The ogre promised to do this if the men agreed to till the lands, cultivate the fields, and mow the meadows. Then the robbers made the cavern and basin of the well sweet and clean, and planted trees around, so that the place looked cool and inviting. The people danced and rejoiced in honour of the return of the Shee Well, and it was said that old men and women grew young again for joy. Near Nantle there is a spring near a brook, and sometimes sorrowful cries and wailings are heard there.
They are sup- posed to come from this deep unseen spring, where a water- woman lives in imprisonment for her sins. The cries are ominous of death in the parish. Llandowror is a corruption from Llandyfrgwyr, meaning the " church of the water-men. In old age the seven brothers went out on the water in a boat, and as they never returned mystery enshrouded their death.
They say he is bound hard and fast to the bottom of the fall, and in his frantic efforts to get free from his fetters he makes terrible noises and cries as the cascades rush over him. In the bed of the river under Haverfordwest Bridge a wicked man's spirit is said to be bound for a thousand years.
When the time has expired, the most important man in the town is to release him. It took ages to accom- plish this journey. In the Vale of Neath, Glamorgan, an old story was formerly told of a spirit doomed to one of the pools of the Hepste, and returning in the shape of a frog. In some of the old nursery stories told in various parts of Wales a beautiful clear fountain was described, the waters of which arose at the sound of singing, and fell when silence succeeded the song.
Both were regarded as purifying, healing, and, in the days of old, more or less sacred. Ceremonies and super- stitions with reference to fire were numerous and interesting. These fires were accompanied by feasts in honour of Bel, or Beli, the Celtic deity of light, and in Druidical days they were carried out with much pomp and ceremony. In later times the Baltan, known by its corrupted name of Bealtine, or Beltane, was associated with much superstition and revels. The most important of the Beltane fires was held on the first of May, but sometimes on the second or third of that month.
Midsummer was another occasion. Among the places in South Glamorgan where the latest Beltane fires were kindled were the common land beside the Well of St. The following information with reference to the Beltane fires was given me in these words : " The fire was done in this way : Nine men would turn their pockets inside out, and see that every piece of money and all metals were off their persons.
Then the men went into the nearest woods, and collected sticks of nine different kinds of trees. These were carried to the spot where the fire had to be built. There a circle was cut in the sod, and the sticks were set crosswise. All around the circle the people stood and watched the proceedings. This was applied to the sticks, and soon a large fire was made.
Sometimes two fires were set up side by side. These fires, whether one or two, were called coelcerth, or bonfire. Round cakes of oatmeal and brown meal were split in four, and placed in a small flour-bag, and everybody present had to pick out a portion. The last bit in the bag fell to the lot of the bag-holder. Each person who chanced to pick up a piece of brown-meal cake was compelled to leap three times over the flames, or to run thrice between the two fires, by which means the people thought they were sure of a plentiful harvest.
Shouts and screams of those who had to face the ordeal could be heard ever so far, and those who chanced to pick the oatmeal portions sang and danced and clapped their hands in approval, as the holders of the brown bits leaped three times over the flames, or ran three times between the two fires. As a rule, no danger attended these curious celebrations, but occasionally somebody's clothes caught fire, which was quickly put out. The greatest fire of the year was the eve of May, or May i, 2, or 3. The Midsummer Eve fire was more for the harvest. Very often a fire was built on the eve of November.
I have also heard my grandfather and father say that in times gone by the people would throw a calf in the fire when there was any disease among the herds. The same would be done with a sheep if there was anything the matter with a flock. I can remember myself seeing cattle being driven between two fires to ' stop the disease spreading. Sometimes the Beltane fire was Ughted by the flames produced by stone instead of wood friction. Charred logs and faggots used in the May Beltane were carefully preserved, and from them the next fire was lighted.
May fires were always started with old faggots of the previous year, and midsummer from those of the last summer. It was unlucky to build a midsummer fire from May faggots. A few of the ashes placed in a person's shoes protected the wearer from any great sorrow or woe. The ultimate conqueror was to be the winner of the maiden. May Day festivals in later times were survivals of the old Beltane fire celebrations. On the morning of May Day— that is, at the first gUmmer of dawn — the youths and maidens in nearly every parish in Wales set out to the nearest woodlands.
The gay procession con- sisted of men with horns and other instruments, which were played, while vocalists sang the songs of May-time. When the merry party reached the woodlands each member broke a bough off a tree, and decorated the branch with flowers, unless they were already laden with May blossoms.
A tall birch-tree was cut down, and borne on a farm waggon drawn by oxen into the village. At sunrise the young people placed the branches of May beside the doors or in the windows of their houses. This was followed by the ceremony of setting up the May-pole on the village green.
The pole was decorated with nosegays and garlands of flowers, interspersed with bright-coloured ribbon bows, rosettes, and streamers. Then the master of the ceremonies, or the leader of the May dancers, would advance to the pole, and tie a gay-coloured ribbon around it.
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He was followed by aU the dancers, each one approaching the pole and t3dng a ribbon around it until a certain number had been tied. The dance then began, each dancer taking his or her place according to the order in which the ribbons had been arranged around the pole. The dance was continued without intermission until the party was tired, and then other dancers took their places. At these festivities a May beverage was distributed among the visitors.
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Sometimes this drink consisted of metheglin or mead alone, but frequently it was made of herbs, including woodruff. Elderberry and rhubarb wines were popular on these occasions, while among the men beers of various kinds were used. On May Day morning a curious custom was prevalent in Wales until about forty years ago.
The young men of the parish decked a large bunch of rosemary with white ribbons, and placed it at the bedroom windows of the maidens they admired. In some places people who wished to insult or annoy any enemy took a horse's head, and fastened it to the latch of the door. Sometimes a man did this to " spite " a girl, and vice versa. On this day effigies were carried about the villages. These would be named after any man or woman who had made himself or herself notorious, ridiculous, or scandalous.
The effigy was greeted with laughter, shouts of derision, and pelted with various missiles. This was done so late as the sixties. In Wales, as in England, the May Day festivities were not complete without the customary fight between Summer and Winter. An aged Welshman described the battle as conducted in South Wales in the following way : " When I was a boy, two companies of men and youths were formed.
He carried a stout stick of blackthorn and a kind of shield, on which were studded tufts of wool to represent snow. His companions wore caps and waistcoats of fur decorated with balls of white wool. These men were very bold, and in songs and verse proclaimed the virtues of Winter, who was their captain. The other company had for its leader a captain representing Summer. This man was dressed in a kind of white smock decorated with garlands of flowers and gay ribbons. On his head he wore a broad- brimmed hat trimmed with flowers and ribbons.
In his hand he carried a willow-wand wreathed with spring flowers and tied with ribbons. This would be on some stretch of common or waste land. There a mock encounter took place, the Winter company flinging straw and dry underwood at their opponents, who used as their weapons birch branches, willow-wands, and young ferns. A good deal of horse-play went on, but finally Summer gained the mastery over Winter. Then the victorious captain represent- ing Summer selected a May King and the people nominated a May Queen, who were crowned and conducted into the village.
The remainder of the day was given up to feasting, dancing, games of all kinds, and, later still, drinking. Revelry continued through the night until the next morning. Llantwit Major, in Glamorgan, was renowned for a celebration held from time immemorial on May 3.
Tradition states that an Irish pirate named O'Neil had for many years committed great havoc along the coast. By-and-by the women of Llantwit set their wits working, and with success. The best-looking matrons and maidens in the town dressed themselves up in fine raiment, and went down to the meadows near Colhugh Point. There they danced and sang and held festivity until O'Neil and his men appeared in the offing. It was well known that the Irish pirate was exceedingly sus- ceptible to the charms of women.
Therefore, when he landed at Colhugh, he and his men hastened to join the fair ladies. So well were the pirates received, and so kindly were they treated, that the afternoon passed quickly. While in the midst of the dance one of the girls escaped without being noticed. She roused the men of Llantwit, and before O'Neil and his companions were aware of it they were surrounded and captured. The story goes that O'Neil was tied to a stake and burnt, while his companions were slain. In commemoration of the occasion an effigy of the pirate was set up annually in Colhugh meadows and burnt.
Wrentmore, a local lady of wealth and lands, and Mrs. Jenny Deere, a native of the town, were among the last Queens of the revels until they ceased, about The Independent Order of Oddfellows then celebrated " Llantwit's Anwyl Day " by church parade and a dinner, and this was continued until the year , when, like many other relics of the past, it went into oblivion. In the ceremony it is possible that the effigy of O'Neil represented winter or death, and the expulsion of one or both at the approach of summer and immortality.
When the effigy was burnt the people sang at first sad and melancholy dirges, which, when the May King and Queen appeared, were followed by gay ballads and songs of rejoicing. Midsummer fires and festivals resembled those of May. They were held on St. John's Eve and Day. Three or nine different kinds of wood and the charred faggots carefully pre- served from the previous midsummer were necessary to build this fire, which was generally done on rising ground. Into this fire various herbs were thrown, and girls with bunches of three or nine different kinds of flowers would take the offered hands of boys who wore flowers in their buttonholes and hats, and jump together over the midsummer fire.
Wild merry- makings these were, and the young people threw the flowers from their posies, hats, hair, and buttonholes into the heart of the flame. Roses and wreaths of various flowers were hung over the doors and windows on St. Describing a midsummer fire, an old inhabitant, bom in , remembered being taken to different hills in the Vale of Glamorgan to see festivities in which people from all parts of the district participated. She was at that time about four- teen, and old enough to retain a vivid recollection of the cir- cumstances. People conveyed trusses of straw to the top of the hill, where men and youths waited for the contributions.
Women and girls were stationed at the bottom of the hill.
Then a large cart-wheel was thickly swathed with straw, and not an inch of wood was left in sight. If any straw remained, it was made up into torches at the top of tall sticks. At a given signal the wheel was lighted, and sent rolling downhill. If this fire-wheel went out before it reached the bottom of the hill, a very poor harvest was promised.
