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On Imaginary Beings.
his doctrine o' mystery an' delusion, in a takin' new-fassont style, wi' lang nebbet kittle words, an' a persuasive winnin' guile in his reasonin'-an' citin' a wheen auld Pagan outhors, an i. rs, to support his whims; so that I am alarm't, lest he make disciples o' the risin' generation; an' sae lead their weak min's ajee into the bewilderin' fiel's o' fancy; till they're begunket into mental slavery;—then ilka broom bus', or auld tree stump they see afore them in a mirk night, will start up, and be chang't into an apparition, or evil spirit: an' gif we judge frae the effecks o' this system upo' our forbears, the upshot o the awsome sights they'll get, 'll ding some o' them defeerit, or maybe even—(as has been) unhool their sauls.
It's no my intention to write a particular answer to Vetus; I hae mair gumption, than think a simple carle like me, wha can only crack, an' scrawl i' my mither tongue, will be listen't to by ane wha can screed owre blauds o' Latin like the A B C; I lea' this to men o' lear', an' houp some o' them will manfully meet him wi' the wapon o' truth. But as silence in this case wad be a sin; an' frae the consideration that lear' disna confer reason, nor judgment, nor common sense, nor soun' sentiments, nor Christianity; an' as I profess to be posses't o' a sma' share o' some o' thae blessin's, wi' your permission, Sir, I shall gie an inklin' o' my min' on the subject.
Like Vetus, I was ance a dupe o superstition an' credulity, occasioned by my min' bein' stor't, whan I was a callan, wi’ won'erfu' an' awfu stories tauld by packmen an' ithers, at my father's ingle neuk on winter e'enin's-about fairies takin' awa' weans-brownies thrashin' corn-the cantrips o' witches-the appearance o' ghaists-Sathan gaun about i' the shape o’a bull dog or a sow-about the dead watch-the dead drapspunkie,-visions, &c. &c. Thae, an' mony mae sic like tales o' terror, I believ't to be true; indeed maistly auld an' young believ't them; an' the mair marvellous an' frightfu' the mair pleasure they seem't to gie:-they had sae firm a haud o' our min's, that we durstna for our sauls venture out alane in the dark, to gang frae ae house to anither, at ony distance; gif we did, some supernatural misshanter was sure to befa' us afore we return't, for
-Then the ghaists an' worry cowes,
On Imaginary Beings.
(Whar some bit wan'erin' burnie rowes,)
Kirk-yards, dyke-backs, or lanely knowes,
But gude be thanket, afore I was the age o' twenty, wi' some Elinks o' knowledge I acquir't by readin' beuks; an' refusin' to believe ony thing till I had evidence for the truth o't, I got quat o' the haill system o' balderdash, delusion, an' terror. An' strange as ye may think it, I was first staggert in' my belief o Imaginary Beings, by gettin' familiar wi' auld Nansie Howlet, (wha was a near neebor) wham maist feck o' fo'k for mony a mile roun' wad uphaud was a Witch. An' truly she had the marks an' qualifications o' ane. She was auld-an' wrink'lt an' poor-had a black cat, an' dwalt in a wee bit reeky croce, that hunkert in a howe, at the neuk o' a craig, amang trees.. The neebors were cautious no to anger her, for fear o' skaith.Gif ony o' their bairns teuk a backgangin'-ony o' the kye a towt-or horse the baits, she gat the wyte o' a' fell out.'
I shall gie twa instances o' her cantrip slight out o' mony, that 'll cast a blink o' light on the case; an' I recommen' Vetus to use them as a pair o' spenticles.-A cow o' my father's was discovcr't ae mornin' without the tail, an' she didna gie ha'f milk: an' it was mainteen't without doubt, auld Nanse had doon the wicket deed, for her cat was seen to whid through the byre the precedin' night; this, wi' the refusal o' some sour milk she had sought the day afcre, was proof sufficient.
Shortly after this i' the month o' October, ae e'enin', the milk kye o' a neebor farmer, as usual were lodg't i' the byre; but ae sta' was toom, an' hawky coudna be seen about the house.-The, servan' man, maid, an' herd laddie, were sent to the feel's to search for her: they warna favor't wi' the light o' the moon, an' the nicht was unco dark; no to tell how eerie they were, wi' the blinkin' o' spunkie, an' the deil flecin' aboon their heads i' the lickness o' a corbie, they fan the cow gaun amang the laird's queys, after twa hours seekin'. She was gruppet, a raip fix't roun' the root o' her horns, led hame, an' bun to the stake i' the sta'. As the maid was wat an' weary't, the gudewife gade to ease hawky o' her milk; but just whan she began to do the business, she gae an' eldritch skirl, an' exclaim't, Gude keep us a' frae skaith, her
On Imaginary Beings.
uther's clean awa', as bare's my loof!' while she ran to the kitchen, an' maist swart at the thocht o't!They dursina venture to gang to the byre; but a convention o' the hall family was held roun the ingle; an' it was concludet for certain, auld Nanse had been operatin' wi' her wonder workin' power i' the Black Art; for her baudrons, as i' the ither case, was seen to spring out o the byre, by the hallan door, at the very moment the gudewife flew ben skreechin: an' it was resolv't as soon as it was light, to grup her, cut, an' burn her aboon the breath, to prevent farther mischief; an' than tak her afore the baillie.--Neist mornin', whan the gudeman an' servan lad, gade to the barn to thrash, they were astonish't to fin' hawky lyin' there, chewin' her cude! She had unseen slippet in as she pass't the nicht afore, to tak' a rive o' corn, an immediately the door had been locket. They took courage than to enter the byre, an' discover't the cow the lad an' lass had brought in was a— --Highlan Stot!
