
brought them to some sort of order for awhile, but it is not to be
expected that, with the lofty standard of life set before them, there
would not be found a considerable number who would kick at it.

St. Paul, in his polemics against the Judaisers, had written with heat
against the law, and had exalted the freedom of the Gospel. He had not
supposed it necessary to nicely discriminate between the ceremonial
obligations and the moral commands of the law. Accordingly a good
many of his converts took the matter into their own hands, and he was
surprised and confounded to find a party fully prepared to take his
strongest words _au pied de la lettre_, to roll moral and ceremonial
commands into one bundle, and throw all overboard.

Accordingly we find that the early Church was infested with a multitude
of Evangelicals, professing themselves to be disciples of St. Paul,
appealing to his words as their justification, and casting all morality
to the winds.

In the following ages we find exactly the same sort of scenes as
those that startled St. Paul at Corinth settling into an acknowledged
institution, and ending in such orgies, that the heathen were almost
justified in regarding Christianity as a religious nuisance, and a
danger to common morality. The accounts we have of the assemblies of
the followers of Valentine, Mark, Carpocrates, Epiphanes, and Isidore,
of the Ophites and Antitactites, present us with pictures of religious
revivals ending in the orgies of satyrs.

The empire, under Constantine, became Christian. Then the Church, no
longer persecuted, spread throughout the world with a definite creed,
an organised priesthood, a fixed mode of worship, and a rigid moral

Then, as heretofore, in the early Church, in heathen Rome and Greece,
there were those unable to receive a religion so perfect or so
defined. They must have something vague and rudimentary, something
that did not require too much of them, that did not lay upon them too
many restrictions. These men sought what suited them in various forms
of heresy, or in the secret performance of Pagan rites, the heresies
all forms of negation, the Paganism altogether gross and elementary.
All these forms of revolt were reversions to the earliest protoplasmic
type. It is not my purpose to trace the history of these relapses
throughout the Middle Ages, for I am not writing a history of heresy;
my object is simply to note the fact that Spiritualism or Schamanism
constantly appears in the history of religion, varying its name but few
of its characteristics; sometimes becoming grossly immoral, sometimes
decent, but always whilst professing almost ascetic virtue with a
tendency to licentiousness.

As soon as Christianity became established, at once all the gods of
the heathen became devils, and their worship the worship of devils.
“Idolatry,” said Eusebius, in the _Præparatio Evangelica_, “does
not consist in the adoration of good spirits, but in that of those
which are evil and perverse.”[28] The Christian emperors forbade the
sacrifices to the gods, as sacrifices to devils. In 426, Theodosius
II. ordered every temple to be destroyed. Those who clung to the old
religion were driven to worship on mountains and in the depths of
forests. In 423, he had issued an injunction against the sacrifices, on
this very ground, that they were made to devils.

What took place in Italy or Greece, took place elsewhere in later
days, when the barbarians became Christians, or, at least, were made
nominal Christians, under Christian Frank emperors. The _Indiculus
superstitionum et Paganiarum_ of the Council of Leptines in Hainault,
in the eighth century, shows us Paganism completely converted into
witchcraft. Those who were addicted to it went to retired huts
(_casulæ_) in places formerly held sacred (_fana_); there they offered
sacrifices to Jupiter, Mercury, or some other god; they took auguries,
drew lots, called up spirits, made little images of linen and flour,
and carried them about the country, precisely as Sulpicius Severus
says was done by the Gauls in the time of St. Martin. Pope Gregory
III. condemned those who made sacrifices to fountains and trees, used
divinations, exercised magical rites, in honour of Belus and Janus,
“according to the customs of the Pagans,” and he anathematised all
those who took part in diabolical rites, and gave worship to devils.
Finally the Capitularies of Charles the Great and his successors armed
the secular power against all these remnants of idolatry.

At about the same period, the seventh century, Camin the Wise, Abbot of
Hy (Iona), tells us that the like superstitions prevailed in Ireland.

But, before this, the Council of Ancyra, in 341, had issued a decree,
which has, indeed, been called in question, but which was embodied
in the “Canon Episcopi,” by which the bishops were required to
exercise vigilant supervision over magical practices, and especially
to excommunicate certain impious females, who, blinded by the devil,
imagined themselves riding through the air in company with Hecate and
Herodias--Herodias is no other than Hruoda, a Lombard goddess, the
same as the Saxon Ostara.[29] The injunction was repeated by the Synod
of Agde, in 506, which, with other decrees of the sixth and seventh
centuries, represents witchcraft as a Pagan delusion. Magic and heresy
were one. Heresy was a turning away from the truth, and magic was its
ritual. Enmity to orthodoxy implied enmity to God, and enmity to God
alliance with the devil.

The charges which had been brought by heathens against early Christians
were now, under altered circumstances, launched by Christians against
heretics and witches. The hideous description of Christianity given
by Cœcilius, in Minutius Felix, as a secret and desperate faction
leagued against God and man, and celebrating the foulest nocturnal
rites, became the type of accusations levelled by orthodox Christians
against their dissenting brethren; and, as the charge of Cœcilius was
justified by the conduct of a portion of the Christian converts, so was
the charge of the orthodox against the schismatics in mediæval times
justified by the conduct of some of them. The Cathari, Manichæans,
Paulicians, Patarines, Albigenses, were all heretics so far that they
reverted to heathenism, and to its most simple form of Schamanism, and
some of the congregations sank into the grossest immorality.

The writers on witchcraft who theoretically worked out its criminal
details--Eumericus, Nider, Bernhard of Como, and Jacquier--spoke of
it as “Secta et hæresis maleficorum,” it was a heresy, one of the
several forms in which lapse from the faith took. Balduinus identified
Waldenses with witches.

In 1484, James Sprenger and Henry Justitor, appointed inquisitors for
Upper Germany, obtained the celebrated bull of Innocent VIII., which,
though far from being the origin of witch prosecutions, acted with
signal effect in promoting their subsequent activity. Sprenger followed
it up with his well-known treatise called “Malleus Maleficarum,” as a
guide to judicial theory and practice.

No object is gained by dwelling on the details of an epidemic which,
for three centuries, devastated Europe, destroying so many lives.
Yet two particulars challenge inquiry and remark: one, the strange
uniformity of the offence as elicited by confession; the other, the
curious analogy which is found to exist between the rites practised by
the witches at their gatherings and those of the heretics of earlier
times, Pagan and semi-Christian. The uniformity in the confession of
the witches has excited surprise, and has been variously accounted
for--some supposing that there must have been an external reality
in the way of profane imposture, a remnant of heathen practice;
others referring it to morbid subjectivity in the accused, caused by
melancholy and hypochondria.

That there was some objective reality, I can hardly doubt; not only are
the confessions of those accused curiously alike in their account of
the ceremonies of the Sabbath, when they assembled, but we know that
human nature is always the same, and it is inconceivable that there
should have been a cessation at any period of those gatherings of men
and women who found the only satisfaction for their religious cravings
in vague spiritualism.

One may say boldly that Europe was half Pagan in the Middle Ages; all
the old superstitions lived, but under a new disguise. The religions
of Gaul, of Germany, of Great Britain, of the Scandinavian and the
Slavonic lands, the mythologies of Greece and of Rome, lived on in a
crowd of legends, which modern erudition delights in collecting and
tracing back to their sources. These legends, more numerous in the
lands occupied by Teutonic peoples, are almost always of Pagan stuff,
embroidered over with Christian ideas. Not only so, but the very names
of the old gods remain; they no longer remain as the names of gods held
high in heaven, but of devils cast down to earth. With us the Deuce
signifies Satan, and is in common usage in the mouth as an oath, but he
takes his name from the Dusii, the night genii of the Kelts. Old Nick
again is Hnikr, an honourable designation of Wuotan, the supreme god of
the Anglo-Saxons, who gives his name to Wednesday.

So, also, we use the word Bogie, Bogart, as a designation of an evil
spirit, and Bug is the name of a night-tormenting insect. It is
well-known that in an old English Bible the verse in Ps. xci. runs,
“He shall deliver thee from the Bug that walketh in darkness,” that
is, from the Hobgoblin. The Norsemen and Danes brought this name with
them to England. Bog is in Slavonic God. Biel-bog is the White God,
Czerni-bog is the Black God of the Slavs.

The Northmen had formerly come across Slavs on the Continent, and they,
the worshippers of Odin, scorned the gods of the Slavs as devils, and
called all unclean spirits--Bogs or Bogies. And now, also, the Supreme
God of the Norsemen, Hnikr, has become our Old Nick.

This being so, it will be seen at once how the votaries of the
dethroned god came to be regarded as devil-worshippers, and how
that in time, when the old religion with its myths and theogony was
long dead, those who still clung to an hysterical religion, with
love-feasts, dances, and ecstasies, came to believe themselves to be

The Reformation caused such a disturbance of religious ideas, incited
to such revolt against all that had been held sacred in the past, that
it is only natural that those whose religion had been one of pure
spiritualism, of ecstasy and hysteric raving, should believe that their
day had come. But after the first explosion, the Reformers set to work
to consolidate their several systems into dogmatic shape; they drew up
Institutes, Confessions, Articles, and agreed only in this, to put down
Mysticism as severely as they had dealt with Catholicism. And they had
good cause to come to this resolution, for on all sides the Mystics
were breaking forth into the wildest excesses. In Münster they had set
up a Kingdom of Salem, from which every element of common decency was
expelled, and which knew no law save the revelations accorded to the

The “spiritually minded,” that is to say, the unintelligent,
hysterically disposed, did not at all relish the form given to belief,
and the discipline of Divine service framed by the Reformers. They
founded sects on all sides following the old lines of the Markosites
and Cathari.

Bishop Barlow, one of those who helped to draw up the English
Prayer-book, was himself an eye-witness of the proceedings of some of
these sects, and he describes them in words we do not care to quote.[30]

England, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, were overrun with these
sectaries, with their love-feasts, raptures, and license. It was the
old story again of the revolt of the spiritual faculty against the
reason, a story that will be told over and over again as long as man
lives on the earth, and religion is dogmatic and exercises moral

One essential condition was always present in order to produce its
effect in these sectarian meetings. The intellect must remain inactive,
the emotions must be excited, and the sentiment of vague fear must
be specially appealed to and powerfully wrought upon. It was this
condition which determined the success alike of the revivalist meetings
of the Mystics, and the revelries of the witches. This condition it was
that provoked the orgies at Corinth among St. Paul’s converts, and the
scenes in the assemblies of the Carpocratites. It was this condition
which roused the attendants on the assemblies of the Goeti, of the
Dionysian revellers, and of the Schamans and the medicine men.

These meetings always took place at night. There is reason to believe
that during each day there is a normal alteration in the functions
of the intellectual and emotional parts of the brain; that during
the sunlight the perceptive faculties and the reflective are chiefly
active; and that these, reposing during the night, permit the
feelings to be mostly dominant; and it is well-known that general and
simultaneous activity, both of the intellect and of the emotions, is
unnatural; that thought and feeling are antagonistic to each other.
Prayer meetings and witches’ assemblies alike began after dark and were
often continued till the small hours of the morning. Ignorant men and
women, and the youth of both sexes, were crowded together to partake
in some mysterious spiritual rite. The quiescence of the observant
and reflective faculties was facilitated, the imagination goaded
and stimulated until it conjured up conceptions of hell and visions
of devils with a vividness approaching reality; then came cries,
tremblings, fallings on the ground, and raptures.

During Wesley’s preaching at Bristol, “one after another,” we are told,
“sank to the earth.” Men and women by “scores were sometimes strewed on
the ground at once, insensible as dead men.” During a Methodist revival
in Cornwall, 4000 people, it was computed, fell into convulsions.
“They remained during this condition so abstracted from every earthly
thought, that they stayed two and sometimes three days and nights
together in the chapels, agitated at the time by spasmodic movements,
and taking neither repose nor refreshment. The symptoms followed
each other usually as follows:--A sense of faintness and oppression,
shrieks as if in the agony of death, convulsions of the muscles of
the eyelids--the eyes being fixed and staring--and of the muscles of
the neck, trunk, and arms, sobbing respiration, tremors, and general
agitation, and all sorts of strange gestures. When the exhaustion came
on, patients usually fainted and remained in a stiff and motionless
state until their recovery.”[31]

Now let the reader turn back to the account of the Tungu Schaman, at
the beginning of this article. Is it not obvious that we have here
precisely the same phenomenon?

While at Newcastle, Wesley investigated the physical effects that
resulted from his preaching. “He found, first, that all persons who
had been thus affected were in perfect health, and had not before been
subject to convulsions of any kind.” Secondly, that they were affected
suddenly. Thirdly, that they usually fell on the ground, lost their
strength, and were afflicted with spasms. “Some thought a great weight
lay upon them, some said they were quite choked, and found it difficult
to breathe.” Wesley believed these phenomena were of diabolic origin.
One section of Methodists, in Cornwall and Wales, was seized with a
dancing or jumping mania. Because David danced before the ark, these
fanatics concluded that jumping and dancing must form an acceptable
form of service. The practice became epidemic. Each devotee would
caper for hours, till, completely exhausted, he or she fell insensible.

During a great Presbyterian revival, which passed over Kentucky and
Tennessee in the beginning of this century, persons swooned away and
lay as dead on the ground for a quarter of an hour; this “falling
exercise” was succeeded by that of the “jerks.” A Backwoods preacher
who has left us his valuable biography, says:--

“A new exercise broke out among us, called the _jerks_, which was
overwhelming in its effects upon the bodies and minds of the people.
No matter whether they were saints or sinners, they would be taken
under a warm song or sermon, and seized with a convulsive jerking all
over, which they could not by any possibility avoid, and the more they
resisted, the more they jerked. I have seen more than five hundred
persons jerking at one time in my large congregations. Most usually
persons taken with the jerks would rise up and dance. Some would run,
but could not get away. To see those proud young gentlemen, and young
ladies dressed in their silks, jewelry, and prunella, from top to toe
take the jerks, would often excite my risibilities. The first jerk
or so, you would see their fine bonnets, caps, and combs fly; and so
sudden would be the jerking of the head that their long, loose hair
would crack almost as loud as a waggoner’s whip.”[32]

Another revivalist in Kentucky says; “While preaching, we have after
a smooth and gentle course of expression suddenly changed our voice
and language, expressing something awful and alarming, and instantly
some dozen or twenty persons, or more, would simultaneously be jerked
forward, where we were sitting, and with a suppressed noise once or
twice, somewhat like the barking of a dog. One young woman went round
like a top, we think, at least fifty times in a minute, and continued
without interruption for at least an hour, and one young woman danced
in her pew for twenty or thirty minutes with her eyes shut and her
countenance calm, and then fell into convulsions; some ran with amazing
swiftness, some imitated the motion of playing on a fiddle, others
barked like dogs.”

Surely we have here a scene precisely identical in character with
that described by Dr. Hecker as having broke out in Germany in 1374.
He says: “It was called the dance of St. John or of St. Vitus, on
account of the Bacchantic leaps by which it was characterised. The
dancers, appearing to have lost all control over their senses,
continued dancing, regardless of the bystanders, for hours together
in wild delirium, until at length they fell to the ground in a state
of exhaustion.... While dancing they neither saw nor heard, being
insensible to external impressions through the senses, but were haunted
by visions, their fancies conjuring up spirits whose names they
shrieked out.”[33]

It has happened in some cases, especially in that of women, that they
have tried to tear off their clothes, and this explains the account
given by those who had attended the Witches’ Sabbath, that many
present were stark naked. We know that some of the wilder congregations
of the Hussites developed their fanaticism in this form. So did the
Anabaptists in Amsterdam.

We will now take a case or two from the Roman Communion. Hysteria, as
we might suppose, would be likely to manifest itself in the monastic
orders. St. Joseph of Cupertino was one Christmas Eve in church, when
the pifferari began to play their carols. Joseph, who was a Franciscan
friar, carried away by religious emotion, began to dance in the midst
of the choir, and then, with a howl, he took a flying leap and lighted
on the high altar. He was then vested in a gorgeous cope, conducting
the service. The carollers were amazed, no less than the friars; and
their amazement was increased when they saw him jump from the altar on
to the pulpit ledge, fifteen feet above the ground. One day he went
into the convent choir of the Sisters of St. Clara, at Cupertino. When
the nuns began to sing, Joseph, unable to restrain his emotion, ran
across the chancel, caught the old confessor of the convent in his
arms, and danced with him before the altar. Then he span himself about
like a teetotum, with the confessor clinging to his hands, and his legs
flying out horizontally.

St. Christina, The Wonderful, a Belgian virgin, used to go into fits
when her religious emotions were worked upon, put her head between her
feet, bending her spine backwards, and roll round the room or church
like a ball.

St. Peter of Alcantara in his fervours used to strip himself naked. He
would jump, curled up like a ball, high into the air, and in and out at
the church door. “What was going on in his soul all this while,” says
his biographer, “it is not given to mortals to declare.”

The numerous cases of possession in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries were nothing but hysterical disorders, the symptoms precisely
those of Methodist revivals, Witches’ Sabbaths, Paulinian orgies, and

It is worthy of note that the witches were always a prey to extreme
exhaustion after they had attended their Sabbaths, a feature that is
invariable after spiritual raptures.

In Sweden a religious revival took place in 1842-3, which swept over
the country, affecting great numbers of children. Boys and girls,
only eight years of age, were inspired to preach the Gospel and go
about in bands singing hymns. In the province of Skaraburg, where the
epidemic was least extensive, it numbered, at least, 3000 victims. The
patients had “quaking fits,” dropped down, became unconscious, had
trances, saw visions, and preached when in an ecstatic state. Not two
centuries before, a similar epidemic had passed over Sweden, affecting
the children, but it then took a slightly different complexion: it
was an epidemic of witchcraft. In 1669-70, the children declared that
they were transported nightly to the Blockula, and their condition
afterwards was one of complete prostration.

A Commission was appointed to examine into the matter, public prayers
and humiliations were ordered, and a great number of women and
children were executed for their guilt in having attended these
meetings on the Blockula.

Into the details of the Witch-Sabbaths I have not entered; it is
unnecessary. My object has been to show that in all likelihood there
were such gatherings, that they took the place of assemblies of Pagan
origin, which were analogous to the assemblies of the spiritual Pauline
heretics in the early Church; that modern revivals are not derived
from these, but are analogous exhibitions, and that all are alike
manifestations of hysteria, superinduced by a love of the sensational,
a vague credulity, and an absolute stagnation of the intellectual

We are in the age of compulsory education; in our Board Schools
religious teaching is reduced to the thinnest gruel, absolutely
tasteless, and wholly unnutritious. We are straining, perhaps
over-straining, the mental faculties, and making no provision for
the co-ordinate development of the spiritual powers in the soul. The
result will be, not that we shall kill the spiritual faculty, but
that we shall drive it in--and it will break forth inevitably in
extraordinary and outrageous manifestations. It must do so--just as
a check to the free action of the pores superinduces fever. We shall
have a sporadic fever of wild mysticism bursting forth, in the place
of healthy religion. The spiritual element in man will rebel against
compression, will insist on not being ignored. We are now suffering
from the nuisance of the Salvation Army. But the Salvation Army is
a comparatively innocuous form of reaction, or is comparatively
innocuous just at present. We do not know but that it may herald
other and worse forms of spiritual excitement, or that it may not
itself develop in an Antinomian direction. We have no guarantee. There
is a law in these manifestations that is constant. They all begin
in ecstatic raptures and with a high moral aim, and all inevitably
fall into laxity if not license in morality. The moral sense becomes
inevitably blunted. It ceases to speak and work when man takes his
ecstatic thrills and visions--which are veritable hallucinations--as
the guide of his conduct, in place of the still small voice of
conscience, instructed by the written, revealed law.