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If it kept lighted all the way down, and continued blazing for a long time, the harvest would be exceptionally abundant. Loud cheers and shouts accompanied the progress of the wheel. Christmas, like Midsummer, had its fire associations. In many parts of Wales it is still customary to keep part of the Yule-log until the following Christmas Eve " for luck. In some families this is done from force of habit, and they cannot now tell why they do it ; but in the past the observance of this custom was to keep witches away, and doubtless was a survival of fire-worship. In the days of old Christmastide festivities extended into several weeks.
Preparations for burning the Christmas log and for the various feasts were extensive and often elaborate. Then the bards and musicians of the Principality were active, and many kinds of amusements and entertainments were arranged. Nearly all the old Christmas customs have become obsolete, but the singing and literary festivals stiU remain in the form of local eisteddfodau. In Wales burning torches were greatly in evidence with the Christmas log. The morning watch to celebrate the birth of Christ was known as the Plygain.
This early service was held in aU the parish churches in Wales at four o'clock in the morning of December It was continued until about the years , and in some localities a few years later. The churches were brilliantly illuminated and beautifully decorated ; a short service was held, and carols were afterwards sung. The Wesleyan Methodists were among the last to celebrate the Plygain, which, translated, means the early mom or dawn. A curious custom was included in the Christmas festivities in many parts of Wales. On Christmas Eve a bowl of hot beer, sweetened with sugar and flavoured with spices, was pre- pared by the master of the household, while the mistress brought forward a basket containing a cake.
The bowl and the basket were decorated with evergreens, holly, and ivy- wreaths. A procession was then formed, and the bowl and basket were carried in state to the stall of the finest ox belong- ing to the family. There the men of the household stood on one side, and the women were arranged opposite them. The mistress then placed the cake on the horns of the ox, and the master stirred the beer, drank a mouthful, and passed the bowl on after the fashion of the loving-cup. Meanwhile, a Welsh toast was heartily sung.
While all this was going on, one or two persons in the assembly carefully noted the behaviour of the ox. If the animal remained quiet and peaceful, it was a token of good luck during the ensuing year. If, on the con- trary, the animal became restless and angry, bad luck was supposed to follow. As it might be expected, the cake would not remain very long upon the horns of the ox. If it fell upon the side where the women stood, it was regarded as a token of feminine triumph during the ensuing year. It may be mentioned that the bowls used on these occasions generally held about a gallon of beer.
Some of these bowls had eighteen handles attached to them, and it was customary for the company to hold the handles while a Christmas carol was sung. Carol-singing was, and is still, popular in many parts of Wales during the Christmas holidays. Formerly these carols were sung to the accompaniment of the harp, and sometimes the violin.
Frequently they were sung without any instrumental accompaniment. But the person who saw them would die within a year. When the Christmas log is burning you should notice the people's shadows on the wall. Those shadows that appear without heads belong to the persons who are to die within a year. If you tie wet straw-bands or hay-bands around your fruit- trees on Christmas Eve, they will yield plentifully during the next year. If a hoop falls off a cask on Christmas Eve, somebody in the household will die within a year.
A bright and sunny Christmas foretokens full granaries and barns. A dull and cloudy Christmas promises empty granaries and bams. If a spinster on Christmas Eve pours melted lead into cold water, it will turn into the shape of the tools her future husband will use. A doctor will be represented by a lancet, a writer by a quill, a surveyor by a chain, a mason by a mallet, and so on. Put a small heap of salt on the table on Christmas Eve. If it melts during the night you will die within a year. If it remains dry and undiminished, you will live to reach a very old age.
It is considered unlucky to hang up the mistletoe in houses, or to decorate rooms with holly before Christmas Eve. The morning after Twelfth Night all the Christmas holly and mistletoe is burnt. It is unlucky to keep it up longer, or to destroy it in any other way. Everybody tastes as many JChristmas puddings as possible during the holidays " for luck. The party consisted of three, seven, or nine men, dressed as gaily and grotesquely as possible. Caps of any kind of animal's skin and short jackets were worn, all decorated with gay knots of ribbon.
Sometimes the head and brush of a fox were prominent. Bells and any jingling ornaments were worn around the wrists and ankles, and frequently one or two of the party appeared as Megan, a hag of the night, in female dress. The feet kept time with the music, and occasionally two of the dancers would hold each other's hands, and spin round and round in bewilder- ing fashion.
A Welsh jig and an old-style hornpipe were included in the amusements, and these were often cleverly performed by experts. A dance resembling the modem cake- walk was also given. The Aderyn Pig Llwyd, or the " Bird with the Grey Beak," sometimes accompanied the morris dancers, but frequently went the round of the district on its own account. This exhibition consisted of the skeleton frame of a horse's head with artificial eyes and ears.
The head was decorated with ribbons, coloured paper, and almost any kind of finery. This was carried upon the head and shoulders of a man wearing a long fantastic robe adorned with tinsel. It was the duty of this man to imitate the actions of a horse, and much amusement was caused when the creature kicked, or reared, or curvetted. The horse was attended by a groom, who held the reins and kept the animal within bounds. This was often difficult, but productive of much fun and merriment. After going through a perform- ance, the groom placed a hat in the horse's mouth for any con- tribution that might be bestowed.
The procession was accom- panied by men holding burning brands. The Mari Llwyd, or " Holy Mary," was an exhibition made up of mummers dressed in aU kinds of garments. The most promi- nent figure was a man covered with a white sheet. On his head and shoulders he bore a horse's head, fantastically adorned with coloured ribbons, papers, and brilliant streamers. Youths bearing burning brands, and small boys dressed up as bears, foxes, squirrels, and rabbits, helped to swell the throng.
In some parts of Wales, in the far past, it was customary for a woman to impersonate the Virgin, while Joseph and the infant Christ were prominent. But in later times these three char- acters were omitted, and a kind of Punch and Judy exhibition was substituted. The Mari Llwyd was always accompanied by a large party of men, several of whom were specially selected on account of their quick wit and ready rhymes. The mode of proceeding was always the same. When the party reached the doors of a house an earnest appeal was made for permission to sing.
When this was granted, the company began recounting in song the hard fate of mankind and the poor in the dark and cold days of winter. Then the leading singer would beg those inside to be generous with their cakes and beer and other good things. It was customary for the householder to lament and plead that, alas! Then began a kind of conflict in verse, sung or recited, or both.
Riddles and questions were asked in verse inside and outside the house. Sarcasm, wit, and merry banter followed, and if the Mari Llwyd party defeated the householder by reason of superior wit, the latter had to open the door and admit the conquerors. Then the great bowl of hot spiced beer was pro- duced, and an ample supply of cakes and other good things.
The feast began and continued for a short time, and when the Mari Llwyd moved away the leader found contributions of money in his collecting bag. Many specimens of the introductory rhymes, the challenge from without, the reply from within, together with the verses sung when the Mari Llwyd entered the house, and afterwards departed, are still preserved and well remembered.
When the Mari Llwyd was badly treated, the revenge of the party was boisterous. In some places the men forced an entrance, raked the fire out of the kitchen grate, looted the larder, and committed other depredations. Some people think that the bony horse's head used in what is called the " Mari Llwyd " celebration was an emblem of death, or a symbol of the dead, and not a remnant of pre-Reformation days and the Virgin Mary. The skeleton head and shoulders and the skull of the horse, accompanied by a procession of sight -seers and dancers, point to the Mari Llwyd celebrations as a lingering vestige of ancient horse worship common to the Celts, Teutons, and Slavs.
The city of Llandaff annually provides the performers for a Mari Llwyd kind of Christmas waits, and to this several old Welsh customs are attached. Trecynon, Aberdare, had its Mari Llwyd as late as, if not later than, Llantwit Major has its Mari Llwyd, which visits several places in the Vale of Glamorgan ; but here the custom is becoming spasmodic, and is not carried out every winter.
There are, doubtless, other places in the Principality in which the old custom still sur- vives. But the genuine wits, the ready rhymesters, and the clever leaders and mummers of the Mari Llwyd, are no longer to be found. In connection with fire superstitions there are many curious survivals. People in out-of-the-way places, when troubled in mind, touch the stone over the chimney-piece, and afterwards throw a handful of dry earth into the fire.
As it burns, they whisper the cause of their trouble to the flames, and this is supposed to avert any impending evil ; or they kneel down beside a low-placed oven or stand by the high, old-fashioned ones, and whisper any secret or trouble to the bottom of the oven. Here may be mentioned a curious habit of the old women who bake their own bread in ancient ovens which are heated with wood.
When cleaning them out, they take very good care to leave some of the wood ashes, together with a small charred stump, inside. When the next fire is to be lighted, the old stump is first ignited, and the new faggots are thrown on, so that all burn together. This has been done for genera- tions, and in one instance personally known to me, the aged great-grandmother sees that the custom is duly observed at the present day when baking-fires are lighted. The people say, while a fire bums on the hearth lightning will not strike the house.
Never leave a frying-pan on the fire without something in it, or else the wife of the house will have puckers in her face. If the town clock strikes while the church bells are ringing there will soon be a fire in the parish. If sparks of fire fly from the candle when lighted, the person they go towards will get money that day. When the fire is slow in lighting, they say " the devil is sitting on top of the chimney," or " is in the chimney. They were described as the " agitated, thickly collected, cheering, and solacing stars. Gwydion of the Milky Way has been identified with Hermes, and yet he appears similar in many respects to Wodan of Norse fame.
Gwydion, the son of Don, invented writing, practised magical arts as a renowned magician or wizard, and was the builder of the rainbow. His Caer, or fort, was by his magical power transported from earth to heaven, and the great path- way leading to and from it is known to the English as the Milky Way.
Gwydion, the most intellectual of the Welsh heroes, is described as being able by means of his magic wand or rod to be always surrounded by a glorious host, whose deeds of chivalry and daring entitle them to places in the great Caer of the heavens. With reference to Arthur's Plough-taU, a farmer living in the Vale of Glamorgan said his grandfather always declared that when the tail of the plough was low down bread would be cheap, but when the tail was high bread would be dear.
