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Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions by Charles Mackay

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La troupe suspendit sa marche solitaire.
[Charlemagne. Pomme Epique, par Lucien Buonaparte.]

Fanatic preachers kept up the flame of terror. Every shooting star
furnished occasion for a sermon, in which the sublimity of the
approaching judgment was the principal topic.

The appearance of comets has been often thought to foretell the
speedy dissolution of this world. Part of this belief still exists;
but the comet is no longer looked upon as the sign, but the agent of
destruction. So lately as in the year 1832 the greatest alarm spread
over the Continent of Europe, especially in Germany, lest the comet,
whose appearance was then foretold by astronomers, should destroy the
earth. The danger of our globe was gravely discussed. Many persons
refrained from undertaking or concluding any business during that
year, in consequence solely of their apprehension that this terrible
comet would dash us and our world to atoms.

During seasons of great pestilence men have often believed the
prophecies of crazed fanatics, that the end of the world was come.
Credulity is always greatest in times of calamity. Prophecies of all
sorts are rife on such occasions, and are readily believed, whether
for good or evil. During the great plague, which ravaged all Europe,
between the years 1345 and 1350, it was generally considered that the
end of the world was at hand. Pretended prophets were to be found in
all the principal cities of Germany, France, and Italy, predicting
that within ten years the trump of the Archangel would sound, and the
Saviour appear in the clouds to call the earth to judgment.

No little consternation was created in London in 1736 by the
prophecy of the famous Whiston, that the world would be destroyed in
that year, on the 13th of October. Crowds of people went out on the
appointed day to Islington, Hampstead, and the fields intervening, to
see the destruction of London, which was to be the "beginning of the
end." A satirical account of this folly is given in Swift's
Miscellanies, vol. iii. entitled, "A True and Faithful Narrative of
what passed in London on a Rumour of the Day of Judgment." An
authentic narrative of this delusion would be interesting; but this
solemn witticism of Pope and Gay is not to be depended upon.

In the year 1761 the citizens of London were again frightened out
of their wits by two shocks of an earthquake, and the prophecy of a
third, which was to destroy them altogether. The first shock was felt
on the 8th of February, and threw down several chimneys in the
neighbourhood of Limehouse and Poplar; the second happened on the 8th
of March, and was chiefly felt in the north of London, and towards
Hampstead and Highgate. It soon became the subject of general remark,
that there was exactly an interval of a month between the shocks; and
a crack-brained fellow, named Bell, a soldier in the Life Guards, was
so impressed with the idea that there would be a third in another
month, that he lost his senses altogether, and ran about the streets
predicting the destruction of London on the 5th of April. Most people
thought that the first would have been a more appropriate day; but
there were not wanting thousands who confidently believed the
prediction, and took measures to transport themselves and families
from the scene of the impending calamity. As the awful day approached,
the excitement became intense, and great numbers of credulous people
resorted to all the villages within a circuit of twenty miles,
awaiting the doom of London. Islington, Highgate, Hampstead, Harrow,
and Blackheath, were crowded with panic-stricken fugitives, who paid
exorbitant prices for accommodation to the housekeepers of these
secure retreats. Such as could not afford to pay for lodgings at any
of those places, remained in London until two or three days before the
time, and then encamped in the surrounding fields, awaiting the
tremendous shock which was to lay their high city all level with the
dust. As happened during a similar panic in the time of Henry VIII,
the fear became contagious, and hundreds who had laughed at the
prediction a week before, packed up their goods, when they saw others
doing so, and hastened away. The river was thought to be a place of
great security, and all the merchant vessels in the port were filled
with people, who passed the night between the 4th and 5th on board,
expecting every instant to see St. Paul's totter, and the towers of
Westminster Abbey rock in the wind and fall amid a cloud of dust. The
greater part of the fugitives returned on the following day, convinced
that the prophet was a false one; but many judged it more prudent to
allow a week to elapse before they trusted their dear limbs in London.
Bell lost all credit in a short time, and was looked upon even by the
most credulous as a mere madman. He tried some other prophecies, but
nobody was deceived by them; and, in a few months afterwards, he was
confined in a lunatic asylum.

A panic terror of the end of the world seized the good people of
Leeds and its neighbourhood in the year 1806. It arose from the
following circumstances. A hen, in a village close by, laid eggs, on
which were inscribed, in legible characters, the words "Christ is
coming." Great numbers visited the spot, and examined these wondrous
eggs, convinced that the day of judgment was near at hand. Like
sailors in a storm, expecting every instant to go to the bottom, the
believers suddenly became religious, prayed violently, and flattered
themselves that they repented them of their evil courses. But a plain
tale soon put them down, and quenched their religion entirely. Some
gentlemen, hearing of the matter, went one fine morning, and caught
the poor hen in the act of laying one of her miraculous eggs. They
soon ascertained beyond doubt that the egg had been inscribed with
some corrosive ink, and cruelly forced up again into the bird's body.
At this explanation, those who had prayed, now laughed, and the world
wagged as merrily as of yore.

At the time of the plague in Milan, in 1630, of which so affecting
a description has been left us by Ripamonte, in his interesting work
"De Peste Mediolani", the people, in their distress, listened with
avidity to the predictions of astrologers and other impostors. It is
singular enough that the plague was foretold a year before it broke
out. A large comet appearing in 1628, the opinions of astrologers were
divided with regard to it. Some insisted that it was a forerunner of a
bloody war; others maintained that it predicted a great famine; but
the greater number, founding their judgment upon its pale colour,
thought it portended a pestilence. The fulfilment of their prediction
brought them into great repute while the plague was raging.

Other prophecies were current, which were asserted to have been
delivered hundreds of years previously. They had a most pernicious
effect upon the mind of the vulgar, as they induced a belief in
fatalism. By taking away the hope of recovery - that greatest balm in
every malady - they increased threefold the ravages of the disease.
One singular prediction almost drove the unhappy people mad. An
ancient couplet, preserved for ages by tradition, foretold, that in
the year 1630 the devil would poison all Milan. Early one morning in
April, and before the pestilence had reached its height, the
passengers were surprised to see that all the doors in the principal
streets of the city were marked with a curious daub, or spot, as if a
sponge, filled with the purulent matter of the plague-sores,
had been pressed against them. The whole population were speedily in
movement to remark the strange appearance, and the greatest alarm
spread rapidly. Every means was taken to discover the perpetrators,
but in vain. At last the ancient prophecy was remembered, and prayers
were offered up in all the churches that the machinations of the Evil
One might be defeated. Many persons were of opinion that the
emissaries of foreign powers were employed to spread infectious poison
over the city; but by far the greater number were convinced that the
powers of hell had conspired against them, and that the infection was
spread by supernatural agencies. In the mean time the plague increased
fearfully. Distrust and alarm took possession of every mind.
Everything was believed to have been poisoned by the devil; the waters
of the wells, the standing corn in the fields, and the fruit upon the
trees. It was believed that all objects of touch were poisoned; the
walls of the houses, the pavement of the streets, and the very handles
of the doors. The populace were raised to a pitch of ungovernable
fury. A strict watch was kept for the devil's emissaries, and any man
who wanted to be rid of an enemy, had only to say that he had seen
him besmearing a door with ointment; his fate was certain death at the
hands of the mob. An old man, upwards of eighty years of age, a daily
frequenter of the church of St. Antonio, was seen, on rising from his
knees, to wipe with the skirt of his cloak the stool on which he was
about to sit down. A cry was raised immediately that he was besmearing
the seat with poison. A mob of women, by whom the church was crowded,
seized hold of the feeble old man, and dragged him out by the hair of
his head, with horrid oaths and imprecations. He was trailed in this
manner through the mire to the house of the municipal judge, that he
might be put to the rack, and forced to discover his accomplices; but
he expired on the way. Many other victims were sacrificed to the
popular fury. One Mora, who appears to have been half a chemist and
half a barber, was accused of being in league with the devil to poison
Milan. His house was surrounded, and a number of chemical preparations
were found. The poor man asserted, that they were intended as
preservatives against infection; but some physicians, to whom they
were submitted, declared they were poison. Mora was put to the rack,
where he for a long time asserted his innocence. He confessed at last,
when his courage was worn down by torture, that he was in league with
the devil and foreign powers to poison the whole city; that he had
anointed the doors, and infected the fountains of water. He named
several persons as his accomplices, who were apprehended and put to a
similar torture. They were all found guilty, and executed. Mora's
house was rased to the ground, and a column erected on the spot, with
an inscription to commemorate his guilt.

While the public mind was filled with these marvellous
occurrences, the plague continued to increase. The crowds that were
brought together to witness the executions, spread the infection among
one another. But the fury of their passions, and the extent of their
credulity, kept pace with the violence of the plague; every wonderful
and preposterous story was believed. One, in particular, occupied them
to the exclusion, for a long time, of every other. The Devil himself
had been seen. He had taken a house in Milan, in which he prepared his
poisonous unguents, and furnished them to his emissaries for
distribution. One man had brooded over such tales till he became
firmly convinced that the wild flights of his own fancy were
realities. He stationed himself in the market-place of Milan, and
related the following story to the crowds that gathered round him. He
was standing, he said, at the door of the cathedral, late in the
evening, and when there was nobody nigh, he saw a dark-coloured
chariot, drawn by six milk-white horses, stop close beside him. The
chariot was followed by a numerous train of domestics in dark
liveries, mounted on dark-coloured steeds. In the chariot there sat a
tall stranger of a majestic aspect; his long black hair floated in the
wind--fire flashed from his large black eyes, and a curl of ineffable
scorn dwelt upon his lips. The look of the stranger was so sublime
that he was awed, and trembled with fear when he gazed upon him. His
complexion was much darker than that of any man he had ever seen, and
the atmosphere around him was hot and suffocating. He perceived
immediately that he was a being of another world. The stranger, seeing
his trepidation, asked him blandly, yet majestically, to mount beside
him. He had no power to refuse, and before he was well aware that he
had moved, he found himself in the chariot. Onwards they went, with
the rapidity of the wind, the stranger speaking no word, until they
stopped before a door in the high-street of Milan. There was a crowd
of people in the street, but, to his great surprise, no one seemed to
notice the extraordinary equipage and its numerous train. From this he
concluded that they were invisible. The house at which they stopped
appeared to be a shop, but the interior was like a vast half-ruined
palace. He went with his mysterious guide through several large and
dimly-lighted rooms. In one of them, surrounded by huge pillars of
marble, a senate of ghosts was assembled, debating on the progress of
the plague. Other parts of the building were enveloped in the thickest
darkness, illumined at intervals by flashes of lightning, which
allowed him to distinguish a number of gibing and chattering
skeletons, running about and pursuing each other, or playing at
leap-frog over one another's backs. At the rear of the mansion was a
wild, uncultivated plot of ground, in the midst of which arose a black
rock. Down its sides rushed with fearful noise a torrent of poisonous
water, which, insinuating itself through the soil, penetrated to all
the springs of the city, and rendered them unfit for use. After he had
been shown all this, the stranger led him into another large chamber,
filled with gold and precious stones, all of which he offered him if
he would kneel down and worship him, and consent to smear the doors
and houses of Milan with a pestiferous salve which he held out to him.
tie now knew him to be the Devil, and in that moment of temptation,
prayed to God to give him strength to resist. His prayer was heard -
he refused the bribe. The stranger scowled horribly upon him - a loud
clap of thunder burst over his head - the vivid lightning flashed in
his eyes, and the next moment he found himself standing alone at the
porch of the cathedral. He repeated this strange tale day after day,
without any variation, and all the populace were firm believers in its
truth. Repeated search was made to discover the mysterious house, but
all in vain. The man pointed out several as resembling it, which were
searched by the police; but the Demon of the Pestilence was not to be
found, nor the hall of ghosts, nor the poisonous fountain. But the
minds of the people were so impressed with the idea that scores of
witnesses, half crazed by disease, came forward to swear that they
also had seen the diabolical stranger, and had heard his chariot,
drawn by the milk-white steeds, rumbling over the streets at midnight
with a sound louder than thunder.