Broadside Ballads.

“I love a ballad in print, a’ life,” said Mopsa, in the “Winter’s
Tale,” and the clown confessed to the same liking. “I love a ballad
but even too well; if it be doleful matter merrily set down, or a very
pleasant thing indeed, and sung lamentably.”

[Illustration: _Fig. 37._--BALLAD SINGER, FROM A BROADSIDE.]

In 1653, Dorothy Osborne tells Sir William Temple that she has received
from her brother a ballad “much older than my ‘Lord of Lorne,’ and she
sends it on to him.” Would that she had told us more about it. And then
she writes, “The heat of the day is spent in reading or working, and
about six or seven o’clock I walk out into a common that lies hard by
the house, where a great many young wenches keep sheep and cows, and
sit in the shade singing of ballads. I go to them and compare their
voices and beauties to some ancient shepherdesses that I have read of,
and find a vast difference there; but, trust me, I think these are as
innocent as those could be. I talk to them, and find they want nothing
to make them the happiest people in the world but the knowledge that
they are so.”

Walton in his “Complete Angler,” printed in the very same year in which
Dorothy Osborne wrote to her lover of the singing peasant girls, says:
“I entered into the next field, and a second pleasure entertained me:
’twas a handsome milk-maid, that had cast away all care, and sung like
a nightingale; her voice was good, and the ditty fitted for it; ’twas
that smooth song which was made by Kit Marlow, now at least fifty years
ago; and the milk-maid’s mother sung an answer to it, which was made by
Sir Walter Raleigh in his younger dayes.”

We know what the song was, “Come, live with me and be my love.”

The mother says to Walton, “If you will but speak the word, I will
make you a good sillabub, and then you may sit down in a hay-cock and
eat it, and Maudlin shall sit by and sing you the good old song of the
Hunting in Chevy Chase, or some other good ballad, for she hath good
store of them: Maudlin hath a notable memory.”

But ballad-singing was not confined to milk-maids and clowns, for
Walton proposes to spend a pleasant evening with his brother, Peter,
and his friends, “to tell tales, or sing ballads, or make a catch, or
find some harmless sport to content us.”

It is a somewhat sad fact--fact it is, that the ballad is at its last
gasp among us. It has gone through several phases, and it has now
reached the last, when it disappears altogether.

The ballad was anciently a story set to music, and music to which
the feet could move in dance. The _ballet_ is the dance to which the
_ballad_ was sung. It was not always danced to, but it always could be
danced to. It was of great length, but not too long for light hearts
or light feet on a threshing-floor. The ballad was accommodated to the
exigencies of the dance, by being given a burden, or _bourdon_, a drone
that was sung by the young men, when no bagpipe was there. This burden
appears in numerous ballads, and has usually no reference to the story
told by the singers, and when printed is set in italics. In the scene
in the “Winter’s Tale,” already quoted, the servant alludes to these
burdens, “He has the prettiest love-songs for maids--with such delicate
burdens of ‘dildos and fadings.’”


  “There was a lady in the North country,
     _Lay the bent to the bonny broom_,
   And she had lovely daughters three,
     _Fa, la la la; fa, la la la ra re_.”


  “There were three sisters fair and bright,
     _Jennifer, Gentle, and Rosemaree_,
   And they three loved one valiant knight,
     _As the doo (dove) flies over the mulberry tree_.”

In the first edition of Playford’s “Dancing Master,” in 1650-1,
nearly every air can be proved to have been that of a song or ballad
of earlier date than the book. Of these only a few have the words
preserved, and we cannot be sure that the words of those we have got
were the original, as ballads were continually being written afresh.

It was not till about 1690 that tunes were composed expressly for
dancing, and in the later editions of the “Dancing Master,” 1715 and
1728, about half the airs given are old ballad tunes. The other half,
newly composed dance tunes, had no traditional words set to them, and
none were composed to fit them.

In the old English romance of “Tom of Reading,” printed before 1600, we
have an instance of the way in which a ballad came to be turned into
a dance. Tom Dove was an Exeter clothier passionately fond of music.
William of Worcester loved wine, Sutton of Salisbury loved merry tales,
Simon of Southampton “got him into the kitchen and to the pottage and
then to a venison pasty.”

Now a ballad was composed relative to Tom of Exeter:--

  “Welcome to town, Tom Dove, Tom Dove,
     The merriest man alive.
   Thy company still we love, we love,
     God grant thee well to thrive.
   And never will we depart from thee
     For better or worse, my joy!
   For thou shalt still have our good-will,
     God’s blessing on my sweet boy.”

And the author adds, “This song went up and down through the whole
country, and at length became a dance among the common sort.”

The old heroic ballad was a _geste_, and the singer was a gestour.
Chaucer speaks of--

  “Jestours that tellen tales
   Both of seeping and of game.”

The tales of game were stories calculated to provoke laughter, in which
very often little respect was paid to decency; sometimes, however,
they were satirical. These tales of game were much more popular than
those of weeping, and the gestour, whose powers were mainly employed
in scenes of conviviality, finding by experience that the long lays
of ancient paladins were less attractive than short and idle tales
productive of mirth, accommodated himself to the prevailing coarse
taste, and the consequence was that nine of the pieces conceived in a
light vein have been preserved to every one of the other.

In the “Rime of Sir Thopas,” Chaucer speaks of--

  And gestours for to tellen tales,
  Of romaunces that ben reales,
  Of popes and of cardinales
        And eke of love-longing.”

Here we have the historic geste and the light and ribald tale. When
Chaucer recited the Ballad of Sir Thopas, conceived after the fashion
of the old romances, the host interrupted him and said--

  “This may well be rime--dogerel,
   Mine eres aken of thy drafty speche.”

We heartily wish that Chaucer had finished the tale. The host merely
repeated the general objection to the heroic ballad, and showed the
common preference for the ribald tales. The author of the “Vision of
Piers the Ploughman,” complains that the passion for songs and ballads
was so strong that men attended to these to the neglect of more serious
and of sacred matters.

  “I cannot parfitly my paternoster, as the priest it singeth,
   But I can ryme of Roben Hode, of Randolf erl of Chester,
   But of our Lord and our Lady I learn nothing at all;
   I am occupied every day, holy daye and other, with idle tales at the

The degradation in the meaning of the names once given to minstrels of
various classes tells its own sad tale. The _ryband_ has lent his name
to ribaldry; the _scurra_ to whatever is scurrilous; the _gestour_, who
sang the _gestes_ of heroes, became the jester, the mere buffoon; the
_joculator_ degenerated into a joker; and the _jongleur_ into a juggler.

A few men of taste and of reverence for the past stood up for the old
heroic ballads, which, indeed, contained the history of the past, mixed
with much mythical matter. So the great Charles, says his scribe,
Eginhard, “commanded that the barbarous and most ancient song in which
the acts and wars of the old kings were sung should be written down and
committed to memory.” And our own Alfred, says Asser, “did not fail
to recite himself and urge on others, the recitation by heart of the
Saxon songs.” But the English ballad found no favour with the Norman
conquerors, who readily received the Provençal troubadour. The old
heroic ballad lingered on, and was killed, not so much by the ridicule
of Chaucer as by the impatience of the English character, which will
not endure the long-drawn tale, and asks in preference what is pithy
and pointed.

Of song and ballad there were many kinds, characterised rather by the
instrument to which it was sung, than by the nature of the song itself;
or perhaps we may say most justly that certain topics and certain
kinds of composition suited certain instruments, and were, therefore,
accommodated to them.

In the “Romans de Brut” we have a list of some of these:

  “Molt ot a la cort jugleors,
   Chanteors, estrumanteors;
   Molt poissiez oir chançons,
   Rotruanges et noviaz sons
   Vieleures, lais, et notes,
   Lais de vieles, lais de rotes,
   Lais de harpe et de fretiax.”

Here we have the juggler, the chanter, and the strummer. What the
_strumentum_[34] was we do not exactly know, but it was clearly a
stringed instrument that was twanged, and it has left its reminiscence
in our language,--every child strums before it can play a piano. There
exists an old table of civic laws for Marseilles of the date 1381, in
which all playing of minstrel and jongleur,--in a word, all strumming
was disallowed in the streets without a license.

To return to the passage quoted from the “Romans de Brut,” we have
among the chançons, those on the rote, and those on the vielle, those
on the harp and those on the fret, (_i.e._ flute).[35] The rote was a
pierced board, over which strings were drawn, and it could be played
with both hands, one above, the other below, through the hole. The
vielle was a hurdy-gurdy.

A healthier taste existed in Scotland than in England, and the old
heroic ballads were never completely killed out there. In England they
had been expelled the court, and banished from the hall long before
they disappeared from the alehouse and the cottage. The milk-maids
sang them; the nurses sang them; the shepherds sang them; but not the
cultured ladies and gentlemen of the Elizabethan period. The musicians
of that period set their faces against ballad airs, and introduced the
motette and madrigal, in which elaborate part-singing taxed the skill
of the performers. But the common people loved the simple melodious
ballads. Miles Coverdale, in his “Address unto the Christian Reader,”
in 1538, which he prefixed to his “Goastly Psalms,” laments it. “Wolde
God that our mynstrels had none other thynge to play upon, neither
our carters and pluomen other thynge to whistle upon, save psalmes,
hymns, and such godly songes. And if women at the rockes (distaff),
and spinnynge at the wheles, had none other songes to pass their tyme
withal than such as Moses’ sister ... songe before them, they should be
better occupied than with, _Hey nonny nonny_,--_Hey trolly lolly_, and
such like fantasies.”

Laneham, in 1575, thus describes his evening amusements: “Sometimes I
foot it with dancing; now with my gittern, and else with my cittern,
then at the virginals (ye know nothing comes amiss to me); then carol I
up a song withal; that by and by they come flocking about me like bees
to honey; and ever they cry, ‘Another, good Laneham, another!’”

In the great agitation of minds caused by the Reformation, the
itinerant minstrels were an element of danger to the Crown, for they
kept alive the popular feeling against the changes in religion, and
the despotic measures of the Sovereign. Moreover, an immense number of
ballads were printed, having a religious or political character, were
set to the old ballad airs, and sung in place of the traditional lays,
and then hawked by the singers. Accordingly, in 1543, an Act was passed
“for the advancement of true religion,” and it recites that, forasmuch
as certain froward persons have taken upon them to print “ballads,
rhymes, etc., subtilly and craftily to instruct His Highness’ people
untruly, for the reformation whereof His Majesty considereth it most
requisite to purge the realm of all such books, ballads, rhymes, and
songs.” The Act contains a list of exceptions; but it is noticeable
that no ballads of any description were excepted.

[Illustration: _Fig. 38._--BALLAD SINGERS, FROM A BROADSIDE.]

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth another Act was passed, in 1597,
against “minstrels wandering abroad,” by virtue of which they were to
be whipped, put in the stocks, and imprisoned, if caught going from
place to place with their ballads.

Then came the period of Puritan domination under the Commonwealth,
when every engine was set to work to suppress popular music and ballad
singing, and to sour the English character. The first Act levelled
against them and stage players was in 1642. In the following year a
tract was issued complaining that this measure had been ineffective,
in which the writer says, “Our musike that was held so delectable and
precious that they scorned to come to a tavern under twenty shillings
salary for two hours, now wander with their instruments under their
cloaks (I mean such as have any), to all houses of good fellowship,
saluting every room where there is company with, _Will you have any
musike, gentlemen?_” But even the license to go round the country was
to be denied the poor wretches. In 1648 Captain Bertham was appointed
Provost Marshall, “with power to seize upon all ballad-singers, and
to suppress stage-plays.” The third Parliament of Cromwell struck the
heaviest blow of all. It enacted that any minstrel or ballad-singer who
was caught singing, or making music in any alehouse or tavern, or was
found to have asked anyone to hear him sing or play, was to be haled
before the nearest magistrate, whipped and imprisoned.

With the Restoration came a better time for ballad-singing; but the
old romantic ballad was almost dead, and though many of the ancient
melodies remained, to them new ballads were set. Of these vast numbers
poured from the press. The printed ballad which supplanted the
traditional ballad was very poor in quality. It turned on some moral or
religious topic; it satirised some fashion of the day; it recorded in
jingling rhymes some fire, earthquake, flood, or other accident. Above
all, it narrated the story of a murder. Now for the first time did the
vulgar assassin stand forward as the hero of English poetry and romance.

Many an old song or ballad was parodied. Thus the famous song of “The
Hunt is up,” was converted into a political ballad in 1537; and a man
named John Hogon was arrested for singing it. “An Old Woman Clothed in
Grey” was the tune to which all England rang at the Restoration, with
the words, “Let Oliver now be forgotten.” “Grim King of the Ghosts” was
made use of for “The Protestants’ Joy,” a ballad on the coronation of
King William and Queen Mary; and “Hey, then, up go we!” served, with
parodied words against the Rump Parliament, as the “Tories’ Delight,”
as an anti-Papal ballad, and even as a ballad on the great frost of the
winter of 1683-4.

The dissociation of the old tunes from the ballads that had given them
their names, and to which they had been composed, did much to occasion
the loss of our early ballads. Not only so, but with James I.’s reign
there came in a fashion for recomposing the old themes in the new
style; and the new editions caused the disappearance of the earlier
ballad. There can be little doubt that the romantic and historic
ballad, which has been happily preserved in Scotland, was common to all
English-speaking people. These ballads are called Scottish, because
they have been preserved in Scotland, but it is more than doubtful that
they are of Scottish origin. Ballads travelled everywhere. We have in
Thomas of Erceldoune’s “Sir Tristram,” an instance of a French metrical
romance turned into a long poem in Scotland, in the thirteenth century.
Many of the Scottish ballads have, as their base, myths or legends
common to all the Norse people, and found in rhymes among them.

At the beginning of this century, Mr. Davis Gilbert published a
collection of Cornish Christmas Carols, and subjoined a couple of
samples of the ballads sung by the Cornish people. One is “The Three
Knights.” It begins--

  “There did three knights come from the West,
     With the high and the lily oh!
   And these three knights courted one lady,
     And the rose was so sweetly blown.”

This is precisely the ballad given by Herd and others as “The Cruel
Brother.” One version in Scotland begins:--

  “There was three ladies play’d at the ba’
     With a hegh-ho! and lily gay;
   There came a knight and play’d o’er them a’,
     And the primrose spread so sweetly.”

But another version sung in Scotland begins--

  “There was three ladies in a ha’,
     Fine flowers i’ the valley;
   There came three lords among them a’,
     Hi’ the red, green, and the yellow.”

Now, the remarkable thing is, that there is still sung in Cornwall--or
was, till quite recently--a form of the ballad with a burden like this
latter. It begins--

  “There was a woman and she was a widow,
     O the red, the green, and the yellow!
   And daughters had three as the elm tree,
     The flowers they blow in the valley.”

with this chorus:--

  “The harp, the lute, the fife, the flute, and the cymbal.
   Sweet goes the treble violin,
   The flowers that blow in the valley.”

How is it possible that a ballad sung in two forms in Scotland, and
recovered there in a fragmentary condition, should be known in very
similar forms in Cornwall? To suppose that the two versions were
carried from the Highlands to the Land’s End, so as to have become
popular, is inconceivable. It is more likely that the same English
ballad found its way both north and south-west, and when it had been
displaced elsewhere, remained in the extremities of the island. The
burden in each case is clearly that which marked the melody. We very
much wish that the Scottish airs, to which these ballads were sung, had
been preserved, that they might be compared with those to which they
were sung in Cornwall. The burden in each case has nothing to do with
the story, but it seems to indicate that the same ballad in its two
forms, to two independent airs, was carried all over Great Britain at
some period unknown. The same ballad was also sung in Cheshire at the
close of last century, and also in Ireland.

Another specimen given by Mr. Gilbert is that of the “Three Sisters.”

  “There were three sisters fair and bright,
     Jennifer, Gentle and Rosemaree;
   And they three loved one valiant knight;
     As the doo (dove) flies over the mulberry tree.”[36]

The same is found in broadside, in the Pepysian and other collections,
and as “The Unco Knicht’s Wooing” in Scotland.

Take again the ballad of “The Elfin Knight” or “The Wind hath blown
my Plaid away.” This is found in Scotland, but also as a broadside in
the Pepysian collection; it was the subject within the memory of man
of a sort of play in farmhouses in Cornwall; it is found in a more or
less fragmentary condition all over England. The same ballad is found
in German, in Danish, in Wend--and the story in Tyrol, in Siberia, and

Buchan, in his “Ballads of the North of Scotland,” gives the ballad
of “King Malcolm and Sir Colvin,” but it is based on a story told by
Gervase of Tilbury, in his Otia Imperialia, and the scene is laid by
him on the Gogmagog Hills in Cambridgeshire. He wrote in the 12th
century, and his story is clearly taken from a ballad. So also Buchan’s
“Leesome Brand” is found in Danish and Swedish. And “The Cruel Sister”
is discovered in Sweden and the Faroe Isles. At an early period there
was a common body of ballad, where originated no one can say; the same
themes were sung all over the North of Europe, and the same words,
varied slightly, were sung from the Tweed to the Tamar, in the marches
of Wales and in Ireland.

The greatest possible debt of gratitude is due to the Scots for having
preserved these ballads when displaced and forgotten elsewhere, and it
speaks volumes for the purity of Scottish taste that it appreciated
what was good and beautiful, when English taste was vitiated and
followed the fashion to prefer the artificial and ornate to the simple
and natural expression of poetic fancy.

It has been said that about the period of James I., the fashion set in
for re-writing the old ballads in the style then affected.

There is a curious illustration of this accessible.

A ballad still sung by the English peasants, and found in an imperfect
condition in Catnach’s broadsides, is “Henry Martyn.” It is couched in
true ballad metre, and runs thus--

  “In merry Scotland, in merry Scotland
     There lived brothers three,
   They all did cast lots which of them should go
     A robbing upon the salt sea.

  “The lot it fell upon Henry Martyn,
     The youngest of the three,
   That he should go rob on the salt, salt sea,
     To maintain his brothers and he.

  “He had not a-sailed a long winter’s night,
     Nor yet a short winter’s day,
   Before he espied a gay merchant ship
     Come sailing along that way.