The same farmer pointed out the stars forming Orion's belt as the " Mowers. In the mythology of Wales Hu Gadarn, or Hu the Mighty, the primitive leader, hero, and law-giver of the ancient Britons, was deified when earthly honours were exhausted. He is described as inhabiting the sun. His symbols were a wren with outspread wings, which conveyed a similar meaning as the dove in Syria and other parts of the East, and an ox. Hu received the homage due to the sun, and Ceridwen received that due to the moon.
The subordinate deities were the three Bull Demons of Britain. VThe sun was personified under various names. The barge of Cariadwen is known as the Llong Foci, and the crescent moon was regarded as its emblem in the sky. Cariadwen, the Queen of the Heavens, is sup- posed to protect the sacred barge or boat from the fury of Black Wings. The Druids asserted that the personified sun was mortally wounded at noon on the shortest day of the year. All through the afternoon the sun struggled to live, but at sunset he perished and fell into the water beyond the horizon. Then the divine soul of the sun escaped into the barge of Cariadwen, while Black Wings usurped the authority over the heavens and the earth.
After that the sun was bom again, and arose in all his glory in the morning. The garden of the life-giver contained his three daughters and three golden apples. These three daughters correspond with the three personifications of the sun on March 25, June 25, and December The golden apples growing on a tree in the sun-garden transmitted their juice to the Cauldron of Cariadwen, and thus became three drops of divine essence. Eclipses were, therefore, regarded as ominous of wild warfare and danger of defeat. An ancient myth describes Hu Gadam as determined to punish Black Wings for his misdeeds ; but he is not to be found, having hidden himself under the earth.
Cariadwen, the Moon-Mother, reveals his whereabouts, and Black Wings is punished. In revenge, Black Wings pursues the sun and the moon, and whenever a hand-to-hand encounter ensues an ecUpse occurs. A Carmarthenshire veteran said that when he was a boy all the people in his home district firmly believed that if a person went up early enough into the moimtains at any time in the summer, he would positively see the sun dancing.
All Druidic services and rites were celebrated between sunrise and sunset. At the spring festival of the Druids the Baltan, or sacred fire, was brought down from the sun. No hearth in Britain was held sacred until the fire on it had been rekindled from the Bdltan. This festival became the Easter season of Chris- tianity. The midwinter convocation of the Druids — who then cut the mistletoe with a golden crescent or sickle from the sacred oak — represented our Christmas.
The three berries of the mistletoe represented the Deity in His triple dignity. In Welsh folk-stories all magical herbs are represented as gathered before stmrise. All healing waters should be drawn and quaffed before stmrise. In some superstitions the sun is described as laughing and being joyful. People bom at sunrise were regarded as likely to be very clever. Those bom in the afternoon or about sunset are described as lazy. During an eclipse of the sun people in Wales covered their wells, fearing the water would turn impure.
May-flowers gathered just before sunrise keep freckles away. Dragons and flying serpents were supposed to count their gold at sunrise. Wedded happiness and household stores will thrive, and money will increase, if you gaze at the moon on the first new- moon night. Never look at the new moon through glass or trees, for it is imfortunate. It is lucky to cut the hair and the nails on new-moon liights. If one member of a family dies at the time of new moon, three deaths are likely to follow. Healing herbs and dew should be gathered at new moon.
Trenches made at new moon time will fall together. To turn your back to the new moon when wishing for any- thing is imlucky. Wood cut at new moon is hard to split ; at the fuU, it is easily cut. The full moon, as opposed to the new, was propitious to all operations needing severance. Grass should be mown at the full of the moon. In this way the hay dries quickly. If a bed is filled with feathers when the moon has passed the full, the newly plucked feathers will lie at rest. Trenches made at fuU moon will grow wider and, deeper.
Winter crops must not be sown in the moon's idle or third quarter. The spots on the moon are accounted for in the following way in Wales : A man went out gathering faggots of wood on Sunday, and God punished him by transporting him to the moon. There he is doomed to walk for ever with a large bundle of sticks on his back.
In some parts they say his dog went with him, and may be seen at his heels. The colour of the new and full moons had certain indications. William Cynwal, a Welsh bard of the sixteenth century, composed a rhyme, which, translated into English, runs thus : " Observe, ye swain, where'er ye stand, The pale-blue moon will drench the land ; C3nithia red portends much wind ; When fair, the weather fair you'll find.
A red full moon means a coming storm of wind. If, when three days old, the moon appears very bright and clear, fine weather is promised. A clear moon denotes frost, but a dull moon indicates rain. If the new moon looks high, cold weather may be expected ; when it seems to be low down, warm weather is promised. When the moon is clearly seen in the daytime, cool days may be expected.
If the new moon appears with points upwards, the month will be dry ; if her horns point downward, the month will be more or less rainy. The Welsh say, when the moon looks like a golden boat — is on her back — the month will be wet. The boat-like appearance of the moon is possibly a renmant of the Cariadwen myth. It is considered very dangerous to sleep in the moonlight, and especially for moon-rays to fall on a sleeping child's face. Moonlight falling on the eyes of any sleeping person causes blindness, and this is difficult to cure. People say it will cause the person to become moonstruck, or a lunatic.
If the moon is allowed to shine in through the pantry window, much crockery will be broken. If you hold a sixpence up to the new moon, you will never be short of money. If lovers crossed the moon-line together they would never be married. Fisher- men avoided the moon-line when setting out to sea.
Never cross the moon-line without wishing for something. Plants, herbs, and flowers should not be planted at the time of the waning moon. Calves weaned at the time of the waning moon grow very lean. It is unlucky to kill a pig when the moon is waning. The curing will be unsatisfactory, and the meat will shrink in boiling, roasting, or toasting.
This applies to fresh pork, as well as to cured bacon and ham. If in the simimer the new moon is seen with the old moon in her arms, the weather will be fine for the next quarter. Fleecy clouds across the face of the moon are indicative of rain. A misty moon means wet weather. A very red moon rising is a " sign of great heat.
In the days of old the Welsh believed that the souls of heroes, Kings, Princes, and just people entered heaven by means of the rainbow, which was built by Gwydion, the son of Don. By some it was formerly called God's Chair, in which He sat watching those who entered heaven. In the early part of the nineteenth century people considered it very imlucky to pass imder the rainbow.
It was an omen of im- pending death. Where the rain- bow sprang out of the groimd, a pot of gold or some kind of treasmre was to be found. The Welsh say that the rainbow will cease appearing before the end of the world. Comets were supposed to appear before the birth or death of a King, a Prince, or a very exalted person.
The birth of Owain Glyndwr was said to be heralded by a comet and cmrious meteors, with falling stars. There was formerly a belief in Wales, even so late as the middle of the nineteenth century, that if the tail of a comet swept the earth the world would be burnt, and afterwards be effaced by a flood. The end of the world would be accom- plished by means of fire and water.
Donati's comet struck terror among the rural population of Wales. Meteors falling like balls of fire to the earth indicated calamity to the nation or to some distinguished person. Dread followed the event. These meteors were supposed to form the fiery chariots in which the souls of the Druids were conveyed to heaven. A meteoric stone foimd by anybody was carefully kept for luck, and the finder would have prosperity so long as he pre- served it.
If he gave the stone away he must expect mis- fortune, and if he sold it some calamity would befall him and his family. In some parts of Wales they say you should express a 'wish while the star falls, or you will be unlucky during the whole year. If they fell to the west of a town or village there would be sorrow therein ; if to the east, some pleasure or festivity may be expected. To the north they indicated a hard winter, and to the south an unusually warm summer. If they fell to the east, it would be " bad for man and beast.
During a thunderstorm old people used to say, " God is angry. A very old man remembered his grandfather saying that his great-grandfather, living in the end of the seventeenth century, used to teU a story of an ox being led up and down the fields when thunder brooded, and the herdsmen would implore God to drive the thunder away, or to send protecting rain with it.
The same authority said there was an old belief that the thunderbolt dived into the earth — it was in the shape of a black wedge — and remained in the earth for seven or nine years, when it returned to the surface again. Every time it thundered the bolt ascended nearer the surface.
If a thunderbolt or wedge was preserved indoors, the house would be proof against damage by lightning. The thunder-stone was supposed to possess healing and restorative powers, especially in nervous affections and fits, for which it was carried in the pocket. The Welsh still dread a thunderstorm without rain, for it is regarded as extremely dangerous.
During the storm it was formerly, and still is, customary to fasten all doors and windows. Sometimes two sheathed knives were crossed outside a window to prevent the house being struck. In the older folk-lore thunder was supposed to be caused by God pursuing the devil and dashing him to the underworld. Fearing the devil would take refuge in the house, all entrances were instantly closed.
It was considered dangerous to take refuge under an oak during a thunderstorm, for the lightning penetrated fifty times deeper into it than into any other tree. Animals struck by lightning were considered unfit for human food, being poisonous. Places struck by lightning were cursed. People struck by lightning must have been very sinful. At one time church bells were rung to drive the thunder and lightning away. This practice was kept up in Wales until early in the nineteenth century. Shooting into the sky was supposed to be efficacious for the same purpose.
The redbreast and the beetle attracted lightning. Glass, steel, and all ghttering articles had the same power. For this reason looking-glasses, pewter-vessels, and bright brasses were covered at the approach of thunder and lightning. Stonecrop was formerly planted on the roofs of old thatched houses to keep the thunder and lightning away.
On many habitations in Wales the stonecrop is still to be seen, and also on old bams and granaries. People at one time gravely asserted that if a thunderbolt or lightning struck a building in any hamlet, village, or town, there was an evil in- habitant in it. When thunder was heard and lightning was seen between the first day of November and the last day of January, the people said the most important person in the parish would die within the year of the occurrence. Folk-lore concerning earth is not abundant, but it has its curiosities. It was formerly customary with farmers, upon changing farms, to take some earth from the place they were leaving to the new home.
