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none, took an effectual way to raise the doctor. He carried back the
candles to the table, and went to the fire, and with the tongs took down
the kindled coals, and laid them on the deal chamber floor. The doctor
then thought it time to rise and put on his clothes, in the time of
which the spectre laid up the coals again in the chimney, and, going to
the table, lifted the candles and went to the door, opened it, still
looking to the Principal as he would have him following the candles,
which he now, thinking there was something extraordinary in the case,
after looking to God for direction, inclined to do. The apparition went
down some steps with the candles, and carried them into a long trance,
at the end of which there was a stair which carried down to a low room.
This the spectre went down, and stooped, and set down the lights on the
lowest step of the stair, and straight disappears."

The learned Principal, whose courage and coolness deserve the highest
commendation, lighted himself back to bed with the candles, and took the
remainder of his rest undisturbed. Being a man of great sagacity, on
ruminating over his adventure, he informed the sheriff of the county
"that he was much of the mind there was murder in the case." The stone
whereon the candles were placed was raised, and there "the plain remains
of a human body were found, and bones, to the conviction of all." It was
supposed to be an old affair, however, and no traces could be got of the
murderer. Rule undertook the functions of the detective, and pressed
into the service the influence of his own profession. He preached a
great sermon on the occasion, to which all the neighbouring people were
summoned; and behold, "in the time of his sermon, an old man near eighty
years was awakened, and fell a-weeping, and before all the whole company
acknowledged that, at the building of that house, he was the murderer."

In Wodrow's note-book the devil often cuts a humiliating figure, and is
treated with a deal of rude and boisterous jeering. A certain "exercised
Christian," probably during a fit of indigestion, was subjected to a
heavy wrestling with doubts and irreconcilable difficulties, which
raised in his mind horrible suggestions. The devil took occasion to put
in a word or two for the purpose of increasing the confusion, but it
had the directly opposite effect, and called forth the remark that, "on
the whole the devil is a great fool, and outshoots himself oft when he
thinks he has poor believers on the haunch." On another occasion the
devil performed a function of a very unusual kind, one would think. He
is known to quote Scripture for his purposes, but who ever before heard
of his writing a sermon - and, as it seems, a sound and orthodox one?
There was, it appears, a youth in the University of St Andrews,
preparing to undergo his trials as a licentiate, who had good reason to
fear that he would be plucked. He found he could make nothing whatever
of the trial sermon, and was wandering about by lonely ways, seeking in
vain for inspiration. At last "there came up to him a stranger, in habit
like a minister, in black coat and band, and who addressed the youth
very courteously." He was mighty inquisitive, and at length wormed out
the secret grief. "I have got a text from the Presbytery. I cannot for
my life compose a discourse on it, so I shall be affronted." The
stranger replied - "Sir, I am a minister; let me hear the text?" He told
him. "Oh, then, I have an excellent sermon on that text in my pocket,
which you may peruse and commit to your memory. I engage, after you have
delivered it before the Presbytery, you will be greatly approven and
applauded." The youth received it thankfully; but one good turn
deserves another. The stranger had an eccentric fancy that he should
have a written promise from the youth to do him afterwards any favour in
his power; and there being no other liquid conveniently at hand for the
signature of the document, a drop of the young man's blood was drawn for
the purpose. Note now what followed. "Upon the Presbytery day the youth
delivered an excellent sermon upon the text appointed him, which pleased
and amazed the Presbytery to a degree; only Mr Blair smelt out something
in it which made him call the youth aside to the corner of the church,
and thus he began with him: 'Sir, you have delivered a nate sermon,
every way well pointed. The matter was profound, or rather sublime; your
style was fine and your method clear; and, no doubt, young men at the
beginning must make use of helps, which I doubt not you have done.' So
beginning, Blair, who was a man of mighty gifts and repute, pressed on
so close with repeated questions that the awful truth at last came out."
There was nothing for it but that the Presbytery must engage in special
exercise for the penitent youth. They prayed each in succession to no
purpose, till it came to Blair's turn. "In time of his prayer there came
a violent rushing of wind upon the church - so great that they thought
the church should have fallen down about their ears - and with that the
youth's paper and covenant drops down from the roof of the church among
the ministers."