  “Oh when that she came to Henry Martyn,
     Oh prithee, now let me go!
   Oh no! oh no! but that will I not,
     I never that will do.

  “Stand off! stand off! said he, God wot,
     And you shall not pass by me.
   For I am a robber upon the salt seas,
     To maintain my brothers and me.

  “How far? how far? cries Henry Martyn,
     How far do you make it? says he,
   For I am a robber upon the salt seas,
     To maintain my brothers and me.

  “They merrily fought for three long hours,
     They fought for hours full three.
   At last a deep wound got Henry Martyn,
     And down by the mast fell he.

  “’Twas a broadside to a broadside then,
     And a rain and a hail of blows.
   But the salt, salt sea ran in, ran in;
     To the bottom then she goes.

  “Bad news! bad news for old England;
     Bad news has come to the town,
   For a rich merchant vessel is cast away,
     And all her brave seamen drown.

  “Bad news! bad news through London street,
     Bad news has come to the King,
   For all the brave lives of his mariners lost,
     That sunk in the watery main.”

Now there is sad confusion here. The ballad as it now exists is a mere
fragment. Clearly the “bad news” belongs to an earlier portion of the
ballad, and it induces the King to send against the pirate and to sink
his vessel. This “Henry Martyn” is, in fact, Andrew Barton. In 1476,
a Portuguese squadron seized a richly laden vessel, commanded by John
Barton, in consequence of which letters of reprisal were granted to
Andrew, Robert, and John Barton, sons of John, and these were renewed
in 1506. The King of Portugal remonstrated against reprisals for so
old an offence, but he had put himself in the wrong four years before,
by refusing to deal with a herald sent by the Scottish King for the
arrangement of the matter in dispute. Hall, in his Chronicle, says: “In
June, 1511, the King (Henry VIII.) being at Leicester, tidings were
brought him that Andrew Barton, a Scottish man, and a pirate of the
sea, did rob every nation, and so stopped the King’s streams that no
merchants almost could pass, and when he took the Englishmen’s goods,
he said they were Portingale’s goods, and thus he haunted and robbed at
every haven’s mouth. The King, moved greatly with this crafty pirate,
sent Sir Edward Howard, Lord Admiral of England, and Lord Thomas
Howard, son and heir to the Earl of Surrey, in all haste to the sea,
which hastily made ready two ships, and without any more abode, took
the sea, and by chance of weather, were severed. The Lord Howard lying
in the Downs, perceived when Andrew blew his whistle to encourage the
men, yet, for all that, the Lord Howard and his men, by clean strength,
entered the main deck; then the Englishmen entered on all sides, and
the Scots fought sore on the hatches, but, in conclusion, Andrew was
taken, which was so sore wounded that he died there; then all the
remainder of the Scots were taken with their ship, called the _Lion_.”

Buchanan, about twenty years after Hall--_i.e._, in 1582--also tells
the story. Barton he calls Breton with further details. He says that
Andrew Breton, though several times wounded, and with one leg broken by
a cannon ball, seized a drum and beat a charge to inspirit his men to
fight, until breath and life failed.

Now a ballad relative to Sir Andrew Barton has been given by Percy; it
is found among the Douce, the Pepysian, the Roxburghe, the Bagford, and
the Wood collection of old English ballads. In the Percy MS. the ballad
consists of eighty-two stanzas, but there is something lost between the
thirty-fifth and the next. It begins:--

  “As itt beffell in Midsummer-time
     When birds sing sweetlye on every tree,
   Our noble king, King Henry the Eighth,
     Over the river Thames past he.”

Another version is in the black letter collection. It begins:--

  “When Flora, with her fragrant flowers,
     Bedeckt the earth so firm and gay,
   And Neptune, with his dainty showers,
     Came to present the month of May,

  “King Henry would a progress ride;
     Over the river Thames past he,
   Upon a mountain top also
     Did walk, some pleasure for to see.”

The first is a recomposition of the earlier ballad in the reign of
James I. It makes a historical blunder. It supposes that Lord Charles
Howard, who was not born till twenty-five years after the death of
Andrew Barton, was sent against the pirate. The memory of the admiral
who served against the Armada had eclipsed the fame of the earlier high
admiral. The fact of this historic error existing in the ballad marks
it as a late composition.

The second ballad is a still later recast, probably of the reign of
Charles II. These two later versions would be all that we have, had not
the popular memory held to the earliest and original ballad--because
associated with a remarkably fine melody. Unhappily, it has retained
but a few of the stanzas.

The Robin Hood ballads most fortunately escaped remodelling, and they
retain the fresh character of the ancient ballad.

Ravenscroft preserved some ballads in his “Deuteromelia,” 1609. One

  “Yonder comes a courteous knight
     Lustily raking over the lay.
   He was full ’ware of a bonny lasse,
     As she came wandering over the way.
   Then she sang, downe a down a down,
             Hey down derry.”

Another is “John Dory”:--

  “As it fell on a hole day
     And upon a hole tide,
   John Dory bought him an ambling nag,
     Ambling nag to Paris for to ride.”


  “Who liveth so merry in all the land
   As doth the poor widow that selleth sand,
   And ever she singeth as I can guess,
   Will you buy my sand, my sand, mistress?”


  “The Flye she sat in the shamble row,
   And shambled with her heels, I trow,
   And then came Sir Cranion
   With legs so long and many a one.”

A few--but only a few, unspoiled ballads have found their way into
print in broadsides. Such are, “The Baffled Knight,” “The Knight and
the Shepherd’s Daughter,” “Lord Thomas and the fair Eleanor,” “Barbara
Allen,” “The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington,” “The Brown Girl.” They
are miserably few, but they are all that remain to us of the ballad
poetry of England, except what has been preserved to us by the Scotch,
who knew better than ourselves what was good, and had a finer poetic

[Illustration: _Fig. 39._--WOMAN AT HER SPINNING WHEEL, FROM A

Moreover, our English ballad collectors never went to the right
sources. There were to be had black and white letter broadsides, more
or less scarce, and they set their booksellers to work to gather for
them the drifting sheets, and fondly thought that they were collecting
the ballad poetry of England. They were collecting make-shifts, the
wretched stuff which had ousted the old ballad poetry. It occurred to
none of them to go to the people. What would have been the result had
Motherwell, Kinloch, Buchan, and Herd set to work in the same fashion?
There is to be found in the British Museum a volume of Scottish
Broadside Ballads printed at Aberdeen, and Glasgow, and Edinburgh. What
do these sheet ballads contain? As great rubbish as do the English
broadsides? Herd, Motherwell, and Buchan had more sense than our
Ritson, Phillips, and Evans; they sat at the feet of the shepherds,
listened beside the wheels of the old spinners, sat at the tavern table
and over the peat fires with the peasants, and collected orally. Percy
went to his MS. folio, Ritson to his booksellers, and passed over the
great living wellspring of traditional poetry. Now it is too late. The
utmost that can be gleaned is fragments. But enough does remain either
in MS. or in black letter broadside, or in allusion and quotation by
our early dramatists, to show that we in England had a mass of ballad
poetry, one in kind and merit with the Scottish.

The first collection of scattered ballads and songs in a garland was
made in the reign of James I., by Thomas Delony and Richard Johnson,
and from that time forward these little assemblages of fugitive pieces
were issued from the press. They rarely contain much that is good; they
are stuffed with recent compositions. Everyone knew the traditional
ballads, and it was not thought worth while reprinting them. A new
ballad had to be entered at Stationers’ Hall, and composer as well as
publisher reaped a profit from the sale, as a novelty.

The old tunes remained after that the words to which they had been
wedded were forgotten; and it may be said that in the majority of cases
the music is all that does remain to us of the old ballad song of

This is the sort of balderdash that was substituted by a degraded taste
for the swinging musical poetry of the minstrel epoch--

  “In searching ancient chronicles
     It was my chance to finde
   A story worth the writing out
     In my conceit and mind,” etc.


  “Of two constant lovers, as I understand,
   Were born near Appleby, in Westmoreland;
   The lad’s name Anthony, Constance the lass;
   To sea they both went, and great dangers did pass.”


  “I reade in ancient times of yore,
     That men of worthy calling
   Built almeshouses and spittles store,
     Which now are all downfalling,” etc.

Compare the following with such beginnings as these:--

  “In summer-time, when leaves grow green,
     And blossoms bedecke the tree,
   King Edward wold a hunting ryde,
     Some pastime for to see.”


  “There came a bird out o’ a bush,
     On water for to dine;
   An’ sicking sair, says the King’s dochter,
     O wae’s this heart o’ mine,” etc.


  “There was a pretty shepherd boy
     That lived upon a hill,
   He laid aside his bag o’ pipes
     And then he slept his fill.”


  “O! blow away, ye mountain breezes,
     Blow the winds, heigh-ho!
   And clear away the morning kisses,
     Blow the winds, heigh-ho!” etc.

The ring of the latter is fresh and pleasant; the former have no
ring at all. The first articles are manufactured in a garret by a
publisher’s poetaster, the latter have sprung spontaneously from the
hearts of the people in the merry month of May.

Of black-letter printed ballads, the earliest we have are, “The
Nut-brown Maid,” which was discovered in a book of customs, dues, etc.,
published at Antwerp, about 1502, and “The Ballade of the Scottish
King,” written by John Skelton, poet laureate to King Henry VIII., and
of the date 1513. This was found within the binding of an old book that
was knocking about on the floor of a garret in a farmhouse at Whaddon,
in Dorset. Mr. Arber’s Transcripts of the entries in Stationers’ Hall
give us the list of ballads issued from the press, with their dates.

The list begins in the year 1557. We will take a few extracts only.

1588, 4th March. John Wolfe obtained leave to print three ballads; one
was, “Goe from my window, goe.” Now this no longer exists as a ballad,
but as a folk-tale, in which occur snatches of rhyme, with a certain
melody attached to them; and this air, with the snatches of rhyme,
has been preserved. Both are printed by Mr. Chappell in his “Popular
Music of the Olden Time.” What the subject of the ballad was the writer
learned from a blacksmith, who told him that he was in a village inn
about 1860, when a very old man came in, and standing by the fire,
recited and sang the following story:--

“Two men courted a pretty maid; the one was rich, the other was poor;
and the rich man was old, but the poor man she loved; he was young. Her
father forced her to marry the rich man, but still she loved the poor
man; and sometimes he came under her window and tapped, and when the
husband was away she let him in.

“So passed a twelvemonth and a day, and she had a little child.

“Then one night the lover came under the window, thinking her goodman
was from home. With his tapping the husband woke, and asked what the
sound was. She said an ivy leaf was caught in a cobweb, and fluttered
against the pane. Then the lover began to call, and her husband asked
what that sound was. She said the owls were hooting in the night. But
fearing lest her lover should continue to call and tap, she began to
sing, as she rocked the cradle:--

  “‘Begone, begone, my Willy, my Billy!
     Begone, my love and my dear.
       O the wind, and O the rain,
       They have sent him back again,
     So thou can’st not have a lodging here.’

“Again the lover tapped, and the husband asked what that meant. She
said it was a flittermouse that had flown against the pane. Then she

  “‘Begone, begone, my Willy, my Billy!
     Begone, my love and my dear.
       O the weather is so warm,
       It will never do thee harm,
     And thou can’st not have a lodging here.’

“Then the lover began to call a third time, and the husband asked what
it was. She said it was the whistling of the wind among the trees, and
she sang:--

  “‘Begone, begone, my Willy, my Billy!
     Begone, my love and my dear.
       O the wind is in the West,
       And the cuckoo’s in his nest,
     So thou can’st not have a lodging here.’

“Again the lover tapped. Then she sprang out of bed, threw open the
casement, and sang:--

  “‘Begone, begone, my Willy, you silly;
     Begone, you fool, yet my dear.
       O the devil’s in the man,
       And he can not understan’
     That he cannot have a lodging here.’”

The melody was arranged for Queen Elizabeth, and is in her Virginal
Book. In Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Knight of the Burning Pestle,” old
Merrythought says,

  “Go from my window, love, go;
     Go from my window, my dear.
       The wind and the rain
       Will drive you back again;
     You cannot be lodged here.

  “Begone, begone, my juggy, my puggy;
     Begone, my love, my dear.
       The weather is warm;
       ’Twill do thee no harm;
     Thou can’st not be lodged here.”

It is again quoted in Fletcher’s “Monsieur Thomas,” and again in “The
Tamer Tamed.”

Almost certainly this was originally a ballad. But the ballad tale has
been lost, and only scraps of rhyme were committed to writing.

1588, 26th Sept. John Wolfe had license to print “Peggy’s Complaint for
the Death of her Willye.”[37]

9th Nov. Thomas Orwyn had license to print “Martyn said to his man, Who
is the foole now?”

This has been preserved for us, with its tune, by Ravenscroft, in his

  “Martyn said to his man, fie man, fie O!
         Who’s the fool now?
   Martyn said to his man, fill the cup and I the can,
   Thou hast well drunken, man,
         Who’s the fool now?

  “I see a sheep sheering come, fie man, fie O!
   And a cuckold blow his horn.

  “I see a man in the moon
   Clouting St. Peter’s shoon.

  “I see a hare chase a hound
   Twenty miles above the ground.

  “I see a goose ring a hog,
   And a snayle that did bite a dog.

  “I see a mouse catch a cat,
   And the cheese to eat a rat.”

1591, 27th August. Robert Bourne obtained license to print a ballad on
“A combat between a man and his wife for the breeches.” This has been
often re-written.

1592, 5th Jan. Richard Jones, “The Valliant Acts of Guy of Warwick,” to
the tune of “Was ever man soe tost (lost) in love?” The ballad of Guy
is lost. The tune we have.

1592, 18th Jan. H. Kyrkham, “The crowe she sitteth upon a wall:”
“Please one and please all.” The former is, perhaps, the original of
“The crow sat in a pear-tree.” “Please one and please all” has been

1592, 21st July. John Danter, “The soules good morrowe.”

1592, 28th July. H Kyrkham, “The Nightingale’s Good-night.”

1593, 1st Oct. Stephen Peel, “Betwixt life and death,” to the tune of
“Have with you into the country.”

1594, 16th Oct. John Danter, “Jones’ ale is new.” This is sung to the
present day in village taverns. One verse is roared forth with special
emphasis. It is that of the mason:--

  “He dashed his hammer against the wall;
   He hoped both tower and church would fall;
       For Joan’s ale is new, my boys,
           For Joan’s ale is new.”

1594, 16th Oct. E. White, “The Devil of Devonshire and William of the
West, his Sonne.” This is lost.

1595, 14th Jan. Thomas Creede, “The Saylor’s Joye,” to the tune of
“Heigh-ho! hollidaie.” Both ballad and air lost.

1595, 24th Feb. Thomas Creede, The first part of “The Merchante’s
Daughter of Bristole.” This we have, but it is a recast in the
sixteenth century of a far earlier ballad.

1595, 15th Oct. Thomas Millington, “The Norfolk Gentleman, his Will and
Testament, and howe he committed the keeping of his children to his
owne brother.” This--“The Babes in the Wood,” we have, as well as the

1595, 15th Oct. W. Blackwall, “The Prowde Mayde of Plymouthe.” Lost.

1603, 11th June. Wm. White, “A Sweet Maie Flower;” “The Ladie’s Fall;”
“The Bryde’s Buriell;” “The Spanish Ladie’s Love;” “The Lover’s
Promises to his Beloved;” “The Fayre Lady Constance of Cleveland and of
her Disloyal Knight.”

We have “The Lady’s Fall” and the two that follow. “A Sweet Mayflower”
is probably a real loss, as also the ballad of the Lady Constance and
her disloyal knight. This will suffice to show how interesting are
these records, and also how much has perished, as well as how much
is preserved. It must not, however, be lost to mind that these were
all new ballads, and were serving to displace the earlier and better

Every accident, every murder, every battle was turned into doggerel and
printed as a new ballad. Fourpence was the cost of a license.

In Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Philastes,” Megra threatens the King--

  “By all those gods you swore by, and as many
   More of mine own--
   The princess, your daughter, shall stand by me
   On walls, and sung in ballads.”

She refers to the manner in which every bit of court scandal was
converted into rhythmic jingle, and also to the custom of pasting the
ballads on the walls. The least acquaintance with the old black-letter
ballads will make the reader understand the allusion to the two figures
heading the broadside, in rude woodcut, standing side by side.

A large proportion of the black-letter ballads were of moral and
religious import. In Beaumont and Fletcher’s “The Coxcomb,” the tinker
refers to these, when he finds poor Viola wandering in the streets at
night, and listens to her doleful words. He says:--

 “What’s this? a prayer or a homily, or a ballad of good counsel?”

If we compare the black-letter issues of the sixteenth century with the
snatches of ballads that come to us through the playwrights, we find
that they do not wholly agree.

The dramatists made their characters sing the folk-ballads, the same
that are described in “A Defence for Milksmaydes” in 1563.

  “They rise in the morning to hear the larke sing,
   And welcome with balletts the somer’s coming.

         *       *       *       *       *

   In going to milking, or coming away,
   They sing merry balletts, or storeys they say.
   Their mouth is as pure and as white as their milk;
   --You can not say that of your velvett and silke.”

So the mad jailor’s daughter in Fletcher’s and Shakespeare’s “The Two
Noble Kinsmen.”

  She says: “Is not this a fine song?”

  _Brother_: “Oh, a very fine one!”

  _Daughter_: “I can say twenty more, I can sing _The Broom_
  and _Bonny Robin_.”

And she begins to troll “Oh fair! oh sweet!” etc.

Unhappily the authors of this play did not write out the song, as it
was too well known to require transcription, and now it is lost. So
also are those she sings in another scene.

  “The George alow came from the South,
     From the Coast of Barbary-a!
   And there we met with brave gallants of war,
     By one, by two, by three-a!

  “Well hail’d, well hail’d, you jolly gallants!
     And whither now are you bound-a?
   Or let me have your company
     Till I come to the Sound-a!”

This sounds as though a part of the “Henry Martyn” (Andrew Barton)
already given. Another of the mad girl’s songs is:--

  “There were three fools fell out about an howlet.
        The one said ’twas an owl;
        The other said nay.
        The third he said it was a hawk,
        And her bells were cut away.”

So also with some of the songs and ballads of Ophelia. They were too
well known to be printed, and now they are irrecoverably gone.

We have lost nearly the whole of our earliest ballad poetry, and only a
tithe of that which took its place has come down to us.

“Our earliest ballads,” says the editor of Percy’s folio, “though
highly popular in the Elizabethan age, were yet never collected into
any collections, save in Garlands, till the year 1723. They wandered up
and down the country without even sheepskins or goatskins to protect
them; they flew about like the birds of the air, and sung songs dear
to the hearts of the common people--songs whose power was sometimes
confessed by the higher classes, but not so thoroughly appreciated as
to conduce them to exert themselves for their preservation.”

