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I hope the following description of an extraordinary custom which has obtained at Alnwick, in Northumberland, may be considered worthy preservation in The Every-Day Book.
About four miles from the above town there is a pond, known by the name of the Freeman's well; through which it has been customary for the freemen to pass from time immemorial before they can obtain their freedom. This is considered so indispensable, that no exemption is permitted, and without passing this ordeal the freedom would not be conferred. The pond is prepared by proper officers in such a manner, as to give the greatest possible annoyance to the persons who are to pass through it. Great dikes, or mounds, are erected in different parts, so that the candidate for his freedom is at one moment seen at the top of one of them only up to his knees, and the next instant is precipitated into a gulf below, in which he frequently plunges completely over head. The water is purposely rendered so muddy, that it is impossible to see where these dikes are situated, or by any precaution to avoid them. Those aspiring to the honour of the freedom of Alnwick, are dressed in white stockings, white panta
loons, and white caps. After Ihcy have "reached the point proposed," they are suffered to put on their usual clothes, and obliged to join in a procession, and ride for several miles round the boundaries of the freemen's property—a measure which is not a mere formality for parade, but absolutely indispensable; since, if they omit visiting any part of their property, it is claimed by his grace the duke of Northumberland, whose steward follows the procession, to note if any such omission occurs. The origin of the practice of travelling through the pond is not known. A tradition is current, that king John was once nearly drowned upon the spot where this pond is situated, and saved his life by clinging to a holly tree; and that he determined, in consequence, thenceforth, that before any candidate could obtain the freedom of Alnwick, he should not only wade through this pond, but plant a holly tree at the door of his house on the same day; and this custom is still scrupulously observed. In the month of February, 1824, no less than thirteen individuals went through the above formalities.
I am, &c.
Mean Temperature ... 42 • 61.
1821. John Keats, the poet, died. Virulent and unmerited attacks upon his literary ability, by an unprincipled and malignant reviewer, injured his rising reputation, overwhelmed his spirits, and he sunk into consumption. In that slate he fled for refuge to the climate of Italy, caught cold on the voyage, and perished in Rome, at the early age of 25. Specimens of his talents are in the former volume of this work. One of his last poems was in prospect of departure from his native shores. It is an
Ode to a Nightingale.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth, Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mini.!
0 for a beaker full of the warm South,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
What thou among the leaves hast never known, The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
4. Away 1 away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy wsv>.
1 cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the bough.., But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer evt».
6. Darkling I listen; and, for many a lime
I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
To thy high requiem become a sod.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home.
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
This ode was included with "Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes, and other Poems," by John Keats, published by Messrs. Taylor and Hessey, who, in an advertisement at the beginning of the book, allude to the critical ferocity which nastened the poet's death.
Naturalists' Calf.noar. Mean Temperature. . . 41 • 57.
mission, and the year and manner of his death, though all concur in saying he was martyred. Dr. Cave affirms, that he suffered by the cross. He is presumed to have died A.d. 61 or 64.
Naturalists' Calendab. Mean Temperature ... 42 ■ 22.
St. Matthias. — Holiday at the Public
After the crucifixion, and the death of the traitor Judas, Peter, in the midst of .he disciples, they being in number about a hundred and twenty, proposed the election of an apostle in his stead, " and they appointed two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias: and they prayed" to be directed in their choice, "and they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles." (Acts i. 23-26.) Writers disagree as to the particular places of his
1826.—Third Sunday in Lent.
The stilling of the waves by oil is briefly noticed at p. 192, and another instance is subjoined.
Oil for a fair Wind. C. W., in Dr. Aikin's Athenaeum, says: "About twelve years ago, during my stay at Malta, I was introduced to the bey of Bengali, in Africa, who was going with his family and a large retinue of servants to Mecca. He very politely offered me and my companion a passage to Egypt. We embarked on board a
French brig which the bey bad freighted, and very unfortunately were captured by an English letter of marque within a few leagues of Alexandria. The captain, however, was kind enough to allow us to proceed, and as we lay becalmed for two days, the bey ordered three or four Turk;sh flags to be hoisted, and a flask of oil to he thrown overboard. On inquiring into the purport of the ceremony, we were informed that the flask would float to Mecca (a pretty long circumnavigation) and bring tu a fair icind! As we cast anchor in the port soon after, of course the ceremony had been propitious; nor did we seek to disturb the credulity of a man who had treated us so kindly."
