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ON THE RIVER,
Drifting, drifting down together
'Mid the waxen cups of lilies opening on the stream;
Past the banks with blossoms laden,
On whose side stroll youth and maiden,
In the sweet springtide of folly 'neath the sunset's gleam.
Marsh buds shine like goblets golden,
Flaming 'gainst the gnarled trunks olden
Pale wind flowers and velvet mosses carpet 'neath the beeches brown;
Whilst each further bend discloses,
Peeps of fern, where shy wild roses
Blush and hide in wild confusion as we still drift down.
Leaving little to remind us
Of the dust-stained town behind us,
With its blurred and blazing pavements and its anxious throng;
In the happy present speeding,
Down by merry woodlands echoing to the cuckoo's song.
Dark leaved hemlock proudly pluming
O'er the purple orchis blooming,
'Midst the celandine and cowslip starred among the grass;
And the soft-skinned cattle drowsing
In the king cups, cease their browsing,
And with languid eyes uplifted, view us as we pass.
Here, the proud swans, stern and stately,
As they glide in snowy splendour 'neath the willow's shade;
Whilst o'erhead the merry robin
Sits and sings amongst the branches of the neighbouring glade.
By the mill-wheel's busy clatter,
Turning with its splash and splatter,
Eddying out in rainbowed fancies on the buoyant air ;
On the pathway near the water
Trips the miller's dainty danghter,
With a scarlet poppy nestling 'mid her nut brown hair.
Quaint old gardens lined with flowers-
Show between the quivering poplars on the river side;
'Neath the boughs of hawthorn drooping,
With their wealth of shell-shaped petals shed upon the tide.
And we watch the fir trees' nearness
To the skies, whose fleecy clearness
Shapes them out in foliaged fretwork on a sapphire dome;
Down below the tall reeds rustle
Waterfowl and wagtail bustle,
Whilst the moor-hen and the plover pipe amid their reedy home.
So we drift and dream that ever
We might thus float on together,
Borne upon the rippling current to the music of its tune;
Heeding not that youth and passion,
Which the world can never fashion
To its setting-may not always be a summer's afternoon.
This subject of dragons, which in a tale has always possessed such an attraction for children, is not without interest for adults. Some type of dragon is found in almost every country, and under conditions which invariably lead to the same original idea. Investigators will find that the dragon, in his wandering through centuries of history, will have, for them, much of that fascination which his relative the basilisk is supposed to have exerted over birds. He holds a really important place in the study of comparative religion and cognate subjects, the decorative and pictorial arts, literature, archæology, and heraldrytaking each in the widest sense; and he will be traced through gorgeous temples in the East, where he symbolizes the spirit of evil, to the fiercest of early battles in the West, where he figures on the royal standard as "The Dragon of the great Pendragonship."* He is found portrayed in the writings of respected ancient philosophers, trodden under the feet of saints in mediæval art, and rampant in the most bewitching legends of every nation. It is curious to note in what grave and dignified language this monster has been described by persons professing to write natural history, and how readily their accounts have been accepted. Pliny says that the largest kind of dragon is found in India, and is of so enormous a size as easily to envelop an elephant in its folds. When a combat takes place between the two, the result is equally fatal to both; for the vanquished elephant, falling to the earth, crushes the dragon which is entwined around it. In a little chapter entirely devoted to the subject, he says, " Æthiopia produces dragons, not so large as those of India, but still twenty cubits in length. The only thing that surprises me is how Juba came to believe that they have crests. The Ethiopians are called Asachaei, amongst
* Once more, ere set of sun, they saw
The dragon of the great Pendragonship,
That crowned the state pavilion of the king,
Blaze by the rushing brook or silent well.-Idylls of the King. + Naturalis Historiæ, lib. viii., cap. ii.
whom they most abound. It is said that on those coasts four or five of them are found intertwined together like the twistings of hurdle-work, and setting sail with heads erect, they are borne along upon the waves to find better nourishment in Arabia."*
In the sixteenth century two works were published giving descriptions of this reptile; one by Ulisse Aldrorandi, professor of philosophy, botany and natural history at the University of Bologna, and the other by Konrad Gesners, professor of Greek at Lausanne, and of physics and natural philosophy at Zurich. And SO near our own time as the eighteenth century a Japanese writer on natural history commences his series with a three-clawed dragon, which he says is drawn from nature.† In England credulous people have paid to see a curiosity of this kind, formed artificially of parts from various animals. There is a grotto at the top of Mount Rattleslein, in Syria, which is still reported to be full of dragons' bones; and in the Church of St. Denis (France) was long exhibited the claw of a gryphon, sent as a present by the King of Persia to Charlemagne. There may have been at an extremely remote period some creature large enough to warrant these references to immense size and power, of which exaggerated accounts had come down to Pliny's age; but it is probable that he gave more than due credit to previous historians. In this, as we have seen, he was no worse than more recent writers; and even now, when scientific men will not accept the unsupported testimony of their dearest and most veracious relatives, many persons are glad to find some little explanation in the remains of Pterodactyls, huge saurians, provided with wings somewhat resembling those of the bat, and found in the Liassic and Oolitic formations.
