Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/79

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69
THE WILL-O'-THE-WISP AND ITS FOLK-LORE.

grounds at Syiham, just by AVingfield, are the i(/nes fatui, commonly called Syiham lamps, the terror and destruction of travelers, and even of the inhabitants, who are frequently misled by them."

Another of its popular nicknames in former years was "Kit of the Canstick "—i. e., candlestick; and, in "Poor Robin's Almanack" for 1777, it is styled "Peg-a-lantern":

"I should indeed as soon expect

That Peg-a-lantern would direct
Me straightway home on misty night;
As wand'ring stars, quite out of sight,
Pegg's dancing light does oft betray,

And lead her followers astray."

The expression ignis fatuus, or foolish fire, originated in its leading men astray, as in the "Tempest" (Act iv, sc. 1), where Stephanio says, "Monster, your fairy, which you say is a harmless fairy, has done little better than played the jack with us"—a passage which is explained by Johnson thus: "He has played Jack-with-a-lantern; he has led us about like an ignis fatuus, by which travelers are decoyed into the mire." Thus Gray describes it:

"How Will-a'-Wisp misleads night-gazing clowns
O'er hills, and sinking bogs, and pathless downs."

In Scotland, one of the names for this appearance is "Dank Will," and in Ireland it is known as "Miscann Many," an allusion to which occurs in Croker's "Fairy Legends of the South of Ireland" in the story of the "Spirit Horse," where Morty Sullivan is so sadly deluded by it.

Again, the term "Fire-drake,"[1] which is jocularly used in "Henry VIII" (Act V, sc. 4) for a man with a red face, was one of the popular names for the Will-o'-the-Wisp; in allusion to which Burton, in his "Anatomic of Melancholy," says, "Fiery spirits or devils are such as commonly work by fire-drakes or ignes fatui, which lead men often in flumina et prœcipitia." It appears, also, that in Shakespeare's day "a walking fire" was another common name for the Will-o'-the-Wisp, to which he probably refers in "King Lear" (Act iv, sc. 3), where, Gloster's torch being seen in the distance, the fool says, "Look, here comes a walking fire"; whereupon Edgar replies: "This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibet; he begins at Curfew and walks till the first cock." Hence Mr. Hunter[2] considers that Flibbertigibet was a name for the Will-o'-the-Wisp. That, however, this phenomenon was known

  1. A "Fire-drake" appears to have been also an artificial firework, as in Middleton's "Five Gallants":

    "... But, like firedrakes,
    Mounted a little, gave a crack, and fell."

  2. "New Illustrations of the Life, Studies, and Writings of Shakespeare," ii, 272.