Page images
PDF
EPUB

Va rendre a Claudius tous ces dons, et sur l'heure
Les presents de cet homme ont souillé ma demeure;
Et ce serait blesser notre honneur et nos dieux

Que d'y porter la main, que d'y jeter les yeux.' Numbers of these old betrothal rings, principally of the Lower Empire, have come down to our days, and may be seen in the larger collections of Europe ; they generally bear the names of the future bride and bridegroom engraved upon the loadstone, or other more precious though less significant stone, which had by this time replaced the more ancient clasped hands or Fides, itself revived by the mediæval jewellers. "To these mementos of ancient love,' says Mr. King, in one of the most eloquent passages in his enthusiastic treatises, succeed others, placing before our indifferent eyes the natural consequence-chubby baby-faces, whose eyes some eighteen centuries ago called up many a smile on the parental faces; little bubbles, rising up and breaking unnoticed upon the ocean of eternity, of whom naught is left but these tiny and imperishable records.'

• You are full of pretty answers;
Have you not been acquainted with goldsmiths' wives,
And conned them out of rings ?'

says the melancholy Jaques of 'As You Like It,' when Orlando compliments his love; and this fashion therein alluded to, of placing some love sentence, 'some cutler's poetry,' in betrothal rings, was almost invariable in mediæval days: I have one before me now, at least six hundred years old, a plain gold circlet a quarter of an inch broad, chased with the red rose of England, and on the inside graven in early NormanFrench the words au mort.'

To multiply examples of the inscriptions such as the 'Love me, and leave me not,' a common one in Shakespeare's day, would be tedious; but the reader should bear in mind that these mediæval love-pledges were generally two flat hoops of gold, the one fitting neatly inside the other, and kept in its place by a projecting rim on the edge of the exterior circle, so that both formed seemingly but one body, and yet could be worn singly, and thus serve as credentials to go-betweens appointed by the lovers.t They were thence called Gemelli or Twins, and under that name you may find them mentioned by almost every poet from Chaucer to Dryden ; the latter indeed makes the whole plot of his • Don Sebastian' to turn upon a ring of this kind :

[ocr errors]

Those rings, when you were born and thought another's,
Your parents glowing yet in sinful love
Bade me bespeak : a curious artist wrought them,
With joints so close as not to be perceived,
Yet are they bothe each other's counterpart.

Virginie Une Tragedie, par M. Latour St. Ybars.

+ See King's Hand-book of Gems, p. 460-1.

His part had Juan inscribed, and hers had Zayda ;
(You know those names are theirs); and in the midst
À heart divided in two halves was placed.
Now if the rivets of these rings enclosed
Fit not each other, I have forged this lie;
But if they join, you must for ever part.'

I think there is not much doubt that the more formal use of a ring for the purposes of an outward and unmistakeable symbol of the investment by the husband of his wife with authority over his house and his worldly goods, and thenceforward with a mutual participation in weal and woe, comes to us from the ancient Hebrew ritual. Many huge gold rings, adorned with filagree work, and surmounted by a small temple with Hebrew inscriptions on the interior of the shank, often puzzle, says Mr, King, the inspectors of gem collections. They were not, however, as their size shows, intended to worn by anyone of less stature and frame than the Emperor Maximin, who could use his wife's bracelets for his thumb-rings, but they were placed on the fingers of the couple at a certain portion of the rites, and were kept for the purpose in the synagogue. This practice of using a wedding-ring of large dimensions in the actual ceremony, and wearing, as for convenience the Jews even do in Europe, an ordinary one afterwards, puts me in mind of the famous wedding-ring of the Verney family, of Claydon, Buckinghamshire. This enormous gold ring, intended to be worn outside the thick military glove of the time of Charles I., was used by an ancestor of the present Sir Harry Verney at the fatal battle of Edgehill. After the fight, when search was made for the body of the gallant Verney, nothing could ever be found but a gloved hand, firmly clutched round the royal standard, and this ring still remaining on its finger. With this relic of their gallant ancestor the Verneys solemnize their marriages, though of course a lighter circlet is substituted after the ceremony; the last marriage, I believe, in which this ring was used was that of the present Baronet to the sister of Florence Nightingale.