The number of persons who confessed that they were employed by the
Devil to distribute poison is almost incredible. An epidemic frenzy
was abroad, which seemed to be as contagious as the plague.
Imagination was as disordered as the body, and day after day persons
came voluntarily forward to accuse themselves. They generally had the
marks of disease upon them, and some died in the act of confession.

During the great plague of London, in 1665, the people listened
with similar avidity to the predictions of quacks and fanatics. Defoe
says, that at that time the people were more addicted to prophecies
and astronomical conjurations, dreams, and old wives' tales than ever
they were before or since. Almanacs, and their predictions, frightened
them terribly. Even the year before the plague broke out, they were
greatly alarmed by the comet which then appeared, and anticipated that
famine, pestilence, or fire would follow. Enthusiasts, while yet the
disease had made but little progress, ran about the streets,
predicting that in a few days London would be destroyed.

A still more singular instance of the faith in predictions
occurred in London in the year 1524. The city swarmed at that time
with fortune-tellers and astrologers, who were consulted daily by
people of every class in society on the secrets of futurity. As early
as the month of June 1523, several of them concurred in predicting
that, on the 1st day of February, 1524, the waters of the Thames would
swell to such a height as to overflow the whole city of London, and
wash away ten thousand houses. The prophecy met implicit belief. It
was reiterated with the utmost confidence month after month, until so
much alarm was excited that many families packed up their goods, and
removed into Kent and Essex. As the time drew nigh, the number of
these emigrants increased. In January, droves of workmen might be
seen, followed by their wives and children, trudging on foot to the
villages within fifteen or twenty miles, to await the catastrophe.
People of a higher class were also to be seen, in waggons and other
vehicles, bound on a similar errand. By the middle of January, at
least twenty thousand persons had quitted the doomed city, leaving
nothing but the bare walls of their homes to be swept away by the
impending floods. Many of the richer sort took up their abode on the
heights of Highgate, Hampstead, and Blackheath; and some erected tents
as far away as Waltham Abbey, on the north, and Croydon, on the south
of the Thames. Bolton, the prior of St. Bartholomew's, was so alarmed
that he erected, at very great expense, a sort of fortress at
Harrow-on-the-Hill, which he stocked with provisions for two months.
On the 24th of January, a week before the awful day which was to see
the destruction of London, he removed thither, with the brethren and
officers of the priory and all his household. A number of boats were
conveyed in waggons to his fortress, furnished abundantly with expert
rowers, in case the flood, reaching so high as Harrow, should force
them to go further for a resting-place. Many wealthy citizens prayed
to share his retreat, but the Prior, with a prudent forethought,
admitted only his personal friends, and those who brought stores of
eatables for the blockade.

At last the morn, big with the fate of London, appeared in the
east. The wondering crowds were astir at an early hour to watch the
rising of the waters. The inundation, it was predicted, would be
gradual, not sudden; so that they expected to have plenty of time to
escape, as soon as they saw the bosom of old Thames heave beyond the
usual mark. But the majority were too much alarmed to trust to this,
and thought themselves safer ten or twenty miles off. The Thames,
unmindful of the foolish crowds upon its banks, flowed on quietly as
of yore. The tide ebbed at its usual hour, flowed to its usual height,
and then ebbed again, just as if twenty astrologers had not pledged
their words to the contrary. Blank were their faces as evening
approached, and as blank grew the faces of the citizens to think that
they had made such fools of themselves. At last night set in, and the
obstinate river would not lift its waters to sweep away even one house
out of the ten thousand. Still, however, the people were afraid to go
to sleep. Many hundreds remained up till dawn of the next day, lest
the deluge should come upon them like a thief in the night.

On the morrow, it was seriously discussed whether it would not be
advisable to duck the false prophets in the river. Luckily for them,
they thought of an expedient which allayed the popular fury. They
asserted that, by an error (a very slight one) of a little figure,
they had fixed the date of this awful inundation a whole century too
early. The stars were right after all, and they, erring mortals, were
wrong. The present generation of cockneys was safe, and London 'would
be washed away, not in 1524, but in 1624. At this announcement,
Bolton, the prior, dismantled his fortress, and the weary emigrants
came back.

An eye-witness of the great fire of London, in an account
preserved among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum, and recently
published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Antiquaries,
relates another instance of the credulity of the Londoners. The
writer, who accompanied the Duke of York day by day through the
district included between the Fleet-bridge and the Thames, states
that, in their efforts to check the progress of the flames, they were
much impeded by the superstition of the people. Mother Shipton, in one
of her prophecies, had said that London would be reduced to ashes, and
they refused to make any efforts to prevent it. [This prophecy seems
to have been that set forth at length in the popular Life of Mother
Shipton :--

"When fate to England shall restore
A king to reign as heretofore,
Great death in London shall be though,
And many houses be laid low."]

A son of the noted Sir Kenelm Digby, who was also a pretender to the
gifts of prophecy, persuaded them that no power on earth could prevent
the fulfilment of the prediction; for it was written in the great book
of fate that London was to be destroyed. Hundreds of persons, who
might have rendered valuable assistance, and saved whole parishes from
devastation, folded their arms and looked on. As many more gave
themselves up, with the less compunction, to plunder a city which they
could not save.

The prophecies of Mother Shipton are still believed in many of the
rural districts of England. In cottages and servants' halls her
reputation is great; and she rules, the most popular of British
prophets, among all the uneducated, or half-educated, portions of the
community. She is generally supposed to have been born at
Knaresborough, in the reign of Henry VII, and to have sold her soul to
the Devil for the power of foretelling future events. Though during
her lifetime she was looked upon as a witch, she yet escaped the
witch's fate, and died peaceably in her bed at an extreme old age,
near Clifton in Yorkshire. A stone is said to have been erected to her
memory in the church-yard of that place, with the following epitaph:--

"Here lies she who never lied;
Whose skill often has been tried:
Her prophecies shall still survive,
And ever keep her name alive."

"Never a day passed," says her traditionary biography, "wherein
she did not relate something remarkable, and that required the most
serious consideration. People flocked to her from far and near, her
fame was so great. They went to her of all sorts, both old and young,
rich and poor, especially young maidens, to be resolved of their
doubts relating to things to come; and all returned wonderfully
satisfied in the explanations she gave to their questions." Among the
rest, went the Abbot of Beverley, to whom she foretold the suppression
of the monasteries by Henry VIII; his marriage with Anne Boleyn; the
fires for heretics in Smithfield, and the execution of Mary Queen of
Scots. She also foretold the accession of James I, adding that, with

"From the cold North,
Every evil should come forth."

On a subsequent visit she uttered another prophecy, which, in the
opinion of her believers, still remains unfulfilled, but may be
expected to be realised during the present century:--
"The time shall come when seas of blood
Shall mingle with a greater flood.
Great noise there shall be heard--great shouts and cries,
And seas shall thunder louder than the skies;
Then shall three lions fight with three, and bring
Joy to a people, honour to a king.
That fiery year as soon as o'er,
Peace shall then be as before;
Plenty shall everywhere be found,
And men with swords shall plough the ground."

But the most famous of all her prophecies is one relating to London.
Thousands of persons still shudder to think of the woes that are to
burst over this unhappy realm, when London and Highgate are joined by
one continuous line of houses. This junction, which, if the rage for
building lasts much longer, in the same proportion as heretofore, bids
fair to be soon accomplished, was predicted by her shortly before her
death. Revolutions -- the fall of mighty monarchs, and the shedding of
much blood are to signalise that event. The very angels, afflicted by
our woes, are to turn aside their heads, and weep for hapless Britain.

But great as is the fame of Mother Shipton, she ranks but second
in the list of British prophets. Merlin, the mighty Merlin, stands
alone in his high pre-eminence -- the first and greatest. As old
Drayton sings, in his Poly-olbion :--

"Of Merlin and his skill what region doth not hear?
The world shall still be full of Merlin every year.
A thousand lingering years his prophecies have run,
And scarcely shall have end till time itself be done."

Spenser, in his divine poem, has given us a powerfid description of
this renowned seer--

".......who had in magic more insight
Than ever him before, or after, living wight.

"For he by words could call out of the sky
Both sun and moon, and make them him obey;
The land to sea, and sea to mainland dry,
And darksome night he eke could turn to day--
Huge hosts of men he could, alone, dismay.
And hosts of men and meanest things could frame,
Whenso him list his enemies to fray,
That to this day, for terror of his name,
The fiends do quake, when any him to them does name.

"And soothe men say that he was not the sonne,
Of mortal sire or other living wighte,
But wondrously begotten and begoune
By false illusion of a guileful sprite,
On a faire ladye nun."

In these verses the poet has preserved the popular belief with
regard to Merlin, who is generally supposed to have been a
contemporary of Vortigern. Opinion is divided as to whether he were a
real personage, or a mere impersonation, formed by the poetic fancy of
a credulous people. It seems most probable that such a man did exist,
and that, possessing knowledge as much above the comprehension of his
age, as that possessed by Friar Bacon was beyond the reach of his, he
was endowed by the wondering crowd with the supernatural attributes
that Spenser has enumerated.

Geoffrey of Monmouth translated Merlin's poetical odes, or
prophecies, into Latin prose, and he was much reverenced, not only by
Geoffrey, but by most of,the old annalists. In a "Life of Merlin, with
his Prophecies and Predictions. interpreted and made good by our
English Annals," by Thomas Heywood, published in the reign of Charles
I, we find several of these pretended prophecies. They seem, however,
to have been all written by Heywood himself. They are in terms too
plain and positive to allow any one to doubt for a moment of their
having been composed ex post facto. Speaking of Richard I, he says :--

"The Lion's heart will 'gainst the Saracen rise,
And purchase from him many a glorious prize;
The rose and lily shall at first unite,
But, parting of the prey prove opposite.
* * * *
But while abroad these great acts shall be done;
All things at home shall to disorder run.
Cooped up and caged then shall the Lion be,
But, after sufferance, ransomed and set free."

The sapient Thomas Heywood gravely goes on to inform us, that all
these things actually came to pass. Upon Richard III he is equally
luminous. He says :--

"A hunch-backed monster, who with teeth is born,
The mockery of art and nature's scorn;
Who from the womb preposterously is hurled,
And, with feet forward, thrust into the world,
Shall, from the lower earth on which he stood,
Wade, every step he mounts, knee-deep in blood.
He shall to th' height of all his hopes aspire,
And, clothed in state, his ugly shape admire;
But, when he thinks himself most safe to stand,
From foreign parts a native whelp shall land."

Another of these prophecies after the event tells us that Henry
VIII should take the power from Rome, "and bring it home unto his
British bower;" that he should "root out from the land all the
razored skulls;" and that he should neither spare "man in his rage
nor woman in his lust;" and that, in the time of his next successor
but one, "there should come in the fagot and the stake." Master
Heywood closes Merlin's prophecies at his own day, and does not give
even a glimpse of what was to befall England after his decease. Many
other prophecies, besides those quoted by him, were, he says,
dispersed abroad, in his day, under the name of Merlin; but he gives
his readers a taste of one only, and that is the following :--

"When hempe is ripe and ready to pull,
Then Englishman beware thy skull."

This prophecy, which, one would think, ought to have put him in
mind of the gallows, the not unusual fate of false prophets, and
perchance his own, he explains thus:-- "In this word HEMPE be five
letters. Now, by reckoning the five successive princes from Henry
VIII, this prophecy is easily explained: H signifieth King Henry
before named; E, Edward, his son, the sixth of that name; M, Mary, who
succeeded him; P, Philip of Spain, who, by marrying Queen Mary,
participated with her in the English diadem; and, lastly, E signifieth
Queen Elizabeth, after whose death there was a great feare that some
troubles might have arisen about the crown." As this did not happen,
Heywood, who was a sly rogue in a small way, gets out of the scrape
by saying, "Yet proved this augury true, though not according to the
former expectation; for, after the peaceful inauguration of King
James, there was great mortality, not in London only, but through the
whole kingdom, and from which the nation was not quite clean in seven
years after."

