Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

holiday of constructing a wicker giant, in which were placed men to move it from place to place. Popular tradition declared it to represent a pagan giant, who was killed by the patron saint. There can be no doubt that this custom is identical with that of the “ wicker idol” of the Celts, for which was substituted a tree in the modern bone-fires of many places, -and with the "going of the giants" in the pageants. But it is incredible that Christianity would tolerate any such commemoration of human sacrifices ; and we cannot regard the Roman account of this famous idol, which was probably a symbol of the overthrow of giantdom,*-as any other than a monstrous exaggeration of hearsay reports.

Cumberland and Westmorland, historically speaking, have passed through both periods of the giant race. The first we

The first we may assume to commence with the invasion of the Angles, and to continue to the cessation of the Danish irruptions, when, the country being fully opened up, the giants vanish like mists from the mountains. With the close of this period the final establishment of Christianity coincides; and thus commences the second period, feeding as it were on the lingering beliefs and customs of former times, and prolonging itself indefinitely according to the circumstances of the country.

The names of certain Cumbrian fells belong to the first period. Rissen Scar has been so called from N. risi, a giant (cf. the Riesengebirge, the giants’ mountains, of Germany), and Scratch Meal Scar from N. skratti, a giant, cognate with our Old Scratch, a popular name for the devil. Trow Gill, near Morland, was once the abode of two giants named Guy and Garlic. They dwelt in caves on opposite sides of the Gill. How long they lived thus is not known, but finally they quarrelled, and fought down the whole length of the glen, until both fell mortally wounded. They were buried where they fell, and the graves remain to this day.t

Much surer traces of actual existence remain to us in the fables

• According to Welsh mythology on the first of May was celebrated the egress from the ark.

+ Rev. J. Simpson at the Kendal Natural Hist. Society.

concerning Ewan Cæsario, who was famous through Inglewood · forest, and resided at Castle Hewen, near the lake called Tarn Wadlyng. His fame seems to have impressed itself principally on the neighbourhood of Penrith, for it is in this quarter the fabulous traditions respecting him are to be found. Whether he assumed to be king of the province, as he is said to have been, there is no means of judging; but he was probably the King Arthur of the north, who had made himself a terror to the Angles and Danes. From his surname, he was one of those who claimed a partial Roman extraction, and the name of his supposed residence might very well have been preserved in the family from the time of the Roman occupation. This castle is probably the oldest building of the kind in the district, mention being made of its ruins in the reign of Henry the Eighth. Ewanrigg, in the ward of Allerdaleabove-Derwent, on which there are some traces of a building, has likewise been appropriated as the site of the residence of Ewan Cæsario; but this fabulous ubiquity is the strongest evidence that such a personage did once flourish in Cumbria.

The remarkable monument in Penrith church-yard that bears the name of the Giant's Grave, has been connected with the hero of Inglewood forest during the second period of his existence, and is sufficient proof of the greatness of his actual achievements. Dr. Todd's manuscript (Hist. of the Diocese, 1689) furnishes the popular story current in his time, that one Ewen or Owen Cæsarius, famous for hunting and fighting fourteen hundred years ago (the third century), is there buried; that his stature was the entire length between the pillars (fifteen feet); and that the four semicircular stones bounding the grave, represent so many wild boars killed by him in the forest of Inglewood. Not far from the grave stands a stone,-apparently a broken cross of the old church taken down in 1720,-called the Giant's Thumb. But the rudeness of this notion marks it as decidedly belonging to the latest times.

Ewan Cæsario, having once passed the rubicon of fable, having attained the stature of fifteen feet, could no longer be a dweller of house or castle. The excavations in the banks of the Eamont, near its confluence with the Eden, well known as the Giant's

[blocks in formation]

Caves, were now appropriated as his residence, and he became a giant of doubtful character, "a kind of knight-errant," who killed monster, man, and beast, and dragged them away to his den. But it is probable we have here the engrafting of a hero tradition on that of a giant; for these caves are also said to have been the abode of one Isis, who seized men and cattle, and thereupon in. discriminately satisfied the cravings of his appetite. This place of ill fame has thus been named both Isis Parlis, and Sir Hugh's Parlour, the latter being apparently an interpretation of the former, and Sir Hugh representing Ewan himself. According to a tradition still extant, a fair lady from somewhere or other, where the fame of the giant had never reached, went down to walk on the riverbank, and unconscious of her danger, approached the cave of this dreadful being

