« ZurückWeiter »
obscurity to call for the exercise of our sense of wonder, To the great mass of mankind, the change produced in a diseased body by the natural operation of a chemical substance, vegetable or mineral, must appear nearly as wonderful as the supposition that three unintelligible words pronounced over it will effect a cure. They do not trace the steps of the process in the one case more than the other; and it is an inability to trace these steps, as Dr Adam Smith, in his History of Astronomy, has clearly shewn, which produces the sentiment of wonder. Accordingly, pretensions to miraculous curing have been at all times a ready means of imposing upon mankind.
Till the early part of the eighteenth century, it was the custom of at least the sovereign of Great Britain, if not for several other European monarchs, to go periodically through the ceremony of touching, for the king's evil or scrofula. It was supposed that a real sovereign-that is, one possessing a full hereditary title, or, in other words, reigning by divine right- was able to cure a person afflicted with that disease, by a mere touch of his hand. In England, the ceremony had been in vogue for many centuries. It was generally supposed to have been first practised by Edward the Confessor; and there is good evidence that it was in use in the thirteenth century. In the fifteenth, during the reign of Edward IV., we find the learned legal writer, Sir John Fortescue, speaking of the gift of healing as a privilege which had from time immemorial belonged to the kings of England. He attributes the virtue to the unction imparted to their hands at the coronation. Even the powerful mind of Elizabeth was not superior to this superstition, and she frequently came before her people in the character of a miraculous healer. There was a regular office in the English Book of Common Prayer, for the performance of the ceremony. The persons desirous of being cured appear to have been introduced by a bishop, or other high dignitary of the church. Prayers were said, and every effort made to produce in the patients a firm reliance on the power of the Deity, as about to be manifested through the royal hand. At the moment of imposing the hand, the king said: 'I touch, but God healeth ;' and afterwards hung a coin round the patient's neck, which he was to wear for the remainder of his life. The Stuarts, from their extreme notions of divine right, and the weak and superstitious character of the most of them, were great sticklers for this part of their royal prerogative, and frequently put it to use. Dr Johnson had an indistinct recollection of being touched when a child by Queen Anne. The old Jacobites, however, used to say, that the virtue did not descend to Mary, William, and Anne, seeing that they wanted the divine right. Still less would they believe that it resided in the sovereigns of the Brunswick dynasty, who, however, never put it to the proof. Since the death of Anne, there have been, we believe, no touchings for the evil ; and the office for the ceremony has been silently allowed to drop out of the Prayer-book.
The Jacobites, while believing the Georges to be incapable of healing, were not disinclined to the notion that the Pretender possessed the gift. The laborious Carte brought disgrace upon his History of England by introducing, in a note, an account of one Christopher Lovel, a labouring man of Bristol, who, being grievously afflicted with king's evil, which appeared in five great sores on his neck, breast, and arms, proceeded in August 1716 to Avignon, and was there touched by the exiled prince. The usual effect,' he says, 'followed. From the moment that the man was touched, and invested with the narrow ribbon, to which a small piece of silver was pendent, according to the rites prescribed in the office appointed by the church for that solemnity, the humour dispersed insensibly, his sores healed up, and he recovered strength daily, till he arrived in perfect health, in the beginning of January following, at Bristol.' Carte tells us, that he himself saw the man soon after, and found him in a vigorous frame of body, with no appearance of the disease but the red scars which it had left; and he evidently must have been of opinion, that the cure was the effect of a miraculous virtue in the Pretender's hand. A writer of the day, in commenting upon this passage in Mr Carte's book, takes a sensible view of the case. He attributes the cure to the exercise of the journey, the change of air and of food, and to the medical treatment to which, he says, the man was subjected immediately after the touch. And the cure, he says, was, after all, only temporary. After a short time, the sores broke out afresh, and the man perished in a new attempt to reach the court of Avignon.
Carte affected to be puzzled to account for the cure of Lovel, seeing that the royal personage who performed the cure was not an anointed king; for the virtue, it was supposed, lay in the unction, as expressed by Sir John Fortescue. It must have been a virtue, we fear, liable to accommodate itself to circumstances, out of deference to the exigencies of royalty. When Prince Charles Stuart was at Holyrood House, in October 1745, he, although only claiming to be Prince of Wales and regent, touched a female child for the king's evil, who in twenty-one days became perfectly cured !