In the reign of Queen Anne and through the early Hanoverian period,
sheets of copperplate were issued with engraved songs and ballads,
together with their music. Among them may be found a few--but only
a very few--of the old favourites. Most are compositions of Arne,
Carey, Berg, Dunn, etc., and the words are quite unsuited to hold the
attention of the peasantry. Hardly any of these found their way into
broadsides and garlands, and none can now be heard by the cottage fire
or in the village ale-house.

In 1808, John Catnach of Newcastle settled in London, and began to
print broadsides. He was quickly followed by others in London and in
country towns. Catnach kept a number of ballad-mongers in his pay, who
either composed verses for him or swept up such traditional ballads as
they chanced to hear. They were paid half-a-crown for a copy, whether
original or adulterate. If one of these poetasters chanced to hear an
ancient ballad, he added to it some of his own verses, so as to be
able to call it his property, and then disposed of it to one of the
broadside publishers.

If these men had been sent round the country to collect from cottages
and village hostelries, in the way in which Wardour Street Jews send
about into every part of England to pick up old oak, then a great
amount of our traditional ballad poetry might have been recovered. It
was not too late in the first ten or twenty years of this century.
But this was not done. These pot-poets loafed about in the low London
public-houses, where it was only by the rarest chance that a country
man, fresh from the fields, and woods, and downs, with his memory laden
with the fragrance of the rustic music, was to be found. Moreover,
these fellows were overweening in their opinion of their own powers.
They had neither taste, nor ear, nor genius. They poured forth floods
of atrocious rhymes, and of utter balderdash, as was required, as
an occasion offered, and as they stood in need of half-crowns.
Consequently the broadside “white-letter” ballad no more represents the
folk ballad of the English people than does the black-letter ballad.

Who that has a sprinkling of grey on his head does not remember the
ballad-singer at a fair, with his or her yards of verse for sale? The
ballad-seller, who vended his broadsheets, did much to corrupt the
taste of the peasant. He had begun to read, and he read the ha’penny
broadside, and learned by heart what he had bought; then he set it to
some fine old melody as ancient as the Wars of the Roses, and sang it;
and what is unfortunate, discarded the old words for the sake of the
vile stuff composed by the half-tipsy, wholly-stupid band, in the pay
of Ryle, Catnach, Harkness of Preston, Williams of Portsea, Snidall of
Manchester, etc.

Mr. Hindley, in his “History of the Catnach Press,” 1886, gives
an amusing account of his acquaintance with John Morgan, the last
surviving of Catnach’s poets:--“Mr. John Morgan, full of bows and
scrapes, was ushered into our presence. ‘Take a seat, sir.’ ‘Yes, sir,
and thank you too,’ he replied, at the same time sitting down, and
then very carefully depositing his somewhat dilapidated hat under--far
under--the chair. We then inquired whether he would have anything to
eat, or have a cup of coffee. No! it was a little too early for eating,
and coffee did not agree with him. Or, a drop of good ‘Old Tom,’ we
somewhat significantly suggested. Mr. John Morgan would very much like
to have a little drop of gin, for it was a nasty, raw, cold morning.
In answer to our inquiry whether he would prefer hot or cold water,
elected to have it neat, if it made no difference to us.

“Mr. John Morgan, at our suggestion, having ‘wet the other eye,’
_i.e._, taken the second glass, the real business commenced thus:--‘We
have been informed that you were acquainted with, and used to write
for, the late James Catnach, who formerly lived in Seven Dials,
and that you can give us much information that we require towards
perfecting a work we have in hand, treating on street literature.’ ...
Here Mr. Morgan expressed his willingness to give all the information
he could on the subject, and leave it to our generosity to pay him what
we pleased, and adding that he had no doubt that we should not fall
out on that score. Mr. Morgan talked and took gin. Mr. Morgan got
warm--warmer, and warmer,--and very entertaining. We continued to talk
and take notes, and Mr. Morgan talked and took gin, until he emulated
the little old woman who sold ‘Hot Codlings,’ for of her it is related
that, ‘The glass she filled, and the bottle she shrunk, And this little
old woman in the end got--’

“At last it became very manifest that we should not be able to get any
more information out of Mr. John Morgan on that day, so proposed for
him to call again on the morrow morning. Then having presented him with
a portrait of Her Most Gracious Majesty, set in gold, we endeavoured to
see him downstairs, which, we observed, were very crooked; Mr. Morgan
thought they were very old and funny ones....

“At length the wishful morrow came, also ten of the clock, the hour
appointed, but not so Mr. John Morgan, nor did he call at any hour
during the day. But soon after eleven o’clock the next day he made his
appearance; but being so stupidly drunk we gave him some money and told
him to call again tomorrow. And he did, but still so muddled that we
could make nothing out of him, and so curtly dismissed him.”

Here are specimens of the sort of stuff turned out for Catnach by John
Morgan and the like. The first is on the birth of the Princess Royal.

  “Of course you’ve heard the welcome news,
     Or you must be a gaby,
   That England’s glorious queen has got
     At last a little baby.

  “A boy we wanted--’tis a girl!
     Thus all our hopes that were
   To have an heir unto the Throne
     Are all _thrown to the air_.”

Here is a ballad on a policeman of the old style when the new
regulations came in, in 1829:--

  “Upon his beat he stood to take a last farewell
   Of his lantern and his little box wherein he oft did dwell.
   He listen’d to the clock, so familiar to his ear,
   And with the tail of his drab coat he wiped away a tear.

  “Beside that watchhouse door a girl was standing close,
   Who held a pocket handkerchief, with which she blew her nose.
   She rated well the policeman, which made poor Charley queer,
   Who once more took his old drab coat to wipe away a tear.

  “He turn’d and left the spot; O do not deem him weak;
   A sly old chap this Charley was, though tears were on his cheek.
   Go watch the lads in Fetterlane, where oft you’ve made them fear;
   The hand, you know, that takes a bribe, can wipe away a tear.”

Here is one stanza by a composer with whom the writer of this article
made acquaintance:--

  “Pale was the light of the Pole-axe star,
     When breakers would hide them so near.
   But Love is the ocean of hunters far,
     And convoys him to darkness so drear.
   Then sad at the door of my love I lay,
   Slumbering the six months all away.”

Horace sang something about lying exposed to the cold and rain at the
door of his beloved, and vowed he would not do it again. There is
certainly a distance of something beside two thousand years between
Horace and the gentleman who wrote the above lines.

There is a really astonishing poem entitled “The Lights of Asheaton,”
which, happily, everyone can purchase for a ha’penny. It is the
composition of a recent Irish poet of the same class as Mr. John
Morgan, and is a dissuasive against Protestantism. What the “Lights” of
Asheaton are does not transpire. It opens thus:--

  “You Muses now aid me in admonishing Paganism,
   The new Lights of Asheaton, whose fate I do deplore.
   From innocence and reason they are led to condemnation,
   Their fate they’ve violated, the occasion of their woe.”

After some wonderful lines that we hardly like to quote, as savouring
of irreverence--though that was far from the poet’s intention--he
assures us:--

  “Waters will decrease most amazing to behold,
   No fanatic dissenter, no solvidian (_sic_) cripple,
   Dare them to dissemble, the truths for to relinquish,
   For the enthusiast will tremble at the splendors of the Pope.”

The sheet of broadside ballad that is passing away deserves a little
attention before it disappears. It reveals to us the quality of song
that commended itself to the uneducated. It shows us how the song
proper has steadily displaced the ballad proper. It is surprising
for what it contains, as well as for what it omits. Apparently in
the latter part of this century the sole claim to admission is that
words--no matter what they be--should be associated to a taking air.
We find on the broadsheets old favourites of our youth--songs by Balfe,
and Shield, and Hudson; but the Poet Laureate is unrepresented; even
Dibdin finds but grudging admission. When we look at the stuff that is
home-made, we find that it consists of two sorts of production--one,
the ancient ballad in the last condition of wreck, cast up in
fragments; and the other, of old themes worked up over and over again
by men without a spark of poetic fire in their hearts. A century or two
hence we shall have this rubbish collected and produced as the folk
song of the English peasantry, just as we have had the black-letter
ballads raked together and given to the world as the ballad poetry of
the ancient English.

The broadside ballad is at its last gasp. Every publisher in the
country who was wont to issue these ephemerides has discontinued
doing so for thirty or forty years. In London, in place of a score of
publishers of these leaves, there are but three--Mr. Fortey, of Seven
Dials; Mr. Such, of the Boro’; and Mr. Taylor, of Bethnal Green. As
the broadside dies, it becomes purer. There are ballads in some of the
early issues of a gross and disgusting nature. These have all had the
knife applied to them, and nothing issues from the press of Mr. Fortey,
Mr. Such, and Mr. Taylor which is offensive to good morals. Mr. Such,
happily, has all his broadsides numbered, and publishes a catalogue of
them; some of the earlier sheets are, however, exhausted, and have not
been reprinted.

It is but a matter of a few years and the broadside will be as extinct
as the Mammoth and the Dodo, only to be found in the libraries of
collectors. Already sheets that fetched a ha’penny thirty years ago are
cut down the middle, and each half fetches a shilling. The garlands
are worth more than their weight in gold. Let him that is wise collect
whilst he may.



There is a curious little work, the contents of which are said
to have been collected by Hans Sachs, the Nuremberg cobbler and
master-singer, in 1517. This curious book was reprinted several times
in the seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth century, but it
is now somewhat scarce. It was issued without place of publication or
publisher’s name, in small form without cover. The book pretends to
have been prepared by Hans Sachs for his private use, that he might
make merriment among his friends, when drinking, and they were tired
of his songs. It does not contain any anecdotes; it is made up of a
collection of riddles more or less good, some coarse, and some profane;
but the age was not squeamish. The title under which the little work
was issued was, _Useful Table-talk, or Something for all; that is
the Happy Thoughts, good and bad, expelling Melancholy and cheering
Spirits, of Hilarius Wish-wash, Master-tiler at Kielenhausen_. The
book consists of just a hundred pages, of which a quarter are consumed
by prefaces, introductions, etc., and about thirteen filled with
postscript and index. The humours of the book are somewhat curious;
for instance, in the preliminary index of subjects it gives--“IX. The
reason why this book of Table-talk was so late in being published.”
When we turn to the place indicated for the reason, we find a blank.
There is no such reason. There is a fulsome and absurd dedication to
the “Honourable and Knightly Tileburner” who lives “By the icy ocean
near Moscow, in Lapland, one mile below Podolia and three miles above

Although we are not told in the place indicated why the little
collection was not issued immediately after the death of Hans Sachs,
nor among his works, we learn the reason elsewhere, in the preface,
where we are told that the jokes it contained were so good that a
rivalry ensued among them as to precedence, and till this was settled,
it was impossible to get the book printed. The collection contains in
all one hundred and ninety-six riddles; among them is that which gives
the date of the book, and that in a chronogram: “When was this book
of Table-talk drawn up? _Answer._ In IetzIg taVsenD fIInff hVnDert
sIbenzehenDen Iahr” (1517).

Here are some of the conundrums.--_Question._ After Adam had eaten the
forbidden fruit, did he stand or sit down?--_Ans._ Neither; he fell.

_Ques._ Two shepherds were pasturing their flocks. Said one to the
other: “Give me one of your sheep, then I shall have twice as many
sheep as you.”--“Not so,” replied the second herdsman: “give me one
of yours, and then we shall have equal flocks.” How many sheep had
each?--_Ans._ One had seven, the other five. If the first took a sheep
out of the flock of the second, he had eight, the other four; if the
contrary, each had six.

_Ques._ What is four times six?--_Ans._ 6666.

_Ques._ What does a goose do when standing on one leg?--_Ans._ Holds up
the other!

_Ques._ When did carpenters first proclaim themselves to be intolerable
dawdles?--_Ans._ When building the Ark--they took a hundred years over

_Ques._ What sort of law is military law?--_Ans._ Can(n)on law.

Some of the riddles have survived in the jocular mouth to the present
day; for instance, who does not know this?--_Ques._ What smells most in
an apothecary’s shop?--_Ans._ The nose. There is one conundrum which
surprises us. The story was wont to be told by Bishop Wilberforce that
he had asked a child in Sunday School why the angels ascended and
descended on Jacob’s ladder, whereupon the child replied that they did
so because they were moulting, and could not fly. But this appears in
Hans Sachs’ book, and is evidently a very ancient joke indeed.

In this collection also appears the riddle: “Which is heaviest, a pound
of lead or a pound of feathers?” which everyone knows, but with an
addition, which is an improvement. After the answer, “Each weighs a
pound, and they are equal in weight,” the questioner says further: “Not
so--try in water. The pound of feathers will float, and the pound of
lead will sink.”

_Ques._ How can you carry a jug of water in your hands on a broiling
summer day, in the full blaze of the sun, so that the water shall not
get hotter?--_Ans._ Let the water be boiling when you fill the jug.

_Ques._ How can a farmer prevent the mice from stealing his
corn?--_Ans._ By giving them his corn.

_Ques._ A certain man left a penny by his will to be divided equally
among his fifty relatives, each to have as much as the other, and
each to be quite contented with what he got, and not envy any of the
other legatees. How did the executor comply with this testamentary
disposition?--_Ans._ He bought a packet of fifty tin-tacks with the
penny, and hammered one into the back of each of the legatees.

There is another very curious old German collection of riddles called
_Æsopus Epulans_; but that contains anecdotes as well and a great deal
of very interesting matter. This is a much larger volume, and is the
commonplace book of a party of priests who used to meet at each other’s
houses to smoke, and drink, argue, and joke. One of the members took
down the particulars of conversation at each meeting, and published
it. A most curious and amusing volume it is. Some of the conundrums
the old parsons asked each other were the same as those in Hans Sachs’
collection; they had become traditional. We may safely say that none
were better, and some were, if possible, more pointless. They have all
much the same character: they resemble faintly the popular conundrum
of the type so widely spread, and so much affected still by nurses
and by the labouring class, and which so often begins with “London
Bridge is broken down,” or, “As I went over London Bridge.” These are
very ancient. We have analogous riddles among those which Oriental
tradition puts into the mouth of the Queen of Sheba when she “proved
Solomon with hard questions.” Mr. Kemble published for the Ælfric
Society a collection of questions and answers that exist in Anglo-Saxon
as a conversation between Solomon and Saturn, and numerous versions
existed in the Middle Ages of the dialogue between Solomon and--as the
answerer was often called--Markulf. But these questions only partially
correspond with our idea of riddles.

A more remarkable collection is that in the Icelandic _Herverar Saga_,
where the King Heidrek boasts of his power to solve all riddles.
Then Odin visits him in disguise as a blind man, and propounds to
the king some hard questions. Of these there are sixty-four. We will
give a few specimens. _Ques._ What was that drink I drank yesterday,
which was neither spring water, nor wine, nor mead, nor ale?--_Ans._
The dew of heaven. _Ques._ What dead lungs did I see blowing to
war?--_Ans._ A blacksmith’s bellows whilst a sword was being forged.
_Ques._ What did I see outside a great man’s door, head downwards, feet
heavenwards?--_Ans._ An onion.

These riddles are all in verse, and the replies also in verse. The end
was that Odin asked Heidrek what he, Odin, whispered into the ear of
Baldur before he was burned on his funeral pyre. Thereupon Heidrek drew
his sword and cut at his questioner, shouting: “None can answer that
but yourself!” Odin had just time to transform himself into an eagle;
but the sword shore off his tail, and eagles ever after have had short

The Sphinx will recur to the recollection of the reader, who tore to
pieces those who could not answer its riddles. At last Creon, King of
Thebes, offered his sister, Jocasta, to anyone who could solve the
enigmas propounded by the Sphinx. Œdipus ventured, and when asked by
the monster, “What animal is four-footed in the morning, two-footed
at noon, and three-footed in the evening?” answered: “Man, who as a
babe crawls, and as an old man leans on a crutch.” The Sphinx was so
distressed at hearing its riddle solved, that it precipitated itself
from a precipice and was dashed to pieces.

The Persian hero, Sal, who was brought up by the gigantic bird Simorg,
appears before Mentuscher, Schah of Iran. The latter, forewarned that
Sal will be a danger to him, endeavours to get rid of him. However, he
first tests him with hard questions. If he answers these, he is to be
allowed to live. The first question is: “There stand twelve cypresses
in a ring, and each bears thirty boughs.” Sal replies, “These are
the twelve months, each of which has thirty days.” Another question
is--“There were two horses, one black, the other clear as crystal.”
“They are Day and Night,” replied Sal.

In English and Scottish Ballads a whole class has reference to the
importance of riddle answering.

A girl is engaged to a young man who dies. He returns from the grave
and insists on her fulfilling her engagement to him and following him
to the land of the dead. She consents on one condition, that he will
answer her riddles, or else she pleads to be spared, and the dead lover
agrees on condition that she shall answer some riddles he sets. Such
is a ballad which was formerly enacted in the farmhouses in Cornwall.
The girl sits on her bed and sighs for her dead lover. He reappears and
insists on her following him. Then she sets him tasks, and he sets her

Those he sets her are:--

  “Thou must buy me, my lady, a cambrick shirt
     Whilst every grove rings with a merry antine (antienne = anthem),
   And stitch it without any needle work,
     O, and thou shalt be a true love of mine.

  “And thou must wash it in yonder well
   Where never a drop of water fell.

  “And thou must hang it upon a white thorn
   That never has blossomed since Adam was born.”

Those she sets him are:--

  “Thou must buy for me an acre of land
   Between the salt ocean and the yellow sand.

  “Thou must plough it over with a horse’s horn,
   And sow it all over with one pepper corn.

  “Thou must reap it too with a piece of leather,
   And bind the sheaf with a peacock’s feather.”

“In all stories of this kind,” says Mr. Child, in his monumental work
on English Ballads, “the person upon whom a task is imposed stands
acquitted if another of no less difficulty is desired, which must be
performed first.”

An early form of this story is preserved in the _Gesta Romanorum_. A
king resolved not to marry a wife till he could find the cleverest of
women. At length a poor maid was brought to him, and he made trial
of her sagacity. He sent her a bit of linen three inches square, and
promised to marry her, if out of it she could make him a shirt. She
stipulated in reply that he should send her a vessel in which she could
work. We have here only a mutilated fragment of the series of tasks
set. In an old English ballad in the Pepysian library, an Elfin knight
visits a pretty maid, and demands her in marriage.

  “‘Thou must shape a sark to me
   Without any cut or heme,’ quoth he.
   ‘Thou must shape it knife-and-sheerless
   And also sue it needle-threadless.’”

She replies:--

  “I have an aiker of good ley-land
   Which lyeth low by yon sea-strand.
   For thou must car it with thy horn,
   So thou must sow it with thy corn,
   And bigg a cart of stone and lyme.
   Robin Redbreast he must trail it hame,
   Thou must barn it in a mouse-holl,
   And thrash it into thy shoes sole.
   And thou must winnow it in thy looff,
   And also sech it in thy glove.
   For thou must bring it over the sea,
   And thou must bring it dry home to me.”

