The Legend of Shewin' Shiels

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The Legend of Shewin' Shiels

SHEWIN' SHIELS lies on the western extremity of Warden parish, in Tynedale Ward. Its castle is in ruins, and is "as solitary a spot as sorrow can desire." Popular tradition says that King Arthur and his court are enchanted near the ruins of Shewin' Shiels Castle, in the "cavern of the enchanted warriors," to which the following legend owes its existence. To this cognomen should be appended the sub-title of the "Seven Sleepers," which is generally done by the best story-tellers in "the north countrie." Camden mistook this place for the station of HUNNUM, "but," says Horsley, "I saw nothing that was Roman in it."

THIS Legend bears a strong resemblance in shape and feature to the memorable fable of the Seven Sleepers, mentioned by Gibbon, in his History of the Roman Empire, which is as follows:—
     "When the Emperor Decius persecuted the Christians, seven noble youths of Ephesus concealed themselves in a spacious cavern in the side of an adjacent mountain, where they were doomed to perish by the tyrant, who gave orders that the entrance should be firmly secured by a pile of large stones. They immediately fell into a deep slumber, which was miraculously prolonged without injuring the powers of life, during a period of 187 years. At the end of that time, the slaves of Adolius, to whom the inheritance of the mountain had descended, removed the stones to supply materials for some rustic edifice. The light of the sun darted into the cavern, and the Seven Sleepers were permitted to awake, after a slumber, as they thought, of a few hours. They were pressed by the calls of hunger; and resolved that Jamblichus, one of their number, should secretly return to the city to purchase bread for the use of his companions. The youth (if we may still employ the appellation) could no longer recognise the once familiar aspect of his native country, and his surprise was increased by the appearance of a large cross triumphantly erected over the principal gate of Ephesus. His singular dress and obsolete language confounded the baker, to whom he offered an ancient medal of Decius, as the current coin of the empire; and Jamblichus, on the suspicion of a secret treasure, was dragged before the judge. Their mutual inquiries produced the amazing discovery, that two centuries were almost elapsed since Jamblichus and his friends had escaped from the rage of a pagan tyrant. The Bishop of Ephesus, the clergy, the magistrates, the people, and, it is said, the Emperor Theodosius himself, hastened to visit the cavern of the Seven Sleepers, who bestowed their benediction, related their story, and at the same instant peaceably expired."
     The historian gives the following reflections on this celebrated legend:—"We imperceptibly advance from youth to age without observing the gradual, but incessant, change of human affairs; and, even in our larger experience of history, the imagination is accustomed by a perpetual series of causes and effects, to unite the most distant revolutions. But if the interval between two memorable eras be instantly annihilated; if it were possible, after a momentary slumber of 200 years, to display the new world to the eyes of a spectator, who still retained a lively and recent impression of the old, his surprise and his reflections would furnish the pleasing subject of a philosophical romance."
     The Northumberland Squire, Cuddy, when he awoke from his unconscious slumber of "seven long hundred years," and found himself again a sentient being, his astonishment would not be less vehement than was that of Jamblichus, the youth of Ephesus.

The Legend of Shewin' Shiels


IN days of yore, those good and golden days,
Which all who know them not so warmly praise,
When Tynedale loved to harry Scotland's goods;
And gave their matrons "light to set their hoods,"
There was, and is, in Hexhamshire a spot,
No matter if remembered or forgot,
'Twas bosom'd then midst forests, moors, and plains,
Mountains untrack'd, and roads, or rather lanes,
Of rare occurrence—deep, and wet, and muddy,
Winding through swampy bog, or covert woody,
To where a lordly castle grimly frown'd
O'er a few turf-built huts that huddled round
The moated wall, as if they fear'd the lower
And sullen shadow of the dungeon tower;
Or to the quiet vale and cultured glade,
Where peaceful churchmen had their dwellings made.
But these green spots were rare—the hardy heather
Supplied the place of corn and grass together;
Houses and weapons, clothes, and fire, and food,
Were all afforded by the neighbouring wood;
The healthy churl, in undressed deer-skin fine,
Counted with conscious pride his herds of swine;—
Where are they now?—alas! the herdsman's fled,
The only pigs we breed are pigs of lead!