She was

seen by the lurking monster, who suddenly issued from his den to seize her. Terror-stricken at the sight, the lady executed a most tremendous step across a wide cleft in the rocky bank, opening on the river beneath, and the giant in the act of pursuing her, missed his footing, and broke his neck. Such was his end. The opening in the rock over which the lady so providentially passed, is called the Maiden's Step.*

Castle Hewen is the scene of one of the old ballads of Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry, in connexion with the history of the giant, though composed many centuries later than the time at which he lived. The writer at least shows some knowledge of the topography and tradition of Cumbria, but the time chosen is that when King Arthur holds his court at “merrie Carlisle.” Our giant in this ballad figures very unattractively, being twice the size of ordinary men, and behaving most rudely to all the innocent travellers who pass his way. The wrath of the king is at length

• The Giant's Caves were doubtless excavated to form a hermitage. The labour necessary for the execution of this work, must not be supposed to be more than the zeal of a saint's followers and neophytes would be willing to undergo. We had in this county St. Herbert living on an island in Derwentwater. See the notes to Scott's Marmion for a description of St. Rule's cave at St. Andrews, a place precisely similar to the caves of the Eamont. Nor are these situations more strange than that of St. Kevin at Glendalough.

aroused, and he proceeds from Carlisle to fight the giant; but he is overcome by the power of magic, and only released on condition that he bring back an answer to the inquiry, "What is it women most desire ?" The king discovers the solution of this problem, to wit, that “women will have their will,” and this brings about an entire revolution in the affairs of the giant.

Another ballad of Percy's collection has been supposed to be illustrative of the history of the Giant's Caves. According to this composition, the hero of which is Lancelot du Lac, the caves would have been the residence of one Tarquin, who held in captivity three score and four knights of the Round Table, and very obligingly kept a copper bason, to serve as a bell, hanging near his den. He was killed by Sir Lancelot. But the conjectural appropriation of this ballad is solely founded on the already conjectural name of King Arthur's Round Table in the neighbourhood.

Carl Lofts of Shap, a wonderful stone monument now destroyed, must be referred for its traditional name to the second period of the giants. The great boulders of the south of Ireland before mentioned, are accounted for (independent of the tradition already given) as the “giants’ finger-stones.” And an old man of the neighbourhood once explained to an inquirer that “the giants of old used to loft there."-lofting being understood to mean throwing stones by heaving. There seems decidedly to be a connexion between this explanation of the boulders and our Carl Lofts (Carl's Lofts). The names of the Hemps' Graves of Bewcastle, and the Kemp Howe of Westmorland (D. kämpe), must be placed in the same category, the latter meaning the giants' hill or tomb, the former the giants' graves, and showing the Anglo-Norse form of the word.

Modern times must stand accountable for the name of the Giant's Chamber in Baron Wood, Cumberland, as there is no tradition belonging thereto, as well as for the story of Hugh Hird, the Troutbeck giant, who flourished when Kentmere Hall was building. The most remarkable feat of strength recorded of this personage, was that of lifting into its place the mantle-tree of the kitchen fire-place, which ten men had in vain endeavoured to move.

[blocks in formation]

Having been sent up to London on some business, the purpose of which is not very clear, he astonished the king by his extraordinary wrestling powers, and received as his reward the house in which he lived, the paddock adjoining, and liberty to cut wood and peat in the forest. Under the name of the “

sunny side of a wether," he devoured a whole sheep provided for his refreshment by the king, and then declared he had not got so good a dinner since he left Troutbeck.

The Danish kämpe unmistakeably exhibits in itself the rise and fall of giant history; it was first champion, then giant, and lastly wrestler. The hero of the first period becomes the monster of the second; whilst modern times, to supplement such a history, can only produce some person an inch or two taller than average men, with a stomach of more than the ordinary powers of gluttony.

« ForrigeFortsæt »