As the Elfin knight cannot fulfil these tasks, the girl is not obliged
to follow him to Elfin Land. There is another song, known in a
fragmentary condition all through England:--

  “Cold blows the wind to-night, sweetheart,
     Cold are the drops of rain.
   The very first love that ever I had
     In greenwood he was slain.”

The maiden being engaged to the dead man can obtain no release from him
till he restores to her her freedom. She goes and sits on his grave and

  “A twelvemonth and a day being up,
     The ghost began to speak;
   Why sit you here by my grave side
     From dusk till dawning break?”

She replies:--

  “O think upon the garden, love,
     Where you and I did walk;
   The fairest flower that blossomed there
     Is withered on its stalk.”

The ghost says:--

  “What is it that you want of me,
     And will not let me sleep?
   Your salten tears they trickle down
     My winding sheet to steep.”

She replies that she has come to return his kisses to him, so as to be
off with her engagement. To this the dead man replies:--

  “Cold are my lips in death, sweetheart,
     My breath is earthy strong,
   If you do touch my clay-cold lips,
     Your time will not be long.”

Then comes a divergence in the various forms the ballad assumes. Its
most common form is for the ghost to insist on her coming into his
grave, unless she can perform certain tasks:--

  “Go fetch me a light from dungeon deep,
     Wring water from a stone,
   And likewise milk from a maiden’s breast
     Which never babe hath none.”

She strikes a spark from a flint, she squeezes an icicle, and she
compresses the stalk of a dandelion or “Johnswort.” So she accomplishes
the tasks set her.

Then the ghost exclaims:--

  “Now if you had not done these things,
     If you had not done all three,
   I’d tear you as the withered leaves
     Are torn from off the tree.”

And the maiden, released from her bond, sings:--

  “Now I have mourned upon his grave
     A twelvemonth and a day,
   I’ll set my sail before the wind
     To waft me far away.”

Another ballad of the same class is that of the knight who betrays a
maiden, and refuses to marry her unless she can answer certain riddles.
These are:--

  “What is louder than a horn?
   And what is sharper than a thorn?
   What is broader than the way?
   And what is deeper than the sea?”

The answers are:--

  “Thunder is louder than a horn,
   And hunger is sharper than a thorn,
   Love is broader than the way,
   And hell is deeper than the sea.”

Now these ballads and a crowd of folk tales that bear on the same point
show plainly enough that there was a time when quite as certainly as
there were contests of arms, so contests of wit were gone through
for great ends, sometimes with life at stake. That was a period when
there was a struggle between man and man, and the fittest survived;
but this fittest was not always the strongest animal, but the man of
keenest wit. I do not know how else to explain the universality of
these legends. The riddle is an amusement at the present day. It was
an amusement at a Greek banquet, as we learn from Plutarch. But in a
pre-historic period--in a mythic epoch--it was something very grave.
He or she who could not solve a riddle, or a succession of riddles,
forfeited life or honour.

There are two of the earliest extant rhymes of the Norse people which
hinge on the same idea, and in them the gods themselves have their
existence or honour at stake. These are the Vafthrudnis Mâl and the
Alvis Mâl, in the Elder Edda.

In the first of these Odin the god and mythical ancestor of
the Scandinavian race visits the Jute, the giant Vafthrudnir,
representative of the large-sized pre-historic race which occupied
Scandinavia, Great Britain, and Gaul. They go through a contest of
wit. He who is defeated in this trial of skill has to lose his life.

Vafthrudnir asks:--

  “Tell me, Gagnrad,
   Since on the floor thou wilt
   Prove thy proficiency,
   How is the horse called
   That draws each day
   Forth over mankind?”

Odin, who has called himself Gagnrad, replies:--

  “Skinfaxi he is named
   That the bright day draws
   Forth over mankind.
   Of horses is he highest esteemed
   Amidst the Reid-Goths,
   Light ever streams from that horse’s mane.”

Next comes the question relative to the black horse of night. Then as
to the stream that divides the Jutes from the Æsir (the Scandinavians).
Then as to the name of the plain on which the great final fight will
take place, in which the light of the gods will be quenched. And so
on. The giant is overcome. This song is interesting because it is a
poetic representation of an historic event, the conquest of the Jute by
the Scandinavian, not so much by force of arms, as by superior mental

The other song in the Edda is the prototype of all the Elfin Knight and
analogous ballads in which a being of the under world, now an elf, then
a devil, then a dead man, seeks to win to himself a maiden of the upper
world, and of the dominant race.

The dwarf Alvis, who lives under the earth and under stones, _i.e._,
in a beehive hut, a representative of the pre-historic, small,
short-headed, metal-working race, has somehow extorted a promise from
the god Thorr, that he will give him his daughter, the “fair-bright,
snow-white maiden.” Thorr shrinks from doing this, but is reminded of
his promise. We do not know the particulars, but in all probability
the dwarf Alvis had fashioned for him his hammer, and had received the
promise in return. Thorr at last yields, but only on condition that
Alvis shall solve a series of riddles, or rather answer a number of
questions as to the various names given to sun, moon, wind, sky, etc.

The last question asked is:--

  “Tell me, Alvis,
   How beer is called
   Which the sons of men
   Drink in all worlds.”

Alvis answers:--

  “_Ale_ is it called by men,
   By the Æsir _Beer_,
   By the Vans _Veig_,
   By the Jotuns _Hreina lögi_;
   In Hell it is _meed_,
   The sons of Sutung call it _sumbl_.”

Then the sun rises--and as it has risen before all the questions are
answered, Alvis loses his bride.

Precisely so in the Cornish version of the Elfin-Knight. Unable to
accomplish the task, the dead man is caught by the sunrise, and says:--

  “The breath of the morning is raw and cold,
     The wind is blowing on forest and down,
   And I must return to the churchyard mould,
     And the wind it shaketh the acorns down.”

It is deserving of note that in all these early accounts of
riddle-setting, the _forfeit_ is either life or honour. We have
instances of riddle-setting as a test before marriage, or what is the
same thing, the setting difficult tasks to be accomplished--something
to prove the wit of the young woman. Unless she were “up to mark” in
wit, she was held to be unfit for the marriage proposed. In one folk
tale a girl is given straw to spin into gold, grains to collect and
count. In Cupid and Psyche, the fair seeker after her divine lover is
set tasks by Venus, without the accomplishment of which she cannot win
him. In many a tale a prince is set tasks, without the accomplishment
of which he cannot be accepted as lover for the daughter and heiress of
a king.

In the saga of Ragnar Lodbrog, the King bids Aslaug come to him
clothed yet naked, accompanied yet alone, fed yet empty. She complies
by casting off her garments but covering herself with her golden hair
that flows to her feet, taking with her a dog only, and chewing a blade
of garlic. Satisfied with her wit, Ragnar marries her. She became by
him the mother of five sons, one of whom was the ancestor of Harald
Fairhair, who made Norway into one realm under his sceptre. Aslaug
was the daughter of Sigurd and Brunhild, made familiar to us through
Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungen.”

The forfeits of a child’s game of the present day, to stand in the
corner on one leg, to call up the chimney, to kiss everyone in the
room--are the faintest ghostly reminiscences of the terrible forfeit,
which, in the mythic age of mankind, had to be paid by the man or woman
who became liable through lack of shrewdness in the great contest of
wit. The man who did not solve the riddle lost his life. The woman who
failed to answer the questions had to leave her race, suffer social
death, and pass over to the realm of the conquered race.

I repeat it, it is quite impossible to explain the stories of
riddle-setting which appear as a matter of most serious import as they
come to us out of a remote antiquity, and from every part of Europe
and Asia, unless we hold that there were in a pre-historic age these
contests of wit for the highest stakes, just as there were holm-gangs,
duels, like those of David and Goliath, of the Horatii and Curiatii, of
Herakles and Geryon.

But the existence of the riddle and of the forfeit attaching to
inability to answer the riddle, does not, we may be sure, begin with
such cases as the contest of Odin and Vafthrudnir, Thorr and Alvis,
Œdipus and Sphinx. As it appears thus in myth, it is a survival of a
still earlier condition of affairs.

At the present day throughout Europe, nurses ask children riddles, and
very often a forfeit attaches to inability to answer them. This points
to the riddle as a means of education of the young mind, but also as a
test of its powers. In legend and myth it does not appear as educative,
but as a test of mental power. How came it to be a test?

We know that among certain races in a primitive, even in a cultivated
condition, the feeble and halt children are cast forth to perish. It
was so with the Greeks and Romans, it was so with the Norse, it has
been so in every ancient race. I cannot but suspect, from the many
indications given by tradition, that the riddle was employed at one
time as a brain test. That not only were the physically weak cast out,
but also the mentally incapable.

The most startling reminiscence of the old ordeal of brains is that of
the Wartburg Contest in 1206 or 1207, under the Landgrave Hermann. The
poem of the “Kriec von Wartburg” was not indeed composed till a century
later, but that only makes it the more astonishing. It represents the
minnesingers under the Landgrave contesting in song and riddle, and
those who are defeated forfeit _life_. Christian knights and ladies
could look on at a tourney in the lists with life at stake, and
Christian knights and ladies in the fourteenth century thought it by no
means a monstrous thing that he who could not answer a riddle should
submit his neck to the executioner’s sword. Such a condition of ideas
is only conceivable as a heritage from a past when men had to show that
they had an intellectual as well as a physical qualification to live
among their fellow-men.

The riddle has gone into an infinity of forms. A German writer[39] sets
to work to analyse its various manifestations. There is the numerical
riddle, the conundrum, the logogryph, the charade, the rebus, the
picture puzzle, the epigram, and so forth. Its last transformation is
the novel of the type of Wilkie Collins’ “Moonstone,” in which the
brain of the reader is kept in tension throughout, and the imagination
at work to discover the solution of the question--Who stole the
moonstone? A German poet, who cannot have thought much on the matter,

  “The riddle, charade, and all of that ilk,
   Are the bacon and beans of small brains.”

But the riddle and the forfeit have had to do with the development
of mankind, the killing out of the witless, and the survival of the
intelligent. As the young were tested whether strong enough to live and
by brute force to hold their own, so, apparently, at a remote period in
man’s history the brains of the young were passed through ordeal, and
those who lacked readiness were also cast out as profitless.

That was the first stage--and that is one which we conjecture that man
passed through; we have no direct evidence that it was so. Then came
the second, in which a trial of strength or of wit determined great
issues. Lastly, the riddle degenerated into a mere pastime. But as a
pastime it remains to us a monument of great interest and of great
antiquity. In every railway station in Germany is a measure. He who
is below that mark is unprofitable for Fatherland and rejected from
military service. The riddle was this mark before history dawned.
Only such as were mentally capable of solving a simple question were
considered worthy to be enrolled in the family or tribe. As in Germany
at the present day, the lad who cannot pass the examination loses
all chance of the short military service to which the man of culture
is entitled, and is subjected to the long service of a common country
lout, and the fact of his failure closes to him all professions, so was
it in the primeval world. He who could not pass through his examination
in riddles was condemned, if not to lose his life, at least to lose
caste, and the consciousness that each lad must pass through this
mental test served to sharpen intelligences, and so conduced to the
advancement of mankind.


The Gallows.

Among our national institutions there is one--the gallows--to the
roots of which, in a remote past, antiquarians have, to the best of my
knowledge, not dug, and which they have not laid bare. Possibly this
omission is due to the fact that it is not an institution of which we
are proud; possibly also to the fact that it is an institution which we
keep as clear from touching as we well can.

Nevertheless, the origin and original signification of the gallows are
too curious to be neglected. The origin is, moreover, so remote that
unless it were pointed out it would be wholly unsuspected.

In France and in Germany the wheel has occupied the place in the
history of crime which the gibbet has taken with us; and the wheel, as
I shall presently show, has as old and significant an origin.

We know pretty exactly the date of the introduction of this institution
into our island; we owe it, along with our ale and our constitutional
government, to the Anglo-Saxon invaders.

There were no gallows in Britain under the Celts. The kingdom of Kent
was founded in 449, and it was then that the gallows first made their
appearance among us; and from the Isle of Thanet spread over the whole

The great god of the conquering races, who invaded Britain and subdued
the Britons, was Woden, who has given his name to Wednesday; and this
god with one eye had a double aspect. He was god of the air, the wind,
and he was also god of the sun. According to the etymology of his name,
he was the god of the gale, and the source of all breath; but his one
fiery eye was most certainly the sun; and he was represented holding
a wheel of gold, and that golden wheel symbolised the sun. The Gauls
also had a sun god, representations of whom holding a wheel have been
discovered in France in considerable numbers; and, unquestionably, when
Goths, Burgundians, and Franks invaded Gaul, or swept over it, their
sun god and the Gallic wheel-bearing god were identified.

But those who thought of and adored Woden as god of the wind thought
nothing of the wheel. Woden was a cruel deity, who demanded sacrifices;
and the sacrifices he required were human.

In the Elder Edda, a collection of very ancient songs relating to the
Norse gods and heroes, who were the same as the gods and heroes of our
Anglo-Saxon forefathers, is one mysterious poem, supposed to be sung by
Odin (Woden) himself as he hangs in the world-tree, a self-immolated
victim, between heaven and earth for nine nights.

  “I knew that I hung
   In the wind-rocked tree
   Nine whole nights,
   Wounded with a spear;
   And to Odin offered
   Myself to myself,
   On that tree,
   Of which no one knows
   From what root it springs.”

As he thus hangs, himself the sacrifice offered to himself as god, he
composes a song of twice nine runes, and the result of the twelfth is:--

  “If on a tree I see
   A corpse swinging by a halter,
   I can so grave runes
   And them write
   That that man shall with me
   Walk and converse.”

That is to say, every victim hung on a tree becomes one of Odin’s band,
with whom he rides in the storm blast over the earth.

Unfortunately, the myth connected with this curious poem is not
preserved; but we can gather so much from it, that Odin was said to
have immolated himself to himself by hanging in the world-tree, and
that thenceforth he claimed all men who had been hung as members of his

In one of the early Norse sagas we have a story about a king called
Vikarr, who desired to dedicate himself to the god, and so he had a
gallows erected before his palace, and got a friend to fasten a halter
round his neck and hang him on the gallows. Another tells of a woman
who, to gain her husband’s love, hung her son to the god to obtain his
assistance so as to brew a good vat of ale. At Lethra, in Denmark,
every nine years ninety-nine men, and as many horses, were hung in
honour of the god; and at Upsala numerous human victims swung by the
neck about the image of Odin. After their great victory over the Romans
the Cymbri and Teutons hung all their captives as a thank-offering to
their gods; and after the slaughter of the legions of Varus the horses
of the Romans were found hung on the trees on the scene of defeat.

Indeed, one of the names of Odin was the Hanging God, either because he
hung himself, or because he had victims hung to him.

The world-tree, the great tree in which he hung, the tree which
supports heaven and earth, was called Yggdrasil, which means Ogre’s
horse, for one of the names of Odin was Yggr or Ogre, to express his
love of human sacrifices; and all the old nursery tales and rhymes
concerning ogres have reference to this great god of the English
people. Jack mounts the beanstalk, and above the clouds enters the land
of the Ogre, with his one eye, who devours men. Jack the Giant Killer,
who lives in Cornwall, represents the British Christian fighting
against the Pagan Saxon, impersonated as the great man-eating ogre.

  “Fee-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.
   Whether he be alive, or whether he be dead,
   I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

In this again we have a reference to Woden or Odin, who was also called
the Miller; for the mutter or roll of the thunder was supposed to be
the working of his quern, grinding up his human victims for his meal.

Originally, victims were either freewill offerings, or were chosen from
among the best in the land. So we hear of a Norse king every ten years
sacrificing one of his sons, and of the Swedes, in time of famine,
sacrificing their king, but it became general to offer the prisoners
taken in war, and when these lacked, to sacrifice those who lay in
prison condemned for crimes.

In one of the Norse sagas, we are told of a king’s daughter that, on
hearing of the death of her father in battle, she went to the valley
dedicated to the gods and there hung herself. Her father, having died
in battle, went to Walhalla to Odin, and her only chance of being with
him in the spirit world was to hang herself to the honour of Odin, who
would then receive her among his elect, and so associate her with her
father. If she were to die in her bed, she would go down to the nether
world of Hela.

It is curious that in the West of England there are fields, generally
situated in lonely spots, that go by the name of gallows’-traps, and
the popular saying concerning them is that whoever sets foot in them
is predestined to die on the gibbet. The probable origin of this
superstition is that these were actual traps for the unwary, in which
to catch victims for sacrifice.

In certain districts a parcel of land was set apart to the god, and it
was agreed that whosoever set foot on it should be sacrificed. Usually
this was a stranger, unaware of the sacredness of the ground he
trod. He was seized and hung to Woden. We cannot say for certain that
this is the origin of the gallows-traps, but it is the most probable
explanation of their origin, and of the superstitious dread of them
still existing among the people.

In France and Germany the wheel was used as the instrument of death
as frequently as the gallows; those executed on the wheel were set
upon poles, the wheel horizontal, and their broken limbs intertwined
among the spokes. Originally they were thus put to death as oblations
to the sun-god, whose symbol was the wheel. Little by little the idea
of sacrifice in these executions disappeared. When Germans, Franks,
and Anglo-Saxons became Christian, human sacrifices ceased as a matter
of course, but as it was still necessary to put malefactors to death,
the same kind of death was adjudged to them as before Christianity was
professed. The gradual process whereby human sacrifices were changed
in the classic world is well known to us. At first every victim was a
freewill offering, and even a beast was obliged to appear so. To make
the ox seem to consent to its despatch, drops of oil or water were put
into its ears, that it might nod and shake its head. Prisoners taken in
war, then criminals, were substituted for persons voluntarily devoting
themselves to death to the honour of the gods. When it came to the
execution of criminals, the idea of sacrifice readily evaporated.

One remarkable fact remains to be noticed. In all religions the
sacrifice becomes identified with the god to whom it is offered, and
partakes of his powers.

Whether this be a mere confusion of ideas, or whether there is some
logical process at the bottom, we will not stop to consider, but it
remains a fact everywhere. The victim is always thought to become
invested with some of the attributes of the god.

Now a whole series of superstitions exists connected with men hung;
and an executioner till of late years derived a small revenue from the
sale of the cord, or other articles connected with the criminal who had
been hung, and these relics were preserved, not out of a morbid love
of horrors, but out of a real belief that they were beneficial, that
they brought with them protection against accidents and ailments. I
remember, not ten years ago, being shown by a woman, by no means in the
lowest walks of life, a small object in a frame. This she said was a
bit of the skin of a certain famous murderer, for which she had given a

“And what on earth makes you preserve it?” I inquired.

“Oh!” replied the woman, “the house will never catch fire so long as
that is in it.”

The mutilation of bodies hung in chains was of frequent occurrence in
former times, on account of like beliefs. The hands and feet and hair
of the dead were cut off. The former were constantly taken by thieves
and burglars, who believed that the hand of the man hung would enable
him to open any lock, and enter any house with immunity.