This is not unlike the subterfuge of Peter of Pontefract, who had
prophesied the death and deposition of King John, and who was hanged
by that monarch for his pains. A very graphic and amusing account of
this pretended prophet is given by Grafton, in his Chronicles of
England. There is so much homely vigour about the style of the old
annalist, that it would be a pity to give the story in other words
than his own. [Chronicles of England, by Richard Grafton; London,
1568, p. 106.] "In the meanwhile," says he, "the priestes within
England had provided them a false and counterfeated prophet, called
Peter Wakefielde, a Yorkshire man, who was an hermite, an idle gadder
about, and a pratlyng marchant. Now to bring this Peter in credite,
and the kyng out of all credite with his people, diverse vaine persons
bruted dayly among the commons of the realme, that Christe had twice
appered unto him in the shape of a childe, betwene the prieste's
handes, once at Yorke, another tyme at Pomfret; and that he had
breathed upon him thrice, saying, 'Peace, peace, peace,' and teachyng
many things, which he anon declared to the bishops, and bid the people
amend their naughtie living. Being rapt also in spirite, they sayde he
behelde the joyes of heaven and sorowes of hell, for scant were there
three in the realme, sayde he, that lived Christainly.

"This counterfeated soothsayer prophecied of King John, that he
should reigne no longer than the Ascension-day next followyng, which
was in the yere of our Lord 1211, and was the thirteenth yere from his
coronation; and this, he said, he had by revelation. Then it was of
him demanded, whether he should be slaine or be deposed, or should
voluntarily give over the crowne? He aunswered, that he could not
tell; but of this he was sure (he sayd), that neither he nor any of
his stock or lineage should reigne after that day.

"The king hering of this, laughed much at it, and made but a scoff
thereat. 'Tush!' saith he, 'it is but an ideot knave, and such an one
as lacketh his right wittes.' But when this foolish prophet had so
escaped the daunger of the Kinge's displeasure, and that he made no
more of it, he gate him abroad, and prated thereof at large, as he was
a very idle vagabond, and used to trattle and talke more than ynough,
so that they which loved the King caused him anon after to be
apprehended as a malefactor, and to be throwen in prison, the King not
yet knowing thereof.

"Anone after the fame of this phantasticall prophet went all the
realme over, and his name was knowen everywhere, as foolishnesse is
much regarded of the people, where wisdome is not in place;
specially because he was then imprisoned for the matter, the rumour
was the larger, their wonderynges were the wantoner, their practises
the foolisher, their busye talkes and other idle doinges the greater.
Continually from thence, as the rude manner of people is, olde gossyps
tales went abroade, new tales were invented, fables were added to
fables, and lyes grew upon lyes. So that every daye newe slanders were
laide upon the King, and not one of them true. Rumors arose,
blasphemyes were sprede, the enemyes rejoyced, and treasons by the
priestes were mainteyned; and what lykewise was surmised, or other
subtiltye practised, all was then lathered upon this foolish prophet,
as 'thus saith Peter Wakefield;' 'thus hath he prophecied;' ' and
thus it shall come to pass;' yea, many times, when he thought nothing
lesse. And when the Ascension-day was come, which was prophecyed of
before, King John commanded his royal tent to be spread in the open
fielde, passing that day with his noble counseyle and men of honour,
in the greatest solemnitie that ever he did before; solacing himself
with musickale instrumentes and songs, most in sight among his trustie
friendes. When that day was paste in all prosperitie and myrth, his
enemyes being confused, turned all into an allegorical understanding
to make the prophecie good, and sayde, "he is no longer King, for the
Pope reigneth, and not he." [King John was labouring under a sentence
of excommunication at the time.]

"Then was the King by his council perswaded that this false
prophet had troubled the realme, perverted the heartes of the people,
and raysed the commons against him; for his wordes went over the sea,
by the help of his prelates, and came to the French King's care, and
gave to him a great encouragement to invade the lande. He had not else
done it so sodeinely. But he was most lowly deceived, as all they are
and shall be that put their trust in such dark drowsye dreames of
hipocrites. The King therefore commanded that he should be hanged up,
and his sonne also with him, lest any more false prophets should arise
of that race."

Heywood, who was a great stickler for the truth of all sorts of
prophecies, gives a much more favourable account of this Peter of
Pomfret, or Pontefract, whose fate he would, in all probability, have
shared, if he had had the misfortune to have flourished in the same
age. He says, that Peter, who was not only a prophet, but a bard,
predicted divers of King John's disasters, which fell out accordingly.
On being taxed for a lying prophet in having predicted that the King
would be deposed before .he entered into the fifteenth year of his
reign, he answered him boldly, that all he had said was justifiable
and true; for that, having given up his crown to the Pope, and paying
him an annual tribute, the Pope reigned, and not he. Heywood thought
this explanation to be perfectly satisfactory, and the prophet's faith
for ever established.

But to return to Merlin. Of him even to this day it may be said,
in the words which Burns has applied to another notorious personage,

"Great was his power and great his fame;
Far kenned and noted is his name?

His reputation is by no means confined to the land of his birth,
but extends through most of the nations of Europe. A very curious
volume of his Life, Prophecies, and Miracles, written, it is supposed,
by Robert de Bosron, was printed at Paris in 1498, which states, that
the Devil himself was his father, and that he spoke the instant he was
born, and assured his mother, a very virtuous young woman, that she
should not die in child-bed with him, as her ill-natured neighbours
had predicted. The judge of the district, hearing of so marvellous an
occurrence, summoned both mother and child to appear before him; and
they went accordingly the same day. To put the wisdom of the young
prophet most effectually to the test, the judge asked him if he knew
his own father? To which the infant Merlin replied, in a clear,
sonorous voice, "Yes, my father is the Devil; and I have his power,
and know all things, past, present, and to come." His worship clapped
his hands in astonishment, and took the prudent resolution of not
molesting so awful a child, or its mother either.

Early tradition attributes the building of Stonehenge to the power
of Merlin. It was believed that those mighty stones were whirled
through the air, at his command, from Ireland to Salisbury Plain, and
that he arranged them in the form in which they now stand, to
commemorate for ever the unhappy fate of three hundred British chiefs,
who were massacred on that spot by the Saxons.

At Abergwylly, near Caermarthen, is still shown the cave of the
prophet and the scene of his incantations. How beautiful is the
description of it given by Spenser in his "Faerie Queene." The lines
need no apology for their repetition here, and any sketch of the great
prophet of Britain would be incomplete without them :--

"There the wise Merlin, whilom wont (they say),
To make his wonne low underneath the ground,
In a deep delve far from the view of day,
That of no living wight he mote be found,
Whenso he counselled with his sprites encompassed round.

"And if thou ever happen that same way
To travel, go to see that dreadful place;
It is a hideous, hollow cave, they say,
Under a rock that lies a little space
From the swift Barry, tumbling down apace
Amongst the woody hills of Dynevoure;
But dare thou not, I charge, in any case,
To enter into that same baleful bower,
For fear the cruel fiendes should thee unwares devour!

"But, standing high aloft, low lay thine care,
And there such ghastly noise of iron chaines,
And brazen caudrons thou shalt rombling heare,
Which thousand sprites, with long-enduring paines,
Doe tosse, that it will stun thy feeble braines;
And often times great groans and grievous stownds,
When too huge toile and labour them constraines;
And often times loud strokes and ringing sounds
From under that deep rock most horribly rebounds.

"The cause, they say, is this. A little while
Before that Merlin died, he did intend
A brazen wall in compass, to compile
About Cayr Merdin, and did it commend
Unto these sprites to bring to perfect end;
During which work the Lady of the Lake,
Whom long he loved, for him in haste did send,
Who thereby forced his workmen to forsake,
Them bound till his return their labour not to slake.

"In the mean time, through that false ladie's traine,
He was surprised, and buried under biere,
Ne ever to his work returned again;
Natheless these fiendes may not their work forbeare,
So greatly his commandement they fear,
But there doe toile and travaile day and night,
Until that brazen wall they up doe reare."
[Faerie Queene, b. 3. c. 3. s. 6--13.]

Amongst other English prophets, a belief in whose power has not
been entirely effaced by the light of advancing knowledge, is Robert
Nixon, the Cheshire idiot, a contemporary of Mother Shipton. The
popular accounts of this man say, that he was born of poor parents,
not far from Vale Royal, on the edge of the forest of Delamere. He was
brought up to the plough, but was so ignorant and stupid, that nothing
could be made of him. Everybody thought him irretrievably insane, and
paid no attention to the strange, unconnected discourses which he
held. Many of his prophecies are believed to have been lost in this
manner. But they were not always destined to be wasted upon dull and
inattentive ears. An incident occurred which brought him into notice,
and established his fame as a prophet of the first calibre. He was
ploughing in a field when he suddenly stopped from his labour, and,
with a wild look and strange gestures, exclaimed, "Now, Dick! now,
Harry! O, ill done, Dick! O, well done, Harry! Harry has gained the
day!" His fellow labourers in the field did not know what to make of
this rhapsody; but the next day cleared up the mystery. News was
brought by a messenger, in hot haste, that at the very instant when
Nixon had thus ejaculated, Richard III had been slain at the battle
of Bosworth, and Henry VII proclaimed King of England.

It was not long before the fame of the new prophet reached the
ears of the King, who expressed a wish to see and converse with him. A
messenger was accordingly despatched to bring him to court; but long
before he reached Cheshire, Nixon knew and dreaded the honours that
awaited him. Indeed it was said, that at the very instant the King
expressed the wish, Nixon was, by supernatural means, made acquainted
with it, and that he ran about the town of Over in great distress of
mind, calling out, like a madman, that Henry had sent for him, and
that he must go to court, and be clammed; that is, starved to death.
These expressions excited no little wonder; but, on the third day, the
messenger arrived, and carried him to court, leaving on the minds of
the good people of Cheshire an impression that their prophet was one
of the greatest ever born. On his arrival King Henry appeared to be
troubled exceedingly at the loss of a valuable diamond, and asked
Nixon if he could inform him where it was to be found. Henry had
hidden the diamond himself, with a view to test the prophet's skill.
Great, therefore, was his surprise when Nixon answered him in the
words of the old proverb, "Those who hide can find." From that time
forth the King implicitly believed that he had the gift of prophecy,
and ordered all his words to be taken down.

During all the time of his residence at court he was in constant
fear of being starved to death, and repeatedly told the King that such
would be his fate, if he were not allowed to depart, and return into
his own country. Henry would not suffer it, but gave strict orders to
all his officers and cooks to give him as much to eat as he wanted. He
lived so well, that for some time he seemed to be thriving like a
nobleman's steward, and growing as fat as an alderman. One day the
king went out hunting, when Nixon ran to the palace gate, and
entreated on his knees that he might not be left behind to be starved.
The King laughed, and, calling an officer, told him to take especial
care of the prophet during his absence, and rode away to the forest.
After his departure, the servants of the palace began to jeer at and
insult Nixon, whom they imagined to be much better treated than he
deserved. Nixon complained to the officer, who, to prevent him from
being further molested, locked him up in the King's own closet, and
brought him regularly his four meals a day. But it so happened that a
messenger arrived from the King to this officer, requiring his
immediate presence at Winchester, on a matter of life and death. So
great was his haste to obey the King's command, that he mounted on the
horse behind the messenger, and rode off, without bestowing a thought
upon poor Nixon. He did not return till three days afterwards, when,
remembering the prophet for the first time, he went to the King's
closet, and found him lying upon the floor, starved to death, as he
had predicted.

Among the prophecies of his which are believed to have been
fulfilled, are the following, which relate to the times of the
Pretender :--

"A great man shall come into England,
But the son of a King
Shall take from him the victory."