The seventeenth, and early part of the eighteenth centuries, present us with several examples of private persons who were supposed to have a miraculous power of curing by touch. The most celebrated was a Mr Valentine Greatrakes, a Protestant gentleman of the county of Waterford, born in 1628—à thoroughly sound Christian and good man, and occupying a highly respectable place in society. It was some time after the Restoration, while acting as clerk of the peace to the county of Cork, that Mr Greatrakes first arrived at a conviction of his possession of healing powers. In an account of himself, which he wrote in 1666, he says : About four years since, I had an impulse which frequently suggested to me that there was bestowed on me the gift of curing the king's evil, which, for the extraordinariness thereof, I thought fit to conceal for some time. But at length I told my wife;
* An account of this curious transaction is given in the History of the Rebellion of 1745, published in Constable's Miscellany.
for, whether sleeping or waking, I had this impulse. But her reply was, that it was an idle imagination. But to prove the contrary, one William Maher, of the parish of Lismore, brought his son to my wife, who used to distribute medicines in charity to the neighbours; and my wife came and told me, that I had now an opportunity of trying my impulse, for there was one at hand that had the evil grievously in the eyes, throat, and cheeks; whereupon I laid my hands on the places affected, and prayed to God, for Jesus' sake, to heal him. In a few days afterwards, the father brought his son with the eye so changed, that it was almost quite whole; and, to be brief (to God's glory I speak it), within a month he was perfectly healed, and so continues.'
Another person, still more afflicted, was soon after cured by Mr Greatrakes in the same manner; and he then began to receive an impulse,' suggesting that he could cure other diseases. This he soon had an opportunity of proving, for there came unto me a poor man, with a violent pain in his loins, that he went almost double, and having also a grievous ulcer in his leg, very black, who desired me, for God's sake, to lay my hands on him; whereupon I put my hands on his loins and flank, and immediately went the pains out of him, so that he was relieved, and could stand upright without trouble; the ulcer also in his leg was healed; so that, in a few days, he returned to his labour as a mason,"
He now became extensively known for his gift of healing, and was resorted to by people from greater distances, with the most of whom he was equally suc. cessful. Wounds, ulcers, convulsions, and dropsy, were among the maladies which he cured. In an epidemic fever, he was also eminently successful, healing all who came to him. So great was the resort to his house, that all the outhouses connected with it were usually filled with patients; and he became so much engaged in the duty of healing them, as to have no time to attend to his own affairs, or to enjoy the society of his family. The clergy of the diocese at length took alarm at his proceedings, and
he was cited by the Dean of Lismore before the Bishop's Court, by which he was forbidden to exercise his gift for the future- an order which reminds us of the decree of Louis XIV., commanding that no more miracles should be performed at the tomb of the Abbé Paris. Mr Greatrakes, nevertheless, continued to heal as formerly, until his fame reached England. In August 1665, he received a visit from Mr Flamstead, the astronomer, who was afflicted with a constitutional weakness; but he failed in this case. Early in the ensuing year, he went to England for the purpose of curing the Viscountess Conway of an inveterate headache, in which also he failed. But, while residing at Ragley with the Conway family, he cured many hundreds afflicted with various diseases. Lord Conway himself, in a letter to his brother, thus speaks of the healer :—'I must confess, that, before his arrival, I did not believe the tenth part of those things which I have been an eyewitness of; and several others, of as accurate judgment as any in the kingdom, who are come hither out of curiosity, do acknowledge the truth of his operations. This morning, the Bishop of Gloucester recommended to me a prebend's son in his diocese, to be brought to him for a leprosy from head to foot, which hath been judged incurable above ten years, and in my chamber he cured him perfectly; that is, from a moist humour, 'twas immediately dried up, and began to fall off-the itching was quite gone, and the heat of it taken away. The youth was transported to admiration. .... After all, I am far from thinking that his cures are at all miraculous. I believe it is by a sanative virtue and a natural efficiency, which extends not to all diseases, but is much more proper and effectual to some than to others, as he doth also despatch some with a great deal of ease, and others not without a great deal of pains.
He was now invited by the king to come to London, whether he accordingly proceeded; and as he went along through the country, we are told that the magistrates of cities and towns begged of him that he would come and çure their sick. The king, though not fully persuaded