The plunder of the gallows was sought in the first days of Christianity
in England by those who were still Pagans at heart, and desired to put
themselves under the protection of the old gallows god, Woden, but the
original meaning of this robbery of the dead soon faded away, and the
practice remained without explanation.

Our word gallows is compound. The old word is _galz_, and gallows means
the _low_ or mound of the gibbet, and we speak of the gallow-tree, or
the wood on the gibbet hill. When we remember that the gallows on which
Odin hung is called Ogre’s horse, it is interesting to note a popular
riddle asked children in Yorkshire. “What is the horse that is ridden
that never was foaled, and rid with a bridle that never had bit?” The
answer is--The Gallows. A German name for it is the raven’s stone, not
only, perhaps, because ravens come to it, but because the raven was the
sacred bird of Odin.

Now let us turn to the wheel.

On the Continent, in Germany and in France, breaking on the wheel was a
customary mode of execution. The victim was stretched on the wheel, and
with a bar of iron his limbs were broken, and then a blow was dealt him
across the breast. After that the wheel was set up on a tall pole, with
the dead man on it, and left to become the prey to the ravens.

This was a survival of human sacrifices to the sun-god, as hanging is a
survival of human sacrifices to the wind-god.

[Illustration: _Fig. 40._--THE SUN-GOD, AFTER GAIDOZ.]

With regard to the solar-wheel, a great deal of very interesting
information has been collected by M. Gaidoz.[40] He points out that in
the museums of France there are a good many monuments that represent
the sun-wheel along with the thunderbolt as the symbol of Jupiter, that
is to say, the old Gaulish solar-god identified with the Roman deity,
Jupiter. Gaulish warriors wore a wheel on their helmets--a wheel was a
favourite symbol as a personal ornament, or perhaps as an amulet. The
wheel-window in a Gothic minster derives from the solar-wheel.

[Illustration: _Fig. 41._--ALTAR TO THE SOLAR-GOD, NIMES.]

When Constantine led his legions against Maxentius, he professed to
have seen a sign in the heavens, and he believed it to be a token of
Christ’s assistance. What he really saw was a mock-sun. He adopted and
adapted the sign for his standards, and the _Labarum_ of Constantine
became a common Christian symbol. That there was policy in his conduct
we can hardly doubt; the symbol he set up gratified the Christians in
his army on one side, and the Gauls on the other. To the former it
was a sign compounded of the initial letters of Christ, to the latter
it was the token of the favour of their solar deity. An addition
Constantine certainly made to the six-rayed wheel, but it was not one
that materially affected its character.

Among the Sclavonic races in like manner the sun was worshipped, and
worshipped with symbols precisely the same.

[Illustration: _Fig. 42._--THE LABARUM.]

The solar god of the Sclaves was Swanto Wit or Swato Wit, _i.e._, Holy
Light. The sun was the chief god of the Sclaves, and as the cock crows
before sunrise and announces the coming day, the cock was regarded
as sacred to the god, and sacrificed to it. The worship of this god
consisted in circular dances, called _kolos_, and the dance was taken
to represent the revolution of the planets, the constellations, the
seasons about the sun. An old writer says of the dances of Swanto
Wit that they were celebrated annually on the feast of St. John the
Baptist, that is, on Midsummer Day. “Benches are placed in a circle,
and these are leaped over by those who take part in the rite. No
one is allowed to be present dressed in red. The entire month that
precedes St. John’s Day, the votaries are in an excited condition, and
in carrying on their dances they fall a prey to nervous terrors.”[41]
Another writer tells us that they swung about a fiery wheel in their
dances, a symbol of the solar disc.[42]

In the Bavarian highlands, where the mountain names are many of them of
Sclavonic origin, and testify to a Sclavonic race having occupied the
Alps, this is still customary. The midsummer dances, and the whirling
of fiery wheels, are still in vogue. It is the same elsewhere. A writer
on the customs of the Sclaves says: “They give each other a hand, and
form a circle, whence the name of the dance, kolo = a circle, or wheel.
They take three quick steps or leaps to the left, then a slow stride to
the right; but when men alone dance it, after the three quick steps,
they stand, and kick with the right leg into the middle of the circle.
When the dance is accompanied by singing, one portion of the circle
sings one strophe, and the other repeats it. The Sclave dance is most
wild; and the same is found among the Carinthians and the Croats.”[43]
In Dalmatia and Croatia, on St. Vitus’ Day the peasants dance, holding
burning pieces of fragrant wood in their hands.

In the reign of Pepin, the father of Charlemagne, the Abbot Fulrad
obtained the relics of St. Vitus, a boy-martyr, from Rome, and conveyed
them to St. Denis. When the Abbey of New Corbey was founded in Saxony,
Warin, the abbot, wrote to Hilduin of St. Denis, to entreat the gift of
these relics for his church. Accordingly, in 836, they were conveyed to
their new resting-place in Saxony. In 879, the monks of Corbey started
on a mission to the Sclaves in Rügen and Pomerania, carrying with
them a portion of the relics of St. Vitus. They erected a chapel in
Rügen, which they dedicated to the saint. The attempt failed; and when,
later, the Rugians were converted, the missionaries supposed that
the Swanto Wit, whom they found them worshipping, was this very St.
Vitus, in Sclave Swante Vit, whose relics had been laid in Rügen. When,
in 1124, Otto, Bishop of Bamberg, laboured for the conversion of the
Pomeranians, he took with him a figure of a cock and a silver arm that
contained bones of St. Vitus. The Pomeranians reverenced the cock as a
sacred being, and when Otto appeared before them, holding up the cock
and the silver arm, they prostrated themselves to the cock, and he was
gratified at having thus inveigled them into doing honour to the relics
of St. Vitus.

Saint Wenceslas, Prince of Bohemia, in 930 destroyed the temple of
Swanto Wit at Prague, and erected on its site a church to Swante Vit,
_i.e._, St. Vitus.

When Ancona was besieged by the Christian host under Waldemar I., a
prophecy circulated that the city would fall into their hands on St.
Vitus’ Day. So it did, and Waldemar at once destroyed the temple of
Swanto Wit in the city, and on its ruins erected a church to Swante Vit.

Thus it came to pass that in Sclavonic lands the _cultus_ of St. Vitus
usurped the worship of the sun-god. But to return to the dances. As we
have seen, the solar dances held in honour of Swanto Wit were held an
entire month. St. Vitus’ Day falls on June 15th, very near to Midsummer
Day, and as these dances continued in Christian times, and St. Vitus
had taken the place of the sun-god, they acquired his name; they were
called the dances of St. Vitus.

In 1370 an epidemic of chorœa broke out in Germany, especially along
the valley of the Rhine. Young people of both sexes were the victims;
they danced, jerked, and fell into hysterical convulsions. Those who
saw them were affected in like manner. The phenomenon so much resembled
the annual St. Vitus’ dances that the disorder thenceforth took as its
special designation, “St. Vitus’ Dance.”

Dancing in a circle was a piece of sacred ritual in honour of the
revolving wheel of the sun. In the Bavarian highlands at Midsummer a
fiery wheel is waved and rolled down the mountain sides. The same sort
of rite was anciently observed at the same time in England. A monk
of Winchelscombe, in the reign of Henry VI., gives an account of the
popular festivals in his time. He speaks of three sorts of amusements
that take place on the vigil of St. John the Baptist. One of these is
the whirling of a cart wheel. Another writer of the following century,
in his poem, “Regnum papisticum,” gives further details. He says that
the country people take an old wheel, surround it with straw, so as
completely to cover it, and carry it to a height. At nightfall they set
it on fire and roll it down; a monstrous sight, he adds, and one would
believe that the sun was rolling down out of heaven.

Exactly the same usage is, or was, common in Belgium. In a charter, by
which the Abbess of Epinal ceded a wood to the magistrates of that town
in 1505, she made provision that every year, as an acknowledgment, they
should furnish “The Wheel of Fortune, and the straw wherewith to cover

Pages might be crowded with illustrations. I must refer the curious
to the treatise of M. Gaidoz. Sufficient evidence has been collected
that the wheel was the sacred symbol of the sun among the Gauls, the
Teutons, and the Sclaves. We can, therefore, see how that an execution
on the wheel was in its original conception a sacrifice to the sun.

Long after this was forgotten the wheel remained, as has the gallows
with us, as the instrument for the execution of criminals. In Germany,
even in cases of decapitation, the person executed was placed on a
wheel and his head on a pole, when separated from the body. The last
instances of breaking on the wheel were in the first forty years of
this century. The fact of the use of the wheel as a means of execution
continuing so many hundreds of years after the worship of the sun-god
had ceased, and of the gallows with us, for the same purpose, is a very
curious and instructive illustration of the persistence of customs of
which the original significance is absolutely lost.



In the village churchyard where as a boy I often played, is a tomb,
built up to the height of about five feet, with a slate slab let into
the south face, on which is an inscription. In this slab is a hole,
and it used to be said among the village boys that any one who looked
in through this hole and knocked at the slate would see the dead
man within open his eyes. Often have I and my brother peeped in and
knocked, but the experiment failed, because, when the eye was applied
to the hole, it excluded external light.

[Illustration: _Fig. 43._--HOLED TOMBSTONE, BURGHEAD.

(_From Mitchell’s “The Past and the Present.”_)]

The monument is still where it was, and is in the same condition.
Whether boys still knock and look in I do not know.[44]

Curiously enough, a somewhat similar practice exists at Burghead, about
nine miles from Elgin, which is described by Professor Mitchell in
his “Rhind Lectures,” 1880. He says: “There is a memorial slab built
into the wall of the burial-ground, called the Chapel Yard, at the
south-east corner; it is 35 inches high by 20 inches wide; close above
it, and also built into the wall, there is a hewn lintel-like stone,
37 inches long by 1½ inches thick. On the narrow exposed face of this
stone there is no sculpturing.

“The woodcut shows the position on the cradle stone (as it is called)
of a cup-like hollow, which is quite round 2¼ inches in depth. This
hollow has been produced by the children of Burghead, who are in the
habit of striking the spot with a beachstone (which is also represented
in the woodcut), and then quickly putting their ears to the place,
when the sound of a rocking cradle and the crying of a child are said
to be heard, as if coming from a cavern deep under ground. I am told
that during last century the stone was not visited by children, but by
women, who believed that they were to become mothers if they heard the
rocking of the cradle and the crying of the child after tapping on the

What is certainly a curious coincidence is that the pre-historic rude
stone ossuaries, dolmens or cromlechs, have very frequently in like
manner a hole worked in them.

Trevethy cromlech, in the parish of St. Cleer, Cornwall, has a hole
perforating the capstone. The Maison des Fées at Grammont, in Hérault,
has a hole bored through the head or western supporter. Another,
now destroyed, was at Cahaignes, in Normandy. The covered avenue of
Conflans now transferred to the fosse of the Musée, St. Germain, has
not only the round hole bored in one upright, but also the stone that
closed this opening.[45]

Holes in like manner have been bored in the cromlechs of Avening and
Rodmarton. Those in Circassia, in Palestine, and in India, have also
holes. Colonel Meadows Taylor found that 1,100 dolmens out of 2,219 in
the Dekhan had these holes in them. Similar holes have been observed in
the dolmens of Sardinia.

(_after Cartailhac_).]

(_after Cartailhac._)]

In a majority of cases these holes will not serve the purpose of giving
admission to the interior of the monument, though in some large enough.
These megalithic structures were ossuaries; often, no doubt, the dead
was laid in one as he had died; but in a great many cases, always where
the dead had fallen in battle at a distance from the family mausoleum,
his bones were cleaned of flesh and sinew before being brought to it.
The bones bear marks of the scraper that cleared them of flesh, and
they are not put together in correct position. In like manner the
Landgrave Ludwig, husband of St. Elizabeth, died at Otranto, in 1227;
his body was boiled to get the flesh off the bones, and then the bones
alone were conveyed to Germany, to be interred at Eisenach.

It has often been noticed that along with ordinary interments in
barrows, incineration has been practised. This was probably another
means of transporting the remains of those who had died at a distance
from the family or clan burial mound.

The holes in the dolmens[46] are in many cases too small to allow of
anyone crawling through to carry within the remains of the last member
of the family, who had succumbed and was to be placed in the dolmen.
Some other explanation must be sought.


Now, it is remarkable that the circles of upright stones that enclose
cairns and stone graves or kistvaens are rarely complete. They have
been purposely made imperfect circles, with a gap or a stop in the
circle; and we may ask whether the interruption in the circle has some
meaning analogous to that of the hole in the stone chest.

Mr. Greenwell, in his “British Barrows,” says:--“The incompleteness of
these circles is so frequent a feature in their construction that it
cannot be accidental. They have, moreover, been left incomplete in some
cases in a way which most evidently shows a design in the operation;
as, for instance, where the circle is formed of a number of stones
standing apart from each other. The space between two of them has
frequently been carefully built up with one large or several smaller
stones. The effect of this is to break the continuity, or rather the
uniformity, of the circle, and so to make it imperfect. This very
remarkable feature in connection with the enclosing circles is also
found to occur in the case of other remains which belong to the same
period and people as the barrows. The sculptured markings engraved
upon rocks, and also upon stones forming the covers of urns or cists,
consist in the main of two types, cup-shaped hollows, and circles, more
or less in number, surrounding in most cases a central cup. In almost
every instance the circle is imperfect, its continuity being sometimes
broken by a duct leading out from the central cup; at other times by
the hollowed line of the circle stopping short when about to join at
each end. The connection of these sculptured stones, if so they may
be termed, with places of sepulture, brings them at once into close
relationship with the enclosing circles of barrows, and it is scarcely
possible to imagine but that the same idea, whatever that may have
been, is signified by the incomplete circle in both cases.”[47]


The great inner ring of trilithons at Stonehenge affects the horse-shoe
shape, and is, and always was, incomplete. The outer ring of trilithons
is too ruinous for us to be able to state what its original condition

The horse-shoe, the incomplete ring, is still regarded as lucky, and a
protection against witches. The enchanter who raised spirits was wont
to draw a complete circle around him, and the demons raged outside this
circle, but could not pass within and hurt him who had conjured them
up. If he stepped outside the circle, or broke the continuity of the
ring, then the spirits entered and tore him to pieces.

This probably gives us a clue to the signification of the incomplete
circle. The complete circle confines a spirit within it, or protects
from the entrance of spirits; an interrupted circle allows spirits to
pass to and fro, gives ingress and egress.

The tomb is the house of the dead. He lives in it after some
mysterious, not clearly defined fashion. And as a bee-hive hut had its
door, so must the hut of the dead have its door. It would be a cruelty
to the dead to imprison him; and if the circle be complete, the dolmen
closed in on all sides, he could not come in and out at pleasure.

Precisely what the door is to the house, that the mouth is to man; it
is the door by which the spirit comes into and goes out of man. With
his first inspiration he becomes a living soul; with his last breath he
expires--gives up his soul.

The story is well known of the two shepherds who sat together one
summer’s day. One fell asleep, and whilst he slept the other saw a
bee issue from his lips and creep over a blade of grass that crossed
a tiny trickle of water, then fly away among flowers. After an hour
the bee returned again in the same way, and re-entered the sleeping
man’s mouth. Thereupon he awoke, and told his friend that in dream he
had crossed a magnificent bridge over a great river, and had visited



In the Caucasus, among the Abazas, when a boy dies he is put into a
wooden coffin _with a hole in it_, and hung up in a tree. Bees are
supposed to fly in and out at the hole, and these are taken, no doubt,
to be souls visiting the boy, and the soul of the boy going in and out
along with them.

I remember some years ago when a person was dying and seemed to find
great difficulty in the parting of soul from body, that the nurse went
to the window and opened it, whereupon the dying person heaved a sigh,
and the spirit took its flight. On asking the reason of this opening of
the window, the nurse answered, “You would not have the soul go up the
chimney, would you?”

Mr. Rudyard Kipling, in his poem “The Gift of the Sea,” refers to this

                  “The widow ...
  Opened the door on the bitter shore
  To let the soul go free.”

Again, it has often been noticed that holes have been knocked or bored
in funeral urns containing incinerated bones. These have been made
purposely, and must have had some signification. I have not myself
examined such urns on the spot where discovered; but I have little
hesitation in surmising that only such urns have been perforated as
have had their mouths covered with another vessel inverted, or with a
flat stone, and that the object of this perforation has been to make a
door of ingress or egress for the spirit of the dead; that, in fact,
it had the same purpose as the hole in the dolmen and the rupture of
continuity in the circle.

Of a number of the smaller sized urns or vessels found in the barrows
of Salisbury Plain, “a very large proportion are pierced on one side
with two holes, from half an inch to two inches apart. There are
exceptions with a large number of holes, but the rule is to have two
holes on one side only,” says Mr. Long, in his “Stonehenge and its
Barrows.” He proceeds to discuss their signification. The holes could
not have existed for suspension, and he adopts Sir C. Colt Hoare’s
supposition that the perforated urns were incense vessels. But calcined
bones have been found in some, and others probably served as caps to
the cinerary urns. Almost certainly the people of the barrows knew
nothing of incense, and the probability is that these two holes were
bored as doors of egress and ingress for the spirit that still tenanted
the bones.

Count d’Alviella says in his Hibbert Lectures for 1891, “Numbers of
savage peoples suppose that the soul continues to inhabit the body
after death, though from time to time it makes excursions into the
world of the living. It therefore requires a hole if it is to escape
from the enclosure. For this reason it is that, at the death of a
relative, the Hottentots, the Samoyeds, the Siamese, the Fijians,
and the Redskins, make a hole in the hut to allow the passage of
the deceased, but close it again immediately afterwards to prevent
its coming back. The Iroquois make a small hole in every tomb, and
expressly declare that it is to enable the soul to go out and come in
at its pleasure.”

There was another usage of the men of the megalithic monuments which
had, apparently, the same idea or conception of spirit as that which
induced them to make holes in their dolmens.

In 1873, when the French Association for the Advancement of Science
met in Congress at Lyons, Dr. Prunières produced an elliptical disc of
skull which had been found by him inside a human skull that had been
trepanned, and which came from a dolmen in Lozère. The disc had been
cut out of a human skull by some sharp instrument at an incline. At
first sight it appeared probable that this piece came from the skull in
which it was discovered, but on close examination it was found that it
would not fit the hole trepanned in the skull.

In the same dolmen Dr. Prunières found a second skull that had been
trepanned more than once. Attention was now drawn to this remarkable
phenomenon--and instances multiplied to prove that the men of the
polished stone age, the men who erected Stonehenge and Carnac, were
wont to cut holes in their heads.


