Monday, October 26, 2009

"Tis like enough, that all Monasteries had Dungeons too; for they have the power of Life and Death within themselves," or, More John Aubrey

Those of you who are either scholars or obsessive dilettantes by nature will understand when I explain that the post I intended to write tonight has been temporarily derailed by too much digging. As John Crowley puts it, "The further in you go, the bigger it gets," and that's what happened tonight, as an Edmund Wilson quote on the cover of a favorite anthology of creepy tales led to a quick online query that plunged me into what clearly will need to be a more detailed post than the rapidly diminishing store of sand in tonight's hourglass will allow.

Instead, I offer tonight's other exciting discovery: some writings by John Aubrey on folklore that I'd not previously encountered. That indefatigable October companion The Oxford Book of the Supernatural pointed me to them with this extract from Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme:
This is the Lycanthropos, the French call it Garloup: and doe believe that some wicked men can transforme themselves into Woolves and bite, and worry people and doe mischiefe to mankind: When I was at Orleans I sawe in the Hospitall there a young fellow in cure whose left Cheeke was eaten (he sayd by this Garloup for sayd he had it been a woolfe he would have killed me out right and eaten me up. No doubt heretofore this opinion was in this island.
A bit of research revealed that the manuscript, first published by the Folk-Lore Society in 1881, was, like so many of Aubrey's half-finished projects, "a rough draft of what was intended to be an elaborate work." As the editor of the Folk-Lore Society's edition, James Britten, goes on to explain, "As it stands, it is disjointed, and there are numerous repetitions," which fact seems unlikely either to surprise or to deter any true lover of Aubrey. Neither will Britten's subsequent note that,
Aubrey had the faculty of collection rather than that of selection, and he was clearly inclined to be credulous, and thought to be so by some of his most noteworthy contemporaries.
Britten goes on to write,
At the present day, whatever we may think of Aubrey's credulity, all folk-lorists are glad that he did not "disdain to quote" the proverbs, sayings, and traditions of the people.
And who, as autumn draws in and darkness takes ever more of each day, could be anything but glad that Aubrey was willing to listen to--and believe, people like Mr. Brown's shepherd:
That the Fairies would steale away young children and putt others in their places; verily believed by old woemen of those dayes: and by some yet living.

Some were led away by the Fairies, as was a Hind riding upon Hakpen with corne, led a dance to ye Devises. So was a shepherd of Mr. Brown, of Winterburn Basset: but never any afterwards enjoy themselves. He sayd that ye ground opened, and he was brought into strange places underground, where they used musicall Instruments violls and Lutes, such (he sayd) as Mr. Thomas did play on.
It appears that Remaines of Gentilisme and Judiasme is available from a couple of low-rent reprint houses; methinks you'll be hearing more from that volume in the coming months.*

1 comment:

  1. When time allows (or when I have enough sand in my hourglass, as you put it), I will have a closer look at John Aubrey.