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Title: The Botathen Ghost
Author: R S Hawker (1803-1875)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0800991.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: September 2008
Date most recently updated: September 2008


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Title: The Botathen Ghost
Author: R S Hawker (1803-1875)

From "All the Year Round", 18 May, 1867



There was something very painful and peculiar in the position of the
clergy in the west of England throughout the seventeenth century. The
Church of those days was in a transitory state, and her ministers, like
her formularies, embodied a strange mixture of the old belief with the
new interpretation. Their wide severance also from the great metropolis
of life and manners, the city of London (which in those times was
civilized England, much as the Paris of our own day is France), divested
the Cornish clergy in particular of all personal access to the
master-minds of their age and body. Then, too, the barrier interposed by
the rude rough roads of their country, and by their abode in wilds that
were almost inaccessible, rendered the existence of a bishop rather a
doctrine suggested to their belief than a fact revealed to the actual
vision of each in his generation. Hence it came to pass that the Cornish
clergyman, insulated within his own limited sphere, often without even
the presence of a country squire (and unchecked by the influence of the
Fourth Estate--for until the beginning of this nineteenth century,
_Flindell's Weekly Miscellany_, distributed from house to house from the
pannier of a mule, was the only light of the West), became developed
about middle life into an original mind and man, sole and absolute within
his parish boundary, eccentric when compared with his brethren in
civilized regions, and yet, in German phrase, 'a whole and seldom man' in
his dominion of souls. He was 'the parson', in canonical phrase--that is
to say, The Person, the somebody of consequence among his own people.
These men were not, however, smoothed down into a monotonous aspect of
life and manners by this remote and secluded existence. They imbibed,
each in his own peculiar circle, the hue of surrounding objects, and were
tinged into a distinctive colouring and character by many a contrast of
scenery and people. There was the 'light of other days', the curate by
the sea-shore, who professed to check the turbulence of the 'smugglers'
landing by his presence on the sands, and who 'held the lantern' for the
guidance of his flock when the nights were dark, as the only proper
ecclesiastical part he could take in the proceedings. He was soothed and
silenced by the gift of a keg of hollands or a chest of tea. There was
the merry minister of the mines, whose cure was honeycombed by the
underground men. He must needs have been artist and poet in his way, for
he had to enliven his people three or four times a-year, by mastering the
arrangements of a 'guary.', or religious mystery, which was duly
performed in the topmost hollow of a green barrow or hill, of which many
survive, scooped out into vast amphitheatres and surrounded by benches of
turf which held two thousand spectators. Such were the historic plays,
'The Creation' and 'Noe's Flood', which still exist in the original
Celtic as well as the English text, and suggest what critics and
antiquaries these Cornish curates, masters of such revels, must have
been--for the native language of Cornwall did not lapse into silence
until the end of the seventeenth century. Then, moreover, here and there
would be one parson more learned than his kind in the mysteries of a deep
and thrilling lore of peculiar fascination. He was a man so highly
honoured at college for natural gifts and knowledge of learned books
which nobody else could read, that when he 'took his second orders' the
bishop gave him a mantle of scarlet silk to wear upon his shoulders in
church, and his lordship had put such power into it that, when the parson
had it rightly on, he could 'govern any ghost or evil spirit', and even
'stop an earthquake'.

Such a powerful minister, in combat with supernatural visitations, was
one Parson Rudall, of Launceston, whose existence and exploits we gather
from the local tradition of his time, from surviving letters and other
memoranda, and indeed from his own 'diurnal' which fell by chance into
the hands of the present writer. Indeed the legend of Parson Rudall and
the Botathen Ghost will be recognized by many Cornish people as a local
remembrance of their boyhood.

