LEGENDS OF THE SAINTS.
"This likë monk let olde thinges pace,
And held after the newë world the trace.
He gave not of the text a pulled hen,
That saith, that hunters be not holy men,
Ne that a monk, when he is reckëless,
Is like to a fish that is waterless;
This is to say, a monk out of his cloister,
This like text held he not worth an oyster,
And I say his opinion was good."
-- The Canterbury Tales:-- CHAUCER.
THE process through which a man, who has made himself remarkable to his ignorant fellow-men, is passed after death -- first, into the hero performing fabulous exploits, and eventually into the giant -- is not difficult to understand.
The remembrance of great deeds, and the memory of virtues,-- even in modem days, when the exaggerations of votaries are subdued by the influence of education,--ever tends to bring them out in strong contrast with the surrounding objects. The mass of men form the background, as it were, of the picture, and the hero or the saint stands forth in all his brightness of colour in the foreground.
Amidst the uneducated Celtic population who inhabited Old Cornwall, it was the practice, as with the Celts of other countries, to exalt their benefactors with all the adornments of that hyperbole which distinguishes their songs and stories. When the first Christian missionaries dwelt amongst this people, they impressed them with the daring which they exhibited by the persecution which they uncomplainingly endured and the holy lives they led.
Those who were morally so superior to the living men, were represented as physically so to their children, and every generation adorned the relation which it had received with the ornaments derived from their own imaginations, which had been tutored amidst the severer scenes of nature; and consequently the warrior, or the holy man, was transmuted into the giant.
If to this we add the desire which was constantly shown by the earlier priesthood to persuade the people of their miraculous powers -- of the direct interference of Heaven in their behalf--and of the violent conflicts which they were occasionally enduring with the enemy of the human race, there will be no difficulty in marking out the steps by which the ordinary man has become an extraordinary hero. 'When we hear of the saints to whose memories the parish churches are dedicated, being enabled to hurl rocks of enormous size through the air, to carry them in their pockets, and indeed to use them as playthings, we perceive that the traditions of the legitimate giants have been transferred to, and mixed up with, the memories of a more recent people.
In addition to legends of the Titanic type, this section will include a few of the true monastic character. The only purpose I have in giving these is to preserve, as examples, some curious superstitions which have not yet entirely lost their hold on the people.