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Our young readers are required to observe that these “Tales of the O’Hara Family” are merely tales, invented to amuse the mind, or create wonder. Yet things of this sort are still believed by ignorant people, and in the dark ages the were credited, or affected to be credited, by those who ought to have known better. Mr. Brand has heaped together a great many of these superstitions.
Besides general notices of death, certain families were reputed to have particular warnings; some by the appearance of a bird, and others by the figure of a tall woman in white, who shrieked about the house. This in Ireland is called the banshee, or “the shrieking woman.”
In some of the great families an admonishing demon or genius was supposed to be a visiter. The family of Rothmurchas is alleged to have had the bodack au dun, “the ghost of the hill;” and the Kinchardines “the spectre of the bloody hand.” Gartinberg-house was said to have been haunted by Bodach Gartin, and Tulloch Gorms by Maug Monlack, or “the girl with the hairy left hand.”
The highlanders, like the Irish, imagined their deaths to have been foretold by the cries of the benshi, or “the fairies' wife,” along the paths that their funerals were to take.
In Wales—the exhalations in churchyards, called corpse candles, denoted coming funerals. Very few of the good people of Carmarthen died without imagining they saw their corpse candles, or death-lights.
In Northumberland, the vulgar saw their waff, or “whiff,” as a death token, which is similar to the Scotch wraith, or the appearance of a living person to himself or others.
In some parts of Scotland, the “fetch” was called the fye. It was observed to a woman in her ninety-ninth year, that she could not long survive. “Aye,” said she, with great indignation, “what syetoken do you see about me?” This is quoted by Brand from the “Statistical Account of Scotland," vol. xxi. p. 150; and from the same page he cites an anecdote to show with what indifference death is sometimes contemplated.
James Mackie, by trade a wright, was asked by a neighbour for what purpose he had some fine deal in his barn. “It is timber for my coffin,” quoth James. “Sure,” replies the neighbour, “ you mean not to make your own coffin. You have neither resolution nor ability for the task.” “Hout away man,” says James, “if I were once begun, I'll soon ca’t by hand.” The hand, but not the heart, failed him, and he left the task of making it to a younger operator.
This anecdote brought to Mr. Brand's remembrance what certainly happened in a village in the county of Durham, where it is the etiquette for a person not to go out of the house till the burial of a near relation. An honest simple countryman, whose wife lay a corpse in his house, was seen walking slowly up the village: a neighbour ran to him, and asked “Where in heaven, John, are you going !” “To the joiner's shop,” said poor John, “to see them make my wife's coffin; it will be a little diversion for me.”
In Cumberland, wraiths are called swarths, and in other places “fetches.” Their business was to appear at the moment preceding the death of the person whose figure they assumed. “Sometimes,” says Brand, “there is a greater interval between the appearance and the death.”
According to Dr. Jamieson, the appearance of the wraith was not to be taken as indicating immediate death, “although, in all cases, it was viewed as a premonition of the disembodied state.” The season of the day wherein it was seen, was understood to presage the time of the person's departure. If early in the morning, it was a token of long life and even old age; if in the evening, it indicated that death was at hand.
A worthy old lady of exceeding veracity, frequently acquainted the editor of the Every-Day Book with her supposed superhuman sights. They were habitual to her. One of these was of an absent daughter, whom she expected on a visit, but who had not arrived, when she left her chamber to go to a lower part of the house. She was surprised on meeting her on the stairs, for she had not heard the street door opened. She expressed her surprise, the daughter smiled and stood aside to let her mother pass, who naturally as she descended, reached
out her hand to rest it on her daughter's arm as assistance to her step; but the old lady mistook and fell to the bottom of the stairs. In fact her daughter was not there, but at her own home. The old lady lived some years after this, and her daughter survived her; though, according to her mother's imagination and belief, she ought to have died in a month or two.