It appears, then, from the diary of this learned master of the grammar
school--for such was his office as well as perpetual curate of the
parish--'that a pestilential disease did break forth in our town in the
beginning of the year AD 1665; yea, and it likewise invaded my school,
insomuch that therewithal certain of the chief scholars sickened and
died'. 'Among others who yielded to the malign influence was Master John
Eliot, the eldest son and the worshipful heir of Edward Eliot, Esquire,
of Trebursey, a stripling of sixteen years of age, but of uncommon parts
and hopeful ingenuity. At his own especial motion and earnest desire I
did consent to preach his funeral sermon.' It should he remembered here
that, howsoever strange and singular it may sound to us that a mere lad
should formally solicit such a performance at the hands of his master, it
was in consonance with the habitual usage of those times. The old
services for dead had been abolished by law, and in the stead of
sacrament andceremony, month's mind and year's mind, the sole substitute
which survived was the general desire 'to partake', as they called it, of
a posthumous discourse, replete with lofty eulogy and flattering
remembrance of the living and the dead. The diary proceeds:

'I fulfilled my undertaking, and preached over the coffin in the presence
of a full assemblage of mourners and lachrymose friends. An ancient
gentleman, who was then and there in the church, a Mr Bligh, of Botathen,
was much affected with my discourse, and he was heard to repeat to
himself certain parentheses therefrom, especially a phrase from Maro
Virgilius, which I had applied to the deceased youth, "_Et puer ipse fuit
cantari dignus_."

'The cause wherefore this old gentleman was moved by my applications was
this: He had a first-born and only son--a child who, but a very few
months before, had been not unworthy the character I drevv of young
Master Eliot, but who, by some strange accident, had of late quite fallen
away from his parent's hopes, and become moody, and sullen, and
distraught. When the funeral obsequies were over, I had no sooner come
out of church than I was accosted by this aged parent, and he besought me
incontinently, with a singular energy, that I would resort with him
forthwith to his abode at Botathen that very night; nor could I have
delivered myself from his importunity, had not Mr Eliot urged his claim
to enjoy my company at his own house. Hereupon I got loose, but not until
I had pledged a fast assurance that I would pay him, faithfully, an early
visit the next day.'

'The Place', as it was called, of Botathen, where old Mr Bligh resided,
was a low-roofed gabled manor-house of the fifteenth century, walled and
mullioned, and with clustered chimneys of dark-grey stone from the
neighbouring quarries of Ventor-gan. The mansion was flanked by a
pleasance or enclosure in one space, of garden and lawn, and it was
surrounded by a solemn grove of stag-horned trees. It had the sombre
aspect of age and of solitude, and looked the very scene of strange and
supernatural events. A legend might well belong to every gloomy glade
around, and there must surely be a haunted room somewhere within its
walls. Hither, according to his appointment, on the morrow, Parson Rudall
betook himself. Another clergyman, as it appeared, had been invited to
meet him, who, very soon after his arrival, proposed a walk together in
the pleasance, on the pretext of showing him, as a stranger, the walks
and trees, until the dinner-hell should strike. There, with much
prolixity, and with many a solemn pause, his brother minister proceeded
to 'unfold the mystery'.

A singular infelicity, he declared, had befallen young Master Bligh, once
the hopeful heir of his parents and of the lands of Botathen. Whereas he
had been from childhood a blithe and merry boy, 'the gladness', like
Isaac of old, of his father's age, he had suddenly, and of late, become
morose and silent--nay, even austere and stern--dwelling apart, always
solemn, often in tears. The lad had at first repulsed all questions as to
the origin of this great change, but of late he had yielded to the
importune researches of his parents, and had disclosed the secret cause.
It appeared that he resorted every day, by a pathway across the fields,
to this very clergyman's house, who had charge of his education, and
grounded him in the studies suitable to his age. In the course of his
daily walk he had to pass a certain heath or down where the road wound
along through tall blocks of granite with open spaces of grassy sward
between. There in a certain spot, and always in one and the same place,
the lad declared that he encountered, every day, a woman with a pale and
troubled face, clothed in a long loose garment of frieze, with one hand
always stretched forth, and the other pressed against her side. Her name,
he said, was Dorothy Dinglet, for he had known her well from his
childhood, and she often used to come to his parents' house; but that
which troubled him was, that she had now been dead three years, and he
himself had been with the neighbours at her burial; so that, as the youth
alleged, with great simplicity, since he had seen her body laid in the
grave, this that he saw every day must needs he her soul or ghost.
'Questioned again and again,' said the clergyman, 'he never contradicts
himself; but he relates the same and the simple tale as a thing that
cannot be gain-said. Indeed, the lad's observance is keen and calm for a
boy of his age. The hair of the appearance, sayeth he, is not like
anything alive, but it is so soft and light that it seemeth to melt away
while you look; but her eyes arc set, and never blink--no, not when the
sun shineth lull upon her face. She maketh no steps, but seemeth to swim
along the top of the grass; and her hand, which is stretched out alway,
seemeth to point at something far away, out of sight. It is her continual
coming; for she never faileth to meet him, and to pass on, that hath
quenched his spirits; and although he never seeth her by night, yet
cannot he get his natural rest.'

