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a weeping voice, or sees a fox crossing the way, or a dog running on his right hand, or when a poor man meets us in our way, or when a cat crosses our way: moreover, when any earthen-pot maker or widow meets us, we interpret it in the worst sense; when one sprains his foot, falls on his head, or is called back; presently the professors of prognostication are consulted, and they turn to the proper chapter for such a sign, and give the interpretation of it."
["Easy to foretel what sort of summer it would be by the position in which the larva of Cicada (Aphróphora) spumària was found to lie in the froth (cuckoo-spit) in which it is enveloped. If the insect lay with its head upwards, it infallibly denoted a dry summer; if downwards, a wet one."]
"IF an owl," says Bourne, p. 71, "which is reckoned a most abominable and unlucky bird, send forth its hoarse and dismal voice, it is an omen of the approach of some terrible thing that some dire calamity and some great misfortune is near at hand." This omen occurs in Chaucer:
"The jelous swan, ayenst hys deth that singeth,
It is thus mentioned by Spenser :
"The rueful strich still wayting on the beere,
Pennant, in his Zoology, i. 202, informs us that the appearance of the eagle owl in cities was deemed an unlucky Rome itself once underwent a lustration, because one of them strayed into the Capitol. The ancients held them in
Thus Butler, in his Hudibras, p. ii. canto iii. 1. 707:
Did cause their clergy with lustrations
the utmost abhorrence,' and thought them, like the screech owl, the messengers of death. Pliny styles it, "Bubo funebris et noctis monstrum."2 Thus also Virgil, in the lines already quoted from Armstrong's History of Minorca, in a former page.
In Bartholomæus, De Proprietatibus Rerum, by Berthelet, fol. 166, is the following: "Of the oule. Divynours telle that they betokyn evyll; for if the owle be seen in a citie, it signifyeth distruccion and waste, as Isidore sayth. The cryenge of the owle by nyght tokeneth deathe, as divinours conjecte and deme." Gaule, in his Mag-astromancers Posed and Puzzel'd, p. 181, does not omit, in his Catalogue of vain observations and superstitious ominations thereupon: "The owles scritching."
"When screech owls croak upon the chimney tops,
Reed's Old Plays, vi. 357.
Alexander Ross informs us, in his appendix to the Arcana Microcosmi, p. 218, that Lampridius and Marcellinus, among other prodigies which presaged the death of Valentinian, the
The round-fac'd prodigy t' avert
From doing town and country hurt."
"According to the author of the Eneid, the solitary owl foretold the tragical end of the unhappy Dido." See Macaulay's St. Kilda, p. 176. Suetonius," he tells us, "who took it into his head to relate all the imaginary prodigies that preceded the deaths of his twelve Cæsars, never misses an opportunity so favourable of doing justice to the prophetical character of some one bird or other. It is surprising that Tacitus should have given into the same folly."
1 Thus Alex. ab Alexandro, lib. v. c. 13, p. 680: "Maxime vero abominatus est bubo, tristis et dira avis, voce funesta et gemitu, qui formidolosa, dirasque necessitates et magnos moles instare portendit."
Macaulay, above quoted, p. 171, observes: "On the unmeaning actions or idleness of such silly birds; on their silence, singing, chirping, chattering, and croaking; on their feeding or abstinence; on their flying to the right hand or left-was founded an art: which from a low and simple beginning grew to an immense height, and gained a surprising degree of credit in a deluded world."
2 The owl is called also, by Pliny, "inauspicata et funebris avis:" by Ovid, "dirum mortalibus omen:" by Lucan, "sinister bubo:" and by Claudian, "infestus bubo."
In Petri Molinæi Vates, p. 154, we read: "Si noctua sub noctem audiatur, ominosum est."
emperor, mention an owle which sate upon the top of the house where he used to bathe, and could not thence be driven away with stones. Julius Obsequens (in his Book of Prodigies, c. 85) shewes that a little before the death of Commodus Antoninus, the emperor, an owle was observed to sit upon the top of his chamber, both at Rome and at Lanuvium. Xiphilinus, speaking of the prodigies that went before the death of Augustus, says, that the owl sung upon the top of the Curia. He shews, also, that the Actian war was presignified by the flying of owls into the Temple of Concord. the year 1542, at Herbipolis, or Wirtzburg, in Franconia, this unlucky bird, by his scrieching songs, affrighted the citizens. a long time together, and immediately followed a great plague, war, and other calamities. About twenty years ago I did observe that in the house where I lodged, an owl, groaning in the window, presaged the death of two eminent persons, who died there shortly after."