" Crows shall drink the blood of many nobles,
And the North shall rise against the South."
"The cock of the North shall be made to flee,
And his feather be plucked for his pride,
That he shall almost curse the day that he was born,"

All these, say his admirers, are as clear as the sun at noon-day.
The first denotes the defeat of Prince Charles Edward, at the battle
of Culloden, by the Duke of Cumberland; the second, the execution of
Lords Derwentwater, Balmerino, and Lovat; and the third, the retreat
of the Pretender from the shores of Britain. Among the prophecies that
still remain to be accomplished, are the following :--

"Between seven, eight, and nine,
In England wonders shall be seen;
Between nine and thirteen
All sorrow shall be done!"

"Through our own money and our men
Shall a dreadful war begin.
Between the sickle and the suck
All England shall have a pluck,"

"Foreign nations shall invade England with snow on their helmets, and
shall bring plague, famine, and murder in the skirts of their

"The town of Nantwich shall be swept away by a flood"

Of the two first of these no explanation has yet been attempted;
but some event or other will doubtless be twisted into such a shape as
will fit them. The third, relative to the invasion of England by a
nation with snow on their helmets, is supposed by the old women to
foretell most clearly the coming war with Russia. As to the last,
there are not a few in the town mentioned who devoutly believe that
such will be its fate. Happily for their peace of mind, the prophet
said nothing of the year that was to witness the awful calamity; so
that they think it as likely to be two centuries hence as now.

The popular biographers of Nixon conclude their account of him by
saying, that "his prophecies are by some persons thought fables; yet
by what has come to pass, it is now thought, and very plainly appears,
that most of them have proved, or will prove, true; for which we, on
all occasions, ought not only to exert our utmost might to repel by
force our enemies, but to refrain from our abandoned and wicked course
of life, and to make our continual prayer to God for protection and
safety." To this, though a non sequitur, every one will cry Amen!

Besides the prophets, there have been the almanack makers, Lilly,
Poor Robin, Partridge, and Francis Moore, physician, in England, and
Matthew Laensbergh, in France and Belgium. But great as were their
pretensions, they were modesty itself in comparison with Merlin,
Shipton, and Nixon, who fixed their minds upon higher things than the
weather, and who were not so restrained in their flights of fancy as
to prophesy for only one year at a time. After such prophets as they,
the almanack makers hardly deserve to be mentioned; no, not even the
renowned Partridge, whose wonderful prognostications set all England
agog in 1708, and whose death, at a time when he was still alive and
kicking, was so pleasantly and satisfactorily proved by Isaac
Bickerstaff. The anti-climax would be too palpable, and they and their
doings must be left uncommemorated.


Jack. Where shall we find such another set of practical philosophers
who, to a man, are above the fear of death?

Wat. Sound men and true!

Robin. Of tried courage and indefatigable industry!

Ned. Who is there here that would not die for his friend?

Harry. Who is there here that would betray him for his interest?

Mat. Show me a gang of courtiers that could say as much!

Dialogue of thieves in the Beggars' Opera.

Whether it be that the multitude, feeling the pangs of poverty,
sympathise with the daring and ingenious depredators who take away the
rich man's superfluity, or whether it be the interest that mankind in
general feel for the records of perilous adventures, it is certain
that the populace of all countries look with admiration upon great and
successful thieves. Perhaps both these causes combine to invest their
career with charms in the popular eye. Almost every country in Europe
has its traditional thief, whose exploits are recorded with all the
graces of poetry, and whose trespasses --

"-- are cited up in rhymes,
And sung by children in succeeding times."
[Shakspeare's Rape of Lucretia.]

Those travellers who have made national manners and
characteristics their peculiar study, have often observed and remarked
upon this feeling. The learned Abbe le Blanc, who resided for some
time in England at the commencement of the eighteenth century, says,
in his amusing letters on the English and French nations, that he
continually met with Englishmen who were not less vain in boasting of
the success of their highwaymen than of the bravery of their troops.
Tales of their address, their cunning, or their generosity, were in
the mouths of everybody, and a noted thief was a kind of hero in high
repute. He adds that the mob, in all countries, being easily moved,
look in general with concern upon criminals going to the gallows; but
an English mob looked upon such scenes with 'extraordinary interest:
they delighted to see them go through their last trials with
resolution, and applauded those who were insensible enough to die as
they had lived, braving the justice both of God and men: such, he
might have added, as the noted robber Macpherson, of whom the old
ballad says--

"Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he:
He played a spring, and danced it round
Beneath the gallows tree."

Among these traditional thieves the most noted in England, or
perhaps in any country, is Robin Hood, a name which popular affection
has encircled with a peculiar halo. "He robbed the rich to give to the
poor;" and his reward has been an immortality of fame, a tithe of
which would be thought more than sufficient to recompense a benefactor
of his species. Romance and poetry have been emulous to make him all
their own; and the forest of Sherwood, in which he roamed with his
merry men, armed with their long bows, and clad in Lincoln green, has
become the resort of pilgrims, and a classic spot sacred to his
memory. The few virtues he had, which would have ensured him no praise
if he had been an honest man, have been blazoned forth by popular
renown during seven successive centuries, and will never be forgotten
while the English tongue endures. His charity to the poor, and his
gallantry and respect for women, have made him the pre-eminent thief
of all the world.

Among English thieves of a later date, who has not heard of Claude
Duval, Dick Turpin, Jonathan Wild, and Jack Sheppard, those knights of
the road and of the town, whose peculiar chivalry formed at once the
dread and the delight of England during the eighteenth century?
Turpin's fame is unknown to no portion of the male population of
England after they have attained the age of ten. His wondrous ride
from London to York has endeared him to the imagination of millions;
his cruelty in placing an old woman upon a fire, to force her to tell
him where she had hidden her money, is regarded as a good joke; and
his proud bearing upon the scaffold is looked upon as a virtuous
action. The Abbe le Blanc, writing in 1737, says he was continually
entertained with stories of Turpin -- how, when he robbed gentlemen,
he would generously leave them enough to continue their journey, and
exact a pledge from them never to inform against him, and how
scrupulous such gentlemen were in keeping their word. He was one day
told a story with which the relator was he the highest degree
delighted. Turpin, or some other noted robber, stopped a man whom he
knew to be very rich, with the usual salutation --"Your money or your
life!" but not finding more than five or six guineas about him, he
took the liberty of entreating him, in the most affable manner, never
to come out so ill provided; adding that, if he fell in with him, and
he had no more than such a paltry sum, he would give him a good
licking. Another story, told by one of Turpin's admirers, was of a
robbery he had committed upon a Mr. C. near Cambridge. He took from
this gentleman his watch, his snuff-box, and all his money but two
shillings, and, before he left him, required his word of honour that
he would not cause him to be pursued or brought before a justice. The
promise being given, they both parted very courteously. They
afterwards met at Newmarket, and renewed their acquaintance. Mr. C.
kept his word religiously; he not only refrained from giving Turpin
into custody, but made a boast that he had fairly won some of his
money back again in an honest way. Turpin offered to bet with him on
some favourite horse, and Mr. C. accepted the wager with as good a
grace as he could have done from the best gentleman in England. Turpin
lost his bet and paid it immediately, and was so smitten with the
generous behaviour of Mr. C. that he told him how deeply he regretted
that the trifling affair which had happened between them did not
permit them to drink together. The narrator of this anecdote was quite
proud that England was the birthplace of such a highwayman.

[The Abbe, in the second volume, in the letter No. 79, dressed to
Monsieur de Buffon, gives the following curious particulars of the
robbers of 1757, which are not without interest at this day, if it
were only to show the vast improvement which has taken place since
that period :-- "It is usual, in travelling, to put ten or a dozen
guineas in a separate pocket, as a tribute to the first that comes to
demand them: the right of passport, which custom has established here
in favour of the robbers, who are almost the only highway surveyors in
England, has made this necessary; and accordingly the English call
these fellows the 'Gentlemen of the Road,' the government letting them
exercise their jurisdiction upon travellers without giving them any
great molestation. To say the truth, they content themselves with only
taking the money of those who obey without disputing; but
notwithstanding their boasted humanity, the lives of those who
endeavour to get away are not always safe. They are very strict and
severe in levying their impost; and if a man has not wherewithal to
pay them, he may run the chance of getting himself knocked on the head
for his poverty.

"About fifteen years ago, these robbers, with the view of maintaining
their rights, fixed up papers at the doors of rich people about
London, expressly forbidding all persons, of whatsoever quality or
condition, from going out of town without ten guineas and a watch
about them, on pain of death. In bad times, when there is little or
nothing to be got on the roads, these fellows assemble in gangs, to
raise contributions even in London itself; and the watchmen seldom
trouble themselves to interfere with them in their vocation."]

Not less familiar to the people of England is the career of Jack
Sheppard, as brutal a ruffian as ever disgraced his country, but who
has claims upon the popular admiration which are very generally
acknowledged. He did not, like Robin Hood, plunder the rich to relieve
the poor, nor rob with an uncouth sort of courtesy, like Turpin; but
he escaped from Newgate with the fetters on his limbs. This
achievement, more than once repeated, has encircled his felon brow
with the wreath of immortality, and made him quite a pattern thief
among the populace. He was no more than twenty-three years of age at
the time of his execution, and he died much pitied by the crowd. His
adventures were the sole topics of conversation for months; the
print-shops were filled with his effigies, and a fine painting of him
was made by Sir Richard Thornhill. The following complimentary verses
to the artist appeared in the "British Journal" of November 28th,

"Thornhill! 'tis thine to gild with fame
Th' obscure, and raise the humble name;
To make the form elude the grave,
And Sheppard from oblivion save!

Apelles Alexander drew--
Cesar is to Aurelius due;
Cromwell in Lilly's works doth shine,
And Sheppard, Thornhill, lives in thine!"

So high was Jack's fame that a pantomime entertainment, called
"Harlequin Jack Sheppard," was devised by one Thurmond, and brought
out with great success at Drury Lane Theatre. All the scenes were
painted from nature, including the public-house that the robber
frequented in Claremarket, and the condemned cell from which he had
made his escape in Newgate.

The Rev. Mr. Villette, the editor of the "Annals of Newgate,"
published in 1754, relates a curious sermon which, he says, a friend
of his heard delivered by a street-preacher about the time of Jack's
execution. The orator, after animadverting on the great care men took
of their bodies, and the little care they bestowed upon their souls,
continued as follows, by way of exemplifying the position:-- "We have
a remarkable instance of this in a notorious malefactor, well known by
the name of Jack Sheppard. What amazing difficulties has he overcome!
what astonishing things has he performed! and all for the sake of a
stinking, miserable carcass; hardly worth the hanging! How dexterously
did he pick the chain of his padlock with a crooked nail! how manfully
he burst his fetters asunder! -- climb up the chimney! -- wrench out
an iron bar! -- break his way through a stone wall! -- make the strong
door of a dark entry fly before him, till he got upon the leads of the
prison! then, fixing a blanket to the wall with a spike, he stole out
of the chapel. How intrepidly did he descend to the top of the
turner's house! -- how cautiously pass down the stair, and make his
escape to the street door!

"Oh! that ye were all like Jack Sheppard! Mistake me not, my
brethren; I don't mean in a carnal, but in a spiritual sense, for I
propose to spiritualise these things. What a shame it would be if we
should not think it worth our while to take as much pains, and employ
as many deep thoughts, to save our souls as he has done to preserve
his body!