'Thus far the clergyman; whereupon the dinner-clock did sound, and we
went into the house. After dinner, when young Master Bligh had withdrawn
with his tutor, under excuse of their books, the parents did forthwith
beset me as to my thoughts about their son. Said I, warily, "The case is
strange but by no means impossible. It is one that I will study, and fear
not to handle, if the lad will be free with me, and fulfil all that I
desire." The mother was overjoyed, but I perceived that old Mr thigh
turned pale, and was downcast with some thought which, however, he did
not express. Then they bade that Master Bligh should be called to meet me
in the pleasance forthwith. The boy came, and he rehearsed to me his talc
with an open countenance, and, withal, a pretty modesty of speech. Verily
he seemed _ingenui vultus puer ingenuique pudoris_. Then I signified to
him my purpose. "Tomorrow," said I, "we will go together to the place;
and if, as I doubt not, the woman shall appear, it will be for me to
proceed according to knowledge, and by rules laid down in my hooks."'

The unaltered scenery of the legend still survives, and, like the field
of the forty footsteps in another history, the place is still visited by
those who take interest in the supernatural tales of old. The pathway
leads along a moorland waste, where large masses of rock stand up here
and there from the grassy turf, and clumps of heath and gorse weave their
tapestry of golden and purple garniture on every side. Amidst all these,
and winding along between the rocks, is a natural footway worn by the
scant, rare tread of the village traveller. Just midway, a somewhat
larger stretch than usual of green sod expands, which is skirted by the
path, and which is still identified as the legendary haunt of the
phantom, by the name of Parson Rudall's Ghost.

But we must draw the record of the first interview between the minister
and Dorothy from his own words. 'We met', thus he writes, 'in the
pleasance very early, and before any others in the house were awake; and
together the lad and myself proceeded towards the field. The youth was
quite composed, and carried his Bible under his arm, from whence he read
to me verses, which he said he had lately picked out, to have always in
his mind. These were Job vii. 14, "Thou scarest me with dreams, and
terrifiest me through visions", and Deuteronomy xxviii. 67, "In the
morning thou shalt say, Would to God it were evening, and in the evening
thou shalt say, Would to God it were morning; for the tear of thine heart
wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou
shalt see."

'I was much pleased with the lad's ingenuity in these pious applications,
but for mine own part I was somewhat anxious and out of cheer. For aught
I knew this might be a daemonium meridianum, the most stubborn spirit to
govern and guide that any man can meet, and the most perilous withal. We
had hardly reached the accustomed spot, when we both saw her at once
gliding towards us; punctually as the ancient writers describe the motion
of their "lemures, which swoon along the ground, neither marking the sand
nor bending the herbage". The aspect of the woman was exactly that which
had been related by the lad. There was the pale and stony face, the
strange and misty hair, the eyes firm and fixed, that gazed, yet not on
us, but on something that they saw far, far away; one hand and arm
stretched out, and the other grasping the girdle of her waist. She
floated along the field like a sail upon a stream, and glided past the
spot where we stood, pausingly. But so deep was the awe that overcame me,
as I stood there in the light of day, face to face with a human soul
separate from her bones and flesh, that my heart and purpose both failed
me. I had resolved to speak to the spectre in the appointed form of
words, but I did not. I stood like one amazed and speechless, until she
had passed clean out of sight. One thing remarkable came to pass. A
spaniel dog, the favourite of young Master Bligh, had followed us, and
lo! when the woman drew nigh, the poor creature began to yell and hark
piteously, and ran backward and away, like a thing dismayed and appalled.
We returned to the house, and after I had said all that I could to pacify
the lad, and to soothe the aged people, I took my leave for that time,
with a promise that when I had fulfilled certain business elsewhere,
which I then alleged, I would return and take orders to assuage these
disturbances and their cause.