In 1823, the editor of this work being mentally disordered from too close application, left home in the afternoon to consult a medical friend, and obtain relief under his extreme depression. In Fleet-street, on the opposite side of the way to where he was walking, he saw a pair of legs devoid of body, which he was persuaded were his own legs, though not at all like them. A few days afterwards when worse in health, he went to the same friend for a similar purpose, and on his way saw himself on precisely the same spot as he had imagined he had seen his legs, but with this difference that the person was entire, and thoroughly a likeness as to feature, form, and dress. The appearance seemed as real as his own existence. The illusion was an effect of disordered imagination.
THE HAUNTed OAK of NANNEu, Near Dolgelly, in Merionethshire.
On the twenty-seventh of July, 1813, sir Richard Colt Hoare, bart., the elegant editor of “Giraldus Cambrensis,” was at Nanneu, “the ancient seat of the ancient family of the Nanneus,” and now the seat of sir Robert Williams Vaughan, bart. During that day he took a sketch of a venerable oak at that place, within the trunk of which, according to Welsh tradition, the body of Howel Sele, a powerful chieftain residing at Nanneu, was immured by order of his rival Owen Glyndwr. In the night after the sketch was taken, this aged tree fell to the ground. An excellent etching of the venerable baronet's drawing by Mr. George Cuitt of Chester, perpetuates the portrait of this celebrated oak in its last moments. The engraving on the next page is a mere extract from this masterly etching.
It stood alone, a wither'd oak
The charm which compels entrance to Mr. Cuitt's print within every portfolio of taste, is the management of his point in the representation of the beautiful wood and mountain scenery around the tree, to which the editor of the Every-Day Book would excite curiosity in those who happen to be strangers to the etching. But this gentleman's fascinating style is independent of the immediate object on which he has exercised it, namely, “the spirit's Blasted Tree,” an oak of so great fame, that sir Walter Scott celebrates its awful distinction among the descendants of our aboriginal ancestors, by the lines of “ Marmion,” affixed to the annexed representation.
• See this lady's “Posthumous Works," vol. iv. Stonehenge stanza 53, from whence these lines are capriciously altered.
stead of verdure, they have a general rude and savage appearance. The sides are broken into a thousand forms ; some are spiring and sharp pointed; but the greater part project forward, and impend in such a manner as to render the apprehension of their fall tremendous. A *: bushes grow among them, but their dusky colour as well as the darkness of the rocks only add horror to the scene. One of the precipices is called Pen y Delyn, from its resemblance to a harp. Another is styled Llam y Lladron, or “the Thieves' Leap," from a tradition that thieves were brought there and thrown down. On the left is the rugged and far-famed height of Cader Idris, and beneath it a small lake called Llyn y tri Graienyn, or “the lake of the Three Grains,” which are three vast rocks tumbled from the neighbouring mountain, which the peasants say were “Three Grains” that had fallen into the shoe of the great Idris, and which he threw out here, as soon as he felt them hurting his foot. From thence, by a bad road, Mr. Pennant, in one of his “Tours in Wales,” reached Nanneu. “The way to Nanneu is a continual ascent of two miles; and perhaps it is the highest situation of any gentleman's house in Britain. . The estate is covered with fine woods, which clothe all the sides of the dingles for many miles." The continuation of Mr. Pennant's description brings us to our tree as he saw it : “On the road side is a venerable oak in its last stage of decay, and pierced by age into the form of a gothic arch; yet its present growth is twenty-seven feet and a half. The name is very classical, Derwen Ceubren yr Ellyll, ‘the hollow oak, the haunt of demons.” How often has not warm fancy seen the fairy tribe revel round its trunk 1 or may not the visionary eye have seen the Hamadryad burst from the bark of its coeval tree." ' The inscription, beneath Mr. Cuitt's print mentions, that when sir Richard Colt Hoare sketched this oak, it was within the kitchen-garden walls of sir Robert W. Vaughan. “ Above Nanneu,” Mr. Pennant mentions “a high rock, with the top incircled with a dike of loose stones: this had been a British post, the station, perhaps, of some tyrant, it being called Moel Qrthrown, or ‘the Hili of Oppression.’”. Mr. Pennant says, the park is “remarkable for its very small but very excellent venison :" an affirmation which may be taken for Vol. II.-85.
correct, inasmuch as the tour of an antiquary in such a region greatly assists tasteful discrimination. Within the park Mr. Pennant saw “a mere compost of cinders and ashes," the ruins of the house of Howel Sele, whose body is alleged to have been buried in “the spirit's Blasted Tree" by Owen Glyndwr.