It is curious how the respect for a wedding-ring is sometimes strongly marked where you would least expect it: the Registrar of one of our largest manufacturing towns remarked, that during a period of many years, in which he had—well, we cannot say solemnized,' but effected' hundreds of civil marriages, only three couples came before him unprovided with a ring of some sort or another. Two out of the three husbands expectant yielded to the wishes of their betrothed, who had no idea of being married, even before a Registrar, without a ring of some sort-for your true woman is your true Conservative at heart-and bought them at the nearest jeweller's. But the third, an ill-conditioned sort of fellow, was as obstinate as a mule; "he saw no good in a ring;'

* Poor Robert Herrick, so little read, and yet so graceful, has one elegant poem, (Hesperides, No. 86,) which at the risk of being prolix, I must transcribe in this note: "Julia, I bring

* But it must play
To thee this ring,

Still either way,
Made for thy finger fit,

And be to each a yoke,
To show by this

As not too wide
That our love is

To overslide,
Or should be like to it.

Or be so strait to choke.
Close tho' it be,

And as this round
The joint is free;

Is nowhere found
So when love's yoke is on,

To flow or else to sever;
It must not gall,

So let our love
Or fret at all

As endless prove,
With hard oppression.

And pure as gold for ever.'

what did folks want with one ? 'he should not get one, &c.: when even the Registrar's appeals to his sense of propriety, and assurances that "it looked so much better,' &c., &c., were disregarded, the little woman bustling up, strode out of the office, “begged, borrowed, or stole' one in a marvellously short space of time, and the affair terminated triumphantly.*

Amongst the various stories connected with hasty marriages, and their curious makeshifts, I think that of the Duke of Hamilton of Horace Walpole's time, who married one of the ‘Beautiful Miss Gunnings' with a curtain ring and an Archbishop's license-an unseemly manner for the possessor of the three dukedoms of Hamilton, Brandon, and Châtelherault-is the strangest, surpassing even those poor couples who have made use of the ring of the church door-key.

Lorsqu'on a tout perdu, et qu'on n'a plus d'espoir
La vie est un opprobre, et la mort un devoir.'

So argues a character in one of Voltaire's Parisian-Roman Tragedies ; and in good truth the ancients did act pretty freely upon this convenient though cowardly idea, as appears from the deaths of many a famous hero of Greece and Rome.

After they gave up the primitive and remarkably simple form of suicide, namely, placing a short sharp double-edged "glaire' upright on the ground before them, and then throwing the body forward with its whole weight on the point of the weapon, which immediately pierced the victim's heart, they adopted 'poison-rings.' It was a most handy method this of concealing a drop or two of some acro-narcotic poison,' strong enough to produce immediate death, such as the Italian poisonchemists from the days of the old republic to those of Cæsar Borgia were unrivalled in preparing, in a hollow or false bottom made for the purpose beneath some splendid gem.

* Rings were at one time given to all the company at a wedding. Anthony Wood, in his Athene Oxoniensis, tells us that the once famous, but now nearly forgotten philosopher Kelly, openly profuse beyond the limits of a sober philosopher, did give away in gold wire rings, at the marriage of one of his maid-servants, to the value of four thousand pounds; this was in 1589, at Trebona.' The custom now only survives in the bridesmaid's lockets,' sometimes given by liberal bridegrooms.

How often the secret spring was touched,* and the poison poured from the ring into an unsuspecting victim's wine-cup, who can say now, and who could say then with any certainty, when science was entirely one-sided, and the subtle poisoner had nothing to fear from the beautiful chemical and analytical experiments which have happily, to a considerable degree, checked the progress of his act in modern days. Although many might, like the wretched Heliogabalus, have kept these poison-rings in their Dactyliothecæ merely because they were fashionable, and never, to the chagrin of those submitted to their yoke, attempted to use them; yet two great master minds of ancient days certainly used them, to avoid, as they blindly thought, any semblance of dishonour in their death. Annibal the Carthaginian, the greatest general perhaps whom the world has ever seen, or if that rank be denied him, as by but few it has been, one of the grandest military leaders of all time, when he had fled to the court of Prusias, King of Bithynia, to escape from the treachery of Antiochus King of Syria, and found that the Roman senate had established a "cordon' around his refuge which prevented the least chance of Aight, drank the poison which he always carried with him in a ring, exclaiming, 'Solvamus diuturnâ curâ populum Romanum, quando mortem senis (for he was in his seventieth year t) expectare longum censet.' In the same manner died Demosthenes, the greatest orator of Greece, the thorn in the side of Macedonian Philip: so likewise Marcus Crassus, when charged with having purloined from the temple of the Capitoline Jove an immense treasure deposited by Camillus, dexterously broke the gem which covered the poison-chamber of his ring between his teeth, and falling, died at once.