January 7, 1665. At my own house, I find, by my hooks, what is expedient
to be done; and then Apage, Sathanas!

'January 9, 1665. This day I took leave of my wife and family, under
pretext of engagements elsewhere, and made my secret journey to our
diocesan city, wherein the good and venerable bishop then abode.

'January 10. _Deo gratias_, in safe arrival in Exeter; craved and
obtained immediate audience of his lordship; pleading it was for counsel
and admonition on a weighty and pressing cause; called to the presence;
made obeisance; then and by command stated my case--the Botathen
perplexity--which I moved with strong and earnest instances and solemn
asseverations of that which I had myself seen and heard. Demanded by his
lordship, what was the succour that I had come to entreat at his hands.
Replied, licence for my exorcism, that so I might, ministerially, allay
this spiritual visitant, and thus render to the living and the dead
release from this surprise. "But," said our bishop, "on what authority do
you allege that I am entrusted with faculty so to do? Our Church, as is
well known, hath abjured certain branches of her ancient power, on
grounds of perversion and abuse." "Nay, my lord," I humbly answered,
"under favour, the seventy-second of the canons ratified and enjoined on
us, the clergy, anno Domini 1604, doth expressly provide, that 'no
minister, unless he hath the licence of his diocesan bishop, shall essay
to exorcise a spirit, evil or good.' Therefore it was," I did here mildly
allege, "that I did not presume to enter on such a work without lawful
privilege under your lordship's hand and seal." Hereupon did our wise and
learned bishop, sitting in his chair, condescend upon the theme at some
length with many gracious interpretations from ancient writers and from
Holy Scriptures, and I did humbly rejoin and reply, till the upshot was
that he did call in his secretary and command him to draw the aforesaid
faculty, forthwith and without further delay, assigning him a form,
insomuch that the matter was incontinently done; and after I had
disbursed into the secretary's hands certain moneys for signitary
purposes, as the manner of such officers hath always been, the bishop did
himself affix his signature under the _sigillum_ of his see, and deliver
the document into my hands. When I knelt down to receive his benediction,
he softly said, "Let it be secret, Mr R. Weak brethren! weak brethren!"'

This interview with the bishop, and the success with which he vanquished
his lordship's scruples, would seem to have confirmed Parson Rudall very
strongly in his own esteem, and to have invested him with that courage
which he evidently lacked at his first encounter with the ghost.

The entries proceed: 'January 11, 1665. Therewithal did I hasten home and
prepare my instruments, and cast my figures for the onset of the next
day. Took out my ring of brass, and put it on the index-finger of my
right hand, with the _scutum Davidis_ traced thereon.

January 12, 1665. Rode into the gateway at Botathen, armed at all points,
but not with Saul's armour, and ready. There is danger from the demons,
but so there is in the surrounding air every day. At early morning then,
and alone--for so the usage ordains--I betook me towards the field. It
was void, and I had thereby due time to prepare. First I paced and
measured out my circle on the grass. Then I did mark my pentacle in the
very midst, and at the intersection of the five angles I did set up and
fix my crutch of raun [rowan]. Lastly, I took my station south, at the
true line of the meridian, and stood facing due north. I waited and
watched for a long time. At last there was a kind of trouble in the air,
a soft and rippling sound, and all at once the shape appeared, and came
on towards me gradually. I opened my parchment-scroll, and read aloud the
command. She paused, and seemed to waver and doubt; stood still; then I
rehearsed the sentence again, sounding out every syllable like a chant.
She drew near my ring, but halted at first outside, on the brink. I
sounded again, and now at the third time I gave the signal in Syriac--the
speech which is used, they say, where such ones dwell and converse in
thoughts that glide.

