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To bring all the poems referring to Coleorton together, so far as possible, this and the next sonnet are transferred from their places in the chronological list, and placed beside the Coleorton Inscriptions.
I am indebted to Mr William Kelly of Leicester for the following note on the Leicestershire Superstition of the Seven Whistlers.
“There is an old superstition, which it is not easy to get to the bottom of, concerning a certain cry or sound heard in the night, supposed to be produced by the Seven Whistlers. What or who those whistlers are is an unsolved problem. In some districts they are popularly believed to be witches, in others ghosts, in others devils, while in the Midland Counties they are supposed to be birds, either plovers or martins—some say swifts. In Leicestershire it is deemed a bad omen to hear the Seven Whistlers, and our old writers supply many passages illustrative of the popular credulity. Spenser, in his Faerie Queene, II. 12, $ 36, speaks of
* The whistlers shrill, that who hears doth die.' Sir Walter Scott, in The Lady of the Lake, names the bird with which his character associated the cry
“And in the plover's shrilly strain
The signal whistlers heard again.' “When the colliers of Leicestershire are flush of money, we are told, and indulge in a drinking bout, they sometimes hear the warning voice of the Seven Whistlers, get sobered and frightened, and will not descend the pit again till next day. Wordsworth speaks of a countryman who
“The seven birds hath seen, that never part,
"A few years ago, during a thunderstorm which passed over Leicestershire, and while vivid lightning was darting through the sky, immense flocks of birds were seen flying about, uttering doleful, affrighted cries as they passed, and keeping up for a long time a continual whistling like that made by some kinds of sea-birds. The number must have been immense, for the local newspapers mentioned the same phenomenon in different parts of the neighbouring counties of Northampton, Leicester, and Lincoln. A gentleman, conversing with a countryman on the following day, asked him what kind of birds he supposed them to have been. The man answered, “They are what we call the Seven Whistlers,' and added that “whenever they are heard it is considered a sign of some great calamity, and that the last time he had heard them was on the night before the deplorable explosion of fire damp at the Hartley Colliery.'»
In Notes and Queries there are several allusions to this local super
stition. In the Fifth Series (Vol. II., p. 264), Oct. 3, 1874, the Editor gives a summary of several notes on the subject in Vol. VIII. of the Fourth Series (pp. 68, 134, 196, and 268), with additional information. He
says “record was made of their having been heard in Leicestershire; and that the develin or martin, the swift, and the plover were probably of the whistling fraternity that frightened men. At p. 134 it was shewn that Wordsworth had spoken of one who
the seven birds hath seen, that never part, Seen the Seven Whistlers in their nightly rounds,
And counted them.' On the same page, the swift is said to be the true whistler (but, as noted at page 196, the swifts never make nightly rounds), and the superstition is said to be common in our Midland Counties. At page 268, Mr Pearson put on record that in Lancashire the plovers, whistling as they fly, are accounted heralds of ill, though sometimes of trivial accident, and that they are there called “Wandering Jews,' and are said to be, or to carry with them, the ever-restless souls of those Jews who assisted at the Crucifixion. At page 336, the whistlers are chronicled as having been the harbingers of the great Hartley Colliery explosion. A correspondent, VIATOR, added, that on the Bosphorous there are flocks of birds, the size of a thrush, which fly up and down the channel, and are never seen to rest on land or water. The men who rowed Viator's caique told him that they were the souls of the damned, condemned to perpetual motion. The Seven Whistlers have not furnished chroniclers with later circumstances of their tuneful and awful progresses till a week or two ago.
The whistlers are also heard and feared in Portugal. See The New Quarterly for July 1874, for a record of some travelling experience in that country.”
Another extract is to the following effect :
“ Your Excellency laughs at ghosts. But there is no lie about the Seven Whistlers. Many a man besides me has heard them.'
“« Who are the Seven Whistlers ? and have you seen them yourself ?'
“Not seen, thank Heaven; but I have heard them plenty of times. Some say they are the ghosts of children unbaptized, who are to know no rest till the judgment day. Once last winter I was going with donkeys and a mule to Caia. Just at the moment I stopped by the river bank to tighten the mule's girth, I heard the accursed whistlers coming down the wind along the river. I buried my head under the mule, and never moved till the danger was over; but they passed very near, for I heard the flap and rustle of their wings.'
« • What was the danger ?'
“" If a man once sees them, heaven only knows what will not happen to him-death and damnation at the very least.'
“ • I have seen them many times. I shot, or tried to shoot them!'
" Holy Mother of God ! you English are an awful people! You shot the Seven Whistlers ?'
“Yes; we call them marecos (teal or widgeon) in our country, and shoot them whenever we can. They are better to eat than wild ducks.'"
