BLTC Press Titles

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Further Adventures of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

Ancient and holy wells of Cornwall

by Mabel Quiller-Couch


" The spirit of the well, this naiad, is with us not easily moved to anger, but can be revengeful. These water spirits are, however, generally pacific and aidful, e.g., that of St. Cleer. . . .

" Being, of necessity, a very desultory antiquary, my studies more among men than books, I have set down my notes on a special class of our national antiquities,—a fast-decaying class, which my wanderings within narrow bounds have brought me acquainted with. The history of the holy wells of Cornwall, their structures as still standing, and the remains of well-worship still to be observed or to be picked up from the ' superstitious idle-headed eld' living near them, has been one of the subjects which has relieved me at intervals from other very urgent pursuits. I am very .thankful that my natural inclination and early training have compensated for the narrowness of my range, by blessing me with an eye to mark and a heart to enjoy such things as lie within it.

" The saints' wells of my county and their legendary history have been pet joys of mine, and many a pleasant pilgrimage have I made to them, —sweet journeys through lanes of flower and fern and moss, sweet villages and farms, the air as redolent of health as the waters I was in search of. Sometimes over-barren, inasmuch as the delvings of miner, navvy, and quarryman have drained the fountain, and driven [from it] naiad, and saint, and peasant. Two I especially mention: the Holy Well of St. Breward, and St. Cyr's Well of Luxulyan,1 now falling fast to the ground. The first will soon only exist in a sketch I made some twenty years ago,2 and the engraving from it in Blight's Crosses, etc., of East Cornwall; the second in a few sketches and my records. I have been instrumental in re-edifying more than one, and in inciting to the preservation of several more. . . . In another generation the structures will have fallen, the 'fair humanities of old religion' and their ceremonies, now only lingering in the memories of hoary-headed eld, will have gone for ever.

1 For present state see p. 58. -See p. 17.

" The date of these rites is buried in the remotest past, in the age before records; and our speculations about it are of necessity vague and unsatisfying. Each individual observer offers in his turn his theory drawn from the buried past. The geologist is satisfied with his researches as proof of the earlier existence of our race than that generally accepted; he gives us pictures of an age when the paleolithic man walked over fields of ice and snow, and made his prey of the cave bear, the mammoth, and other animals long since extinct. This is fairly deducible from the finding of flint tools fashioned by human hand, fished up from the beds of lakes, or set in stalactitic rock as flies in amber, buried in drift deposits, in intimate company with these relics of a contemporary human race.

" The age of man's appearance on this earth is yet a matter of speculation, but there is evidence enough to show it is much beyond that of popular chronology. This is a matter not unconnected with our present subject, as the hand which fashioned so skilfully the barbed arrow-head of flint and the polished hammer-axes may be fairly associated with a brain of high capabilities, and to have had as an outcome of this capacity a religion of some rude sort, wherein what he observed around him, as the elements, were deified, and rocks and trees, wells and running brooks, had each its indwelling genius, its favour to be courted or anger deprecated. All these considerations of a very large subject are here only touched slightly. The labours of the most learned are rewarded by scanty facts, and their deductions only vaguely probable; the speculations of one person mislead, and the fancies of another, which have here free scope, are unsatisfying.

" My humble aim in this little book is to save, within my very small tether, by pen and pencil, all that continues to us of a nearly extinct faith, its material remains, and its legendary fragments. I fear that if not soon done they will be lost for ever. Within my remembrance the cromlech, the holy well, the' way-side cross and inscribed stone, have gone before the utilitarian greed of the farmer and the road man, and the undeserved neglect of that hateful being—the cui bono man.

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