'She was at last obedient, and swam into the midst of the circle, and
there stood still, suddenly. I saw, moreover, that she drew back her
pointing hand. All this while I do confess that my knees shook under me,
and the drops of sweat ran down my flesh like rain. But now, although
face to face with the spirit, my heart grew calm, and my mind was
composed. I knew that the pentacle would govern her, and the ring must
hind, until I gave the word. Then I called to mind the rule laid down of
old, that no angel or fiend, no spirit, good or evil, will ever speak
until they have been first spoken to. N.B. This is the great law of
prayer. God Himself will not yield reply until man hath made vocal
entreaty, once and again. So I went on to demand, as the books advise;
and the phantom made answer, willingly. Questioned wherefore not at rest.
Unquiet, because of a certain sin. Asked what, and by whom. Revealed it;
but it is _sub sigillo_, and therefore _nefas dictu_; more anon.
Enquired, what sign she could give that she was a true spirit and not a
false fiend. Stated, before next Yule-tide a fearful pestilence would lay
waste the land and myriads of souls would be loosened from their flesh,
until, as she piteously said, "our valleys will be full". Asked again,
why she so terrified the lad. Replied: "It is the law: we must seek a
youth or a maiden of clean life, and under age, to receive messages and
admonitions." We conversed with many more words, but it is not lawful for
me to set them down. Pen and ink would degrade and defile the thoughts
she uttered, and which my mind received that day. I broke the ring and
she passed, but to return once more next day. At even-song, a long
discourse with that ancient transgressor, Mr B. Great horror and remorse;
entire atonement and penance; whatsoever I enjoin; full acknowledgement
before pardon.

'January 13, 1665.--At sunrise I was again in the field. She came in at
once, and, as it seemed, with freedom. Enquired if she knew my thoughts,
and what I was going to relate? Answered, "Nay, we only know what we
perceive and hear; we cannot see the heart." Then I rehearsed the
penitent words of the man she had come up to denounce, and the
satisfaction he would perform. Then said she, "Peace in our midst." I
went through the proper forms of dismissal, and fulfilled all as it was
set down and written in my memoranda; and then, with certain fixed rites,
I did dismiss that troubled ghost, until she peacefully withdrew, gliding
towards the west. Neither did she ever afterward appear, but was allayed
until she shall come in her second flesh to the valley of Armageddon on
the last day.'

These quaint and curious details from the 'diurnal' of a simple-hearted
clergyman of the seventeenth century appear to betoken his personal
persuasion of the truth of what he saw and said, although the statements
are strongly tinged with what some may term the superstition, and others
the excessive belief, of those times. It is a singular fact, however,
that the canon which authorizes exorcism under episcopal licence is still
a part of the ecclesiastical law of the Anglican Church, although it
might have a singular effect on the nerves of certain of our bishops if
their clergy were to resort to them for the faculty which Parson Rudall
obtained. The general facts stated in his diary are to this day matters
of belief in that neighbourhood; and it has been always accounted a
strong proof of the veracity of the Parson and the Ghost, that the
plague, fatal to so many thousands, did break nut in London at the close
of that very year. We may well excuse a triumphant entry, on a subsequent
page of the 'diurnal', with the date of July to, 1665: 'How sorely must
the infidels and heretics of this generation be dismayed when they know
that this Black Death, which is now swallowing its thousands in the
streets of the great city, was foretold six months agone, under the
exorcisms of a county minister, by a visible and suppliant ghost! And
what pleasures and improvements do such deny themselves who scorn and
avoid all opportunity of intercourse with souls separate, and the
spirits, glad and sorrowful, which inhabit the unseen world!'



THE END



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