"Let me exhort ye, then, to open the locks of your hearts with the
nail of repentance! Burst asunder the fetters of your beloved lusts!
-- mount the chimney of hope! -- take from thence the bar of good
resolution! -- break through the stone wall of despair, and all the
strongholds in the dark entry of the valley of the shadow of death!
Raise yourselves to the leads of divine meditation! -- fix the
blanket of faith with the spike of the church! let yourselves down to
the turner's house of re signation, and descend the stairs of
humility! So shall you come to the door of deliverance from the prison
of iniquity, and escape the clutches of that old executioner the

But popular as the name of Jack Sheppard was immediately after he
had suffered the last penalty of his crimes, it was as nothing
compared to the vast renown which he has acquired in these latter
days, after the lapse of a century and a quarter. Poets too often, are
not fully appreciated till they have been dead a hundred years, and
thieves, it would appear, share the disadvantage. But posterity is
grateful if our contemporaries are not; and Jack Sheppard, faintly
praised in his own day, shines out in ours the hero of heroes,
preeminent above all his fellows. Thornhill made but one picture of
the illustrious robber, but Cruikshank has made dozens, and the art of
the engraver has multiplied them into thousands and tens of thousands,
until the populace of England have become as familiar with Jack's
features as they are with their own. Jack, the romantic, is the hero
of three goodly volumes, and the delight of the circulating libraries;
and the theatres have been smitten with the universal enthusiasm.
Managers have set their playmongers at work, and Jack's story has been
reproduced in the shape of drama, melodrama, and farce, at half a
dozen places of entertainment at once. Never was such a display of
popular regard for a hero as was exhibited in London in 1840 for the
renowned Jack Sheppard: robbery acquired additional lustre in the
popular eye, and not only Englishmen, but foreigners, caught the
contagion; and one of the latter, fired by the example, robbed and
murdered a venerable, unoffending, and too confiding nobleman, whom it
was his especial duty to have obeyed and protected. But he was a
coward and a wretch; -- it was a solitary crime -- he had not made a
daring escape from dungeon walls, or ridden from London to York, and
he died amid the execrations of the people, affording a melancholy
exemplification of the trite remark, that every man is not great who
is desirous of being so.

Jonathan Wild, whose name has been immortalised by Fielding, was
no favourite with the people. He had none of the virtues which,
combined with crimes, make up the character of the great thief. He was
a pitiful fellow, who informed against his comrades, and was afraid of
death. This meanness was not to be forgiven by the crowd, and they
pelted him with dirt and stones on his way to Tyburn, and expressed
their contempt by every possible means. How different was their
conduct to Turpin and Jack Sheppard, who died in their neatest attire,
with nosegays in their button-holes, and with the courage that a crowd
expects! It was anticipated that the body of Turpin would have been
delivered up to the surgeons for dissection, and the people seeing
some men very busily employed in removing it, suddenly set upon them,
rescued the body, bore it about the town in triumph, and then buried
it in a very deep grave, filled with quick-lime, to hasten the
progress of decomposition. They would not suffer the corpse of their
hero, of the man who had ridden from London to York in four-and-twenty
hours to be mangled by the rude hands of unmannerly surgeons.

The death of Claude Duval would appear to have been no less
triumphant. Claude was a gentlemanly thief. According to Butler, in
the famous ode to his memory, he

"Taught the wild Arabs of the road
To rob in a more gentle mode;
Take prizes more obligingly than those
Who never had breen bred filous;
And how to hang in a more graceful fashion
Than e'er was known before to the dull English nation."

In fact, he was the pink of politeness, and his gallantry to the fair
sex was proverbial. When he was caught at last, pent in "stone walls
and chains and iron grates," -- their grief was in proportion to his
rare merits and his great fame. Butler says, that to his dungeon

"-- came ladies from all parts,
To offer up close prisoners their hearts,
Which he received as tribute due--
* * * *
Never did bold knight, to relieve
Distressed dames, such dreadful feats achieve,
As feeble damsels, for his sake,
Would have been proud to undertake,
And, bravely ambitious to redeem
The world's loss and their own,
Strove who should have the honour to lay down,
And change a life with him."

Among the noted thieves of France, there is none to compare with
the famous Aimerigot Tetenoire, who flourished in the reign of Charles
VI. This fellow was at the head of four or five hundred men, and
possessed two very strong castles in Limousin and Auvergne. There was
a good deal of the feudal baron about him, although he possessed no
revenues but such as the road afforded him. At his death he left a
singular will. "I give and bequeath," said the robber, "one thousand
five hundred francs to St. George's Chapel, for such repairs as it may
need. To my sweet girl who so tenderly loved me, I give two thousand
five hundred; and the surplus I give to my companions. I hope they
will all live as brothers, and divide it amicably among them. If they
cannot agree, and the devil of contention gets among them, it is no
fault of mine; and I advise them to get a good strong, sharp axe, and
break open my strong box. Let them scramble for what it contains, and
the Devil seize the hindmost." The people of Auvergne still recount
with admiration the daring feats of this brigand.

Of later years, the French thieves have been such unmitigated
scoundrels as to have left but little room for popular admiration. The
famous Cartouche, whose name has become synonymous with ruffian in
their language, had none of the generosity, courtesy, and devoted
bravery which are so requisite to make a robber-hero. He was born at
Paris, towards the end of the seventeenth century, and broken alive on
the wheel in November 1727. He was, however, sufficiently popular to
have been pitied at his death, and afterwards to have formed the
subject of a much admired drama, which bore his name, and was played
with great success in all the theatres of France during the years
1734, 5, and 6. In our own day the French have been more fortunate in
a robber; Vidocq bids fair to rival the fame of Turpin and Jack
Sheppard. Already he has become the hero of many an apocryphal tale --
already his compatriots boast of his manifold achievements, and
express their doubts whether any other country in Europe could produce
a thief so clever, so accomplished, so gentlemanly, as Vidocq.

Germany has its Schinderhannes, Hungary its Schubry, and Italy and
Spain a whole host of brigands, whose names and exploits are familiar
as household words in the mouths of the children and populace of those
countries. The Italian banditti are renowned over the world; and many
of them are not only very religious (after a fashion), but very
charitable. Charity from such a source is so unexpected, that the
people dote upon them for it. One of them, when he fell into the hands
of the police, exclaimed, as they led him away, "Ho fatto pitt
carita!" -- "I have given away more in charity than any three
convents in these provinces." And the fellow spoke truth.

In Lombardy, the people cherish the memory of two notorious
robbers, who flourished about two centuries ago under the Spanish
government. Their story, according to Macfarlane, is contained in a
little book well known to all the children of the province, and read
by them with much more gusto than their Bibles.

Schinderhannes, the robber of the Rhine, is a great favourite on
the banks of the river which he so long kept in awe. Many amusing
stories are related by the peasantry of the scurvy tricks he played
off upon rich Jews, or too-presuming officers of justice -- of his
princely generosity, and undaunted courage. In short, they are proud
of him, and would no more consent to have the memory of his
achievements dissociated from their river than they would to have the
rock of Ehrenbreitstein blown to atoms by gunpowder.

There is another robber-hero, of whose character and exploits the
people of Germany speak admiringly. Mausch Nadel was captain of a
considerable band that infested the Rhine, Switzerland, Alsatia, and
Lorraine during the years 1824, 5, and 6. Like Jack Sheppard, he
endeared himself to the populace by his most hazardous escape from
prison. Being confined, at Bremen, in a dungeon, on the third story of
the prison of that town, he contrived to let himself down without
exciting the vigilance of the sentinels, and to swim across the Weser,
though heavily laden with irons. When about half way over, he was
espied by a sentinel, who fired at him, and shot him in the calf of
the leg: but the undaunted robber struck out manfully, reached the
shore, and was out of sight before the officers of justice could get
ready their boats to follow him. He was captured again in 1826, tried
at Mayence, and sentenced to death. He was a tall, strong, handsome
man, and his fate, villain as he was, excited much sympathy all over
Germany. The ladies especially were loud in their regret that nothing
could be done to save a hero so good-looking, and of adventures so
romantic, from the knife of the headsman.

Mr. Macfarlane, in speaking of Italian banditti, remarks, that the
abuses of the Catholic religion, with its confessions and absolutions,
have tended to promote crime of this description. But, he adds, more
truly, that priests and monks have not done half the mischief which
has been perpetrated by ballad-mongers and story-tellers. If he had
said play-wrights also, the list would have been complete. In fact,
the theatre, which can only expect to prosper, in a pecuniary sense,
by pandering to the tastes of the people, continually recurs to the
annals of thieves and banditti for its most favourite heroes. These
theatrical robbers; with their picturesque attire, wild haunts, jolly,
reckless, devil-may-care manners, take a wonderful hold upon the
imagination, and, whatever their advocates may say to the contrary,
exercise a very pernicious influence upon public morals. In the
Memoirs of the Duke of Guise upon the Revolution of Naples in 1647 and
1648, it is stated, that the manners, dress, and mode of life of the
Neapolitan banditti were rendered so captivating upon the stage, that
the authorities found it absolutely necessary to forbid the
representation of dramas in which they figured, and even to prohibit
their costume at the masquerades. So numerous were the banditti at
this time, that the Duke found no difficulty in raising an army of.
them, to aid him in his endeavours to seize on the throne of Naples.
He thus describes them; [See also "Foreign Quarterly Review," vol. iv.
p. 398.]

"They were three thousand five hundred men, of whom the oldest
came short of five and forty years, and the youngest was above twenty.
They were all tall and well made, with long black hair, for the most
part curled, coats of black Spanish leather, with sleeves of velvet,
or cloth of gold, cloth breeches with gold lace, most of them scarlet;
girdles of velvet, laced with gold, with two pistols on each side; a
cutlass hanging at a belt, suitably trimmed, three fingers broad and
two feet long; a hawking-bag at their girdle, and a powder-flask hung
about their neck with a great silk riband. Some of them carried
firelocks, and others blunder-busses; they had all good shoes, with
silk stockings, and every one a cap of cloth of gold, or cloth of
silver, of different colours, on his head, which was very delightful
to the eye."

"The Beggars' Opera," in our own country, is another instance of
the admiration that thieves excite upon the stage. Of the
extraordinary success of this piece, when first produced, the
following account is given in the notes to "The Dunciad," and quoted
by Johnson in his "Lives of the Poets." "This piece was received with
greater applause than was ever known. Besides being acted in London
sixty-three days without interruption, and renewed the next season
with equal applause, it spread into all the great towns of England;
was played in many places to the thirtieth and fortieth time; at Bath
and Bristol, &c. fifty. It made its progress into Wales, Scotland, and
Ireland, where it was performed twenty-four days successively. The
ladies carried about with them the favourite songs of it in fans, and
houses were furnished with it in screens. The fame of it was not
confined to the author only. The person who acted Polly, till then
obscure, became all at once the favourite of the town; [Lavinia
Fenton, afterwards Duchess of Bolton.] her pictures were engraved and
sold in great numbers; her life written, books of letters and verses
to her published, and pamphlets made even of her sayings and jests.
Furthermore, it drove out of England, for that season, the Italian
Opera, which had carried all before it for ten years." Dr. Johnson, in
his Life of the Author, says, that Herring, afterwards Archbishop of
Canterbury, censured the opera, as giving encouragement, not only to
vice, but to crimes, by making the highwayman the hero, and dismissing
him at last unpunished; and adds, that it was even said, that after
the exhibition the gangs of robbers were evidently multiplied. The
Doctor doubts the assertion, giving as his reason that highwaymen and
housebreakers seldom frequent the playhouse, and that it was not
possible for any one to imagine that he might rob with safety, because
he saw Macheath reprieved upon the stage. But if Johnson had wished to
be convinced, he might very easily have discovered that highwaymen and
housebreakers did frequent the theatre, and that nothing was more
probable than that a laughable representation of successful villany
should induce the young and the already vicious to imitate it.
Besides, there is the weighty authority of Sir John Fielding, the
chief magistrate of Bow Street, who asserted positively, and proved
his assertion by the records of his office, that the number of thieves
was greatly increased at the time when that opera was so popular.