This earth was strewn here and there among the gardens, orchards, and lands " for luck. Among the peasantry in the eighteenth century, a person taking a voluntary oath in the course of his daily work frequently swore placing a bit of turf or earth on his head. This was customary in Glamorgan later than in many parts of Wales. To get a good crop of wheat, barley, oats, or any cereal, farmers used to fetch some mould from three adjoining fields inherited by one person. This they mixed with their seeds before sowing a field. If anybody wished to overcome an enemy or discover a thief, he had to cut a piece of sod trodden by the suspected person, wrap it in a rag, then place it under his pillow.
In his dreams the guilty person would appear. This was to be done three nights in succession. Again, the farm-boy says, " If the earth wass to swallow me up," he could not be more astonished. It was formerly the custom of Welsh farmers and peasants to obtain earth from certain important places, for the purpose of sprinkling it through their stables, pig-sties, gardens, and even their house, to avert evil.
Portions of this earth were also strewn over the coffins and graves of their relatives and friends. In the eighteenth century earth from Llancarfan and Llantwit Major, both in the Vale of Glamorgan, was in much request. It was obtained in the former place from the Garden of St. Cadoc, and in the latter from beside the Cross of St. Iltutus, and from the Cor Tewdrig, formerly the C6r Eurgain, to the north of the parish church. The Skyrrid is popularly known as St. MichaeFs Mount and the Holy Mountain. On its summit there was formerly a small chapel dedicated to St. Michael, and on the eve of that saint's day, it was the scene of many quaint and weird practices customary at that season.
The legendary story of the fissure on the Skyrrid is that the mountain was rent asunder by the earthquake which happened at the time of the crucifixion of Christ. From this the Skyrrid derived the name of the Holy Mountain. David's, Ccddy Island, and Barry Island, in the South, had earth which was locally in request for sprinkling purposes. Churchyard mould, passed through a sieve and added to mortar, caused the stonework to knit more strongly than if ordinary sifted ashes were used.
It was at one time customary for persons suffering from rheumatism to be buried in earth in the churchyard. The patient was stripped naked, but his face was covered. He was then buried in a standing position for two hours, with only his head above the ground. If then relieved of pain, the process was to be repeated for the same time every day nine times in succession. If not quite rid of pain, the patient omitted the treatment for three days, resumed it on the fourth, and again repeated it nine times in succession.
An expression formerly much in use in Llantwit Major and the Vale of Glamorgan was : " It is panwaen days with him," or, " He has fallen on panwaen days. Y panwaen was peat -moss or bog, and useless or poor ground. There were patches of this ground in various parts of the Vale, particularly at Llancarfan, Llancadle, Boverton, supposed to be the Bovium of the Romans, and Llantwit Major, where, according to tradition, St. Patrick was captured and taken by pirates to Ireland. It was a token of extreme scorn if anybody spat on the earth before another person.
Formerly such an action would end in a " free fight " among villagers and others. A handful of earth flung after anybody was equivalent to the challenge of the thrown gauntlet. This was sus- pended by a cord on a hook in the chimney. As it dried up the enemy would waste to death! An old remnant of magic remained prevalent in the early part of the nineteenth century.
This was told by an aged person who had seen it done. When anybody wished a relative or lover to come home from a distance or from abroad, it was customary to boil a clod of earth or turf, or the person's old stockings or old shoes, in a crock, and keep the water boiling for twelve hours, replenishing as it wastes. The person wanted would at once start for home. Gaps in the earth in any person's garden or field were said to foretoken death to the owner or tenant.
When the earth sinks mysteriously in a field, or anywhere near the premises of anybody, it is a token of misfortune. A landslip was formerly avoided by children in their play, for they were told that such a thing never happened without sucking in evil men and naughty children. Deep hollows in fields were said to have been caused by the curses of witches or the bans of enemies.
These dogs have been variously described. Sometimes they appear as very small dogs, white as the drifted snow, with tiny ears quite rose-coloured inside, and eyes that glittered like brilliant moon- beams. In some parts of Wales they are described as being black and very ugly, with huge red spots, or red in body, with large black patches like splashes of ink. The most terrible of these spirit-hounds were said to be of a blood-red colour, and when seen were dripping with gore, while their eyes resembled balls of liquid fire.
Sometimes they howled in the air with a wild kind of lamentation, or bayed and yelled in appalling chorus, to the terror of those who heard them. The eves of St. John, St. Martin, St. Agnes, St. Then these dogs went in procession through the lonely lanes and by- ways of Wales. Sometimes they travelled in weird packs alone, but frequently they were guided by their master. He is de-r scribed as a dark, almost black, gigantic figure, with a horn slung around his swarthy neck, and a long hunting-pole at his back.
In Glamorgan, Brecon, and Radnor Arawn, the master of these hounds rides a grey horse, and is robed in grey. In North Wales he walks or rides, and is always dark and gigantic. In North and South Wales alike he is sometimes accompanied by Mallt y Nos, or Matilda of the Night, a hag who, with evil force, drives the dogs onward.
Then they went quietly, stealthily, without so much as a faint cry to announce their approach. They were seen, but not heard, as they ran quickly from room to room in the ancient mansion or humble cottage in pursuit of their victim. It was stated that on certain occasions the spirits of those pursued people were seen running out into the night followed by the hideous hounds. An old Mid- Wales story describes the death of a very vain lady, who desired to be buried in her ball-dress.
Her wish was gratified, but ever afterwards her soul was hunted by Arawn and his hounds. The cavalcade of doomed souls included " drunkards, scoffers, tricksters, attorneys, parsons' wives, and witches! The story of Mallt-y-Nos, as it used to be told in the early part of the nineteenth century, is curious. There was once a beautiful but wicked Norman lady, who came in with Fitzhamon from Gloucester to South Wales. She so passionately loved riding after the hounds that once she exclaimed : " If I cannot hunt in heaven I would rather not go there.
The folk-story asserts that Matilda has long repented her impious wish, and for this reason her cries are often sad and pitiful as she runs low down beside the spirit-hounds, or takes an aerial flight with the Cwn Wybyr, or mounts a fiery steed, and rides through lonely villages on Christmas or New Year's Eve. For a year or more after her marriage she gave up all thoughts of hunting, but one day her husband went from home, intending to remain away a Uttle time. During his absence his wife could not resist the temptation of the chase, so, mounting a splendid horse, she gaily rode away to the meet.
Feeling sure that none of her friends would diviilge her secret, she followed the hounds for a whole day. Coming home in the twilight, her horse threw her. When her husband returned soon afterwards, he found his wife had broken her leg. Donates Castle, Glamorgan, once a year for the soul of Colyn Dolphyn, the notorious pirate. This wandering and unhappy spirit was sometimes seen dressed in dull green, with a hooded cloak.
In the Vale of Glamorgan she was seen in dark red or in dark blue. Cross-roads appear to have been her bane, and if ever she chanced to reach one between Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night, she could be heard crying for help. Then the Cwn Wybyr or the Cwn Annwn would come to her assistance, and set her on the direct route to her haunts. The latter frequented marshy places and lonely moorlands far away from the busy haunts of mankind.
The cries of both dogs resembled those of hounds and huntsmen in full chase. The nearer these dogs were to mankind, the fainter were their voices ; the farther away, the louder they sounded. In Welsh mythologyf these dogs belong to Arawn, the King of the Underworld, who is described as a great huntsman, clothed in grey, and always riding a grey horse, while the dogs from the royal kennel were grey, with scarlet spots.
In Welsh folk-lore these dogs when heard in packs prophesied disaster and doom to ancient families, and to the peasantry misfortune, calamity, or death. Heard singly, the dog always denoted sickness and death. Excepting on processional nights, they were seldom seen in whole packs ; but parties of them — three, seven, or nine — were frequently encountered.
Sometimes a stray dog wandered from the pack and prowled the country- side, howling near comfortable homesteads, or in the grounds of castles and ancient manor-houses. Merionethshire has a story of a girl who, having lost her way among the Berwyn Mountains, fell in with a pack of these hounds, and was only saved from death by repeating the Lord's Prayer over and over again until the creatures ran away.
In the beautiful Vale of Clwyd an Englishman was " nearly killed by the Cwn Annwn," and gladly made his escape from Wales, saying its demons were " the curse of the country! From the neighbouring villages homeward on several occasions the Cwn Annwn chased the unfortunate clergyman, and harried him so much that he gladly promised not to preach against smugglers any more. A pack of the Cwn Annwn, accompanied by Arawn, the master, frequented Montgomeryshire, and were said to have their kennels in the recesses of Plinlimmon.
The Radnor Forest Mountains had a terrible pack of these hounds. They frequented a deep ravine on the road to Llanfihangel-nant-Melan, and many stories were formerly told about the depredations they accomplished in the neighbourhood of Old and New Radnor. Near Wilton Crossways, in the Vale of Glamorgan, one of these spirit-hounds was frequently to be seen even so late as a " few years ago. The other part and lower limbs were those of a " light-spotted dog. This creature is said to follow people like a footpad, and to snarl and howl if any person halts or looks backward.
Near Liswomey, in the vicinity of this creature's haunts, people so late as forty years ago spoke with bated breath of Entwisle and his pack of phantom hounds tearing along the road between Marlborough Grange and Nash Manor. It was gravely stated in the locality that if any unlucky persons coming late home from market chanced to fall in the way of these hoimds, their clothes were torn to pieces, they were left almost for dead, and the next morning it was only just possible for them to crawl home.
Doubtless these spirit-hounds had to bear the blame for many a drunken brawl or midnight orgy of the long ago! In many parts of Wales one of the Cwn Annwn is supposed to be seen before a death. The mysterious animal is generally found sitting perfectly still on the doorstep or close to the threshold of the house in which a person is sick, and its appear- ance there is a certain indication of death.