Owen Glyndwr, or Glendower, is rendered popular in England by the most popular of our dramatic poets, from whom it may be appropriate to take the outlines of his poetical character, in connection with the W. of Howel Sele's singular burial.
The first mention,of Owen Glyndwr, in the works of our great bard, is in “King Richard II.” by Henry of Lancaster, afterwards king Henry IV. Before he passes over into Wales, he says in the camp at Bristol—
— Come lords, away, To fight with Glendower and his complices, A while to work, and after, holiday.
This line relating to Glendower, Theobald deemed an interpolation on Shakspeare, and it has been so regarded by some subsequent commentators. We have “Owen Glendower,” however, as one of the dramatis personae in “Henry IV.” wherein he is first mentioned by the earl of Westmoreland as “the irregular and wild Glendower :” king Henry calls him “the great magician, damn'd Glendower;” Hotspur terms him “great Glendower;” and Falstaff tells prince Henry
“There's villainous news abroad—that same mad fellow of the north, Percy; and he of Wales, that gave Amaimon the bastinado—and swore the devil his true liegeman—he is there too; that devil
Glendower. Art thou not horribly
dower” and his adherents, he says to Henry Percy:
Sit good cousin Hotspur:
Shak'd like a coward
Without going into the history of Owen Glyndwr, it may be observed that he claimed the throne of Wales, and that the F. which Shakspeare ascribed to is birth, are the legends of old chronicles. Howel Sele, of Nanneu, was his first cousin, yet he adhered to the house of Lancaster, and was therefore opposed to Owen's pretensions. The abbot of Cymmer, in hopes of reconciling them, brought them together, and apparently effected his purpose. Howel was reckoned the best archer of his day. Owen while walking out with him observed a doe feeding, and told him there was a fine mark for him. Howel bent his bow, and, pretending to aim at the doe, suddenly turned and discharged the arrow full at the breast of Glyndwr, who wearing armour beneath his clothes received no hurt. He seized on Sele for his treachery, burnt his house, and hurried him away from the place; nor was it known how he was disposed of till forty
years after, when the skeleton of a large man, such as Howel, was discovered in the hollow of the great oak before described; wherein it was supposed Owen had immured him in reward of his perfidy. While Owen was carrying him off, his rescue was attempted by his relation Gryffydd ap Geoyn of Ganllwyd in Ardudwy, but he was defeated by Owen with great loss of men, and his houses of Berthlwyd and Cefn Coch were reduced to ashes *
Sir Walter Scott to illustrate his lines in “Marmion,” inserts, among the notes on that poem, a legendary tale by the rev. George Warrington with this preface:—
“The event, on which this tale is founded, is preserved by tradition in the family of the Vaughans of Hengwyrt; nor is it entirely lost, even among the common people, who still point out this oak to the passenger. The enmity between the two Welsh chieftains, Howel Sele and Owen Glendwr, was extreme, and marked by vile treachery in the one, and ferocious cruelty in the other. The story is somewhat changed and softened, as more favourable to the characters of the two chiefs, and as better answering the purpose of poetry, by admitting the passion of pity, and a greater degree of sentiment in the description. Some trace of Howel Sele's mansion was to be seen a few years ago, and may perhaps be still visible in the park of Nanneu, now belonging to sir Robert Vaughan, baronet, in the wild and romantic tracts of Merionethshire. The abbey mentioned passes under two names, Vener and Cymmer. The former is retained, as more generally used.
Then sudden anger flash'd his eye, And deep revenge he vowed to take
On that jà man who dared to force His red deer from the forest brake.