We have another instance of the same result much nearer our own
times. Schiller's "Rauber," that wonderful play, written by a green
youth, perverted the taste and imagination of all the young men in
Germany. An accomplished critic of our own country (Hazlitt), speaking
of this play, says it was the first he ever read, and such was the
effect it produced on him, that "it stunned him, like a blow." After
the lapse of five-and-twenty years he could not forget it; it was
still, to use his own words, "an old dweller in the chambers of his
brain," and he had not even then recovered enough from it, to describe
how it was. The high-minded, metaphysical thief, its hero, was so
warmly admired, that several raw students, longing to imitate a
character they thought so noble, actually abandoned their homes and
their colleges, and betook themselves to the forests and wilds to levy
contributions upon travellers. They thought they would, like Moor,
plunder the rich, and deliver eloquent soliloquies to the setting sun
or the rising moon; relieve the poor when they met them, and drink
flasks of Rhenish with their free companions in rugged mountain
passes, or in tents in the thicknesses of the forests. But a little
experience wonderfully cooled their courage; they found that real,
every-day robbers were very unlike the conventional banditti of the
stage, and that three months in prison, with bread and water for their
fare, and damp straw to lie upon, was very well to read about by their
own fire sides, but not very agreeable to undergo in their own proper

Lord Byron, with his soliloquising, high-souled thieves, has, in a
slight degree, perverted the taste of the greenhorns and incipient
rhymesters of his country. As yet, however, they have shown more good
sense than their fellows of Germany, and have not taken to the woods
or the highways. Much as they admire Conrad the Corsair, they will not
go to sea, and hoist the black flag in emulation of him. By words
only, and not by deeds, they testify their admiration, and deluge the
periodicals and music shops of the hand with verses describing
pirates' and bandits' brides, and robber adventures of every kind.

But it is the play-wright who does most harm; and Byron has fewer
sins of this nature to answer for than Gay or Schiller, and the modern
dramatizers of Jack Sheppard. With the aid of scenery, fine dresses,
and music, and the very false notions they convey, they vitiate the
public taste, not knowing,

"----------- vulgaires rimeurs
Quelle force ont les arts pour demolir les moeurs."

In the penny theatres that abound in the poor and populous
districts of London, and which are chiefly frequented by striplings of
idle and dissolute habits, tales of thieves and murderers are more
admired, and draw more crowded audiences, than any other species of
representation. There the footpad, the burglar, and the highwayman are
portrayed in unnatural colours, and give pleasant lessons in crime to
their delighted listeners. There the deepest tragedy and the broadest
farce are represented in the career of the murderer and the thief, and
are applauded in proportion to their depth and their breadth. There,
whenever a crime of unusual atrocity is committed, it is brought out
afresh, with all its disgusting incidents copied from the life, for
the amusement of those who will one day become its imitators.

With the mere reader the case is widely different; and most people
have a partiality for knowing the adventures of noted rogues. Even in
fiction they are delightful: witness the eventful story of Gil Blas de
Santillane, and of that great rascal Don Guzman d'Alfarache. Here
there is no fear of imitation. Poets, too, without doing mischief, may
sing of such heroes when they please, wakening our sympathies for the
sad fate of Gilderoy, or Macpherson the Dauntless; or celebrating in
undying verse the wrongs and the revenge of the great thief of
Scotland, Rob Roy. If, by the music of their sweet rhymes, they can
convince the world that such heroes are but mistaken philosophers,
born a few ages too late, and having both a theoretical and practical
love for

"The good old rule, the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power,
That they should keep who can,"

the world may, perhaps, become wiser, and consent to some better
distribution of its good things, by means of which thieves may become
reconciled to the age, and the age to them. The probability, however,
seems to be, that the charmers will charm in vain, charm they ever so


Speak with respect and honour
Both of the beard and the beard's owner.

The famous declaration of St. Paul, "that long hair was a shame
unto a man" has been made the pretext for many singular enactments,
both of civil and ecclesiastical governments. The fashion of the hair
and the cut of the beard were state questions in France and England
from the establishment of Christianity until the fifteenth century.

We find, too, that in much earlier times men were not permitted to
do as they liked with their own hair. Alexander the Great thought that
the beards of his soldiery afforded convenient handles for the enemy
to lay hold of, preparatory to cutting off their heads; and, with the
view of depriving them of this advantage, he ordered the whole of his
army to be closely shaven. His notions of courtesy towards an enemy
were quite different from those entertained by the North American
Indians, amongst whom it is held a point of honour to allow one
"chivalrous lock" to grow, that the foe, in taking the scalp, may have
something to catch hold of.

At one time, long hair was the symbol of sovereignty in Europe. We
learn from Gregory of Tours that, among the successors of Clovis, it
was the exclusive privilege of the royal family to have their hair
long, and curled. The nobles, equal to kings in power, would not show
any inferiority in this respect, and wore not only their hair, but
their beards, of an enormous length. This fashion lasted, with but
slight changes, till the time of Louis the Debonnaire, but his
successors, up to Hugh Capet, wore their hair short, by way of
distinction. Even the serfs had set all regulation at defiance, and
allowed their locks and beards to grow.

At the time of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror,
the Normans wore their hair very short. Harold, in his progress
towards Hastings, sent forward spies to view the strength and number
of the enemy. They reported, amongst other things, on their return,
that "the host did almost seem to be priests, because they had all
their face and both their lips shaven." The fashion among the English
at the time was to wear the hair long upon the head and the upper lip,
but to shave the chin. When the haughty victors had divided the broad
lands of the Saxon thanes and franklins among them, when tyranny of
every kind was employed to make the English feel that they were indeed
a subdued and broken nation, the latter encouraged the growth of their
hair, that they might resemble as little as possible their cropped and
shaven masters.

This fashion was exceedingly displeasing to the clergy, and
prevailed to a considerable extent in France and Germany. Towards the
end of the eleventh century, it was decreed by the Pope, and zealously
supported by the ecclesiastical authorities all over Europe, that such
persons as wore long hair should be excommunicated while living, and
not be prayed for when dead. William of Malmesbury relates, that the
famous St. Wulstan, Bishop of Worcester, was peculiarly indignant
whenever he saw a man with long hair. He declaimed against the
practice as one highly immoral, criminal, and beastly. He continually
carried a small knife in his pocket, and whenever anybody, offending
in this respect, knelt before him to receive his blessing, he would
whip it out slily, and cut off a handful, and then, throwing it in his
face, tell him to cut off all the rest, or he would go to hell.

But fashion, which at times it is possible to move with a wisp,
stands firm against a lever; and men preferred to run the risk of
damnation to parting with the superfluity of their hair. In the time
of Henry I, Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, found it necessary to
republish the famous decree of excommunication and outlawry against
the offenders; but, as the court itself had begun to patronize curls,
the fulminations of the church were unavailing. Henry I and his nobles
wore their hair in long ringlets down their backs and shoulders, and
became a scandalum magnatum in the eyes of the godly. One Serlo, the
King's chaplain, was so grieved in spirit at the impiety of his
master, that he preached a sermon from the well-known text of St.
Paul, before the assembled court, in which he drew so dreadful a
picture of the torments that awaited them in the other world, that
several of them burst into tears, and wrung their hair, as if they
would have pulled it out by the roots. Henry himself was observed to
weep. The priest, seeing the impression he had made, determined to
strike while the iron was hot, and, pulling a pair of scissors from
his pocket, cut the king's hair in presence of them all. Several of
the principal courtiers consented to do the like, and, for a short
time, long hair appeared to be going out of fashion. But the courtiers
thought, after the first glow of their penitence had been cooled by
reflection, that the clerical Dalilah had shorn them of their
strength, and, in less than six months, they were as great sinners as

Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been a monk of Bec,
in Normandy, and who had signalized himself at Rouen by his fierce
opposition to long hair, was still anxious to work a reformation in
this matter. But his pertinacity was far from pleasing to the King,
who had finally made up his mind to wear ringlets. There were other
disputes, of a more serious nature, between them; so that when the
Archbishop died, the King was so glad to be rid of him, that he
allowed the see to remain vacant for five years. Still the cause had
other advocates, and every pulpit in the land resounded with anathemas
against that disobedient and long-haired generation. But all was of no
avail. Stowe, in writing of this period, asserts, on the authority of
some more ancient chronicler, "that men, forgetting their birth,
transformed themselves, by the length of their haires, into the
semblance of woman kind;" and that when their hair decayed from age,
or other causes, "they knit about their heads certain rolls and
braidings of false hair." At last accident turned the tide of fashion.
A knight of the court, who was exceedingly proud of his beauteous
locks, dreamed one night that, as he lay in bed, the devil sprang upon
him, and endeavoured to choke him with his own hair. He started in
affright, and actually found that he had a great quantity of hair in
his mouth. Sorely stricken in conscience, and looking upon the dream
as a warning from Heaven, he set about the work of reformation, and
cut off his luxuriant tresses the same night. The story was soon
bruited abroad; of course it was made the most of by the clergy, and
the knight, being a man of influence and consideration, and the
acknowledged leader of the fashion, his example, aided by priestly
exhortations, was very generally imitated. Men appeared almost as
decent as St. Wulstan himself could have wished, the dream of a dandy
having proved more efficacious than the entreaties of a saint. But, as
Stowe informs us, "scarcely was one year past, when all that thought
themselves courtiers fell into the former vice, and contended with
women in their long haires." Henry, the King, appears to have been
quite uninfluenced by the dreams of others, for even his own would not
induce him a second time to undergo a cropping from priestly shears.
It is said, that he was much troubled at this time by disagreeable
visions. Having offended the church in this and other respects, he
could get no sound refreshing sleep, and used to imagine that he saw
all the bishops, abbots, and monks of every degree, standing around
his bed-side, and threatening to belabour him with their pastoral
staves; which sight, we are told, so frightened him, that he often
started naked out of his bed, and attacked the phantoms sword in hand.
Grimbalde, his physician, who, like most of his fraternity at that
day, was an ecclesiastic, never hinted that his dreams were the result
of a bad digestion, but told him to shave his head, be reconciled to
the Church, and reform himself with alms and prayer. But he would not
take this good advice, and it was not until he had been nearly drowned
a year afterwards, in a violent storm at sea, that he repented of his
evil ways, cut his hair short, and paid proper deference to the wishes
of the clergy.

In France, the thunders of the Vatican with regard to long curly
hair were hardly more respected than in England. Louis VII. however,
was more obedient than his brother-king, and cropped himself as
closely as a monk, to the great sorrow of all the gallants of his
court. His Queen, the gay, haughty, and pleasure-seeking Eleanor of
Guienne, never admired him in this trim, and continually reproached
him with imitating, not only the headdress, but the asceticism of the
monks. From this cause, a coldness arose between them. The lady
proving at last unfaithful to her shaven and indifferent lord, they
were divorced, and the Kings of France lost the rich provinces of
Guienne and Poitou, which were her dowry. She soon after bestowed her
hand and her possessions upon Henry Duke of Normandy, afterwards Henry
II of England, and thus gave the English sovereigns that strong
footing in France which was for so many centuries the cause of such
long and bloody wars between the nations.

When the Crusades had drawn all the smart young fellows into
Palestine, the clergy did not find it so difficult to convince the
staid burghers who remained in Europe, of the enormity of long hair.
During the absence of Richard Coeur de Lion, his English subjects not
only cut their hair close, but shaved their faces. William Fitzosbert,
or Long-beard, the great demagogue of that day, reintroduced among the
people who claimed to be of Saxon origin the fashion of long hair. He
did this with the view of making them as unlike as possible to the
citizens and the Normans. He wore his own beard hanging down to his
waist, from whence the name by which he is best known to posterity.

The Church never showed itself so great an enemy to the beard as
to long hair on the head. It generally allowed fashion to take its own
course, both with regard to the chin and the upper lip. This fashion
varied continually; for we find that, in little more than a century
after the time of Richard I, when beards were short, that they had
again become so long as to be mentioned in the famous epigram made by
the Scots who visited London in 1327, when David, son of Robert Bruce,
was married to Joan, the sister of King Edward. This epigram, which
was stuck on the church-door of St. Peter Stangate, ran as follows--

"Long beards heartlesse,
Painted hoods witlesse,
Gray coats gracelesse,
Make England thriftlesse."

When the Emperor Charles V. ascended the throne of Spain, he had
no beard. It was not to be expected that the obsequious parasites who
always surround a monarch, could presume to look more virile than
their master. Immediately all the courtiers appeared beardless, with
the exception of such few grave old men as had outgrown the influence
of fashion, and who had determined to die bearded as they had lived.
Sober people in general saw this revolution with sorrow and alarm, and
thought that every manly virtue would be banished with the beard. It
became at the time a common saying,--

"Desde que no hay barba, no hay mas alma."
We have no longer souls since we have lost our beards.