Dr. Prunières especially took the matter up. He discovered in the
dolmens portions of skulls, circular or elliptical, that had been
pierced with holes for suspension, and had been polished by long
continued wear. In the Cave de l’Homme-Mort, in Lozère, he exhumed
a skull that had a surgical trepanned hole on the sagittal suture.
Finally, in the great ossuary of Beaumes Chaudes he discovered as
many as sixty cranial discs. Skulls began to turn up elsewhere that
had been trepanned, and all of the same epoch. They came from Sweden,
Denmark, Switzerland, Bohemia, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Algeria. It
was found also that trepanning skulls had been in practice among the
aborigines of America. In the Peabody Museum is a skull that has had
a hole cut out of it. A mound on the Devil’s River yielded another.
Other trepanned skulls were taken out of mounds near Lake Huron and
Grape Mound. A skull found in a barrow near the River Detroit had two
perforations in it. A sepulchre near Lima yielded a skull that had also
been surgically treated in the same fashion. Another came from the
basin of the Amazon. There is, however, a marked difference between the
American holed skulls and these of the neolithic men of Europe. The
American skulls have all been operated on after death, and are found
only in male skulls. They were, moreover, made by means of a stone
drill which was turned rapidly round. Only one circular perforation
in every respect similar to these found in Europe has been noticed in
America. We may, therefore, put aside the pre-historic trepannings of
America as not connected directly with the subject under consideration.
In Europe the majority of the cases show by evident tokens that the
operations were performed during life. Of these the greatest numbers of
every age and sex have been found in the dolmens of France.

In the Casa da Moura, a dolmen in Portugal, was found a skull on which
the operation had been begun, but never completed. It had clearly been
worked with a flint scraper. The Baron de Baye found in one of the
paleolithic caves of Marne a head that had been twice trepanned.

The great majority of cases of trepanned heads show that those operated
upon had lived for many years after the operation. Indeed, it cannot be
said that the practice of trepanning is as yet extinct. Dr. Boulongue,
in his work on Montenegro, gives a long account of this usage of the
natives of the Black Mountain; they have recourse to trepanning on the
smallest provocation, simply because they have headaches. He quotes
numerous instances of persons who have been trepanned seven and even
eight times, without this materially injuring their health.

In the same manner the Kabyles of Algeria cut holes in their heads,
usually as a cure for epilepsy.

The first example of pre-historic trepanning was discovered in
1685. Montfaucon mentions it, but misunderstood it; he supposed
that the man with the hole in his head had been wounded in battle,
but had recovered. A second example was observed in 1816, and
was also misinterpreted. A sepulchral cave had been opened at
Nogent-les-Vierges, which contained two hundred skeletons. One of the
skulls was found to be trepanned, and the edges of the wound showed
evidence of the efforts of Nature to repair the injury. This also was
supposed to be a case of wound in battle.

(_after Cartailhac, La France Préhistorique_).]

It must, however, be observed that the men thus trepanned lived in the
stone age, and that no stone axe or sword could possibly gash away a
slice of skull; that, moreover, the edges of the holes show that they
have been laboriously worked through at an incline, the scraper held so
as to make the hole convex, widest at the outer surface, and narrowing
at the inner surface near the brain.

The hole in the head of the man from the Cave of l’Homme-Mort is
peculiarly interesting, as it showed that he had been trepanned during
life, and that Nature had done her best to smoothe the rough edges.
Then, after death, a flint saw had been used, to further enlarge the
hole. The marks of the two operations are quite distinct.

Now what, it may be asked, is the meaning of these holes cut in the
head? Various suggestions have been offered, but the most plausible is
this--that they were made in cases of epilepsy.

“The art of trepanning,” says Dr. Broca, “was employed exclusively in
cases of spontaneous maladies. In all likelihood the operation took
place in accordance with certain ideas prevalent relative to nervous
complaints, such as epilepsy, idiotcy, convulsions, mental alienations,
etc. These affections, which science regards as natural, always struck
the imagination of the vulgar, and were attributed to divine or
demoniacal possession. Who can say whether trepanning for epilepsy--a
practice now almost abandoned, but which was formerly in usage, was not
adopted as a means of opening a door by which the demons possessing the
patient might be allowed to escape?”[48]

We know how that even in medieval times, the evil spirit exorcised
out of a man is represented as a little figure issuing from his mouth.
The primitive medicine-men, supposing that the epileptic child was
possessed by a spirit, cut a hole in the head, and through this hole
conjured the spirit forth. Then the portion of the skull cut away
obtained a superstitious value, it had been in contact with a spirit,
and so was employed as an amulet. It is, however, quite possible that
these discs from the heads were worn by the wives or the mothers of
those from whom they were cut, out of sentiment. In some tombs, male
skulls have been found stuffed with small bones of children, and not
all from the same children; these skulls had been polished by friction,
and seem to have been worn hung round the neck, and to have served as
a sort of reticule or rather reliquary, in which the widow carried
portions of the various children she had borne, who had died, packed
away in their father’s skull.

So much, then, for perforations in tombstones, interrupted continuity
in circles, and trepanned skulls. All have the same interpretation, the
opening of a means of egress for the spirit, and are precisely what the
open window means now in a case of death, they are to the dead man what
the door is in the house to the living man.

There is another usage of a hole that has come down to us from primeval
man in a very modified form. I refer to the wedding-ring, a piece of
perforated metal through which the finger is thrust. The marriage ring
is a pledge of fidelity, but it must often have struck English people
that it is a very one-sided arrangement when the woman has to wear the
badge of being married, whereas the man wears none. The reason why the
man wears no ring is probably to be sought in custom followed from the
period when a man had as many wives as he liked, but the woman was
debarred from belonging to more than one man.

The passing of the finger through a ring is probably a survival of
the practice of passing the entire body through a ring as a symbol of
covenant, of entering on new relations, a sort of regeneration into a
new family or fraternity. A great number of holed stones remain among
pre-historic monuments that were probably so used, for there remained
a reminiscence of such usage in tradition. Wherever megalithic remains
are found, there also these holed stones are found large enough for the
passage of a body; sometimes only of sufficient size for the hand to be
passed through.

At Boleit in Cornwall in tolerably close juxtaposition is a circle
of 19 upright stones, 75 feet in diameter, “The Merry Maidens;” two
menhirs, “The Pipers,” respectively 15 feet and 13½ feet high; another
upright stone 11 feet high, 5 barrows, and 3 holed stones.

[Illustration: _Fig. 52._--MENANTOL, MADRON.]

At Tregaseal, in the same county, are four holed stones in a line, the
hole in each 3¼ to 3¾ inches in diameter. At St. Buryan, near a sacred
circle, is an upright slab with a hole in it 5¼ inches in diameter.
Another holed stone is at Trelew in St. Buryan, the hole 5 inches in
diameter. Another at St. Just, 6 inches in diameter. Another upright
stone 3 feet 3 inches high at Sancreed has in it a hole 3¼ inches
in diameter. But there are others far larger. The Tolven near Gweep
Constantine has in it a hole 1 foot 4½ inches in diameter, and the
Men-an-tol at Madron, which is near Lanyon Cromlech and Boskedrian
Circle, and is itself apparently one stone in a ruined circle, has in
it a hole measuring 1 foot 6 inches to 1 foot 9 inches in diameter.
St. Wilfred’s needle in the crypt of Ripon Minster is a hole bored in
the natural rock, and girls were wont to be passed through it to prove
their virtue. If they stuck in the eye of the needle they were held to
be dishonest.

At Chagford in Devon again we find in connection a sacred circle,
avenues, and a tolmen, or holed stone 3 feet in diameter. So also on
Brimham Moor in Yorkshire; there within the memory of old men, holed
stones have been used for passing children through to remove disorders.
But the original purpose for which the tolmens were set up is almost
certainly to furnish a means for making a covenant, for taking an oath.
The woman was passed through the perforated stone before she married,
as an assurance to the bridegroom that she was a pure virgin. Those
entering on a covenant crawled through the hole one after another, in
pledge of their having no _arrière pensée_, that they took the pledge
to each other in full faith. There are several curious passages in the
Icelandic sagas that illustrate this custom. The Icelanders were a very
different race from the men who erected the megalithic monuments, but
their Scandinavian ancestors came on the traces of the neolithic men,
subdued them, and adopted many of their usages. In Iceland there are no
holed stones, but the principle of passing through a hole was followed,
and it assumed this curious form. A turf was cut so that it held in the
ground at both ends, then it was raised in the midst, and those who
entered on a covenant of brotherhood with each other crawled under the

A ballad sung by the peasantry in the West of England relates how a gay
trooper loved a fair damsel, and married her in military fashion:--

  “My sword it is a Damask blade,
     I bend it in a bow.
   No golden ring may here be got,
     So pass thy white hand through.”

Here the hoop of steel has taken the place of the holed stone. The
golden circlet has, however, become the usual substitute.

We will now consider some holes of a different description, that are
not actual perforations. A custom very general in Roman Catholic
countries must have struck travellers: it is that of placing cups,
basins, or other concave vessels on graves. The purpose is that they
may be filled with holy water--or if not with that, then with the dew
of heaven. The friends, kindred, or charitable as they pass dip a
little brush in the basin and sprinkle the grave with the water. This
is a symbolic act, nothing more. It means that the visitor to the grave
wishes well to the dead, and offers a prayer for the refreshment of
the departed soul. That soul may be in purgatory, and he who sprinkles
the grave knows that no drops of water thrown on the mound can slake
the fire that tortures the soul, but he acts as though he thought that
the soul still tenanted the body, and could be refreshed by the water
thrown on his grave. I do not believe this usage to have received any
formal sanction; it is a survival of a much earlier usage that has been
given an altered signification. It is not a rational proceeding, but is
not one particle more irrational than our putting wreaths and crosses
of flowers on the graves of those we have loved. I remember a daughter
planting ferns of many sorts round her mother’s tomb, “because mother
was so very fond of ferns.” But those who thus act, when they consider,
know well enough that what lies underground is the decaying husk, and
that the soul, the true being, is elsewhere. Nevertheless, the mind, by
force of custom and natural tendency, persists in associating soul with
body after death, and the dead lady was given her ferns because they
continued to give her pleasure, whilst lying in her grave, precisely as
the Tartar chief is given his horse and his wives slain and laid about
him in his cairn.

The original signification of the basin or cup on the tomb was that
of a vessel to contain the drink supplied to the dead. The dead man
continued to eat and drink in his cairn or dolmen, and the relatives
supplied him with what he required.

In the British tumuli, hollows beside the dead are of common
occurrence. Mr. Greenwell says: “It is of frequent occurrence to find
holes, sunk below the natural surface, within the area of a barrow,
and not usually in close proximity to any interment, though in some
instances such has been found to be the case. Sometimes as many as four
or five have been met with in a single barrow. They are of various
sizes, and differ in shape, but they are generally circular, about 1½
feet in diameter, and the same in depth. In the greater number of cases
they are filled with the ordinary materials of which the mound itself
is composed, and contain nothing besides; but at other times pieces of
animal, and much more rarely of human bones, charcoal, potsherds, and
burnt earth, and stone are found in them.... It has suggested itself
to me, that they may have been made as receptacles of food or of some
other perishable material, and that they answered the same purpose
as the vessels of pottery are supposed to have done, which are such
frequent accompaniments of a burial. Their not being usually placed in
close contact with the body is a fact not perhaps very consistent with
this explanation of their purpose, but I am unable to offer any one
more suggestion.”

I differ from Mr. Greenwell in one point only--that these basins being
at a distance from the body may be inconsistent with the explanation he
proposes. On the contrary, I conceive that these cup-like hollows were
at the circumference of the original mound, and were often replenished
with food or drink. As the mound spread through the action of rain, or
as other interments were made in it, and it was enlarged, these basins
became buried.


The parkin cakes baked in Yorkshire in November, the simnel or
soul-mass cakes of Lancashire, the _gauffres_ baked at All Souls-tide
in Belgium, are all reminiscences of the food prepared and offered to
the dead at All Souls, the great day of commemoration of the departed.
Not only did the living eat the cakes, but they were given as well
to the dead. In Belgium the idea still holds that the pancakes or
_gauffres_ avail the souls; but through a confusion of ideas, the
ignorant suppose that the living by eating them satisfy the dead, and
as these pancakes are very indigestible, it is customary to hire robust
men to gorge themselves on _gauffres_ so as to content the departed
ones with a good meal. A has a dear deceased relative B. In order that
B may be well supplied with pancake, A ought to eat a plentiful supply;
but A shrinks from an attack of indigestion, which a surfeit would
bring on, so he hires C to glut himself on _gauffres_ in his room.

The Flemish name for these cakes are “zielen brood” or soul-bread. “At
Dixmude and its neighbourhood it is said that for every cake eaten a
soul is delivered from purgatory. At Furnes the same belief attaches
to the little loaves called ‘radetjes,’ baked in every house. At Ypres
the children beg in the street on the eve of All Souls for some sous
wherewith ‘to make cakes for the little souls in purgatory.’ At Antwerp
these soul-cakes are stained yellow with saffron, to represent the
flames of purgatory.”[49] In the North of England all idea as to the
connection between these cakes and the dead is lost, but the cakes are
still made. This custom is a transformation under Christian influence
of the still earlier usage of putting food on the graves. When food and
drink were furnished to the dead, then necessarily the dead must have
their mugs and platters for the reception of their food, and the basins
scooped in the soil of a barrow in all likelihood served this purpose.

[Illustration: _Fig. 54._--CUP-MARKINGS, CROMLECH, S. KEVERN.]

In like manner there are basins cut on some of the dolmens, and other
depressions that were natural were employed for the same purpose.
On the coverer of a dolmen close to the railway at Assier, in the
Department of Lot, is such a rock basin, natural perhaps, but if
natural, then utilised for the purpose of a food or drink vessel for
the dead. Another dolmen in the same department, at Laramière, has one
distinctly cut by art at the eastern extremity of the covering stone.
Inside dolmens and covered avenues stones have been found with cup-like
hollows scooped out in them. These served the same purpose, and were in
such monuments as were accessible in the interior, as, for instance,
those stone basins found in the stone-vaulted tombs on the banks of the
Boyne, near Drogheda, with their singular inscribed circles. Whereas
such dolmens as could not be entered had the food or drink basins
outside them.

“The Three Brothers of Grugith,” a cromlech or dolmen at S. Kévern,
in Cornwall, has eight cup-like hollows on the coverer and one in one
of the uprights. They vary from 4 to 6 inches in diameter and are 1½
inches deep.

The cup-like holes found so frequently in connection with palæolithic
monuments may probably be explained in this way. Originally intended
as actual food receptacles or cups for drink, they came in time to be
employed as a mere form, and no particular care was taken as to the
position they occupied. Thus, very often an upright stone has these
cup-marks on it; sometimes they are on the under surface of a covering
stone. They belong to the period of the rude stone monuments. With the
advent of bronze they gradually disappear. They are not found always
associated with interments, though generally so, and it is probable
that the stones bearing them which do not at present seem to be
intended to mark the place of an interment may have done so originally.

We know that in a great number of cases a mere symbol was taken to
serve the purpose of something of actual, material use. Thus, the
Chinese draw little coats and hats on paper and burn them, and suppose
that by this means they are transmitting actual coats and hats to
their ancestors in the world of spirits. In Rome, at certain periods,
statuettes were thrown into the Tiber: these were substitutes for the
human sacrifices formerly offered to the river. Probably the custom
of giving food and drink to the dead gradually died out among the
palæolithic men, but that of making the cups for the reception of the
gifts remained, and as their purpose was forgotten, the stones graven
with the hollows were set up anyhow.

The question has been often raised whether the rock-basins found on
granite heights are of artificial origin. It is perhaps too hastily
concluded that they are produced by water and gravel rotating in the
wind. No doubt a good many have this origin; but I hardly think that
all are natural, and it is probable that some have been begun by art
and then enlarged by nature, and also that natural basins may have been
used by the palæolithic men as drink or food vessels for the gods or
spirits in the wind.

[Illustration: _Fig. 55._--MENHIR, LEW TRENCHARD.]

About twelve years ago I dug up a _menhir_ that had lain for certainly
three centuries under ground, and had served on one side as a wall
for the “leat” or conduit of water to the manorial mill. There was no
mistaking the character of the stone. It was of fine grained granite,
and had been brought from a distance of some eight miles. It was
unshaped at the base, and marked exactly how much of it had been sunk
in the ground. It stood when re-erected 10 feet 10 inches above the
surface. The singular feature in it is this. At the summit, which
measures 15 inches by 12 inches, is a small cup 3 inches deep sunk in
the stone, 4½ inches in diameter, and distinctly artificial. Now, that
the monolith had been standing upright for a vast number of years, was
shown by this fact, that the rain water, accumulating in the artificial
cup, driven by the prevailing S.W. wind, had worn for itself a lip,
and in its flow had cut itself a channel down the side of the stone
opposite to the direction of the wind to the distance of 1 foot 6

[Illustration: _Fig. 56._--THE CUP ON THE TOP.]

[Illustration: _Fig. 57._--SECTION OF THE CUP.]

What can this cup have been intended for? It is probable that it was
a receptacle for rain water, which was to serve for the drink of the
dead man above whom the monolith was erected. The Rev. W. C. Lukis, one
of the highest authorities on such matters, was with me at the time
of the re-erection of this monolith, and it then occurred to him that
the holes at the top of so many of the Brittany menhirs, in which now
crosses are planted, were not made for the reception of the bases of
these crosses, but already existed in the menhirs, and were utilised in
Christian times for the erection therein of crosses which sanctified
the old heathen monuments. Some upright stones have the cup-hollows
cut in their sides, so that nothing could rest in them; but I venture
to suggest that these may be symbolic cups, carved after their use, as
food and drink receptacles, had been abandoned.

[Illustration: _Fig. 58._--THE FURROW DOWN THE SIDE.]

Mr. Romilly Allen, in a paper on some sculptured rocks near Ilkley
in Yorkshire,[50] that have these cup-hollows, says, “The classes of
monuments on which they are found are as follows:--

   1. Natural rock surfaces.

   2. Isolated boulders.

   3. Near ancient British (?) fortified towns and camps.

   4. In connection with the lake-dwellings, underground
      houses, and Pictish towers.

   5. On single standing stones.               }
   6. On groups of standing stones.            }
   7. On stone circles.                        }
   8. On cromlechs (dolmens).                  } Sepulchral
   9. In chambered cairns.                     } remains.
  10. On cist-covers.                          }
  11. On urn-covers.                           }
  12. On gravestones in Christian churchyards. }

  13. On the walls of churches themselves.

“From the fact of cup-markings being found in so many instances
directly associated with sepulchral remains, I think it may fairly be
inferred that they are connected in some way or other with funeral
rites, either as sacred emblems or for actual use in holding small
offerings or libations.”

Mr. Romilly Allen is, I believe, quite right in his conjecture, which
is drawn from observation of the frequency with which these cup-hollows
are associated with sepulchral stones. But it must be remembered
that a libation is the last form assumed by the usage of giving a
drink to either the dead or to a god. The conception of a sacrifice
is comparatively modern, the primitive idea in connection with the
offering of a liquid is the giving of some acceptable draught to some
being who is in the spirit world.

The fact, and it is a fact, that these cup-markings are found on
Christian tombstones, shows how the old habit continued to find
expression after the meaning which had originated it was completely

These singular cup-markings are found distributed over Denmark, Norway,
Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Switzerland.