Instead of quoting other deaths of the same kind amongst the illustrious of antiquity, f some of which we have now no means of authenticating, I will transcribe these practical remarks on this curious practice from Mr. King: The ancients were acquainted with vegetable poisons as speedy in their effects as the modern strychnine, as appears in the death of Britannicus from a potion of Lucasta's, and from many other cases : their hollow poison-rings were put together with a skill far beyond that of any modern jeweller; for the soldering of the numerous joints of the gold plates of which they are formed is absolutely imperceptible, even when breathed on, a test under which the best modern solder assumes a * The classical reader will remember the passage in Juvenal, Sat. I.

Occurrit matrona potens, quæ molle Calenum
Porrectura viro miscet sitiente rubetam :
Instituitque rudes melior Locusta propinquas,
Perfamam, et populum nigros efferre maritos.'

| B.c. 182. See Sir H. Halford ‘On the Deaths of Some Illustrious Persons of Antiquity.' $ The corpse of this unfortunate prince, the son of Claudius Cæsar and Messalina, was buried secretly by night; but a sudden shower of rain washed off the paint which had been smeared over his face to conceal the crime, and the black poisoncoloured features exposed to view.-Tacitus, Ann. 13. Suetonius in Neronem, 33.

lighter tint. This is due to the different composition of the ancients, which was chrysocolla, (carbonate of copper,) verdigris, nitrum, (carbonate of soda,) rubbed down in a copper mortar with a copper pestle; this solder was called “Santerna.” In the Mertons Schaafhausen collection is an onyx intaglio, the back of which has been completely hollowed out into the form of a bowl, for the reception of a strong poison, the gem being worked so thin that it might easily be crushed by a sharp bite.

(To be continued.)

OMENS CONNECTED WITH THE HUMAN

BEING.

It may seem incongruous, immediately after writing down this heading to our present paper, to proceed to speak of Omens connected with the cuckoo, the great black woodpecker, the swallow, the pee-wit, or what not, among birds or other animals. But it will only continue to wear the seeming of incongruity to us, as continuing to pass without more direct notice what we listened to from James Grimm's lips in our last paper, touching the fact that a part at least of the time-old regard to AnimalOmens proceeds from the universally current stories concerning the transformation of human beings, in the way of punishment for some misdeed they had been guilty of, into this or that particular kind of animal. Mr. Cavallius, with his usual clearness, adds a few words in the way of explanation to the same general statement as that of Grimm's. “Conceived of as a mythic being,' he says, 'the body, in the case of man, as in that of other mythic nature-existences, was simply an accidental means or form of external manifestation. This outer form or case (hamn) was consequently open to change and subjected to the influence of other beings of like kind but superior power, which might chance to be either good or evil. Were the active beings good, or of the number of the gods, the transformation they operated in the outer form of the human being was, most frequently, a punishment for some transgression, or for the manifestation of some evil disposition. Förvandling was the name applied in the case of such a metamorphosis. The fundamental notion in the whole of the popular belief herein involved is,' he continues, 'purely mythic, and goes back to the earliest period. Not but what the legends in question have experienced a change in form, and the gods of the pagans assumed a new guise, derived from medieval times ;for now they enact their parts under names of Our Lord and Saint Peter, or else the Virgin Mary.'

One or two of the instances he quotes may not be altogether uninteresting.

"The Virgin Mary had a thievishly-disposed waiting-maid. One day VOL. 7.

20

PART 39.

« PreviousContinue »