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The lowest classes bear indications of poverty, yet they seem to enjoy good health. Their dwellings are cottages, or rather huts, built of stones, the interstices of which are closed with peat or mud. The usual food of the labouring Welsh is bread, cheese, and milk; and sometimes what they call flummery, a composition of oatmeal and milk. Animal food is by no means their usual fare.
The women of the mountainous parts of the country are generally of a middle size, though more frequently below than above it. Their features are often very pretty, but in point of figure they are in general uninteresting. They wear hats and long blue cloaks that descend almost to their feet. On their legs they have blue stockings without any feet to them : they keep them down by means of a loop fastened round one of the toes. In the more unfrequented parts of North Wales the women seldom wear any shoes, except on a Sunday, or a market day, and even on those days they often carry them in their hands as they go along the roads. Whilst walking they generally employ their time in knitting, and frequently not even a heavy shower of rain will compel them to cease from their work.
The freedom of the Welsh from crime is remarkable, and they are for the most part a quiet and contented race of people. They are much inclined to superstition, but in all countries we find that there are multitudes of weak and foolish people. In England, most of the peasantry swallow with credulous avidity any ridiculous stories of ghosts, hobgoblins, and fairies. There certainly is, however, in the Welsh, a greater inclination to credulity than an Englishman can discover among his own people. There are but few of the mountaineers of Wales, who have not by heart a string of legendary stories of disembodied beings. The cavern in Llanymynech hill, not far from Oswestry, has been long noted as the residence of a clan of fairies, to
MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF THE WELSH.
whom the neighbouring villagers attribute many surprising and mischievous pranks. Whilst they have stopped to listen at the mouth of the cave, the people state that they have sometimes even heard the little elves in conversation, but this was always in such low whispers, that the words which were reverberated along the sides and roof of the cavern could not be distinguished. The stream that runs across a distant part of this cavern is celebrated as the place where the fairy washerwomen and labourers have been heard frequently at work.
Considerably allied to the fairies is another species of supposed aërial beings, called by the Welsh knockers. These the Welsh miners say are heard underground, in or near mines, and by their noises generally point out to the workmen a rich vein of ore. The following are extracts from two letters on this extraordinary subject, written in the year 1754 by Mr. Lewis Morris, (a man eminent for his learning and good sense), to his brother, who at that time resided at Holyhead.
“People who know very little of arts or sciences, or the powers of nature, (which, in other words, are the powers of the Author of nature,) will laugh at us Cardiganshire miners, who maintain the existence of knockers in mines, a kind of good-natured impalpable people, not to be seen, but heard, and who seem to us to work in the mines ; that is to say, they are the types, or forerunners of working in mines, as dreams are of some accidents which happen to
The barometer falls before rain or storms. If we did not know the construction of it, we should call it a kind of dream, that foretells rain ; but we know it is natural, and produced by natural means comprehended by us.
Now how are we sure, or any body sure, but that our dreams are produced by the same natural means?
There is some faint resemblance of this in the sense of hearing; the bird
is killed before we hear the report of the gun.
However this is, I must speak well of the knockers, for they have actually stood my very good friends, whether they are aërial beings, called spirits, or whether they are a people made of matter, not to be felt by our gross bodies, as air and fire, and the like.
“ Before the discovery of Esgair y Mwyn mine, these little people, as we call them here, worked hard there day and night; and there are abundance of honest, sober people, who have heard them, and some persons who have no notion of them, or of mines either; but after the discovery of the great ore they were heard no more.
“ When I began to work at Llwyn Llwyd, they worked so fresh there for a considerable time, that they frightened some young workmen out of the work. This was when we were driving levels, and before we had got any ore; but when we came to the ore they then gave over, and I heard no more talk of them.
“ Our old miners are no more concerned at hearing them blasting, boring holes, landing deads, &c. than if they were some of their own people; and a single miner will stay in the work, in the dead of the night, without any man near him, and never think of any fear or of any harm they will do him. The miners have a notion that the knockers are of their own tribe and profession, and are a harmless people who mean well. Three or four miners together shall hear them sometimes, but if the miners stop to take notice of them, the knockers will also stop; but let the miners go on at their own work, suppose it is boring, the knockers will at the same time go on as brisk as can be in landing, blasting, or beating down the loose ; and they are always heard a little distance from them before they come to the
“ These are odd assertions, but they are certainly facts,
MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF THE WELSH.
though we cannot, and do not pretend to account for them. We have now very good ore at Llwyn Llwyd, where the knockers were heard to work, but have now yielded up the place, and are no more heard. Let who will laugh, we have the greatest reason to rejoice, and thank the knockers, or rather God, who sends us these notices.”
The second letter is as follows:
“ I have no time to answer your objection against knockers ; I have a large treatise collected on that head, and what Mr. Derham says is nothing to the purpose. If sounds of voices, whispers, blasts, working or pumping, can be carried on a mile underground, they should always be heard in the same place, and under the same advantages, and not once in a month, a year, or two years. Just before the discovery of ore last week, three men together, in our work of Llwyn Llwyd, were ear-witnesses of knockers pumping, driving a wheelbarrow, &c.; but there is no pump in the work, nor any mine within less than a mile of it, in which there are pumps constantly going. If they were these pumps that they heard, why were they never heard but that once in the space of a year? And why are they not now heard? But the pumps make so little noise, that they cannot be heard in the other end of Esgair y Mwyn mine when they are at work.
“ We have a dumb and deaf tailor in this neighbourhood, who has a particular language of his own by signs; and by practice I can understand him, and make him understand me pretty well; and I am sure I could make him learn to write, and be understood by letters very soon, for he can distinguish men already by the letters of their names. Now letters are marks to convey ideas, just after the same manner as the motions of fingers, hands, eyes, &c. If this man had really seen ore in the bottom of a sink of water in a mine, and wanted to tell me how to come at it, he would take two sticks like a pump, and would make the motions of a pumper at the very sink where he knew the ore was; and would make the motions of driving a wheelbarrow. And what I should infer from thence would be, that I ought to take out the water and sink, or drive in the place, and wheel the stuff out. By parity of reasoning, the language of the knockers, by imitating the sound of pumping, wheeling, &c. signifies that we should take out the water, and drive there. This is the opinion of all old miners, who pretend to understand the language of the knockers. Our agent and manager, upon the strength of this notice, goes on and expects great things. You, and every body that is not convinced of the being of knockers, will laugh at these things, for they sound like dreams ; so does every dark science. Can you make any illiterate man believe that it is possible to know the distance of two places by looking at them? Human knowledge is but of small extent, its bounds are within our view, we see nothing beyond these ; the great universal creation contains powers, &c. that we cannot so much as guess at. May there not exist beings, and vast powers, infinitely smaller than the particles of air, to whom air is as hard a body as a diamond is to us? Why not? There is neither great nor small, but by comparison. Our knockers are some of these powers, the guardians of mines.
“ You remember the story in Selden's Table-Talk, of Sir Robert Cotton and others disputing about Moses's shoe. Lady Cotton came in, and asked, “ Gentlemen, are you sure it is a shoe?' So the first thing is to convince mankind that there is a set of creatures, a degree or so finer than we are, to whom we have given the name of knockers, from the sounds we hear in our mines. This is to be done by a collection of their actions well attested; and that is