« EelmineJätka »
engine house and parts of the other machinery are now pointed out as an undoubted and visible proof of the witch's power. The witch, being aware of her power over the minds of the people, makes use of it for her own advantage, borrowing her neighbours' horses and farming implements, which they dare not refuse her. But the most characteristic and general superstition of this part of the country is the “corpse candle.” This is seen in various shapes and heard in various sounds; the normal form, from which it takes its name, being, however, a lighted candle, which is supposed to foretell death, by going from the house in which the person dies along the road where the coffin will be carried to the place of burial. It is only a few of the most hardy and best educated who dare to call in question the reality of this fearful omen, and the evidence in support of it is of such a startling and voluminous character, that did we not remember the trials and burnings and tortures for witchcraft and demonianism, and all the other forms of superstition in England but a few years ago, it would almost overpower Our COInnon Sense. I will mention a few cases which have been told me by the persons who were witnesses of them, leaving out the hundreds of more marvellous ones which are everywhere to be heard secondhand. A respectable woman, in a house where we lodged, assured us that on the evening before one of her children died, she saw a lighted candle moving along about three feet from the ground from the foot of the stairs, across the room towards her, that it came close up to her apron and then vanished, and that it was as distinct and plainly visible as the other candles which were in the room. Another case is of a collier who, going one morning into the pit before any of the other men were at work, heard the coal waggons coming along, although he knew there could be no one then at work. He stood still at the side of the passage, the waggons came along drawn by horses as usual, a man he knew walking in front and another at the side, and the dead body of one of his fellow workmen was in one of the waggons. In the course of the day he related what he had seen to some of the workmen (one of whom told me the story), declaring his belief that the man whose body he had seen would meet with an accident before long. About a year afterwards the man was killed by an accident in the pit. The two men seen were near him, and brought him out in the waggon, and their being obliged to stop at the particular place and every other circumstance happened exactly as had been described. This is as the story was told me by a man who declares he heard the prophecy and saw the fulfilment a year afterwards. When such stories are told and believed, it is, of course, useless arguing against the absurdity of it. They naturally say they must believe their own senses, and they are not sufficiently educated to appreciate any general argument you may put to them. There seems to be no fixed time within which the death should follow the “candle” (as all these appearances are called), and therefore when a person sees or thinks he sees anything at night, he sets it down as corpse candle, and by the time he gets home the fright has enlarged it into something marvellously supernatural, and the first corpse that happens to be carried that way is considered to be the fulfilment of it.
There is a general belief that if the person who meets a candle immediately lies down on his back, he will see the funeral procession with every person that will be present, and the corpse with the candle in his hand. There are many strongly authenticated instances of this. One man, on lying down in this manner, saw that it was himself who carried the candle in his hand. He went home, went to bed, never rose from it, but died in a week. These and numberless other stories of a similar character foster the belief in these uneducated people; indeed, it is so general that you can hardly meet a person but can tell you of several marvellous things he has seen himself, besides hundreds vouched for by his neighbours.
They have an account of the origin of this warning in the story of an ancient Welsh bishop, who, while being burnt to death by the Catholics, declared that if his religion was true, a candle should precede every death in the Diocese of St. David's, going along the exact road the coffin would be carried. They are very incredulous when you tell them that these corpse candles are in great repute in Radnorshire, which is not in the Diocese of St. David's, and that there are the same appearances under a different name in Ireland.
A celebrated astrologer or conjurer, as he is called in Carmarthenshire, is a living proof of the superstition of the Welsh. This man has printed cards, openly professing to cast nativities, etc., of one of which the following is a literal copy:—
“In which are given the general transactions of the native through life, viz. Description (without seeing the person), temper, disposition, fortunate or unfortunate in their general pursuits, Honour, Riches, Journeys and Voyages, success therein, and what places best to travel to or reside in ; Friends and Enemies, Trade or Profession best to follow and whether fortunate in speculations, viz. Lottery, dealing in foreign markets, &c., &c., &c. “Of Marriage, if to marry :-The description, temper and disposition of the person; from whence, rich or poor, happy or unhappy in marriage, &c., &c., &c. Of children, whether fortunate or not, &c., &c., &c. “Deduced from the influence of the Sun and Moon with the Planetary Orbs at the time of birth. “Also judgment and general issue in sickness, disease, &c. By HENRY HARRIES. “All letters addressed to him or his father, Mr. John HARRIES, Surgeon, Cwrtycadno, must be post paid or will not be received.”
He is, however, most generally consulted when money, horses, sheep, etc., are stolen. He then, without inquiring the time of birth or any other
particulars, and without consulting the stars, pretends to know who they are and what they come for. He is, however, generally not at home, and his wife then treats them well, and holds them in conversation till he returns, when he immediately gives them some particulars of the neighbourhood they live in, and pretends to describe the person who stole the goods and the house he lives in, etc., and endeavours to frighten the thief by giving out that he will mark him so that everybody shall know him. In some few cases this succeeds, the person, fearful of the great conjurer's power, returns the goods, and the conjurer then gets great credit. In other cases he manages to tell them something which they cannot tell how he became aware of, and then, even if nothing more is heard of the goods, he still keeps up his fame. Two cases have come under my own observation, in which the parties have gone, in one case forty the other sixty miles, to consult this man about some stolen money; and though in neither case was the desired end obtained, they were told so much about themselves that they felt sure he must have obtained his knowledge by supernatural means. They accordingly spread his name abroad as a wonderful man, who knew a great deal more than other people. The name of his house, “Cwrt y cadno,” is very appropriate, as it means in English “The Fox's Court.”