In France, also, the beard fell into disrepute after the death of
Henry IV, from the mere reason that his successor was too young to
have one. Some of the more immediate friends of the great Bearnais,
and his minister Sully among the rest, refused to part with their
beards, notwithstanding the jeers of the new generation.

Who does not remember the division of England into the two great
parties of Roundheads and Cavaliers? In those days, every species of
vice and iniquity was thought by the Puritans to lurk in the long
curly tresses of the Monarchists, while the latter imagined that their
opponents were as destitute of wit, of wisdom, and of virtue, as they
were of hair. A man's locks were the symbol of his creed, both in
politics and religion. The more abundant the hair, the more scant the
faith; and the balder the head, the more sincere the piety.

But among all the instances of the interference of governments
with men's hair, the most extraordinary, not only for its daring, but
for its success is that of Peter the Great, in 1705. By this time,
fashion had condemned the beard in every other country in Europe, and
with a voice more potent than Popes or Emperors, had banished it from
civilized society. But this only made the Russians cling more fondly
to their ancient ornament, as a mark to distinguish them from
foreigners, whom they hated. Peter, however resolved that they should
be shaven. If he had been a man deeply read in history, he might have
hesitated before he attempted so despotic an attack upon the
time-hallowed customs and prejudices of his countrymen; but he was
not. He did not know or consider the danger of the innovation; he only
listened to the promptings of his own indomitable will, and his fiat
went forth, that not only the army, but all ranks of citizens, from
the nobles to the serfs, should shave their beards. A certain time was
given, that people might get over the first throes of their
repugnance, after which every man who chose to retain his beard was to
pay a tax of one hundred roubles. The priests and the serfs were put
on a lower footing, and allowed to retain theirs upon payment of a
copeck every time they passed the gate of a city. Great discontent
existed in consequence, but the dreadful fate of the Strelitzes was
too recent to be forgotten, and thousands who had the will had not the
courage to revolt. As is well remarked by a writer in the
"Encyclopedia Britannica," they thought it wiser to cut off their
beards than to run the risk of incensing a man who would make no
scruple in cutting off their heads. Wiser, too, than the popes and
bishops of a former age, he did not threaten them with eternal
damnation, but made them pay in hard cash the penalty of their
disobedience. For many years, a very considerable revenue was
collected from this source. The collectors gave in receipt for its
payment a small copper coin, struck expressly for the purpose, and
called the "borodovaia," or "the bearded." On one side it bore the
figure of a nose, mouth, and moustachios, with a long bushy beard,
surmounted by the words, "Deuyee Vyeatee," "money received;" the whole
encircled by a wreath, and stamped with the black eagle of Russia. On
the reverse, it bore the date of the year. Every man who chose to wear
a beard was obliged to produce this receipt on his entry into a town.
Those who were refractory, and refused to pay the tax, were thrown
into prison.

Since that day, the rulers of modern Europe have endeavoured to
persuade, rather than to force, in all matters pertaining to fashion.
The Vatican troubles itself no more about beards or ringlets, and men
may become hairy as bears, if such is their fancy, without fear of
excommunication or deprivation of their political rights. Folly has
taken a new start, and cultivates the moustachio.

Even upon this point governments will not let men alone. Religion
as yet has not meddled with it; but perhaps it will; and politics
already influence it considerably. Before the revolution of 1830,
neither the French nor Belgian citizens were remarkable for their
moustachios; but, after that event, there was hardly a shopkeeper
either in Paris or Brussels whose upper lip did not suddenly become
hairy with real or mock moustachios. During a temporary triumph gained
by the Dutch soldiers over the citizens of Louvain, in October 1830,
it became a standing joke against the patriots, that they shaved their
faces clean immediately; and the wits of the Dutch army asserted, that
they had gathered moustachios enough from the denuded lips of the
Belgians to stuff mattresses for all the sick and wounded in their

The last folly of this kind is still more recent. In the German
newspapers, of August 1838, appeared an ordonnance, signed by the King
of Bavaria, forbidding civilians, on any pretence whatever, to wear
moustachios, and commanding the police and other authorities to
arrest, and cause to be shaved, the offending parties. "Strange to
say," adds "Le Droit," the journal from which this account is taken,
"moustachios disappeared immediately, like leaves from the trees in
autumn; everybody made haste to obey the royal order, and not one
person was arrested.

The King of Bavaria, a rhymester of some celebrity, has taken a
good many poetical licences in his time. His licence in this matter
appears neither poetical nor reasonable. It is to be hoped that he
will not take it into his royal head to make his subjects shave
theirs; nothing but that is wanting to complete their degradation.


There was an ancient sage philosopher,
Who swore the world, as he could prove,
Was mad of fighting. * * *


Most writers, in accounting for the origin of duelling, derive it
from the warlike habits of those barbarous nations who overran Europe
in the early centuries of the Christian era, and who knew no mode so
effectual for settling their differences as the point of the sword. In
fact, duelling, taken in its primitive and broadest sense, means
nothing more than combatting, and is the universal resort of all wild
animals, including man, to gain or defend their possessions, or avenge
their insults. Two dogs who tear each other for a bone, or two bantams
fighting on a dunghill for the love of some beautiful hen, or two
fools on Wimbledon Common, shooting at each other to satisfy the laws
of offended honour, stand on the same footing in this respect, and
are, each and all, mere duellists. As civilization advanced, the best
informed men naturally grew ashamed of such a mode of adjusting
disputes, and the promulgation of some sort of laws for obtaining
redress for injuries was the consequence. Still there were many cases
in which the allegations of an accuser could not be rebutted by any
positive proof on the part of the accused; and in all these, which
must have been exceedingly numerous in the early stages of European
society, the combat was resorted to. From its decision there was no
appeal. God was supposed to nerve the arm of the combatant whose cause
was just, and to grant him the victory over his opponent. As
Montesquieu well remarks, ["Esprit des Loix," liv. xxviii. chap.
xvii.] this belief was not unnatural among a people just emerging from
barbarism. Their manners being wholly warlike, the man deficient in
courage, the prime virtue of his fellows, was not unreasonably
suspected of other vices besides cowardice, which is generally found
to be co-existent with treachery. He, therefore, who showed himself
most valiant in the encounter, was absolved by public opinion from any
crime with which he might be charged. As a necessary consequence,
society would have been reduced to its original elements, if the men
of thought, as distinguished from the men of action, had not devised
some means for taming the unruly passions of their fellows. With this
view, governments commenced by restricting within the narrowest
possible limits the cases in which it was lawful to prove or deny
guilt by the single combat. By the law of Gondebaldus, King of the
Burgundians, passed in the year 501, the proof by combat was allowed
in all legal proceedings, in lieu of swearing. In the time of
Charlemagne, the Burgundian practice had spread over the empire of the
Francs, and not only the suitors for justice, but the witnesses, and
even the judges, were obliged to defend their cause, their evidence,
or their decision, at the point of the sword. Louis the Debonnaire,
his successor, endeavoured to remedy the growing evil, by permitting
the duel only in appeals of felony, in civil cases, or issue joined in
a writ of right, and in cases of the court of chivalry, or attacks
upon a man's knighthood. None were exempt from these trials, but
women, the sick and the maimed, and persons under fifteen or above
sixty years of age. Ecclesiastics were allowed to produce champions in
their stead. This practice, in the course of time, extended to all
trials of civil and criminal cases, which had to be decided by battle.

The clergy, whose dominion was an intellectual one, never approved
of a system of jurisprudence which tended so much to bring all things
under the rule of the strongest arm. From the first they set their
faces against duelling, and endeavoured, as far as the prejudices of
their age would allow them, to curb the warlike spirit, so alien from
the principles of religion. In the Council of Valentia, and afterwards
in the Council of Trent, they excommunicated all persons engaged in
duelling, and not only them, but even the assistants and spectators,
declaring the custom to be hellish and detestable, and introduced by
the Devil for the destruction both of body and soul. They added, also,
that princes who connived at duels, should be deprived of all temporal
power, jurisdiction, and dominion over the places where they had
permitted them to be fought. It will be seen hereafter that this
clause only encouraged the practice which it was intended to prevent.

But it was the blasphemous error of these early ages to expect
that the Almighty, whenever he was called upon, would work a miracle
in favour of a person unjustly accused. The priesthood, in condemning
the duel, did not condemn the principle on which it was founded. They
still encouraged the popular belief of Divine interference in all the
disputes or differences that might arise among nations or individuals.
It was the very same principle that regulated the ordeals, which, with
all their influence, they supported against the duel. By the former,
the power of deciding the guilt or innocence was vested wholly in
their hands, while, by the latter, they enjoyed no power or privilege
at all. It is not to be wondered at, that for this reason, if for no
other, they should have endeavoured to settle all differences by the
peaceful mode. While that prevailed, they were as they wished to be,
the first party in the state; but while the strong arm of individual
prowess was allowed to be the judge in all doubtful cases, their power
and influence became secondary to those of nobility.

Thus, it was not the mere hatred of bloodshed which induced them
to launch the thunderbolts excommunication against the combatants; it
a desire to retain the power, which, to do them justice, they were, in
those times, the persons best qualified to wield. The germs of
knowledge and civilization lay within the bounds of their order; for
they were the representatives of the intellectual, as the nobility
were of the physical power of man. To centralize this power in the
Church, and make it the judge of the last resort in all appeals, both
in civil and criminal cases, they instituted five modes of trial, the
management of which lay wholly in their hands. These were the oath
upon the Evangelists; the ordeal of the cross, and the fire ordeal,
for persons in the higher ranks; the water ordeal, for the humbler
classes; and, lastly, the Corsned, or bread and cheese ordeal, for
members of their own body.

The oath upon the Evangelists was taken in the following manner:
the accused who was received to this proof, says Paul Hay, Count du
Chastelet, in his Memoirs of Bertrand du Guesclin, swore upon a copy
of the New Testament, and on the relics of the holy martyrs, or on
their tombs, that he was innocent of the crime imputed to him. He was
also obliged to find twelve persons, of acknowledged probity, who
should take oath at the same time, that they believed him innocent.
This mode of trial led to very great abuses, especially in cases of
disputed inheritance, where the hardest swearer was certain of the
victory. This abuse was one of the principal causes which led to the
preference given to the trial by battle. It is not all surprising that
a feudal baron, or captain of the early ages, should have preferred
the chances of a fair fight with his opponent, to a mode by which firm
perjury would always be successful.

The trial by, or judgment of, the cross, which Charlemagne begged
his sons to have recourse to, in case of disputes arising between
them, was performed thus:-- When a person accused of any crime had
declared his innocence upon oath, and appealed to the cross for its
judgment in his favour, he was brought into the church, before the
altar. The priests previously prepared two sticks exactly like one
another, upon one of which was carved a figure of the cross. They were
both wrapped up with great care and many ceremonies, in a quantity of
fine wool, and laid upon the altar, or on the relics of the saints. A
solemn prayer was then offered up to God, that he would be pleased to
discover, by the judgment of his holy cross, whether the accused
person were innocent or guilty. A priest then approached the altar,
and took up one of the sticks, and the assistants unswathed it
reverently. If it was marked with the cross, the accused person was
innocent; if unmarked, he was guilty. It would be unjust to assert,
that the judgments thus delivered were, in all cases, erroneous; and
it would be absurd to believe that they were left altogether to
chance. Many true judgments were doubtless given, and, in all
probability, most conscientiously; for we cannot but believe that the
priests endeavoured beforehand to convince themselves by secret
inquiry and a strict examination of the circumstances, whether the
appellant were innocent or guilty, and that they took up the crossed
or uncrossed stick accordingly. Although, to all other observers, the
sticks, as enfolded in the wool, might appear exactly similar, those
who enwrapped them could, without any difficulty, distinguish the one
from the other.