An old manor-house in Glamorgan is haunted by a large black dog of the Cwn Annwn pack before a death in the family. It is described as large, quiet, and almost lazy in its movements. Occasionally it is found in the hall- way, or crouching low at the foot of the grand staircase. It remains on or near the premises during the illness of any member of the family who will ultimately die.
A Breconshire farm-house is frequented by a white Cwn Annwn that mysteriously comes and goes before a death in the family. In Cardiganshire a brown creature of the pack, with white ears, is the bringer of evil omens, while in Carmarthenshire a grey hound appears to be the favourite. In a story formerly attached to Pwyllywrach, Glamorgan, it is asserted that one of the huntsmen was approaching the kennels one evening, when he heard the wild barking of dogs in the air imrnediately above his head. It was twilight, and no animals were at hand.
The hounds in the kennels were silent. Presently the unseen dogs barked again, and somebody called out " Tally-ho-ho! When the sound was repeated the huntsman responded with a wailing " Tally-ho-ho-ho! People said it was the revenge of the Cwn Wybyr, whose cry the un- fortunate man had imitated. In after-years the peasantry declared that often in the night-time the cries of the huntsman and the baying of hounds could be heard distinctly.
It was stated that the huntsman had forgotten to feed the hounds, and they fell upon him and killed him. The kennels were pulled down because of this calamity. The spot is still called " the old kennels. R,] Long years ago people said they heard Arawn cheering his Cwn Annwn on the Aberdare Mountains, and in their wild hunting flight they trampled pedestrians to death unless the people got out of the way.
The multitude is more easily interested for the most unmeaning badge, or the most insignificant name, than for the most important principle. From these considerations, we infer that no poet, who should affect that metaphysical accuracy for the want of which Milton has been blamed, would escape a disgraceful failure. Still, however, there was another extreme which, though far less dangerous, was also to be avoided. The imaginations of men are in a great measure under the control of their opinions.
The most exquisite art of poetical colouring can produce no illusion, when it is employed to represent that which is at once perceived to be incongruous and absurd. Milton wrote in an age of philosophers and theologians. It was necessary, therefore, for him to abstain from giving such a shock to their understandings as might break the charm which it was his object to throw over their imaginations. Edition: current; Page: [ 24 ] This is the real explanation of the indistinctness and inconsistency with which he has often been reproached.
Johnson acknowledges that it was absolutely necessary that the spirits should be clothed with material forms. What if the contrary opinion had taken so full a possession of the minds of men as to leave no room even for the half belief which poetry requires? Such we suspect to have been the case. It was impossible for the poet to adopt altogether the material or the immaterial system. He therefore took his stand on the debatable ground. He left the whole in ambiguity.
He has doubtless, by so doing, laid himself open to the charge of inconsistency. But, though philosophically in the wrong, we cannot but believe that he was poetically in the right. This task, which almost any other writer would have found impracticable, was easy to him. The peculiar art which he possessed of communicating his meaning circuitously through a long succession of associated ideas, and of intimating more than he expressed, enabled him to disguise those incongruities which he could not avoid.
Poetry which relates to the beings of another world ought to be at once mysterious and picturesque. That of Milton is so. That of Dante is picturesque indeed beyond any that ever was written. Its effect approaches to that produced by the pencil or the chisel.
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But it is picturesque to the exclusion of all mystery. Still it is a fault. Edition: current; Page: [ 25 ] The supernatural agents excite an interest; but it is not the interest which is proper to supernatural agents. We could, like Don Juan, ask them to supper, and eat heartily in their company. His devils are spiteful ugly executioners. His dead men are merely living men in strange situations. The scene which passes between the poet and Farinata is justly celebrated. Still, Farinata in the burning tomb is exactly what Farinata would have been at an auto da fe.
Nothing can be more touching than the first interview of Dante and Beatrice. Yet what is it, but a lovely woman chiding, with sweet austere composure, the lover for whose affection she is grateful, but whose vices she reprobates? The feelings which give the passage its charm would suit the streets of Florence as well as the summit of the Mount of Purgatory. The spirits of Milton are unlike those of almost all other writers. His fiends, in particular, are wonderful creations. They are not metaphysical abstractions. They are not wicked men. They are not ugly beasts.
They have no horns, no tails, none of the fee-faw-fum of Tasso and Klopstock. They have just enough in common with human nature to be intelligible to human beings. Their characters are, like their forms, marked by a certain dim resemblance to those of men, but exaggerated to gigantic dimensions, and veiled in mysterious gloom. The style of the Athenian had, as we have remarked, something of the Oriental character; and the same peculiarity may be traced in his mythology.
It has nothing of the amenity and elegance which we generally find in the superstitions of Greece. All is Edition: current; Page: [ 26 ] rugged, barbaric, and colossal. His favourite gods are those of the elder generation, the sons of heaven and earth, compared with whom Jupiter himself was a stripling and an upstart, the gigantic Titans, and the inexorable Furies.
Foremost among his creations of this class stands Prometheus, half fiend, half redeemer, the friend of man, the sullen and implacable enemy of heaven. Prometheus bears undoubtedly a considerable resemblance to the Satan of Milton. In both we find the same impatience of control, the same ferocity, the same unconquerable pride.
In both characters also are mingled, though in very different proportions, some kind and generous feelings. Prometheus, however, is hardly superhuman enough. He talks too much of his chains and his uneasy posture: he is rather too much depressed and agitated. His resolution seems to depend on the knowledge which he possesses that he holds the fate of his torturer in his hands, and that the hour of his release will surely come. But Satan is a creature of another sphere.
The might of his intellectual nature is victorious over the extremity of pain. Amidst agonies which cannot be conceived without horror, he deliberates, resolves, and even exults. Against the sword of Michael, against the thunder of Jehovah, against the flaming lake, and the marl burning with solid fire, against the prospect of an eternity of unintermitted misery, his spirit bears up unbroken, resting on its own innate energies, requiring no support from any thing external, nor even from hope itself.
To return for a moment to the parallel which we have been attempting to draw between Milton and Dante, we would add that the poetry of these great men has in a considerable degree taken its character from their moral qualities. They are not egotists. They rarely obtrude their idiosyncrasies on their readers. They have nothing in common with those modern beggars for fame, who extort a pittance from the compassion of the inexperienced by exposing the nakedness and sores of their minds. Yet it would be difficult to name two writers whose works have been more completely, though undesignedly, coloured by their personal feelings.
The character of Milton was peculiarly distinguished by loftiness of spirit; that of Dante by intensity of feeling. In every line of the Divine Comedy we discern the asperity which is produced by pride struggling with misery. There is perhaps no work in the world so deeply and uniformly sorrowful. The melancholy of Dante was no fantastic caprice. It was not, as far as at this distance of time can be judged, the effect of external circumstances. It was from within. Neither love nor glory, neither the conflicts of earth nor the hope of heaven could dispel it.
It turned every consolation and every pleasure into its own nature. It resembled that noxious Sardinian soil of which the intense bitterness is said to have been perceptible even in its honey. All the portraits of him are singularly characteristic. No person can look on the features, noble even to ruggedness, the dark furrows of the cheek, the haggard Edition: current; Page: [ 28 ] and woful stare of the eye, the sullen and contemptuous curve of the lip, and doubt that they belong to a man too proud and too sensitive to be happy.
Opening, lines 63-162
Milton was, like Dante, a statesman and a lover; and, like Dante, he had been unfortunate in ambition and in love. He had survived his health and his sight, the comforts of his home, and the prosperity of his party. Of the great men by whom he had been distinguished at his entrance into life, some had been taken away from the evil to come; some had carried into foreign climates their unconquerable hatred of oppression; some were pining in dungeons; and some had poured forth their blood on scaffolds.
Venal and licentious scribblers, with just sufficient talent to clothe the thoughts of a pandar in the style of a bellman, were now the favourite writers of the Sovereign and of the public. It was a loathsome herd, which could be compared to nothing so fitly as to the rabble of Comus, grotesque monsters, half bestial half human, dropping with wine, bloated with gluttony, and reeling in obscene dances. Amidst these that fair Muse was placed, like the chaste lady of the Masque, lofty, spotless, and serene, to be chattered at, and pointed at, and grinned at, by the whole rout of Satyrs and Goblins.
If ever despondency and asperity could be excused in any man, they might have been excused in Milton. But the strength of his mind overcame every calamity. Neither blindness, nor gout, nor age, nor penury, nor domestic afflictions, nor political disappointments, nor abuse, nor proscription, nor neglect, had power to disturb his sedate and majestic patience.
His spirits do not seem to have been high, but they were singularly equable. His temper was serious, perhaps stern; but it was a temper which no sufferings could render sullen or fretful. Such as it was when, on the eve of great events, he returned from his travels, in the prime of health and manly beauty, loaded Edition: current; Page: [ 29 ] with literary distinctions, and glowing with patriotic hopes, such it continued to be when, after having experienced every calamity which is incident to our nature, old, poor, sightless and disgraced, he retired to his hovel to die.
Hence it was that, though he wrote the Paradise Lost at a time of life when images of beauty and tenderness are in general beginning to fade, even from those minds in which they have not been effaced by anxiety and disappointment, he adorned it with all that is most lovely and delightful in the physical and in the moral world.
Neither Theocritus nor Ariosto had a finer or a more healthful sense of the pleasantness of external objects, or loved better to luxuriate amidst sunbeams and flowers, the songs of nightingales, the juice of summer fruits, and the coolness of shady fountains. His conception of love unites all the voluptuousness of the Oriental haram, and all the gallantry of the chivalric tournament, with all the pure and quiet affection of an English fireside.
His poetry reminds us of the miracles of Alpine scenery. Nooks and dells, beautiful as fairy land, are embosomed in its most rugged and gigantic elevations. The roses and myrtles bloom unchilled on the verge of the avalanche. Traces, indeed, of the peculiar character of Milton may be found in all his works; but it is most strongly displayed in the Sonnets. Those remarkable poems have been undervalued by critics who have not understood their nature. They have no epigrammatic point. There is none of the ingenuity of Filicaja in the thought, none of the hard and brilliant enamel of Petrarch in the style.