In Rowland's More Knaves yet; the Knaves of Spades and Diamonds, with new Additions, I find the following account of "The Country Cunning Man :"
"Wise gosling did but hear the scrich owle crie,
And told his wife, and straight a pigge did die.
Some in the towne have lost their maidenhead.
He'll find out with a sive and rustie knives.
His good daies are when's chaffer is well sold,
And bad daies when his wife doth braule and scold."
Willsford, in his Nature's Secrets, p. 134, says: "Owls whooping after sunset, and in the night, foreshews a fair day to ensue; but if she names herself in French (Huette) expect then fickle and unconstant weather, but most usually rain."
Mason, in the Anatomie of Sorcerie, 4to. Lond. 1612, p. 85, ridicules the superstition of those persons of his age, that are "the markers of the flying or noise of foules: as they
which prognosticate death by the croaking of ravens, or the hideous crying of owles in the night." Marston, in Antonio and Mellida, Works, 1633, says:
"'Tis yet dead night, yet all the earth is cloucht
No spirit moves upon the breast of earth,
Save howling dogs, night crowes and screeching owles,
Grey, in his Notes on Shakespeare, ii. 175, observes: "Romani L. Crasso et C. Marcio Coss. bubone viso lustrabant." See a remarkable account of an owle that disturbed Pope John XXIV. at a council held at Rome. Fascic. Rer. expetendar. et fugiendar. p. 402. Brown's edit.
The following is an answer to a query in the Athenian Oracle, i. 45: "Why rats, toads, ravens, screech owls, &c., are ominous; and how they come to foreknow fatal events? -Had the querist said unlucky instead of ominous he might easily have met with satisfaction: a rat is so, because he destroys many a good Cheshire cheese, &c. A toad is unlucky, because it poisons (later discoveries in natural history deny this). As for ravens and screech owls, they are just as unlucky as cats, when about their courtship, because they make an ugly noise, which disturbs their neighbourhood. The instinct of rats leaving an old ship is, because they cannot be dry in it, and an old house, because, perhaps, they want victuals. A raven is much such a prophet as our conjurors or almanack makers, foretelling things after they are come to pass they follow great armies, as vultures, not as foreboding battle, but for the dead men, dogs, horses, &c., which (especially in a march) must daily be left behind them. But the foolish observations made on their croaking before death, &c., are for the most part pure humour, and have no grounds besides foolish tradition, or a sickly imagination."
Speaking of the tawny owl, p. 208, Pennant observes: "This is what we call the screech owl, to which the folly of superstition had given the power of presaging death by its cries." The Spectator says that a screech owl at midnight has alarmed a family more than a band of robbers. And as Grose tells us, a screech owl flapping its wings against the windows of a sick person's chamber, or screeching at them,
portends that some one of the family shall shortly die. Moresin, in his Papatus, p. 21, mentions among omens the hooting of owls in passing: "Bubonum bubulatum in transitu." Shakespeare, in his Julius Cæsar, act i. sc. 6, has the following passage:
"The bird of night did sit
Ev'n at noon-day upon the market-place
The noise of the owl, as a foretokening of ill, is also mentioned in Six Pastorals, &c., by George Smith, landscape painter, at Chichester, in Sussex, 4to. Lond. 1770, p. 33: "Within my cot, where quiet gave me rest,
Let the dread screech owl build her hated nest,
Pennant, in his Zoology, i. 219, says that "a vulgar respect is paid to the raven, as being the bird appointed by heaven to feed the prophet Elijah, when he fled from the rage of Ahab. [And from the following passage, it would seem that the cuckoo was a bird of deadly omen
"Are you ready? The fatal cuckoo, on yon spreading tree,
Cowley's Love's Riddle, 1681, p. 111.] Moresin includes the croaking of ravens among omens. "Corvorum crocitatum super tecto," Papatus, p. 21. Gay, too, in his pastoral called the Dirge, has noted this omen: "The boding raven on her cottage sat,
And, with hoarse croakings, warn'd us of our fate."
Bishop Hall, in his Characters of Vertues and Vices, p. 87, speaking of the superstitious man, tells us, "that if he heare but a raven croke from the next roofe he makes his will.” He mentions also a crow crying even or odd. "He listens in the morning whether the crow crieth even or odd, and by that token presageth the weather." The following lines are found in Spenser:
"The ill-fac'd owle, death's dreadful messenger; The hoarse night raven, trompe of doleful dreere." So, in Shakespeare's Othello :
"O it comes o'er my memory As doth the raven, o'er the infected house, Boding to all."