But to our tale.—Our hero was a squire,
One of the church's tenants in the shire,
The owner of a solitary peel,
From which men called him "Cuddy o' the Steel."
His friends confessed, and foes were made to feel,
That Steel was steel indeed from head to heel;
He had the iron virtues of his time,
Its ignorance, and something of its crime.

One night the wind bore on its hollow swell
The booming notes of Hexham's Abbey bell,—
That bell which, to the neighbourhood's dismay,
Rang out the tidings of a threatened fray.
Red blazed the beacon's light on Hexham fell,
And Warden to the signal answered well;
Dilston heard Beaufront wind his mellow horn,
Aydon to rouse, and Halton tower to warn;
And pale the fire light was reflected back
From baron's helm and yeoman's burnished jack;
And spear and corslet, targe and brand, and glave,
Returned the fire the fierce red light it gave;
As troop on troop, in broad and sweeping line,
Dash'd their proud steeds across the roaring Tyne.
And broader yet the beacon glare was flung,—
And deeper yet each turret's 'larum rung!
Here peal'd a horn,—there neighed a startled steed—
A Ratcliffe here was roared, and there a Reed—
A Tyndale—Fenwick—Ridley—or a Bell;
And echo paid them back from Acomb Fell,
Where many a Scottish slogan fiercely rose,
Telling the name and number of the foes.
On Fallowfield or plain, in mad career,
The Scot met Tynedale glittering spear to spear!

But why the tale of battle thus pursue?
(A tale of blood like modem Waterloo)—
'Tis with the Squire alone we have to do!
Cuddy was wounded; on the ground he lay,—
Was seized at length, and swiftly borne away—
He knew not when, nor whether, nor by whom,
But woke at last within a stately room
Cut from the solid rock, with seats around,
On each of which a sleeping knight lay bound!
He counted seven in green-wood mantles drest,
With knightly spur on heel, and chain on breast;
He tried in vain to wake them, one or all;
A horn and sword were hung upon the wall;
Cuddy approach'd, when, from the eastern side,
A mystic voice in hollow accents cried,
"Forbear!" "For whom?" cried Cuddy at the word,
And laid his dauntless hand upon the sword,
And half unsheath'd the blade.—The chamber rung—
Up from their beds the seven green sleepers sprung,
And seven keen swords were gleaming at his breast.
Cuddy, with wonder more than fear oppressed,
Dropt from his hand the sword and seized the horn,
And blew a blast his distant friends to warn.
The champions sink—the chamber melts away—
And Cuddy finds himself in open day—
Alive—uninjured—for his wound he feels,—
'Tis gone! he views the crags of Shewin' Shiels,
And recollects the tale of Arthur's knights,
And trembles as he thinks upon the sights
Just vanished in that fair and fairy hall,
The seven green sleepers and the magic call!
He crossed himself, and blessed the gracious hour
That snatched him timely from enchantment's power!

'Twas dawn before the battle's heat was done,
And now he sees the scarcely risen sun—
Sir Cuddy thought—but, judge of his surprise,
When to his wild and wonder-stricken eyes
Appeared the country new and very strange,
He wist not how to reconcile the change—
Corn fields, and gardens; houses, neat and strong,
No woods, no mosses—as he trudged along
Upon a road so beautiful and broad—
What could he think?—he felt his spirits awed!
The fairies had thrown glamour o'er his eyes,
And all he saw gave more and more surprise!
Men looked not like the men that he had seen,
They spake another language—and his mien
Appear'd to move their wonder.—On he came,
But still he found no single scene the same,
Nought as it was before—the rushing river
Indeed swept on as beautiful as ever,
The hills stood still—the valleys kept their places—
But glens and dales alike had changed their faces.
He crossed the Tyne by a superior bridge,
And saw a rail-way climb the mountain ridge;
He entered Hexham, passing Quatre Bras,
And grew the more amazed the more he saw.
He knew not on what point his thoughts to fix,
When Eighteen Hundred—lo! and twenty-six
Before his eyes in capitals appears!—
Why he had slept full seven long hundred years!

Well might he see a change in all things round!
Well might this new—old world his brain confound!
In his young days men strove to warm the heart,
But now the head seem'd thought the better part.
The laughing fair ones of our modern days,
He swore, indeed, were past all power of praise,
But wish'd himself, whene'er he named the men,
Asleep for seven long hundred years again!