[Illustration: _Fig. 59._--CUP-MARKINGS IN STONE AT CORRIEMONY. (_From
Mitchell’s “The Past and the Present._”)]

All cup-hollows cannot indeed be explained as drink vessels for the
dead. Those, for instance, carved in the slate at a steep incline of
the cliffs near New Quay in Cornwall, and others in the perpendicular
face of the rock also in the same place cannot be so interpreted,
but their character is not that altogether of the cup-markings found
elsewhere. The hollows are often numerous, and are irregularly
distributed. Sometimes they have a channel surrounding a group. That
they had some well-understood meaning to the people of the neolithic
age who graved them in the rock cannot be doubted. It is said that in
places grease and oil are still put into them by the ignorant peasantry
as oblation; and this leads to the conclusion that, when first graven,
they were intended as receptacles for offerings.

One day, in a graveyard in the west of England, I came on an old
stone basin, locally termed a “Lord’s measure,” an ancient holy-water
vessel,[52] standing under the headstone, above a mound that covered
the dust of someone who had been dearly loved. The little basin was
full of water, and in the water were flowers.

[Illustration: _Fig. 60._--A “LORD’S MEASURE,” CORNWALL.]

As I stood musing over this grave, it was not wonderful that my mind
should travel back through vast ages, and follow man in his various
moods, influenced in his treatment of the dead by various doctrines
relative to the condition of the soul.

Here was the cup for holy water, itself a possible descendant of the
food-vessel for the dead. And now it is used, not to furnish the dead
with drink and meat, but with flowers. And it seemed to me that man
was the same in all ages, through all civilisations, and that his acts
are governed much more by custom than by reason. Is it not quite as
irrational to put flowers on a grave as to put on it cake or ale? Does
the soul live in the green mound with the bones? Does it come out to
smell and admire the roses and lilies and picotees? The putting flowers
on the grave is a matter of sentiment. Quite so--and in a certain phase
of man’s growth in culture the food-vessel was cut in stone as a mere
matter of sentiment, even when no food was put in it.

There are many of the customs of daily life which deserve to be
considered, and which are to us full of interest, or ought to be so,
for they tell us such a wondrous story. If I have in this little volume
given a few instances, it is with the object of directing attention
to the survivals of usage which had its origin in ideas long ago
abandoned, and to show how much there is still to be learned from that
proper study of mankind--Man.

Archæology is considered a dry pursuit, but it ceases to be dry when
we find that it does not belong solely to what is dead and passed, but
that it furnishes us with the interpretation of much that is still
living and is not understood.


Raising the Hat.

It is really remarkable how many customs are allowed to pass without
the idea occurring as to what is their meaning. There is, for instance,
no more common usage of everyday life than that of salutation by
raising the hat, or touching the cap, and yet, not one person in ten
thousand stops to inquire what it all means--why this little action of
the hand should be accepted as a token of respect.

Raising the hat is an intermediate form; the putting up the finger to
the cap is the curtailed idea of the primitive act of homage, reduced
to its most meagre expression.

There is an amusing passage in Sir Francis Head’s “Bubbles from the
Brunnen of Nassau” on hat-lifting:

“At nearly a league from Langen-Schwalbach, I walked up to a little
boy who was flying a kite on the top of a hill, in the middle of a
field of oat-stubble. I said not a word to the child--scarcely looked
at him; but as soon as I got close to him, the little village clod,
who had never breathed anything thicker than his own mountain air,
actually almost lost string, kite, and all, in an effort, quite
irresistible, which he made to bow to me, and take off his hat. Again,
in the middle of the forest, I saw the other day three labouring boys
laughing together, each of their mouths being, if possible, wider open
than the others; however, as they separated, off went their caps, and
they really took leave of each other in the very same sort of manner
with which I yesterday saw the Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg return a bow
to a common postillion.” Then Sir Francis Head goes on to moralise on
courtesy, but never for a moment glances at the very curious question,
“What is the meaning of this act? What was the original signification
of this which is now a piece of formal expression of mutual respect?”

The raising the hat is in act similar to the subscription to a letter,
“your humble servant,” the recognition of being in subjection to the
person saluted.

To wear a hat, a covering to the head, was a symbol of authority and
power. The crown is merely the head-cover originally worn by the
sovereign alone. Afterwards to cover the head signified the possession
of freedom, and the slave was bare-headed. When, among the Romans, a
slave was manumitted, that slave, as badge of his being thenceforth
a free man, assumed the Phrygian cap. On numerous monuments, Roman
masters exhibited their munificence to their slaves by engraving caps
of liberty, each cap signifying a slave who had been set free.

This is the meaning of the Cap of Liberty. On the murder of Caligula,
the mob hoisted Phrygian caps on poles, and ran about with them
shouting that they were no longer slaves. The death of the tyrant
released them from a servile position.

In mediæval Germany, the giving of a hat was a symbolic act, conveying
with it feudal tenure. He who received the hat put his hand into it,
as a sign that he grasped all those rights which sprang out of the
authority conveyed to him by the presentation of the hat. The Pope,
when creating a Cardinal, sends him a scarlet hat. The wearing the hat
was allowed only to nobles and freemen--no serf might assume one. Among
the Goths, the priests as well as the nobles wore the head covered.

When Gessler set a hat on a pole, it was a token that he was exercising
sovereign authority. The elevation of a hat on a pole was also a
summons of vassals to war, like the raising of a royal standard. In a
French Court of Justice, the judges alone wear their heads covered,
in token that they are in exercise of authority there. So in our own
universities, the tutor or lecturer wears his square cap. So in the
cathedral, a bishop was wont to have his head covered with the mitre;
and in a parish church, the pastor wore a biretta. We take off our hats
when entering church to testify our homage and allegiance to God; and
so in old Catholic ritual, the priest and bishop removed their headgear
at times, in token that they received their offices from God.

It roused the Romans to anger because the fillet of royalty was offered
to Julius Cæsar. This was the merest shred of symbol--yet it meant that
he alone had a right to wear a cover on his head; in other words, that
all save he were vassals and serfs. That presentation by Mark Antony
brought discontent to a head, and provoked the assassination of Cæsar.

Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology, is called Hekluberand, the
Hood-bearer; he alone has his head covered. As god of the skies
this no doubt refers to the cloud-covering, but it implies also his
sovereignty. So Heckla is not only the covered mountain, but the king
or chief of the mountains of Iceland.

We can now see exactly what is the meaning of doffing the cap. It
implies that the person uncovering his head acknowledges himself to be
the serf of the person before whom he uncovers, or at all events as his
feudal inferior. How completely this is forgotten may be judged in any
walk abroad we take--when we uncover to an ordinary acquaintance--or we
can see it in the Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg removing his hat to the
postillion. The curtsey, now almost abandoned, is the bowing of the
knee in worship; so is the ordinary bend of the body; even the nod of
the head is a symbolic recognition of inferiority in the social scale
to the person saluted.

The head is the noblest part of man, and when he lifts his hat that
covers it, he implies, or rather did imply at one time, that his head
was at the disposal of the person to whom he showed this homage.

There is a curious story in an Icelandic saga of the eleventh century
in illustration of this. A certain Thorstein the Fair had killed
Thorgils, son of an old bonder in Iceland, named also Thorstein, but
surnamed “The White,” who was blind. The rule in Iceland was--a life
for a life, unless the nearest relative of the fallen man chose to
accept blood-money. Five years after the death of Thorgils, Thorstein
the Fair came to Iceland and went at once to the house of his namesake,
White Thorstein, and offered to pay blood-money for the death of
Thorgils, as much as the old man thought just. “No,” answered the blind
bonder, “I will not bear my son in my purse.” Thereupon, Fair Thorstein
went to the old man and laid his head on his knees, in token that he
offered him his life. White Thorstein said, “I will not have your head
cut off at the neck. Moreover, it seems to me that the ears are best
where they grow. But this I adjudge--that you come here, into my house,
with all your possessions, and live with me in the place of my son whom
you slew.” And this Fair Thorstein did.

At a period when no deeds were executed in parchment, symbolic acts
were gone through, which had the efficacy of a legal deed in the
present day.

When Harald Haarfager undertook to subdue the petty kings of Norway,
one of these kings, Hrollaug, seeing that he had not the power to
withstand Harald, “went to the top of the mound on which the kings were
wont to sit, and he had his throne set up thereon and seated himself
upon it. Then he had a number of feather beds laid on a bench below,
on which the earls were wont to be seated, and he threw himself down
from the throne, and rolled on to the earls’ bench, thus giving himself
out to have taken on him the title and position of an earl.”[53] And
King Harald accepted this act as a formal renunciation of his royal
title. Every head covering was a badge of nobility, from the Crown to
the Cap of Maintenance, through all degrees of coronet. In 1215, Hugh,
Bishop of Liège, attended the synod in the Lateran, and first he took
his place on the bench wearing a mantle and tunic of scarlet, and a
green cap to show he was a count, then he assumed a cap with lappets
(?) _manicata_, to show he was a duke, and lastly put on his mitre and
other insignia as a bishop. When Pope Julius II. conferred on Henry
VIII. the title of “Defender of the Faith,” he sent him as symbols of
authority a sword and a cap of crimson velvet turned up with ermine.

It is probable that originally to uncover the head signified that he
who bared his head acknowledged the power and authority of him whom he
saluted to deal with his head as he chose. Then it came to signify, in
the second place, recognition of feudal superiority. Lastly, it became
a simple act of courtesy shown to anyone.

In the same way every man in France is now Monsieur, _i.e._, my feudal
lord; and every man in Germany Mein Herr; and every man in England
Mr., _i.e._, Master. The titles date from feudal times, and originally
implied feudal subjection. It does so no longer. So also the title of
Esquire implies a right to bear arms. The Squire in the parish was the
only man in it who had his shield and crest. The Laird in a Scottish
country place is the Lord, the man to whom all looked for their bread.
So words and usages change their meaning, and yet are retained by
habit, ages after their signification is lost.





  FORTHCOMING BOOKS,                  2
  POETRY,                             6
  HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY,              7
  GENERAL LITERATURE,                 8
  WORKS BY S. BARING GOULD,           9
  FICTION,                           10
  NOVEL SERIES,                      11


  OCTOBER 1892.




 ~Rudyard Kipling.~ BARRACK-ROOM BALLADS; And Other Verses. By RUDYARD
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[1] Sacrifices of the same kind were continued. Livy, xxii. 57:
“Interim ex fatalibus libris sacrificia aliquot extraordinaria facta:
inter quæ Gallus et Galla, Græcus et Græca, in Foro Boario sub terra
vivi demissi sunt in locum saxo conseptum, jam ante hostiis humanis,
minime Romano sacro, imbutum.”

[2] Jovienus Pontanus, in the fifth Book of his History of his own
Times. He died 1503.

[3] These cauldrons walled into the sides of the churches are probably
the old sacrificial cauldrons of the Teutons and Norse. When heathenism
was abandoned, the instrument of the old Pagan rites was planted in the
church wall in token of the abolition of heathenism.

[4] There is a rare copper-plate, representing the story, published in
Cologne in 1604, from a painting that used to be in the church, but
which was destroyed in 1783. After her resurrection, Richmod, who was a
real person, is said to have borne her husband three sons.

[5] Magdeburg, Danzig, Glückstadt, Dünkirchen, Hamburg, Nürnberg,
Dresden, etc. (see Petersen: “Die Pferdekópfe auf den Bauerhäusern,”
Kiel, 1860).

[6] Herodotus, iv. 103: “Enemies whom the Scythians have subdued they
treat as follows: each having cut off a head, carries it home with him,
then hoisting it on a long pole, he raises it above the roof of his
house--and they say that these act as guardians to the household.”

[7] The floreated points of metal or stone at the apex of a gable are a
reminiscence of the bunch of grain offered to Odin’s horse.

[8] Aigla, c. 60. An Icelandic law forbade a vessel coming within sight
of the island without first removing its figure-head, lest it should
frighten away the guardian spirits of the land. Thattr Thorsteins
Uxafots, i.

[9] Finnboga saga, c. 34.

[10] Hood is Wood or Woden. The Wood-dove in Devon is Hood-dove, and
Wood Hill in Yorkshire is Hood Hill.

[11] See numerous examples in “The Western Antiquary,” November, 1881.

[12] On a discovery of horse-heads in Elsdon Church, by E. C.
Robertson, Alnwick, 1882.

[13] “Sir Tristram,” by Thomas of Erceldoune, ed. Sir Walter Scott,
1806, p. 153.

[14] See an interesting paper and map, by Dr. Prowse, in the
Transactions of the Devon Association, 1891.

[15] Two types, the earliest, convex on both faces. The later, flat on
one side, convex on the other. The earlier type (Chelles) is the same
as our Drift implements. Till the two types have been found, the one
superposed on the other, we cannot be assured of their sequence.

[16] In the artistic faculty. The sketches on bone of the reindeer race
were not approached in beauty by any other early race.

[17] “The Past and the Present,” by A. Mitchell, M.D., 1880.

[18] The author found and planned some hut circles very similar to
those found in Cornwall and Down, on a height above Laruns. There was a
dolmen at Buzy at the opening of the valley.

[19] Hor. Sat. ii. 8.

[20] Fornaldar Sögur. iii. p. 387.

[21] Heimskringla, i., c. 12.

[22] I have given an account of the Carro already in my book, “In
Troubadour Land.”

[23] Roman and Greek ladies employed parasols to shade their faces from
the sun, and to keep off showers. See s. v. _Umbraculum_ in Smith’s
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

[24] A good deal of information relative to umbrellas may be got out of
Sangster (W.). “Umbrellas and their History.” London: Cassell & Co.,

[25] The first English_man_ who carried an umbrella was Jonas Hanway,
who died in 1786, but it was known in England earlier. Beaumont and
Fletcher allude to it in “Rule a Wife and Have a Wife”:

  “Now are you glad, now is your mind at ease;
   Now you have got a shadow, an umbrella,
   To keep the scorching world’s opinion
   From your fair credit.”

And Ben Jonson, in “The Devil is an Ass”:

  “And there she lay, flat spread as an umbrella.”

Kersey in his Dictionary, 1708, describes an umbrella as a “screen
commonly used by women to keep off rain.”

[26] Castrén, Nordische Reisen, St. Petersburg, 1853, p. 290.

[27] “The Beggynhof,” London, 1869, p. 68.

[28] Ed. Viger, IV., p. 161.

[29] So Grimm and others following him; but I am more inclined to see
in Herodias, Herr-raud the Red Lord, _i.e._, Thor.

[30] “A Dyalogue describing the orygynall ground of these Lutheran
facyons,” 1531. A later work on the excesses of sectaries is Featley’s
(D.) Dippers Dipt, 1660.

[31] Quoted in _Westminster Review_, Jan., 1860, p. 194.

[32] “Autobiography of Peter Cartwright.” London, 1862 (7th ed.)

[33] “The Epidemics of the Middle Ages.” London, 1859.

[34] The word is, of course, derived from _Instrumentum_.

[35] See “Fretella,” in Ducange, “Fistulæ species.”

[36] M. Gilbert prints, “As the dew flies,” etc.; this is a
mistake--“doo” is _dove_.

[37] Possibly we may have this in the still popular Cornish lament,
“Have you seen my Billy coming?”

[38] On December 14, 1624, as many as 128 ballads were licensed, the
names of which are given. “The Blind Beggar (of Bethnal Green);”
“Maudline of Bristowe (The Merchant’s Daughter of Bristol);” “Sweet
Nansie I doe love thee;” “The Lady’s Fall;” “My minde to me a kingdom
is” (Sir Edward Dyer’s famous song); “Margaret, my sweetest;” “In
London dwelt a merchantman;” “I am sorry, I am sorry;” “In May when
flowers springe;” “I am a poore woman and blinde;” “The Devil and the
Paritor (Apparitor);” “It was a Lady’s daughter;” “Roger’s Will;”
“Bateman (Lord);” “Bride’s Good Morrow;” “The King and the Shepherd;”
“As I went forth one summer’s day;” “Amintas on a summer’s day;” “Ah
me, not to thee alone;” “Sir John Barley Corne;” “It was a youthful
knight;” “Jane Shore;” “Before my face;” “George Barnwell;” “From
Sluggish Sleepe;” “Down by a forrest;” “The Miller and the King;”
“Chevie Chase;” “How shall we good husbands live;” “Jerusalem, my
happie home;” “The King and the Tanner;” “Single life the only way;”
“The Lord of Lorne;” “In the daies of old;” “I spide a Nymph trip
over the plaine;” “Shakeing hay;” “Troy Toun;” “Walking of late
abroad;” “Kisse and bide me welcome home;” “The chirping larke;” “John
Carelesse;” “Tell me, Susan, certenly;” “Spanish Lady;” “When Arthur
first in Court;” “Diana and her darlings;” “Dear love, regard my life;”
“Bride’s buryal;” “Shakeing of the sheets;” “A rich merchantman;”
“Gilian of Bramfield;” “Fortune my Foe;” “Cripple of Cornwall;”
“Whipping the catt at Abingdon;” “On yonder hill there springs;” “Upon
a summertime;” “The Miser of Norfolk.”

[39] Friedrich (J.B.) Geschichte des Räthsels, Dresden, 1860.

[40] “Le Dieu Gaulois du Soleil,” Paris, 1886.

[41] “Scriptores rer. German. Frankof.,” 1718, p. 508.

[42] “Eckhard, Monument. Jutreboc,” p. 59.

[43] “Anton, Versaml. uber Sitten d. alten Slawen,” II. p. 97.

[44] The date on this stone is only 1807, so that the practice must be
very modern.

[45] Other dolmens with holes at Trye-le-Château, Presles, les
Mauduits, in Seine et Oise; at Vic-sur-Aisne; at Bellehaye, and at
Villicor--Saint Sépulcre (Oise); and others are in the Morbihan,
Charente, etc.

[46] What we in England term cromlechs, the French more correctly call

[47] The building up of part of the circle round a cairn was probably
to block the way of the spirit in the direction of the village occupied
by the living.

[48] Bull. de la Soc. d’anthropologie de Paris, t. ix., p. 198.

[49] Reinsberg Düringsfeld. “Trad. et Legendes de la Belgique,” 1870,
T. II., p. 239.

[50] Journal of the British Archæological Association, vol. xxxviii.,

[51] They are found, for instance, on tombstones near Inverness.

[52] The majority of these vessels, which abound in the West of
England, were unquestionably measures of corn. But all were not so;
those that have rounded hollows like cups, and not square cut, were for
holy water.

[53] “Heimskringla,” Saga III., c. 8.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_ and bold text by ~tildes~.

Variations in spelling and hyphenation remain as in the original unless
noted below.

  Caption Fig. 17, “BO H” changed to “BO’H”.
  Page 130, comma changed to period after “the stick of the umbrella.”
  Page 173, period added after “a dancing or jumping mania.”
  Page 210, “th” inserted in “they” (“they do not wholly agree”).
  Ads section, punctuation and format regularized.
  Note 35, single quotation mark changed to double after “Fretella.”

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