A large proportion of Wodrow's special providences are performed for the
benefit of the clergy, either to provide them with certain worldly
necessaries of which they may happen to be in want, or to give effect to
their pious indignation, or, as some might be tempted to call it, their
vindictive spite, again those who revile them. Perhaps an interdicted
pastor, wandering over the desolate moors where he and his hunted flock
seek refuge, is sorely impeded by some small want of the flesh, and
gives expression to his wishes concerning it; when forthwith he is
miraculously supplied with a shoulder of mutton or a pair of trousers,
according to the nature of his necessities. He encounters ridicule or
personal insult, and instantly the blasphemer is struck dead, or
idiotic, or dumb, after the example of those who mocked Elisha's bald
head; and Wodrow generally winds up these judgments with an appropriate
admonitory text, as, for instance, "Touch not His anointed, and do His
prophets no harm." As the persons for whom these special miracles are
performed generally happen to be sorely beset by worldly privations and
dangers, which are at their climax at the very time when they are able
to call in supernatural intervention, a logician might be inclined to
ask why, if the operations, and, as it were, the very motives, of the
Deity are examined in respect of those events which are propitious to
His favourite, they should not also be examined with the same critical
pertinacity as to the greatly predominating collection of events which
are decidedly unpropitious to him, so as to bring out the reason why the
simpler course of saving him from all hardships and persecution had not
been followed, instead of the circuitous plan of launching heavy
calamities against him, and then issuing special miraculous powers to
save him from a small portion of these calamities. But such logic would
probably be unprofitably bestowed, and it is wiser to take the
narratives as they stand and make the best use of them. Whoever looks at
them with a cold scientific eye, will at once be struck by the close
analogy of Wodrow's vaticinations and miracles to those of other times
and places, and especially to those credited to the saints of the early
Catholic Church, to which many of them, indeed, bear a wonderfully exact

The Early Northern Saints.

Carried on by the power of association, we are thus brought to the door
of an exceedingly interesting department of book-club literature, - the
restoration of the true text of the early lives of the saints - a
species of literature now recognised and separated from others by the
title of Hagiology. Everybody knows, or ought to know, that the great
library of this kind of literature, published by the Bollandists, begins
with the beginning of the year, and gives the life of each saint
successively according to his day in the calendar. Ignorance is more
excusable on the question what constitutes saintship, and, supposing you
to have found your saint, on the criterion by which the day of his
festival should be adjusted in the calendar. Technically, to make a
saint, there should be an act of pontifical jurisdiction, all the more
solemn than any secular judicial act as the interests affected are more
momentous; but only a small number of the saints stand on record in the
proceedings of the Vatican. In fact, the great body of them were in the
enjoyment of their honours hundreds of years before the certifying
process was adopted, and to investigate all their credentials was far
too weighty a task to be attempted. It is taken for granted that they
have been canonised, and if it be difficult to prove that they have gone
through this ceremony, they hold their ground through the still greater
difficulty of proving that they have not. Some of those whose sanctity
is established by this kind of acclamation are so illustrious, that it
would be ludicrous to suppose even the Vatican capable of adding to
their eminence - more so, to imagine any process by which they could be
unsanctified; such are St Patrick, St George, and St Kentigern. But
there is a vast crowd of village or parochial saints firmly established
within their own narrow circles, but as unknown at the court of Rome as
any obscure curate working in some distant valley, or among the poor of
some great city. In such a crowd there will naturally be questionable
personages. St Valentine, St Fiacre, St Boniface, St Lupus, St Maccesso,
St Bobbio, St Fursy, and St Jingo, have names not endowed with a very
sanctimonious sound, but they are well-established respectable saints.
Even Alban Butler, however, has hard work in giving credit to St
Longinus, St Quirinus, St Mercurius, St Hermes, St Virgil, St Plutarch,
and St Bacchus. It is the occurrence of such names that makes Moreri
speak of the Bollandist selection as rather loose, since it contains
"vies des saintes bonnes, médiocres, mauvaises, vrayes, douteuses, et