Besides these and numberless other instances of almost universal belief in supernatural agency, their superstition as well as their ignorance is further shown by their ascribing to our most harmless reptiles powers of inflicting deadly injury. The toad, newt, lizard, and snake are, they imagine, virulently poisonous, and they look on with horror, and will hardly trust their eyes, should they see them handled with impunity. The barking of dogs at night, hooting of owls, or any unusual noise, dreams, etc., etc., are here, as in many parts of England, regarded as dark omens of our future destiny, mysterious warnings sent to draw aside the veil of futurity and reveal to us, though obscurely, impending danger, disease or death.
Reckoned by the usual standards on these subjects, the religion of the lower orders of Welshmen may be said to be high in the scale, while their morality is decidedly low. This may appear a contradiction to some persons, but those who are at all acquainted with mankind well know that, however luxuriantly religion in its outward forms and influence on the tongue may flourish in an uncultivated soil, it is by no means necessarily accompanied by an equal growth of morality. The former, like the flower of the field, springs spontaneously, or with but little care; the latter, like the useful grain, only by laborious cultivation and the careful eradication of useless or noxious weeds.
If the number of chapels and prayer-meetings, the constant attendance on them, and the fervour of the congregation can be accounted as signs of religion, it is here. Besides the regular services on the Sabbath and on other days, prayer meetings are held early in the morning and late at night in different cottages by turns, where the uneducated agriculturist or collier breathes forth an extemporary prayer. The Established Church is very rarely well attended. There is not enough of an exciting character or of originality in the service to allure them, and the preacher is too frequently an Englishman who speaks the native tongue, but as a foreigner. Their preachers, while they should teach their congregation moral duties, boldly decry their vices, and inculcate the commandments and the duty of doing to others as we would they should do unto us, here, as is too frequently the case throughout the kingdom, dwell almost entirely on the mystical doctrine of the atonement—a doctrine certainly not intelligible to persons in a state of complete ignorance, and which, by teaching them that they are not to rely on their own good deeds, has the effect of entirely breaking away the connection between their religion and the duties of their everyday life, and of causing them to imagine that the animal excitement which makes them groan and shriek and leap like madmen in the place of worship, is the true religion which will conduce to their happiness here, and lead them to heavenly joys in a world to come. Among the youth of both sexes, however, the chapel and prayer meeting is considered more in the light of a “trysting” place than as a place of worship, and this is one reason of the full attendance, especially at the evening services. And as the meetings are necessarily in a thinly populated country, often distant, the journey, generally performed on horseback, affords opportunities for converse not to be neglected. Thus it will not be wondered at, even by those who affirm the connection between religion and morality, that the latter is, as I said before, at a very low ebb. Cheating of all kinds, when it can be done without being found out, and all the lesser crimes are plentiful enough. The notoriety which Welsh juries and Welsh witnesses have obtained (not unjustly) shows how little they scruple to break their word or their oath. Having to give their evidence through the medium of an interpreter gives them an advantage in court, as the counsel's voice and manner have not so much effect upon them. They are, many of them, very good witnesses as far as sticking firmly to the story they have been instructed in goes, and returning the witticisms of the learned counsel so as often to afford much mirth. To an honest jury a Welsh case is often very puzzling, on account of its being hardly possible to get at a single fact but what is sworn against by an equal number of witnesses on the opposite side; but to a Welsh jury, who have generally decided on their verdict before the trial commences, it does not present any serious difficulty. The morals and manners of the females, as might be expected from entire ignorance, are very loose, and perhaps in the majority of cases a child is born before the marriage takes place. But let us not hide the poor Welshman's virtues while we expose his faults. Many of the latter arise from his desire to defend his fellow countrymen from what he considers unfair or unjust persecution, and many others from what he cannot himself prevent—his ignorance. He is hospitable even to the Saxon. His fire, a jug of milk, and bread and cheese being always at your service. He works hard and lives poorly. He bears misfortune and injury long before he complains. The late Rebecca disturbances, however, show that he may be roused, and his ignorance of other effectual measures should be his excuse for the illegal and forcible means he took to obtain redress—means which, moreover, have been justified by success. It is to be hoped that he will not have again to resort to such outrages as the only way to compel his rulers to do him justice. A broader system of education is much needed in the Principality. Almost all the schools, it is true, teach the English language, but the child finds the difficulty of acquiring even the first rudiments of education much increased by his being taught them in an unfamiliar tongue of which he has perhaps only picked up a few common-place expressions. In arithmetic, the new language presents a greater difficulty, the method of enumerating being different from their own; in fact, many Welsh children who have been to school cannot answer a simple question in arithmetic till they have first translated it into Welsh. Unless, therefore, they happen to be thrown among English people or are more than usually well instructed, they get on but little with anything more than speaking English, which those who have been to school generally do very well. Whatever else they have learnt is soon lost for want of practice. It would be very useful to translate some of the more useful elementary works in the different branches of knowledge into Welsh, and sell them as cheaply as possible. The few little Welsh books to be had (and they are very few) are eagerly purchased and read with great pleasure, showing that if the means of acquiring knowledge are offered him, the Welshman will not refuse them. I will now conclude this brief account of the inhabitants of so interesting a part of our island, a part which will well repay the trouble of a visit, as much for its lovely vales, noble mountains, and foaming cascades, as for the old customs and still older language of the inhabitants of the little white-washed cottages which enliven its sunnyvales and barren mountain