By the fire-ordeal the power of deciding was just as unequivocally
left in their hands. It was generally believed that fire would not
burn the innocent, and the clergy, of course, took care that the
innocent, or such as it was their pleasure or interest to declare so,
should be so warned before undergoing the ordeal, as to preserve
themselves without any difficulty from the fire. One mode of ordeal
was to place red-hot ploughshares on the ground at certain distances,
and then, blindfolding the accused person, make him walk barefooted
over them. If he stepped regularly in the vacant spaces, avoiding the
fire, he was adjudged innocent; if he burned himself, he was declared
guilty. As none but the clergy interfered with the arrangement of the
ploughshares, they could always calculate beforehand the result of the
ordeal. To find a person guilty, they had only to place them at
irregular distances, and the accused was sure to tread upon one of
them. When Emma, the wife of King Ethelred, and mother of Edward the
Confessor, was accused of a guilty familiarity with Alwyn, Bishop of
Winchester, she cleared her character in this manner. The reputation,
not only of their order, but of a queen, being at stake, a verdict of
guilty was not to be apprehended from any ploughshares which priests
had the heating of. This ordeal was called the Judicium Dei, and
sometimes the Vulgaris Purgatio, and might also be tried by several
other methods. One was to hold in the hand, unhurt, a piece of red-hot
iron, of the weight of one, two, or three pounds. When we read not
only that men with hard hands, but women of softer and more delicate
skin, could do this with impunity, we must be convinced that the hands
were previously rubbed with some preservative, or that the apparently
hot iron was merely cold iron painted red. Another mode was to plunge
the naked arm into a caldron of boiling water. The priests then
enveloped it in several folds of linen and flannel, and kept the
patient confined within the church, and under their exclusive care,
for three days. If, at the end of that time, the arm appeared without
a scar, the innocence of the accused person was firmly established.
[Very similar to this is the fire-ordeal of the modern Hindoos,. which
is thus described in Forbes's "Oriental Memoirs," vol. i. c. xi.--"
When a man, accused of a capital crime, chooses to undergo the ordeal
trial, he is closely confined for several days; his right hand and arm
are covered with thick wax-cloth, tied up and sealed, in the presence
of proper officers, to prevent deceit. In the English districts the
covering was always sealed with the Company's arms, and the prisoner
placed under an European guard. At the time fixed for the ordeal, a
caldron of oil is placed over a fire; when it boils, a piece of money
is dropped into the vessel; the prisoner's arm is unsealed, and washed
in the presence of his judges and accusers. During this part of the
ceremony, the attendant Brahmins supplicate the Deity. On receiving
their benediction, the accused plunges his hand into the boiling
fluid, and takes out the coin. The arm is afterwards again Sealed up
until the time appointed for a re-examination. The seal is then
broken: if no blemish appears, the prisoner is declared innocent; if
the contrary, he suffers the punishment due to his crime." * * * On
this trial the accused thus addresses the element before plunging his
hand into the boiling oil:-- "Thou, O fire! pervadest all things. O
cause of purity! who givest evidence of virtue and of sin, declare the
truth in this my hand!" If no juggling were practised, the decisions
by this ordeal would be all the same way; but, as some are by this
means declared guilty, and others innocent, it is clear that the
Brahmins, like the Christian priests of the middle ages, practise some
deception in saving those whom they wish to be thought guiltless.]

As regards the water-ordeal, the same trouble was not taken. It
was a trial only for the poor and humble, and, whether they sank or
swam, was thought of very little consequence. Like the witches of more
modern times, the accused were thrown into a pond or river; if they
sank, and were drowned, their surviving friends had the consolation of
knowing that they were innocent; if they swam, they were guilty. In
either case society was rid of them.

But of all the ordeals, that which the clergy reserved for
themselves was the one least likely to cause any member of their corps
to be declared guilty. The most culpable monster in existence came off
clear when tried by this method. It was called the Corsned, and was
thus performed. A piece of barley bread and a piece of cheese were
laid upon the altar, and the accused priest, in his full canonicals,
and surrounded by all the pompous adjuncts of Roman ceremony,
pronounced certain conjurations, and prayed with great fervency for
several minutes. The burden of his prayer was, that if he were guilty
of the crime laid to his charge, God would send his angel Gabriel to
stop his throat, that he might not be able to swallow the bread and
cheese. There is no instance upon record of a priest having been
choked in this manner. [An ordeal very like this is still practised in
India. Consecrated rice is the article chosen, instead of bread and
cheese. Instances are not rare in which, through the force of
imagination, guilty persons are not able to swallow a single grain.
Conscious of their crime, and fearful of the punishment of Heaven,
they feel a suffocating sensation in their throat when they attempt
it, and they fall on their knees, and confess all that is laid to
their charge. The same thing, no doubt, would have happened with the
bread and cheese of the Roman church, if it had been applied to any
others but ecclesiastics. The latter had too much wisdom to be caught
in a trap of their own setting.]

When, under Pope Gregory VII, it was debated whether the Gregorian
chant should be introduced into Castile, instead of the Musarabic,
given by St. Isidore, of Seville, to the churches of that kingdom,
very much ill feeling was excited. The churches refused to receive the
novelty, and it was proposed that the affair should be decided by a
battle between two champions, one chosen from each side. The clergy
would not consent to a mode of settlement which they considered
impious, but had no objection to try the merits of each chant by the
fire ordeal. A great fire was accordingly made, and a book of the
Gregorian and one of the Musarabic chant were thrown into it, that the
flames might decide which was most agreeable to God by refusing to
burn it. Cardinal Baronius, who says he was an eye-witness of the
miracle, relates, that the book of the Gregorian chant was no sooner
laid upon the fire, than it leaped out uninjured, visibly, and with a
great noise. Every one present thought that the saints had decided in
favour of Pope Gregory. After a slight interval, the fire was
extinguished; but, wonderful to relate! the other book of St. Isidore
was found covered with ashes, but not injured in the slightest degree.
The flames had not even warmed it. Upon this it was resolved, that
both were alike agreeable to God, and that they should be used by
turns in all the churches of Seville? [Histoire de Messire Bertrand du
Guesclin, par Paul Hay du Chastelet. Livre i. chap. xix.]

If the ordeals had been confined to questions like this, the laity
would have had little or no objection to them; but when they were
introduced as decisive in all the disputes that might arise between
man and man, the opposition of all those whose prime virtue was
personal bravery, was necessarily excited. In fact, the nobility, from
a very early period, began to look with jealous eyes upon them. They
were not slow to perceive their true purport, which was no other than
to make the Church the last court of appeal in all cases, both civil
and criminal: and not only did the nobility prefer the ancient mode of
single combat from this cause, in itself a sufficient one, but they
clung to it because an acquittal gained by those displays of courage
and address which the battle afforded, was more creditable in the eyes
of their compeers, than one which it required but little or none of
either to accomplish. To these causes may be added another, which was,
perhaps, more potent than either, in raising the credit of the
judicial combat at the expense of the ordeal. The noble institution of
chivalry was beginning to take root, and, notwithstanding the clamours
of the clergy, war was made the sole business of life, and the only
elegant pursuit of the aristocracy. The fine spirit of honour was
introduced, any attack upon which was only to be avenged in the lists,
within sight of applauding crowds, whose verdict of approbation was
far more gratifying than the cold and formal acquittal of the ordeal.
Lothaire, the son of Louis I, abolished that by fire and the trial of
the cross within his dominions; but in England they were allowed so
late as the time of Henry III, in the early part of whose reign they
were prohibited by an order of council. In the mean time, the Crusades
had brought the institution of chivalry to the full height of
perfection. The chivalric spirit soon achieved the downfall of the
ordeal system, and established the judicial combat on a basis too firm
to be shaken. It is true that with the fall of chivalry, as an
institution, fell the tournament, and the encounter in the lists; but
the duel, their offspring, has survived to this day, defying the
efforts of sages and philosophers to eradicate it. Among all the
errors bequeathed to us by a barbarous age, it has proved the most
pertinacious. It has put variance between men's reason and their
honour; put the man of sense on a level with the fool, and made
thousands who condemn it submit to it, or practise it. Those who are
curious to see the manner in which these combats were regulated, may
consult the learned Montesquieu, where they will find a copious
summary of the code of ancient duelling. ["Esprit des Loix," livre
xxviii. chap. xxv.] Truly does he remark, in speaking of the clearness
and excellence of the arrangements, that, as there were many wise
matters which were conducted in a very foolish manner, so there were
many foolish matters conducted very wisely. No greater exemplification
of it could be given, than the wise and religious rules of the absurd
and blasphemous trial by battle.

In the ages that intervened between the Crusades and the new era
that was opened out by the invention of gunpowder and printing, a more
rational system of legislation took root. The inhabitants of cities,
engaged in the pursuits of trade and industry, were content to
acquiesce in the decisions of their judges and magistrates whenever
any differences arose among them. Unlike the class above them, their
habits and manners did not lead them to seek the battle-field on every
slight occasion. A dispute as to the price of a sack of corn, a bale
of broad-cloth, or a cow, could be more satisfactorily adjusted before
the mayor or bailiff of their district. Even the martial knights and
nobles, quarrelsome as they were, began to see that the trial by
battle would lose its dignity and splendour if too frequently resorted
to. Governments also shared this opinion, and on several occasions
restricted the cases in which it was legal to proceed to this
extremity. In France, before the time of Louis IX, duels were
permitted only in cases of Lese Majesty, Rape, Incendiarism,
Assassination, and Burglary. Louis IX, by taking off all restriction,
made them legal in civil eases. This was not found to work well, and,
in 1303, Philip the Fair judged it necessary to confine them, in
criminal matters, to state offences, rape, and incendiarism; and in
civil cases, to questions of disputed inheritance. Knighthood was
allowed to be the best judge of its own honour, and might defend or
avenge it as often as occasion arose.

Among the earliest duels upon record, is a very singular one that
took place in the reign of Louis II (A.D. 878). Ingelgerius, Count of
Gastinois, was one morning discovered by his Countess dead in bed at
her side. Gontran, a relation of the Count, accused the Countess of
having murdered her husband, to whom, he asserted, she had long been
unfaithful, and challenged her to produce a champion to do battle in
her behalf, that he might establish her guilt by killing him.[Memoires
de Brantome touchant les Duels.] All the friends and relatives of the
Countess believed in her innocence; but Gontran was so stout and bold
and renowned a warrior, that no one dared to meet him, for which, as
Brantome quaintly says, "Mauvais et poltrons parens estaient." The
unhappy Countess began to despair, when a champion suddenly appeared
in the person of Ingelgerius, Count of Anjou, a boy of sixteen years
of age, who had been held by the Countess on the baptismal font, and
received her husband's name. He tenderly loved his godmother, and
offered to do battle in her cause against any and every opponent. The
King endeavoured to persuade the generous boy from his enterprise,
urging the great strength, tried skill, and invincible courage of the
challenger; but he persisted in his resolution, to the great sorrow of
all the court, who said it was a cruel thing to permit so brave and
beautiful a child to rush to such butchery and death.

When the lists were prepared, the Countess duly acknowledged her
champion, and the combatants commenced the onset. Gontran rode so
fiercely at his antagonist, and hit him on the shield with such
impetuosity, that he lost his own balance and rolled to the ground.
The young Count, as Gontran fell, passed his lance through his body,
and then dismounting, cut off his head, which, Brantome says, "he
presented to the King, who received it most graciously, and was very
joyful, as much so as if any one had made him a present of a city."
The innocence of the Countess was then proclaimed with great
rejoicings; and she kissed her godson, and wept over his neck with
joy, in the presence of all the assembly.

When the Earl of Essex was accused, by Robert de Montfort, before
King Henry II, in 1162, of having traitorously suffered the royal
standard of England to fall from his hands in a skirmish with the
Welsh, at Coleshill, five years previously, the latter offered to
prove the truth of the charge by single combat. The Earl of Essex
accepted the challenge, and the lists were prepared near Reading. An
immense concourse of persons assembled to witness the battle. Essex at
first fought stoutly, but, losing his temper and self-command, he gave
an advantage to his opponent, which soon decided the struggle. He was
unhorsed, and so severely wounded, that all present thought he was

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