The saint's festival-day is generally the anniversary of his death, or
"deposition," as it is technically termed; but this is by no means an
absolute rule. Few compilers deserve more sympathy than those who try to
adjust saints' days by rule and chronology, since not only does one
saint differ from another in the way in which his feast is established,
but for the same saint there are different days in different countries,
and even in different ecclesiastical districts - the diocese of Paris
having, for instance, some special saints' days of its own, which differ
from the practice throughout the rest of Catholic Christendom. Some
saints, too, have been shifted about from day to day by authority. Queen
Margaret of Scotland, the wife of Malcolm, whose real source of
influence was that she represented the old Saxon line of England, had
two great days, - that of her deposition on July the 8th, and that of her
translation on July the 19th; but, by a papal ordinance immediately
after the Revolution, her festival was established upon the 10th of
June. This was rather a remarkable day in Britain, being that on which
the poor infant son of the last of the Jameses, afterwards known in
Parliamentary language as the Pretender, was born. The adjustment of
Queen Margaret's day to that event was a stroke of policy for the
purpose of rendering the poor child respectable, and removing all doubts
about warming-pans and other disagreeables; but it is not known that the
measure exercised the slightest influence on the British Parliament.

Bollandus, who was the first seriously to lay his hand to the great work
called after him, was a Belgian Jesuit. He had got through January and
February in five folio volumes, when he died in 1658. Under the auspices
of his successor, Daniel Papebroch, March appeared in 1668 and April in
1675, each in three volumes. So the great work crept on day by day and
year by year, absorbing the whole lives of many devoted labourers,
conspicuous among whom are the unmelodious names of Peter Bosch, John
Stilting, Constantine Suyskhen, Urban Sticken, Cornelius Bye, James Bue,
and Ignacius Hubens. In 1762, a hundred and four years after January,
September was completed. It filled eight volumes, for the work
accumulated like a snow-ball as it rolled, each month being larger than
its predecessor. Here the ordinary copies stop in forty-seven volumes,
for the evil days of the Jesuits were coming on, and the new literary
oligarchy, where Voltaire, Montesquieu, and D'Alembert held sway, had
not been propitious to hagiology. A part of October was accomplished
under the auspices of Maria Theresa, the Empress Queen, but for some
reason or other it came within the category of rare books, and was not
to be easily obtained until it was lately reprinted.

Whatever effect such a phenomenon may have on some denominations of the
religious world, it can afford nothing but pure satisfaction to all
historical investigators to know that this great work has been resumed
in this middle of the nineteenth century. I have before me the ninth
volume for October, embracing the twentieth and twenty-first days of
that month, and containing about as much matter as the five volumes of
Macaulay's History. On the 21st of October there is, to be sure, a very
heavy job to be got through in St Ursula and her eleven thousand
virgins, whose bones may be seen in musty presses in the Church of the
Ursulines in Cologne; but still as it moves forward, it is evident that
the mighty work continues to enlarge its proportions. The winter is
coming on too, a period crowded with the memorials of departed saints,
as being unpropitious to men of highly ascetic habits, so that those who
have undertaken the completion of the Bollandist enterprise have their
work before them.

There is a marvellous uniformity in all the arrangements of this array
of volumes which have thus appeared at intervals throughout two
centuries. They dealt with matter too sublimely separated from the
temporal doings of men to be affected by political events, yet could
they not entirely escape some slight touches from the convulsions that
had recast the whole order and conditions of society. When October was
begun, Belgium, where the work is published, was attached to the
Austrian Empire, and the French Revolution had not yet come. The
Jesuits, though not favourites among monarchs, profess a decorous
loyalty, and the earlier volumes of the month have portraits of the
Empress Queen, and others of the Imperial family, in the most elaborate
court costume of the days before the Revolution; while the later
volumes, still loyal, are illustrated by the family circle of the
Protestant King of constitutional Belgium, whose good-natured face and
plain broad-cloth coat are those doubtless of the right man, though one
cannot help imagining that he feels himself somehow in the wrong place.