Gabriel's Hounds.—“At Wednesbury in Staffordshire, the colliers going to their pits early in the morning hear the noise of a pack of hounds in the air, to which they give the name of Gabriel's Hounds, though the more sober and judicious take them only to be wild geese making this noise in their flight.” Kennet MS., Lansd. 1033. (See Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Vol. I. p. 388). The peculiar cry or cackle, both of the Brent Goose and of the Bean or Harvest Goose (Anser Segetum), has often been likened to that of a pack of hounds in full cry—especially when the birds are on the wing during night. For some account of the superstition of “Gabriel's Hounds," see Notes and Queries, First Series, Vol. V. pp. 534 and 596 ; and Vol. XII. p. 470; Second Series, Vol. I. p. 80; and Fourth Series, Vol. VII. p. 299. In the last note these hounds are said to be popularly believed to be “the souls of unbaptised children wandering in the air till the day of judgment.” They are also explained as "a thing in the air, that is said in these parts (Sheffield) to foretell calamity, sounding like a great pack of beagles in full cry.” This quotation is from Charles Reade's Put yourself in his place, which contains many scraps of local folk-lore. The following is from the Statistical History of Kirkmichael, by the Rev. John Grant. “In the autumnal season, when the moon shines from a serene sky, often is the wayfaring traveller arrested by the music of the hills. Often struck with a more sober scene, he beholds the visionary hunters engaged in the chase, and pursuing the deer of the clouds, while the hollow rocks in long sounding echoes reverberate their cries.” ' "There are several now living who assert that they have seen and heard this aerial hunting." See the Statistical History of Scotland, edited by Sir J. Sinclair, Vol. XII. p. 461-2.-ED.
IN THE GROUNDS OF COLEORTON, THE SEAT OF SIR GEORGE BEAUMONT, BART., LEICESTERSHIRE. Comp. 1808.
Pub. 1815. [In the grounds of Coleorton these verses are engraved on a stone placed near the Tree, which was thriving and spreading when I saw it in the summer of 1841.]
The embowering rose, the acacia, and the pine
If but the Cedar thrive that near them stands,
About twelve years after the last visit of Wordsworth to Coloerton, referred to in the Fenwick note—of which the date should, I think, be 1842, not 1841—this cedar tree fell, uprooted during a storm. It was, however, as the Coleorton gardener then on the estate tells me, replanted with much labour, and protected with care; although the top branches being injured, it was never quite the same as it had been. During the night of the great storm on the 13th October 1880, however, it fell a second time, and perished irretrievably. The memorial stone remains, injured a good deal by the wear and tear of time; and the inscription is more than half obliterated. It is in a situation much more exposed to the elements than the other two inscriptions at Coleorton. He
“who sang how spear and shield
In civil conflict met on Bosworth-field," was Sir John Beaumont, the brother of the dramatist, who wrote a
1 In edd. 1815 and 1820 the following lines follow “memorial Stone,"
And to a favourite resting-place invite,
poem on the battle of Bosworth. (See one of Wordsworth's notes to the Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle.) The
famous Youth, full soon removed
From earth, was George Beaumont, the dramatist, who wrote in conjunction with Fletcher. He died at the age of twenty-nine.
In an undated letter addressed to Sir George Beaumont, Wordsworth wrote, “I like your ancestor's verses the more, the more I see of them. They are manly, dignified, and extremely harmonious. I do not remember in any author of that age such a series of well-tuned couplets."
In another letter written from Grasmere (probably in 1811) to Sir George, he says in reference to his own poems, “ These inscriptions have all one fault, they are too long; but I was unable to do justice to the thoughts in less room. The second has brought Sir John Beaumont and his brother Francis so lively to my mind that I recur to the plan of republishing the former's poems, perhaps in connection with those of Francis."
On November 16, 1811, he wrote to him again, “I am glad that the inscriptions please you. It did always appear to me, that inscriptions, particularly those in verse, or in a dead language, were never supposed necessarily to be the composition of those in whose name they appeared. If a more striking or more dramatic effect could be produced, I have always thought, that in an epitaph or memorial of any kind, a father or husband, &c., might be introduced, speaking without any absolute deception being intended ; that is, the reader is understood to be at liberty to say to himself,—these verses, or this Latin, may be the conposition of some unknown person, and not that of the father, widow, or friend, from whose hand or voice they profess to proceed. ...I have altered the verses, and I have only to regret that the alteration is not more happily done. But I never found anything more difficult. I wished to preserve this expression patrimonial grounds, but I found this impossible, on account of the awkwardness of the pronouns, he and his, as applied to Reynolds, and to yourself. This, even when it does not produce confusion, is always inelegant. I was, therefore, obliged to drop it; so that we must be content, I fear, with the inscription as it stands below. I hope it will do. I tried a hundred different ways, but cannot hit upon anything better. ."-ED.
IN A GARDEN OF THE SAME.
Pub. 1815. [This Niche is in the sandstone-rock in the winter-garden at Coleorton, which garden, as has been elsewhere said, was made under our direc