In this case Nanse was acquittet, an' preserv't fiae bein mangi't wi' their jocktelegs, an' red het tangs. As to the case o' my father's tailless cow, to my shame I confess it was me, that stoot it aff; partly in wantonness, an' partly accidental, wi' a heuk 1 had been shearin' rashes wi': an' durstna speak o't for twa towmonts after, whan the cow was kill't for a malt, an' sawtet i' the barrel.
My ain guilt, an' the poor woman's innocence, touch't my conscience, an' led me in sympathy to pay antrin visits to her habitation; to bestow kindness an' frien'ship:-an' indeed 1 fan there wasna a mair mensfu', sensible, an' harmless woman i' the parish. She an' I grew sae intimate as to tauk on the subject o' wichcraft; an' her opinion, i shall gie in her ain words. Tweel Mungo,' quo' she, I ken fok says I'm no kanny; but they maun be baith ignorant an' weak of the min', to think the Almighty wad commit the dispensation o' his Providence to the charge, will, an' pleasure, o' a poor, auld, feckless body like me! Na, na, Mungo, this is no His way o' workin' ava-to gie supernatural gifts an' power to ony inan, or woman, to play pliskies, spread terror, and injure man or beast at their nod. It's true Sathan is our enemy, but his power is limitet, an' he carries on his evil wark not without us, but within us; an' to say, that in a twitch, auid women are transform't into cats, or maukins, to
On Imaginary Beings.
accomplish some horrid purpose, our minister affirms is gross absurdity. Was sic like doon, it wad be a miracle; an' he mainteens there has na been ane wrought this se'enteen hun'er years. But, gif I had rowth o' gear, a bein house, an' braw claise, an' gi'en charity instead o' gettin't, I wadna need to thole the cla mour o the kintra side, for an ill e'e, or for castin' cantrips.'
Now, Sir, my acquantance wi' auld Nanse, an' the antrin hints she gied me, as I hae notit, gart me tak courage, whan marvellous reports were spread, to search out the cause; an' i ne'er fail't to fin' they were a' lying wonders,' an' sae whan I was but a young chiel, I didna believe there was a witch i' the kintry, nor do I now ken a man wha believes there is ane. But we've aye had rowth o' young witches-Whan Sarah my haf marrow, an' I were in our teens, she coost some glamour owre me than, that's no ta'en aff to this day.
The Dead Watch, has made mony a body eerie at the dead hour o❜ night; it was lang consider't a warnin' spirit,
'Because like a watch it always cries click ;
Then wo be to those in the house that are sick.'"
Though thousan's hae been alarm't wi' this suppos't spiritual monitor, there are few now but ken that it's just a worm in auld wood, about the size o' a louse; an' the real cause o' its tickin' is bitin' wi' its teeth, or scartin' wi' its claws.
The won'erfu' stories a' Ghaists are without num'er, an' maistly without truth. But I shall relate ye the true account of ane, that was seen at my yard-fit, in the year aughteen hun'er an' aught, whilk I then wrote down i' my ain hamely manner; an' my sin Peter wha's a minister i' the east kintry, gat a sight o't, about five years sin', whan he was wast seein' us; he than gied it what he ca'd an English dress, and gat it prentit in a Magazine; but a gude tale's no the waur o' bein" twice tauld."'"
Some years ago on a New-years-day morning (when there had been a great fall of snow), three young persons in a country vil lage, set out to be first fit to some of their friends, a few miles distant. They walked cheerily along the road, which is lined on each side with fences, till they came to the parish churchyard, which they had to pass, when suddenly their mirth was converted into terror, at the appearance of a Ghost! It was wrapt up in winding-sheet, shaded with black, standing on a grave shaking
On Imaginary Beings.
its head, and bowing to them as they approached! They durst not proc ed farther, but trembling and speechless made signals to each other to return. Though they had turned their backs upon the ghost their agitation continued, nor had they scarce courage to cast their eyes behind to see whether it followed them or not, till they met a half-drunk, hearty old soldier, whom they knew, and who was also bearing a hot pint to some of his friends. They told him the dreary tale, and requested him to return. He laughed at their timidity-determined to go on, crooning as he left them:
Fair play I carena ghaist a bodře.
When he came within view of the awful spot, he likewise saw the ghost, as they had described it. Taking a hearty draught of the hot pint, to keep up his courage, he proceeded, and the nearer he approached, as he looked over the dyke at it, he was positive it had assumed the appearance of an old woman smoking a pipe! Determined to examine it, he sprung over the wall; however, in defiance of his resolution, fear made an invasion upon him; but still despising the idea of being a coward, pressed -on, and with a few unsteady steps reached it: but instead of a terrific ghost, it was only-A thorn bush waving with the wind, and clogged with the drifting snow!
Such, Sir, is the result o' ilka investigation respectin' ghaists, witches, and ither creatures, existin' nae whare but in the phrenzied noddles o'visionaries.
Thae wha believe Ghaists wan'er about in this warld, also be lieve, whan a person dies, the saul gaes to heaven, or the shades below, an' its state unalterably fixed for ever. The truth is, a happy spirit can hae nae wis' to return to the yirth to terrify mankind: and nae miserable spirit ever yet escapet frae Tophet. That patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and ithers, saw angels, an' spirits, an' conversed wi' them, nae Christian doubts; but that ony mortal man has seen a spirit sin' the death o' the apostle John, (whan Revelation ceased) nane dívestet o' prejudice, an' superstition, an' possest o' a soun' understandin', will assert, or attempt to prove.—I dinna exclude Vetus o' his share o' this assertion-ony allowance I can mak in his favour is a conjecture that he's either a poet, or a papist.-Gif he's a poet, ilka body kens there's a clause in their creed, that they may create ony