We know, however, that there is " credulity" on board English as well as Turkish vessels; and that if our sailors do not send an oil flask to Mecca, they whittle for a wind in a perfect calm, and many seem as certainly to expect its appearance, as a boatswain calculates on the appearance of his crew when he pipes all hands. Navigation in the Cloudt.
Agobard, archbishop of Lyons, in the reign of Charlemagne, and his son, has the following passage in his book, " De Grandine." "In these districts, almost all persons, noble and plebeian, townsmen and rustics, old and young, believe that hail and thunder may be produced at the will of man, that is, by the incantations of certain men who are called Tempeitarii." He proceeds: "We have seen and heard many who are sunk in such folly and stupidity, as to believe and assert, that there is a certain country, which they call Magonia, whence ships come in the clouds, for the purpose of carrying back the corn which is beaten off by the hail and storms, and which those aerial sailors purchase of the said Tempestarii." Agobard afterwards affirms, that he himself saw in a certain assembly four persons, three men and a woman, exhibited bound, as if they had fallen from these ships, who had been kept for some days in confinement, and were now brought out to be stoned in his presence; but that he rescued them from the popular fury. He further says, that there were persons who pietended to be able to protect the inhabitants of a district from tempests, and that for this service they received a payment in corn from the credulous countrymen, which payment was called canonicum.*
A Shrovetide Custom.
It will appear on reading, that the annexed letter came too late for insertion under Shrove Tuesday.
LUDLOW ROPE PULLINO.
To the Editor of the Every-Day Book
Ludlow, Shrove Tuesday,
Among the customs peculiar to this town, that of pulling a rope is not the least extraordinary. On Shrove Tuesday the corporation provide a rope three inches in thickness, and in length thirtysix yards, which is given out by a few of the members at one of the windows of the Market-hall at four o'clock; when a large body of the inhabitants, divided into two parties, (the one contending for Castle-street and Broad-street Wards, and the other for Old-street and Corve-street Wards,) commence an arduous struggle; and as so»m as either party gains the victory by pulling the rope beyond the prescribed limits, the pulling ceases; which is, however, always renewed by a second, and sometimes by a third contest; the rope being purchased by subscription from the victorious party, and given out again. In the end the rope is sold by the victors, and the money, which generally amounts to two pounds, or guineas, is expended in liquor. I have this day been an eye-witness to this scene of confusion; the rope was first gained by Oldstieet and Corve-street Wards, and secondly by Castle-street and Broad-street Wards. It is supposed, that nearly 2000 persons were actively employed on this occasion.
Without doubt this singular custom is symbolical of some remarkable event, and a remnant of that ancient language of visible signs, which, says a celebrated writer, " imperfectly supplies the want of letters, to perpetuate the remembrance of public or private transactions." The sign, in this instance, has survived the remembrance of the occurrence it was designed to represent, and remains a profound mystery. It has been insinuated, that the real occasion of this custom is known to the corporation, but that for some reason or other, they are tenacious of the secret. An obscuie tradition attributes this custom to circumstance-* arising out of the siege of Ludlow bj t*pnry VI, when two parlies arose within the town, one supporting the pretensions of the duke of York, and the other wishing to give admittance to the king; one of the bailiffs is said to have headed the latter party. History relates, that in this contest many lives were lost, and that the bailiff, heading his party in an attempt to oj>en Dinham gate, fell a victim there.
Mean Temperature . . . 41 • 1G.
1826.—Third Sunday in Lent. Pcuiierill Fumily. 1732, February 26. The title to an
estate of 100/. per annum, which had been settled on the Penderill family " for preserving king Charles II. in the oak," was sued for on behalf of an infant claiming to be heir-at-law, and the issue was this day tried in the court of king's bench. It was proved that Mr. Penderill, after marrying the mother of the claimant, retired into Staffordshire two years before he died; that during that time he had no intercourse with his wife, and that the infant was born about the time of her husband's death. In consequence of this evidence a verdict was found for the defendant, and thereby the child was declared to be illegitimate.*