The crowds of saints who come sometimes swarming in on a single day to
these teeming volumes, give one an almost oppressive notion of the
quantity of goodness that must have, after all, existed in this wicked
world. The labours of the Bollandists, not only in searching through all
available literature, but in a special correspondence established with
their Jesuit brethren throughout the world, are absolutely astounding.
Their conscientious minuteness is wonderful; and many a one who thinks
he is master of the ecclesiastical lore of his own parish, which he has
made his specialty, has been petrified to find what he thought his
discoveries all laid down with careful precision as matters of ordinary
knowledge in some corner of these mighty volumes. The Bollandists
obtained their information from the spot, and it is on the spot that
this kind of literature must be worked out. A thoroughly accomplished
antiquary, working within a limited district, will thus bring forth more
full and satisfactory results, so far as they go, than even the
Bollandists have achieved, and hence the great value of the services of
the book clubs to hagiology.

The writer of the letters bearing the signature "Veritas," in all the
newspapers, would, of course, specially object to the resuscitation of
this class of literature, "because it is full of fabulous accounts of
miracles and other supernatural events which can only minister to
credulity and superstition." But even in the extent and character of
this very element there is a great significance. The size of a current
falsehood is the measure of the size of the human belief that has
swallowed it, and is a component part of the history of man.

The best critical writers on ancient history have agreed not to throw
away the cosmogony and the hierology of Greece. It is part of Grecian
history that the creed of the people was filled with a love of embodied
fancies, so graceful and luxuriant. No less are the revel rout of
Valhalla part of the virtual history of the Scandinavian tribes. But the
lives of our saints, independently altogether of the momentous change in
human affairs and prospects which they ushered in, have a substantial
hold on history, of which neither the classical nor the northern
hierology can boast. Poseidon and Aphrodite, Odin and Freya, vanish into
the indefinite and undiscoverable at the approach of historical
criticism. But separately altogether from their miracles, Cuthbert and
Ninian, Columba and Kentigern, had actual existences. We know when they
lived and when they died. The closer that historical criticism dogs
their steps, the clearer it sees them, and the more it knows about their
actual lives and ways. Even if they were not the missionaries who
introduced Christianity among us, - as men who, in the old days before
Britain became populous and affluent in the fruits of advanced
civilisation, trod the soil that we tread, it would be interesting to
know about them - about the habitations they lodged in, the garments they
wore, the food they ate, the language they spoke, their method of social
intercourse among each other, and the sort of government under which
they lived.

That by investigation and critical inquiry we can know more of these
things than our ancestors of centuries past could know, is still a
notion comparatively new which has not been popularly realised. The
classic literature in which our early training lies has nothing in it to
show us the power of historical inquiry, and much to make us slight it.
The Romans, instead of improving on the Greeks, fell in this respect
behind them. Father Herodotus, credulous as he was, was a better
antiquary than any who wrote in Latin before the revival of letters.
Occupied entirely with the glory of their conquests, and blind to the
future which their selfish tyranny was preparing for them, the Romans
were equally thoughtless of the past, unless it were exaggerated and
falsified into a narrative to aggrandise their own glory. Their authors
abdicated the duty of leaving to the world the true narrative of the
early struggles and achievements out of which the Republic and the
Empire arose. It is easy to be sceptical at any time. We can cut away
Romulus and Remus from accepted history now, hundreds of years after the
Empire has ceased to govern or exist. But the golden opportunity for
sifting the genuine out of the fabulous has long passed away. It is
seldom possible to construct the infant histories of departed
nationalities. The difference between the facilities which a nation has
for finding out its own early history, and those which strangers have
for constructing it when the nationality has allowed its deathbed to
pass over without the performance of that patriotic task, is nearly as
great as a man's own facilities for writing the history of his youth,
and those of the biographer who makes inquiries about him after he is