These serious accounts, together with the serpent-like characteristics of the dragon, are, no doubt, the cause of his universal adoption as a symbol of evil, and perhaps the many legendary references to him which seem to contain no definite moral are the result of his appearance in religious literature and art. He is depicted as being slain by St. Michael, St. Margaret, St. Silvester, and St. Martha. St. John the Evangelist is represented as charming poison, in the form of a dragon, from some liquid that has been given him to drink in a chalice. On the conversion of Constantine a dragon was placed on the standard of cohorts, beneath the cross, as a monogram of the triumphs of Christianity; and there is scarcely a church of note in any country that does not
* The whole chapter reads-"Generat eos Ethiopia pares vicenum cubitarum. Id modo mirum unde cristatos Juba crediderit. Asachaei vocantur Æthiopes, apud quos maxime nascuntur. Narratur in maratimis eorum quarternos quinosque inter se cratium modo implexos, erectis capitibus, nelificantes ad meliora pabula Arabiæ vehi fluctibus.-Ibid. lib. viii., cap. xiii.
+ See "Catalogue of Japanese and Chinese Paintings in the British Museum.'
perpetuate some reference to dragon lore. On the portal of Autun Cathedral, in Burgundy, there is some curious carving representing a pair of scales in which souls are being weighed. On the right side St. Michael is endeavouring to influence the balance in favour of all who have led pious lives, while on the left the huge pan is being piled up with recently tortured wretches by two demons and a dragon. Fortunately, however, even this heap of iniquity is not sufficient to weigh down one righteous being when assisted by the kind offices of a saint. The carving was the work of Giale herlus, A.D. 1150. In the magnificent cathedral at Burgos, at the foot of the staircase, there are two immense dragons, having wings outstretched, and tails lashing the balustrade, with an evident intention of darting forward; where, in addition to their religious significance, they have the effect of lending great boldness to the whole scene. The beautiful Franenkirche at Esslingen has, on its west portal, a fine representation of the dragon vanquished; indeed so frequent and chaste are the similitudes in this church that the whole edifice has been called "a splendid hymn to the Virgin hewn in stone."* Old Welsh churches also pay their tribute to the imperishable monster. There is an interesting specimen on the normal arch over the doorway of Pensnow Priory Church, Anglesey, which belongs to a period antecedent to the conquest of Edward I. Many traces also exist in the church of Llanarmon-yn-Ial. These are somewhat reverend connections for a monster so fierce, where his battles have always been fought against a principle, and his defeat effected, not by steel or stratagem, but by pure virtue in his opponents. The creature's position in legends has less of dignity, but more of the heroic character; for the contests in which he engaged were of such ferocity and length that no successful foe could be less than a deity; one victor, Perseus, is even rewarded with a place amongst the constellations. Here the dragon's overthrow betokens the triumph of spring over winter, light over darkness, and in general good over evil.
In dealing with legends our great and primary interest is of course with Wales, where the dragon plays an important part, though the references to him are not abundant. It would naturally be expected of people who migrated from the land of Euphrates and Tigris, where the marvellous was admired and cultivated, that they should retain in their traditions some remnant of the mythical lore which must have surrounded their ancient home. Especially does this become observable when we find that in the language of the people can be traced the lineaments of both the Semitic and Indo-European families whose various branches were scattered in the great eras of wonderment
Quoted by Dr. Wilhelm Lübke in his History of Sculpture, vol. ii., p. 60.
and miracles. The Cymry brought away from the "Summer Country a language and superstitions peculiar to themselves and quite unique in their time; one peculiarity being that the dragon does not appear in the religious symbolism of their Druids; a fact which ought to enhance the credit due to Druid philosophy. There is, however, a very close relationship between their most ancient tradition and the earliest Greek myth. It will be remembered that Apollo slew a huge python which was said to have sprung from the mud and stagnant waters remaining after the Deluge; and that he was the destroyer of the wicked and overbearing, the protector of flocks, and the god who delighted in the foundation of towns and the establishment of civil constitutions. Wales has the corresponding legend in that of Hu Gadarn (Hu the Mighty). A dragon had caused the Lake of Floods to overflow, and thus produced the universal deluge, from which only Dwyvan and Dwyvach were saved. They escaped in a ship called Nevydd Nav Neivion, which carried a male and female of every animal. The descendants of Dwyvan and Dwyvach are the inhabitants of the Isle of Britain. Hu Gadarn, desiring to prevent a recurrence of this calamity, assailed the dragon, and attaching him by a golden chain to Neinio and Peibio, two powerful oxen drew the monster from the lake, and then destroyed him, so that the floods burst no more. Like Apollo, Hu was a deity who patronised agricultural and pastoral pursuits, for :
"The mighty Hu is a sovereign, a steadfast protector,
Emperor of sea and land,
And the life of all in the world was he ;
After the floods he held the strong-beamed plough active and
It is said of Hu's grandson, Dyvnwal Moelmud, or Dyvnvarth ab Prydain, that he "destroyed the oppression of the dragon of Britain,' which sprang from the frenzy of the country under the pressure of the violence and lawlessness of princes, by framing an equitable system of mutual obligations."
There is also an unconnected legend relating to Cilmin Troed-Du (Cilmin the black-footed) of a superior kind, as the battle in this case is undertaken from pure friendship and for the acquisition of knowledge, whereas the knights oftenest fought to take from the dragon his dainty breakfast of fair damsel. Cilmin, it appears, became friendly with a necromancer who
* A numerous race and fierce esteemed
Men of Asia, from the land of Gafio, near the Sea of Azov.
+ Song of Iolo Goch. Hu was the first in all the world to use song for recording and keeping alive in the memory deeds of valour.