IT is, or rather was, believed, In nearly every part of the West of England, that death is retarded, and the dying kept in a state of suffering, by having any lock closed, or any bolt shot, in the dwelling of the dying person.
A man cannot die easy on a bed made of fowls' feathers, or the feathers of wild birds.
Never carry a corpse to church by a new road.
Whenever a guttering candle folds over its cooling grease, it is watched with much anxiety. If it curls upon itself it is said to form the "handle of a coffin," and the person towards whom it is directed will be in danger of death.
Bituminous coal not unfrequently swells into bubbles, these bubbles of coal containing carburetted hydrogen gas. When the pressure becomes great they burst, and often throw off the upper section with some explosive force. According to the shape of the piece thrown off so is it named. If it proves round, it is a purse of money; if oblong, it is a coffin, and the group towards which it flew will be in danger.
If a cock crows at midnight, the angel of death is passing over the house; and if he delays to strike, the delay is only for a short season.
The howling of a dog is a sad sign. If repeated for three nights, the house against which it howled will soon be in mourning. A raven croaking over a cottage fills its inmates with gloom. There are many other superstitions and tokens connected with life and death, but those given show the general character of those feelings which I may, I think, venture to call the "inner life" of the Cornish people. It will be understood by all who have studied the peculiarities of any Celtic race, that they have ever been a peculiarly impressible people. They have ever observed the phenomena of nature; and they have interpreted them with hopeful feelings, or despondent anxiety, according as they have been surrounded by cheerful or by sorrow-inducing circumstances. That, melancholy state of mind, which is so well expressed by the word "whisht," leads the sufferer to find a "sign" or a "token" in the trembling of a leaf, or in the lowering of the tempest-clouds. A collection of the almost infinite variety of these "signs and tokens" which still exist, would form a curious subject for an essay. Yet this could only now be done by a person who would skilfully win the confidence of the miner or the peasant. They feel that they might subject themselves to ridicule by an indiscreet disclosure of the religion of their souls. When, if ever, such a collection is made, it will be found that these superstitions have their origin in the purest feelings of the heart--that they are the shadowings forth of love, tinctured with the melancholy dyes of that fear which is born of mystery.
One would desire that even those old superstitions should be preserved. They illustrate a state of society, in the past, which will never again return. There are but few reflecting minds which do not occasionally feel a lingering regret that times should pass away during which life was not a reflection of cold reason.
But these things must fade as a knowledge of nature's laws is disseminated amongst the people. Yet there is--
"The lonely, mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard, and loud lament;
From haunted spring and dale,
Edged with poplar pale,
The parting genius is, with sighing sent."