They are simple but majestic records of the feelings of the poet; as little tricked out for the public eye as his diary would have been. A victory, an expected attack upon the city, a momentary fit of depression or exultation, a jest thrown Edition: current; Page: [ 30 ] out against one of his books, a dream which for a short time restored to him that beautiful face over which the grave had closed for ever, led him to musings which, without effort, shaped themselves into verse. The unity of sentiment and severity of style which characterise these little pieces remind us of the Greek Anthology, or perhaps still more of the Collects of the English Liturgy.
The noble poem on the Massacres of Piedmont is strictly a collect in verse. The Sonnets are more or less striking, according as the occasions which gave birth to them are more or less interesting. But they are, almost without exception, dignified by a sobriety and greatness of mind to which we know not where to look for a parallel. It would, indeed, be scarcely safe to draw any decided inferences as to the character of a writer from passages directly egotistical.
But the qualities which we have ascribed to Milton, though perhaps most strongly marked in those parts of his works which treat of his personal feelings, are distinguishable in every page, and impart to all his writings, prose and poetry, English, Latin, and Italian, a strong family likeness. His public conduct was such as was to be expected from a man of a spirit so high and of an intellect so powerful. He lived at one of the most memorable eras in the history of mankind, at the very crisis of the great conflict between Oromasdes and Arimanes, liberty and despotism, reason and prejudice.
That great battle was fought for no single generation, for no single land. The destinies of the human race were staked on the same cast with the freedom of the English people. Then were first proclaimed those mighty principles which have since worked their way into the depths of the American forests, which have roused Greece from the slavery and degradation of two thousand years, and which, from one end of Europe to the other, have kindled an unquenchable fire in the hearts Edition: current; Page: [ 31 ] of the oppressed, and loosed the knees of the oppressors with an unwonted fear.
Of those principles, then struggling for their infant existence, Milton was the most devoted and eloquent literary champion. We need not say how much we admire his public conduct. But we cannot disguise from ourselves that a large portion of his countrymen still think it unjustifiable. The civil war, indeed, has been more discussed, and is less understood, than any event in English history.
The friends of liberty laboured under the disadvantage of which the lion in the fable complained so bitterly. Though they were the conquerors, their enemies were the painters. As a body, the Roundheads had done their utmost to decry and ruin literature; and literature was even with them, as, in the long run, it always is with its enemies.
The best book on their side of the question is the charming narrative of Mrs. The performance of Ludlow is foolish and violent; and most of the later writers who have espoused the same cause, Oldmixon for instance, and Catherine Macaulay, have, to say the least, been more distinguished by zeal than either by candour or by skill.
On the other side are the most authoritative and the most popular historical works in our language, that of Clarendon, and that of Hume. The former is not only ably written and full of valuable information, but has also an air of dignity and sincerity which makes even the prejudices and errors with which it abounds respectable. Hume, from whose fascinating narrative the great mass of the reading public are still contented to take their opinions, hated religion so much that he hated liberty for having been allied with religion, and has pleaded the cause of tyranny with the dexterity of an advocate while affecting the impartiality of a judge.
The public conduct of Milton must be approved or condemned according as the resistance of the people to Charles the First shall appear to be justifiable or criminal. We shall therefore make no apology for dedicating a few pages to the discussion of that interesting and most important question. We shall not argue it on general grounds. We shall not recur to those primary principles from which the claim of any government to the obedience of its subjects is to be deduced. We are entitled to that vantage ground; but we will relinquish it. We are, on this point, so confident of superiority, that we are not unwilling to imitate the ostentatious generosity of those ancient knights, who vowed to joust without helmet or shield against all enemies, and to give their antagonists the advantage of sun and wind.
We will take the naked constitutional question. We confidently affirm, that every reason which can be urged in favour of the Revolution of may be urged with at least equal force in favour of what is called the Great Rebellion. In one respect, only, we think, can the warmest admirers of Charles venture to say that he was a better sovereign than his son. He was not, in name and profession, a Papist; we say in name and profession, because both Charles himself and his creature Laud, while they abjured the innocent badges of Popery, retained all its worst vices, a complete subjection of reason to authority, a weak preference of form to substance, a childish passion for mummeries, an idolatrous veneration for the priestly character, and, above all, a merciless intolerance.
This, however, we waive. We will concede that Charles was a good Protestant; but we say that his Protestantism does not make the slightest distinction between his case and that of James. The principles of the Revolution have often been grossly misrepresented, and never more than in the Edition: current; Page: [ 33 ] course of the present year. There is a certain class of men, who, while they profess to hold in reverence the great names and great actions of former times, never look at them for any other purpose than in order to find in them some excuse for existing abuses.
In every venerable precedent they pass by what is essential, and take only what is accidental: they keep out of sight what is beneficial, and hold up to public imitation all that is defective. If, in any part of any great example, there be any thing unsound, these flesh-flies detect it with an unerring instinct, and dart upon it with a ravenous delight. If some good end has been attained in spite of them, they feel, with their prototype, that. To the blessings which England has derived from the Revolution these people are utterly insensible The expulsion of a tyrant, the solemn recognition of popular rights, liberty, security, toleration, all go for nothing with them.
One sect there was, which, from unfortunate temporary causes, it was thought necessary to keep under close restraint. One part of the empire there was so unhappily circumstanced, that at that time its misery was necessary to our happiness, and its slavery to our freedom. These are the parts of the Revolution which the politicians of whom we speak, love to contemplate, and which seem to them not indeed to vindicate, but in some degree to palliate, the good which it has produced. Talk to them of Naples, of Spain, or of South America.
They stand forth zealots for the doctrine of Divine Right which has now come back to us, like a thief from transportation, under the alias of Legitimacy. But mention the miseries of Ireland. Then William is a hero. Then Somers and Shrewsbury are great men. Edition: current; Page: [ 34 ] Then the Revolution is a glorious era. The very same persons who, in this country, never omit an opportunity of reviving every wretched Jacobite slander respecting the Whigs of that period, have no sooner crossed St.
They may truly boast that they look not at men, but at measures. So that evil be done, they care not who does it; the arbitrary Charles, or the liberal William, Ferdinand the Catholic, or Frederic the Protestant. On such occasions their deadliest opponents may reckon upon their candid construction. The bold assertions of these people have of late impressed a large portion of the public with an opinion that James the Second was expelled simply because he was a Catholic, and that the Revolution was essentially a Protestant Revolution.
Our ancestors, we suppose, knew their own meaning; and, if we may believe them, their hostility was primarily not to popery, but to tyranny. They did not drive out a tyrant because he was a Catholic; but they excluded Catholics from the crown, because they thought them likely to be tyrants. The question, then, is this; Had Charles the First broken the fundamental laws of England? No person can answer in the negative, unless he refuses credit, not merely to all the accusations brought against Charles by his opponents, but to the narratives of the warmest Royalists, and to the confessions of the King himself.
If there be any truth in any historian of any party who has related the events of that reign, the conduct of Charles, from his accession to the meeting of the Long Parliament, had been a continued course of oppression and treachery. Let those who applaud the Revolution, and condemn the Rebellion, mention one act of James the Second to which a parallel is not to be found in the history of his father. Let them lay their fingers on a single article in the Declaration of Right, presented by the two Houses to William and Mary, which Charles is not acknowledged to have violated.
He had, according to the testimony of his own friends, usurped the functions of the legislature, raised taxes without the consent of parliament, and quartered troops on the people in the most illegal and vexatious manner. Not a single session of parliament had passed without some unconstitutional attack on the freedom of debate; the right of petition was grossly violated; arbitrary judgments, exorbitant fines, and unwarranted imprisonments, were grievances of daily occurrence. If these things do not justify resistance. But, it is said, why not adopt milder measures?
Why, after the King had consented to so many reforms, and renounced so many oppressive prerogatives, did the parliament continue to rise in their demands at the risk of provoking a civil war? The ship-money had been given up. The Star Chamber had been abolished. Provision had been made for the frequent Edition: current; Page: [ 36 ] convocation and secure deliberation of parliaments. Why not pursue an end confessedly good by peaceable and regular means? We recur again to the analogy of the Revolution. Why was James driven from the throne?
Why was he not retained upon conditions? He too had offered to call a free parliament and to submit to its decision all the matters in dispute. Yet we are in the habit of praising our forefathers, who preferred a revolution, a disputed succession, a dynasty of strangers, twenty years of foreign and intestine war, a standing army, and a national debt, to the rule, however restricted, of a tried and proved tyrant.
The Long Parliament acted on the same principle, and is entitled to the same praise. They could not trust the King. He had no doubt passed salutary laws; but what assurance was there that he would not break them? He had renounced oppressive prerogatives; but where was the security that he would not resume them?
The nation had to deal with a man whom no tie could bind, a man who made and broke promises with equal facility, a man whose honour had been a hundred times pawned, and never redeemed. Here, indeed, the Long Parliament stands on still stronger ground than the Convention of No action of James can be compared to the conduct of Charles with respect to the Petition of Right. The Lords and Commons present him with a bill in which the constitutional limits of his power are marked out.
He hesitates; he evades; at last he bargains to give his assent for five subsidies. The bill receives his solemn assent; the subsidies are voted; but no sooner is the tyrant relieved, than he returns at once to all the arbitrary measures which he had bound himself to abandon, and violates all the clauses of the very Act which he had been paid to pass. For more than ten years the people had seen the rights which were theirs by a double claim, by immemorial Edition: current; Page: [ 37 ] inheritance and by recent purchase, infringed by the perfidious king who had recognised them.
At length circumstances compelled Charles to summon another parliament: another chance was given to our fathers: were they to throw it away as they had thrown away the former? Were they again to be cozened by le Roi le veut? Were they again to advance their money on pledges which had been forfeited over and over again? Were they to lay a second Petition of Right at the foot of the throne, to grant another lavish aid in exchange for another unmeaning ceremony, and then to take their departure, till, after ten years more of fraud and oppression, their prince should again require a supply, and again repay it with a perjury?