We are becoming wiser than the Romans in this as in other matters, and
are constructing the infant histories of the various European nations
out of the materials which each possesses. The biographies of those
saints or missionaries who first diffused the light of the Gospel among
the various communities of the Christian north, form a very large
element in these materials; and no wonder, when we remember that the
Church possessed all the literature, such as it was, of the age. In
applying, however, to the British Empire, this new source of historical
information, there arose the difficulty that it was chiefly supplied
from Ireland. If all hagiology were under a general suspicion of the
fabulous, Irish history was known to be a luxuriant preserve of fables,
and these causes of dubiety being multiplied by each other in the mind,
it seemed almost impossible to obtain a hearing for the new voice. In
fact, during a long period the three nations were engaged in a
competition which should carry its history through the longest track of
fictitious glory, and this was a kind of work in which Ireland beat her
neighbours entirely. Hence, when all were pressing pretty close upon the
Deluge, Ireland took the leap at once and cleared that gulf. As a
fairish record of these successful efforts, I would recommend to the
reader's notice a very well-conditioned and truly learned-looking folio
volume, called "The General History of Ireland, collected by the learned
Jeffrey Keating, D.D., faithfully translated from the original Irish
Language, with many curious Amendments taken from the Psalters of Tara
and Cashel, with other authentic Records, by Dermod O'Connor, Antiquary
to the Kingdom of Ireland." Opposite to the title-page is a full-length
portrait of Brian Boroomh, whose fame has been increased of late years
by the achievements of his descendant in the cabbage-garden. The monarch
is in full burnished plate armour, with scarf and surcoat - all three
centuries at least later in fashion than the era attributed to him. But
that is a trifle. It would involve much hard and useless work to make
war on the anachronisms of historical portraits, and we are not to judge
of historical works by their engraved decorations. Here, however, the
picture is sober truth itself to what the inquiring reader finds in the
typography. After the descriptive geographical introduction common in
old histories, the real commencement comes upon us in this form: -

"Of the first invasion of Ireland before the Flood!" "Various," the
author tells us, "are the opinions concerning the first mortal that set
a foot upon this island. We are told by some that three of the daughters
of Cain arrived here, several hundred years before the Deluge. The white
book, which in the Irish is called Leabhar Dhroma Sneachta, informs us
that the oldest of these daughters was called Banba, and gave a name to
the whole kingdom. After these, we are told that three men and fifty
women arrived in the island; one of them was called Ladhra, from whom
was derived the name of Ardladhan. These people lived forty years in the
country, and at last they all died of a certain distemper in a week's
time. From their death, it is said that the island was uninhabited for
the space of an hundred years, till the world was drowned. We are told
that the first who set foot upon the island were three fishermen that
were driven thither by a storm from the coast of Spain. They were
pleased with the discovery they had made, and resolved to settle in the
country; but they agreed first to go back for their wives, and in their
return were unfortunately drowned by the waters of the Deluge at a place
called Tuath Inbhir. The names of these three fishermen were Capa,
Laighne, and Luasat. Others, again, are of opinion that Ceasar, the
daughter of Bith, was the first that came into the island before the
Deluge.... When Noah was building the ark to preserve himself and his
family from the Deluge, Bith, the father of Ceasar, sent to desire an
apartment for him and his daughter, to save them from the approaching
danger. Noah, having no authority from Heaven to receive them into the
ark, denied his request. Upon this repulse, Bith Fiontan, the husband of
Ceasar, and Ladhra her brother, consulted among themselves what measures
they should take in this extremity."

The result was, that, like the Laird of Macnab, they "built a boat o'
their ain," but on a much larger scale, being a fair match with the ark
itself. But justice should be done to every one. The learned Dr Keating
does not give us all this as veritable history; on the contrary, being
of a sceptical turn of mind, he has courage enough to stem the national

Online LibraryJohn Hill BurtonThe book-hunter : etc. → online text (page 28 of 33)