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To the transactions of the Manchester Literary Club (1875-8) I contributed four papers on “Some Ancient Battle-fields in Lancashire." These essays form the nuclei of the four chapters of the present volume. Their original scope, however, has been much extended, and the evidences there adduced largely augmented. I have likewise endeavoured to still further fortify and illustrate my several positions, by citations from well-known, and many recent, labourers in similar or cognate fields of enquiry.
I am aware that the precise locality of any given battle-field is of relatively little interest to the general historian, the causes of the conflict and its political results demanding the largest share of his attention. Consequently, doubtful topographical features are often either completely ignored, or but slightly referred to. Such a course, however, is not permissible to the local student. Scarcely anything can be too trifling, in a
certain sense, to be unworthy of some investigation on
This is especially the case with respect to legendary stories, and traditional beliefs. Their interest is intensified, it is true, to the local reader or student, but the lessons they teach, on patient enquiry, will often be found in harmony with larger or more general truths, and of which truths they often form apt illustrations. “Alas !” truly exclaimed “Verax," in one of his recent letters in the Manchester Weekly Times, “it is hard to disengage ourselves from inherited illusions,
They become a part of our being, and falsify the standard of comparison." Modern science may be able to demonstrate that many of the conceptions respecting physical phenomena dealt with in these legendary stories are utterly at variance with now well-known facts. This may be perfectly true, but human nature is influenced in its action, quite as much by its faiths, beliefs, and superstitions, as by the more exact knowledge it may have acquired. Subjective truths are as true, as mere
ts or actualities, as objective ones. Thomas Carlyle forcibly expresses this when he asks—“Was Luther's picture of the devil less a reality, whether it were formed within the bodily eye, or without it?” Mr. J. R. Green, in his “Making of England,” says—“ Legend, if it
distorts facts, preserves accurately enough the impressions of a vanished time.” And these impressions being emotionally true, whether scientifically correct or not, have ever been, and will continue to be, powerful factors in the formation of character, and in the progressive development of humanity,— morally, socially, and politically. Our predecessors felt their influence and acted accordingly, and many of the presumedly exploded old superstitions survive amongst the mass of mankind to a much greater degree than
often acknowledge or suspect; although many of their more
repulsive forms may have undergone superficial transformation amongst the more educated classes.
Referring to superstitious legendary reverence as a marked feature in the religious characteristics of the seventeenth century, the author of “John Inglesant, a Romance," places in the mouth of the rector of the English College, at Rome, in the seventeenth century, the following words :-“ These things are true to each of us according as we see them; they are, in fact, but shadows and likenesses of the absolute truth that reveals itself to man in different ways, but always imperfectly, as in a glass.”
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that, in the year 685, “it rained blood in Britain, and milk and butter were turned into blood.” Of course, educated persons do not believe this now; but our conventionally educated predecessors did, and their conduct was sensibly influenced by such belief. The Chinese think themselves much superior personages, in very many respects, to the “barbarian" European, yet the following paragraph “went the round of the papers” during May, in the present year:—“The Kaiping coal mines have been closed in deference to the opinion expressed by the Censor, that the continued working of them would release the earth dragon, disturb the manes of the empress, and bring trouble upon the imperial family.”
From the very nature of many of the subjects investigated, and the character of the only available evidence, some of the inferences drawn in the following pages can only be regarded as probabilities, and others as merely possibilities, and they are put forth with no higher pretensions. In such matters dogmatical insistence is out of place, and I have studiously endeavoured to avoid it.
C. H. 72, Talbot Street, Moss Side, Manchester.