They were compelled to choose whether they would trust a tyrant or conquer him. We think that they chose wisely and nobly. The advocates of Charles, like the advocates of other malefactors against whom overwhelming evidence is produced, generally decline all controversy about the facts, and content themselves with calling testimony to character. He had so many private virtues! And had James the Second no private virtues?
Was Oliver Cromwell, his bitterest enemies themselves being judges, destitute of private virtues? And what, after all, are the virtues ascribed to Charles? A religious zeal, not more sincere than that of his son, and fully as weak and narrow-minded, and a few of the ordinary household decencies which half the tombstones in England claim for those who lie beneath them. A good father! A good husband! Ample apologies indeed for fifteen years of persecution, tyranny, and falsehood! We charge him with having broken his coronation oath; and we are told that he kept his marriage vow!
We accuse him of having given up his people to the merciless inflictions of the most hot-headed and hard-hearted Edition: current; Page: [ 38 ] of prelates; and the defence is, that he took his little son on his knee and kissed him! It is to such considerations as these, together with his Vandyke dress, his handsome face, and his peaked beard, that he owes, we verily believe, most of his popularity with the present generation. For ourselves, we own that we do not understand the common phrase, a good man, but a bad king. We can as easily conceive a good man and an unnatural father, or a good man and a treacherous friend.
We cannot, in estimating the character of an individual, leave out of our consideration his conduct in the most important of all human relations; and if in that relation we find him to have been selfish, cruel, and deceitful, we shall take the liberty to call him a bad man, in spite of all his temperance at table, and all his regularity at chapel. We cannot refrain from adding a few words respecting a topic on which the defenders of Charles are fond of dwelling. If, they say, he governed his people ill, he at least governed them after the example of his predecessors.
If he violated their privileges, it was because those privileges had not been accurately defined. No act of oppression has ever been imputed to him which has not a parallel in the annals of the Tudors. This point Hume has laboured, with an art which is as discreditable in a historical work as it would be admirable in a forensic address. The answer is short, clear, and decisive. Charles had assented to the Petition of Right.
He had renounced the oppressive powers said to have been exercised by his predecessors, and he had renounced them for Edition: current; Page: [ 39 ] money. He was not entitled to set up his antiquated claims against his own recent release. These arguments are so obvious, that it may seem superfluous to dwell upon them.
But those who have observed how much the events of that time are misrepresented and misunderstood will not blame us for stating the case simply. It is a case of which the simplest statement is the strongest. The enemies of the Parliament, indeed, rarely choose to take issue on the great points of the question.
They content themselves with exposing some of the crimes and follies to which public commotions necessarily give birth. They bewail the unmerited fate of Strafford. They execrate the lawless violence of the army. They laugh at the Scriptural names of the preachers. Major-generals fleecing their districts; soldiers revelling on the spoils of a ruined peasantry; upstarts, enriched by the public plunder, taking possession of the hospitable firesides and hereditary trees of the old gentry; boys smashing the beautiful windows of cathedrals; Quakers riding naked through the marketplace; Fifth-monarchy-men shouting for King Jesus; agitators lecturing from the tops of tubs on the fate of Agag; all these, they tell us, were the offspring of the Great Rebellion.
Be it so. We are not careful to answer in this matter. These charges, were they infinitely more important, would not alter our opinion of an event which alone has made us to differ from the slaves who crouch beneath despotic sceptres. Many evils, no doubt, were produced by the civil war. They were the price of our liberty. Has the acquisition been worth the sacrifice?
It is the nature of the Devil of tyranny to tear and rend the body which he leaves. Are the miseries of continued possession less horrible than the struggles of the tremendous exorcism? If it were possible that a people brought up under Edition: current; Page: [ 40 ] an intolerant and arbitrary system could subvert that system without acts of cruelty and folly, half the objections to despotic power would be removed. We should, in that case, be compelled to acknowledge that it at least produces no pernicious effects on the intellectual and moral character of a nation.
We deplore the outrages which accompany revolutions. But the more violent the outrages, the more assured we feel that a revolution was necessary. The violence of those outrages will always be proportioned to the ferocity and ignorance of the people; and the ferocity and ignorance of the people will be proportioned to the oppression and degradation under which they have been accustomed to live. Thus it was in our civil war. The heads of the church and state reaped only that which they had sown. The government had prohibited free discussion: it had done its best to keep the people unacquainted with their duties and their rights.
The retribution was just and natural. If our rulers suffered from popular ignorance, it was because they had themselves taken away the key of knowledge. If they were assailed with blind fury, it was because they had exacted an equally blind submission. It is the character of such revolutions that we always see the worst of them at first.
Till men have been some time free, they know not how to use their freedom. The natives of wine countries are generally sober. In climates where wine is a rarity intemperance abounds. A newly liberated people may be compared to a northern army encamped on the Rhine or the Xeres. It is said that, when soldiers in such a situation first find themselves able to indulge without restraint in such a rare and expensive luxury, nothing is to be seen but intoxication. Soon, however, plenty teaches discretion; and, after wine has been for a few months their daily fare, they become more temperate than they had ever been in their own Edition: current; Page: [ 41 ] country.
In the same manner, the final and permanent fruits of liberty are wisdom, moderation, and mercy. Its immediate effects are often atrocious crimes, conflicting errors, scepticism on points the most clear, dogmatism on points the most mysterious. It is just at this crisis that its enemies love to exhibit it. They pull down the scaffolding from the half-finished edifice: they point to the flying dust, the falling bricks, the comfortless rooms, the frightful irregularity of the whole appearance; and then ask in scorn where the promised splendour and comfort is to be found.
If such miserable sophisms were to prevail there would never be a good house or a good government in the world. Ariosto tells a pretty story of a fairy, who, by some mysterious law of her nature, was condemned to appear at certain seasons in the form of a foul and poisonous snake. Those who injured her during the period of her disguise were for ever excluded from participation in the blessings which she bestowed.
But to those who, in spite of her loathsome aspect, pitied and protected her, she afterwards revealed herself in the beautiful and celestial form which was natural to her, accompanied their steps, granted all their wishes, filled their houses with wealth, made them happy in love and victorious in war. Such a spirit is Liberty. At times she takes the form of a hateful reptile. She grovels, she hisses, she stings. But woe to those who in disgust shall venture to crush her! And happy are those who, having dared to receive her in her degraded and frightful shape, shall at length be rewarded by her in the time of her beauty and her glory!
There is only one cure for the evils which newly acquired freedom produces; and that cure is freedom. When a prisoner first leaves his cell he cannot bear the light of day: he is unable to discriminate colours, or recognise faces. But the remedy is, not to remand Edition: current; Page: [ 42 ] him into his dungeon, but to accustom him to the rays of the sun. The blaze of truth and liberty may at first dazzle and bewilder nations which have become half blind in the house of bondage.
But let them gaze on, and they will soon be able to bear it. In a few years men learn to reason. The extreme violence of opinions subsides. Hostile theories correct each other. The scattered elements of truth cease to contend, and begin to coalesce. And at length a system of justice and order is educed out of the chaos. Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom.
The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learnt to swim. If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait for ever. Therefore it is that we decidedly approve of the conduct of Milton and the other wise and good men who, in spite of much that was ridiculous and hateful in the conduct of their associates, stood firmly by the cause of Public Liberty.
We are not aware that the poet has been charged with personal participation in any of the blameable excesses of that time. The favourite topic of his enemies is the line of conduct which he pursued with regard to the execution of the King. Of that celebrated proceeding we by no means approve.
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Still we must say, in justice to the many eminent persons who concurred in it, and in justice more particularly to the eminent person who defended it, that nothing can be more absurd than the imputations which, for the last hundred and sixty years, it has been the fashion to cast upon the Regicides. We have, throughout, abstained from appealing to first principles. We will not appeal to them now. We recur again to the Edition: current; Page: [ 43 ] parallel case of the Revolution. What essential distinction can be drawn between the execution of the father and the deposition of the son?
What constitutional maxim is there which applies to the former and not to the latter? The King can do no wrong. If so, James was as innocent as Charles could have been. The minister only ought to be responsible for the acts of the Sovereign. If so, why not impeach Jefferies and retain James? The person of a King is sacred. Was the person of James considered sacred at the Boyne? To discharge cannon against an army in which a King is known to be posted is to approach pretty near to regicide. Charles, too, it should always be remembered, was put to death by men who had been exasperated by the hostilities of several years, and who had never been bound to him by any other tie than that which was common to them with all their fellow-citizens.
Those who drove James from his throne, who seduced his army, who alienated his friends, who first imprisoned him in his palace, and then turned him out of it, who broke in upon his very slumbers by imperious messages, who pursued him with fire and sword from one part of the empire to another, who hanged, drew, and quartered his adherents, and attained his innocent heir, were his nephew and his two daughters. When we reflect on all these things, we are at a loss to conceive how the same persons who, on the fifth of November, thank God for wonderfully conducting his servant William, and for making all opposition fall before him until he became our King and Governor, can, on the thirtieth of January, contrive to be afraid that the blood of the Royal Martyr may be visited on themselves and their children.
He whom it removed was a captive and a hostage: his heir, to whom the allegiance of every Royalist was instantly transferred, was at large. The Presbyterians could never have been perfectly reconciled to the father: they had no such rooted enmity to the son. The great body of the people, also, contemplated that proceeding with feelings which, however unreasonable, no government could safely venture to outrage.
But though we think the conduct of the Regicides blameable, that of Milton appears to us in a very different light. The deed was done. It could not be undone. The evil was incurred; and the object was to render it as small as possible. We censure the chiefs of the army for not yielding to the popular opinion; but we cannot censure Milton for wishing to change that opinion.
