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Popular Superstitions - Mine-knockers

( Originally Published 1884 )

The subject treated of in the following letter is so extraordinary, that it is to be wished gentlemen who live near mines would enquire into the matter, and inform us whether the idea of these invisible beings is general throughout the kingdom amongst labourers employed underground, or whether this superstitious opinion is confined only to the Welsh miners.--PERIS.


October 14, 1754. " DEAR BROTHER,

" Pray let me know the truth of the report, that Huw Llwyd (Hugh Lloyd) throws sticks at Newhaven ; pray enquire closely into the affair : I do not think it impossible but the aerial part of such a fellow may be condemned to act like a fool, who so long acted the knave. I have heard it affirmed by very sober men in Merionethshire, that Mr. Wynne, of Ystumllyn, can do some surprising things, which we call supernatural, by producing the appearances of distant persons; not that they are, perhaps, really above nature, but that they are done by some means that are not commonly known, or that can be accounted for ; as electricity and magnetism are secrets of that kind, though really natural. Be so good as to let me know the common opinion of people in your parts about Mr. Wynne, and whether he really per-formed those things before sober, sensible, sedate men. I am not over credulous about those things; and scepticism is madness ; for, we really know (in general) very little or nothing in comparison to what is to be known. The great Lord Bacon owns it ; and that temper of mind in him brought him to enquire into the depth of Nature beyond any man that was born before him. People who know very little of arts or sciences, or the power of Nature (which, in other words, are the powers of the Author of Nature), being full of conceit of their own abilities and knowledge, will laugh at us Cardiganshire miners, who maintain the existence of Knockers in mines, a kind of good-natured impalpable people, but to be seen and heard, and who seem to us to work in the mines; that is to say, they are types, or forerunners, of working in mines, as dreams are of some accidents which happen to us. The barometer falls before rain and storms. If we did not know the construction of it, we should call it a kind of a dream that foretells rain; but we know it is natural, and produced by natural means comprehended by us. Now, how are we sure, or anybody sure, but that our dreams are produced by the same kind of 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 these Knockers, for they have actually stood my very good friends, whether they are aerial beings called spirits, or whether they are a people made of maiter not to be felt by our gross bodies, as air and fire and the like. Before the discovery of Esgair y Alwyn 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 at Llwyn Llwyd, they worked so fresh there for a considerable time, that they even 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, then they 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, etc., than if they were some of their own people ; and a single miner will stay in the work, in the dead of night, without any man near him, and never think of any fear or harm that they will do him ; for, they 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 go on as brisk as can be in landing, blasting, or beating down the loose ; and they were always heard a little from them before they came to ore. These are odd assertions, but they are certainly facts, 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.

" This topick would take up a large volume to handle properly ; and I wish an able hand would take the task upon him to discuss the point, perhaps some extraordinary light into Nature might be struck out of it. The word 'supernatural,' used among us, is nonsense ; there is nothing supernatural ; for, the degrees of all beings, from the vegetative life to the archangel, are natural, real, absolute creatures, made by God's own hand ; and all their actions, motions, and qualities, are natural. Doth not the fire burn a stick into ashes as natural as the air or water dissolve salt ? and yet fire, when out of action, is invisible and impalpable ; but where is the home or country of fire ? where also is the home and country of Knockers ? I am, dear brother, yours affectionately, "Lewis Morris"

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