Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/78

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68
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Thus, in remote villages and secluded country nooks the peasant, while not forgetting the traditions handed down to him, continues to believe with implicit faith in those quaint and weird fancies which have invested the Will-o'-the-Wisp with such a peculiar dread. This terror, as we shall point out, in a great measure originated in the many tales and legends that were in past centuries framed to explain and account for this deceptive phenomenon.

Referring, then, in the first place, to the various names assigned to it—many of these are extremely curious, differing according to the country and locality. Its most popular appellation, Will-o'-the-Wisp, was probably derived from its customary appearance; this wandering meteor having been personified because it looked to the spectators like a person carrying a lighted straw torch in his hand. Hence it has been termed Jack, Gill, Joan, Will, or Robin, indifferently, in accordance with the fancy of the rustic mind; the supposed spirit of the lamp being thought to resemble either a male or female apparition. Hentzner, for instance, in his "Travels in England" (1598), relates how, returning from Canterbury to Dover, "there were a great many Jacka-lanthorns, so that we were quite seized with horror and amazement."

In Worcestershire, the phenomenon is termed by the several names of "Hob-and-his-Lanthorn," "Hobany's Lanthom," and "Hoberdy's Lanthorn"—the word Hob in each case being the same name as occurs in connection with the phrase hobgoblin. It appears that, in days gone by. Hob was a frequent name among common people, and, curiously enough, Coriolanus (Act ii, sc. 3) speaks of it as used by the citizens of Rome:

"Why in this wolvish gown should I stand here,

To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear

Their needless vouches?"

Subsequently, Hob seems to have been used as a substitute for Hobgoblin, as in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Monsieur Thomas" (Act iv, sc. 6):

"From elves, hobs, and fairies,

From fire-drakes or fiends.
And such as the devil sends,

 Defend us, good Heaven!"

A Northamptonshire name is Jinny Buntail, which is evidently a corruption of Jinn with the burnt tail, or "Wild burnt tail," an allusion to which occurs in Gayton's "Notes on Don Quixote" (1654, 97), where we read of "Will with the Wispe, or Gyl burnt tayle," and, again (268), of "An ignis fatuus, or exhalation, and Gillon a burnt tayle, or Will with the Wispe." The Somersetshire peasant talks of " Joan-in-the-Wad," and "Jack-a-Wad," Wad and Wisp being synonymous. In Suffolk it was known as "A Gylham lamp," in reference to which we are told in Gough's "Camden" (ii, 90) how, "in the low