The very feeling which would have restrained us from committing the act would have led us, after it had been committed, to defend it against the ravings of servility and superstition. For the sake of public liberty, we wish that the thing had not been done, while the people disapproved of it. But, for the sake of public liberty, we should also have wished the people to approve of it when it was done. If any thing more were wanting to the justification of Milton, the book of Salmasius would furnish it. That miserable performance is now with justice considered only as a beacon to word-catchers, who wish to become statesmen.
In that age the state of things was different. It was not then fully understood how vast an interval separates the mere classical scholar from the political philosopher. Nor can it be doubted that a treatise which, bearing the name of so eminent a critic, attacked the fundamental principles of all free governments, must, if suffered to remain unanswered, have produced a most pernicious effect on the public mind.
We wish to add a few words relative to another subject, on which the enemies of Milton delight to dwell, his conduct during the administration of the Protector. That an enthusiastic votary of liberty should accept office under a military usurper seems, no doubt, at first sight, extraordinary. But all the circumstances in which the country was then placed were extraordinary. The ambition of Oliver was of no vulgar kind. He never seems to have coveted despotic power. He at first fought sincerely and manfully for the Parliament, and never deserted it, till it had deserted its duty.
If he dissolved it by force, it was not till he found that the few members who remained after so many deaths, secessions, and expulsions, were desirous to appropriate to themselves a power which they held only in trust, and to inflict upon England the curse of a Venetian oligarchy. But even when thus placed by violence at the head of affairs, he did not assume unlimited power.
He gave the country a constitution far more perfect than any which had at that time been known in the world. He reformed the representative system in a manner which has extorted praise even from Lord Clarendon. For himself he demanded indeed the first place in the commonwealth; but with powers scarcely so great as those of a Dutch stadtholder, or an American president. He gave the Parliament a voice in the appointment Edition: current; Page: [ 46 ] of ministers, and left to it the whole legislative authority, not even reserving to himself a veto on its enactments; and he did not require that the chief magistracy should be hereditary in his family.
Thus far, we think, if the circumstances of the time and the opportunities which he had of aggrandising himself be fairly considered, he will not lose by comparison with Washington or Bolivar. Had his moderation been met by corresponding moderation, there is no reason to think that he would have overstepped the line which he had traced for himself. But when he found that his parliaments questioned the authority under which they met, and that he was in danger of being deprived of the restricted power which was absolutely necessary to his personal safety, then, it must be acknowledged, he adopted a more arbitrary policy.
Yet, though we believe that the intentions of Cromwell were at first honest, though we believe that he was driven from the noble course which he had marked out for himself by the almost irresistible force of circumstances, though we admire, in common with all men of all parties, the ability and energy of his splendid administration, we are not pleading for arbitrary and lawless power, even in his hands. We know that a good constitution is infinitely better than the best despot.
But we suspect, that at the time of which we speak, the violence of religious and political enmities rendered a stable and happy settlement next to impossible. The choice lay, not between Cromwell and liberty, but between Cromwell and the Stuarts. That Milton chose well, no man can doubt who fairly compares the events of the protectorate with those of the thirty years which succeeded it, the darkest and most disgraceful in the English annals. Cromwell was evidently laying, though in an irregular manner, the foundations of an admirable system.
Never Edition: current; Page: [ 47 ] before had religious liberty and the freedom of discussion been enjoyed in a greater degree. Never had the national honour been better upheld abroad, or the seat of justice better filled at home. And it was rarely that any opposition which stopped short of open rebellion provoked the resentment of the liberal and magnanimous usurper. The institutions which he had established, as set down in the Instrument of Government, and the Humble Petition and Advice, were excellent. His practice, it is true, too often departed from the theory of these institutions.
But, had he lived a few years longer, it is probable that his institutions would have survived him, and that his arbitrary practice would have died with him. His power had not been consecrated by ancient prejudices. It was upheld only by his great personal qualities. Little, therefore, was to be dreaded from a second protector, unless he were also a second Oliver Cromwell. The events which followed his decease are the most complete vindication of those who exerted themselves to uphold his authority.
His death dissolved the whole frame of society. The army rose against the parliament, the different corps of the army against each other. Sect raved against sect. Party plotted against party. The Presbyterians, in their eagerness to be revenged on the Independents, sacrificed their own liberty, and deserted all their old principles. Without casting one glance on the past, or requiring one stipulation for the future, they threw down their freedom at the feet of the most frivolous and heartless of tyrants.
Then came those days, never to be recalled without a blush, the days of servitude without loyalty and sensuality without love, of dwarfish talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of cold hearts and narrow minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot, and the slave. The King cringed to his rival that he Edition: current; Page: [ 48 ] might trample on his people, sank into a viceroy of France, and pocketed, with complacent infamy, her degrading insults, and her more degrading gold.
The caresses of harlots, and the jests of buffoons, regulated the policy of the state. The government had just ability enough to deceive, and just religion enough to persecute. The principles of liberty were the scoff of every grinning courtier, and the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean. In every high place, worship was paid to Charles and James, Belial and Moloch; and England propitiated those obscene and cruel idols with the blood of her best and bravest children.
Crime succeeded to crime, and disgrace to disgrace, till the race accursed of God and man was a second time driven forth, to wander on the face of the earth, and to be a by-word and a shaking of the head to the nations. Most of the remarks which we have hitherto made on the public character of Milton, apply to him only as one of a large body. We shall proceed to notice some of the peculiarities which distinguished him from his contemporaries.
And, for that purpose, it is necessary to take a short survey of the parties into which the political world was at that time divided. We must premise, that our observations are intended to apply only to those who adhered, from a sincere preference, to one or to the other side. In days of public commotion, every faction, like an Oriental army, is attended by a crowd of camp-followers, an useless and heartless rabble, who prowl round its line of march in the hope of picking up something under its protection, but desert it in the day of battle, and often join to exterminate it after a defeat.
These we leave out of the account. We take our estimate of parties from those who really deserve to be called partisans. We would speak first of the Puritans, the most remarkable body of men, perhaps, which the world has ever produced. The odious and ridiculous parts of their character lie on the surface. He that runs may read them; nor have there been wanting attentive and malicious observers to point them out. For many years after the Restoration, they were the theme of unmeasured invective and derision. They were exposed to the utmost licentiousness of the press and of the stage, at the time when the press and the stage were most licentious.
They were not men of letters; they were, as a body, unpopular; they could not defend themselves; and the public would not take them under its protection. They were therefore abandoned, without reserve, to the tender mercies of the satirists and dramatists. The ostentatious simplicity of their dress, their sour aspect, their nasal twang, their stiff posture, their long graces, their Hebrew names, the Scriptural phrases which they introduced on every occasion, their contempt of human learning, their detestation of polite amusements, were indeed fair game for the laughers.
But it is not from the laughers alone that the philosophy of history is to be learnt. And he who approaches this subject should carefully guard against the influence of that potent ridicule which has already misled so many excellent writers. Those who roused the people to resistance, who directed their measures through a long series of eventful years, who formed, out of the most unpromising materials, the finest army that Europe had ever seen, who trampled down King, Church, and Aristocracy, who, in the short intervals of domestic sedition and rebellion, made the name of England terrible to every nation on the face of the earth, were no vulgar fanatics.
Most of their absurdities were mere external badges, like the signs of freemasonry, or the dresses of friars. We regret that these badges were not more attractive. We regret that a body to whose courage and talents mankind has owed inestimable obligations had not the lofty elegance which distinguished some of the adherents of Charles the First, or the easy good-breeding for which the court of Charles the Second was celebrated. The Puritans were men whose minds had derived a peculiar character from the daily contemplation of superior beings and eternal interests. Not content with acknowledging, in general terms, an overruling Providence, they habitually ascribed every event to the will of the Great Being, for whose power nothing was too vast, for whose inspection nothing was too minute.
To know him, to serve him, to enjoy him, was with them the great end of existence. They rejected with contempt the ceremonious homage which other sects substituted for the pure worship of the soul. Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an obscuring veil, they aspired to gaze full on his intolerable brightness, and to commune with him face to face. Hence originated their contempt for terrestrial distinctions. The difference between Edition: current; Page: [ 51 ] the greatest and the meanest of mankind seemed to vanish, when compared with the boundless interval which separated the whole race from him on whom their own eyes were constantly fixed.
They recognised no title to superiority but his favour; and, confident of that favour, they despised all the accomplishments and all the dignities of the world. If they were unacquainted with the works of philosophers and poets, they were deeply read in the oracles of God. If their names were not found in the registers of heralds, they were recorded in the Book of Life. If their steps were not accompanied by a splendid train of menials, legions of ministering angels had charge over them. Their palaces were houses not made with hands; their diadems crowns of glory which should never fade away.
On the rich and the eloquent, on nobles and priests, they looked down with contempt: for they esteemed themselves rich in a more precious treasure, and eloquent in a more sublime language, nobles by the right of an carlier creation, and priests by the imposition of a mightier hand. The very meanest of them was a being to whose fate a mysterious and terrible importance belonged, on whose slightest action the spirits of light and darkness looked with anxious interest, who had been destined, before heaven and earth were created, to enjoy a felicity which should continue when heaven and earth should have passed away.
Events which short-sighted politicians ascribed to earthly causes, had been ordained on his account. For his sake empires had risen, and flourished, and decayed. For his sake the Almighty had proclaimed his will by the pen of the Evangelist, and the harp of the prophet. He had been wrested by no common deliverer from the grasp of no common foe.
He had been ransomed by the sweat of no vulgar agony, by the blood of no earthly sacrifice. It was Edition: current; Page: [ 52 ] for him that the sun had been darkened, that the rocks had been rent, that the dead had risen, that all nature had shuddered at the sufferings of her expiring God. Thus the Puritan was made up of two different men, the one all self-abasement, penitence, gratitude, passion, the other proud, calm, inflexible, sagacious. He prostrated himself in the dust before his Maker: but he set his foot on the neck of his king.
In his devotional retirement, he prayed with convulsions, and groans, and tears. He was half-maddened by glorious or terrible illusions.