[From The Manx Quarterly, #23]



The Brazen Head of Lewaigue.

Roger (Friar) Bacon, a natural philosopher, who lived in the 13th Century, was credited with possessing supernatural : powers, and his knowledge was supposed to have been gained from his Satanic Majesty. Many legends are recorded of him and of his practice in the black art. One of these stories relates to his conception of "securing the immunity of England from foreign invasion by fencing it with a brazen wall." Another scheme was the construction of a brazen head capable of speech. With the assistance of a brother friar, the head was duly constructed, but it became necessary to consult a spirit before it could be endued with the faculty of speech. As usual in mediæval times, the use of herbs was prescribed, and then the head was to be continuously watched. Bacon appointed his servant to this office, and the vigil began. After some lapse of time the jaws of the head were seen to move and two words were uttered, " Time is !" After a further interval, there came two more words, ‘ ‘ Time was !" And then a third utterance, " Time is past !" Upon this, as if exhausted by its exertions, and before Bacon could be summoned to witness the marvel, the head turned over and came to earth with a crash. Whether Bacon ever repeated the experiment is not recorded. This curious story was clearly the prototype of our Manx poem, and it is to be regretted that the author of the latter is unknown. That it was the work of a man, of special attainments and power of imagination is apparent from the adaptation and expansion of the story and skilful manipulation of detail. It is not, however, clear why Christian Lewaigue was chosen as the modern personification of Bacon, nor which member of that well-known Manx family was meant. [see one explanation in A.M.Crellin's article on sundials]

Like the " Co-loayrtys" just published, the poem was written at least 50 years ago,* and is practically unknown at the present day.

* See Note p. 243.

Kione Prash

In Mona’s Isle in witchcraft’s day
There lived, as some old Manxmen say,
A sage, whose astrologic skill
Commanded Nature at his will.
The clouds would, from the dark north-west,
Upheave their heads at his request
With towering crest and wizard form
T’enwrap the ocean in a storm
When he their service would command
To strew with costly wrecks the strand,
A skill from which his neighbours said
He soon an ample fortune made.

But still Old Nick, from ancient spite,
Withheld from him the " Second-sight."
To obtain this valuable clause,
Still hidden in the infernal laws,
The sage racked oft his conjuring brains,
But disappointment for his pains
Time after time was the result,
For he Old Nick would not consult
Nor seek would he his dark alliance,
But bade his wizard powers defiance.

At last while sleeping on the grass,
One day he saw a comely lass
Who asked him, " Why did he perplex
His mind, and thus his patience vex !"
She said, " Already thou hast spent
Thy manhood’s prime a scheme t’invent
To bring to light the hidden Future
By mirrors made of tin and pewter;
And after all thy tact and logic
Thou hast not yet attained thy object.
But, if thou’lt be a true Inventor,
Thy name upon my annals enter,
And then thou may’st give stern defiance
To all Nick’s power; my name is Science,
And can, if thou wilt but adhere
To me, and all my words revere,•
Teach thee to make a brazen head
That’ll soon cause Nick thy power to dread,
And make him fly with all his crew
Of Witches, Wizards, Moddee-doo,
Fairies, Phynnodderees and Ghosts
From Mona’s long-enchanted coasts;
Make her for ever after free
From each Buggane and Lhiannan~Shee,
Glashtyns and Phantoms of the night,
And the fore-warning Funeral Light;
For when thou’st got the head constructed
(If thou’lt be in my laws instructed)
It will the hidden things of old,
As well as those to come, unfold,
And make thine Isle a seat of knowledge
Thine house an universal college."

At these last words the Sage awoke,
And in a muttering accent spoke
Unto himself, that he’d be bound
Tie had at last the right thing found,
And that, while he was yet alive,
He from that moment would contrive
How best to carry out his scheme
In strict accordance with the dream,
And ne'er reveal to mortal man,
Excepting one, his new-made plan,
(And him to secrecy he’d swear)
That he might help him to prepare
His different tools and blow the bellows
(For though no tradesman he was zealous.)

Old Kellia,1 not through want of school,
But being by birth a natural fool,
Adhered to all his master said
Concerning this great Brazen Head
With dark credulity of mind,
And then a binding contract signed.
That not by gestures, signs or breath,
Would he reveal, on pain of death,
Not e’en to her who shared his bed,
The mystery of the Brazen Head.

At last Old Nick, who envious saw
A mortal trifling with his law,
Called forth a council to his aid,
And rising to address them said,
" Ye potent Powers, whoae dark control
Extends o’er earth from pole to pole,
I’ve called you here the truth to know
If in your wanderings to and ho
You’ve met that crafty Ewan Lewaigue
Who ne’er of me did seem afraid,
But by sçme power unknown to me
He doth command the earth and. sea
To be subserviant to his will;
And now he’s conjuring in a gill
A Brazen Head, which may, I fear,
Bring forth to light the dark career,
Of my most faithful warlock clan
Presiding o’er the Isle of Man."

Quick from his hot sulphureous seat
A monstrous Fiend sprang to his feet
And gave his iron wings a shake
To poise him on the burning lake,
Then from beneath his scaly vest
Drew forth a scroll, and thus addressed
The great Arch-fiend, who sat alone
High on an adamantine throne.

" I’ve heard, with pain, what you have said
Concerning this new Brazen Head,
Most potent Prince of earthly crime,
Whose sway was ne’er until this time
By human conjuring art disputed.
Now Lewaigue, if he is not confuted
By some dark stratagem of ours,
Will surely set at nought our powers.
But, if you will my consel take,
I’ll make the self-taught wizard shake—
Make him to rue the day he tried -
O’er mortal boundaries to stride.
You’ve only just to sign this scroll
And grant unlimited control
To Pluto, and he’ll soon dispatch
A Fiend who can this conjurer match,
Who will through stratagem and fright
Make him his name in blood to write
Upon this Act of Settlement,
And make him all his tricks repent."
Here Nick in council soon agreed
To seal and sign th’ infernal deed.

—Meantime old Kelhia and his master
With cautious movements ‘gainst disaster
Retired to work unseen each night
Within the gill, till morning light
Betrayed the smoking of the shed
Or foundry of the Brazen Head,
Until one stormy night in winter
Lewaigue saw into his workshop enter
A figure grim of monstrous size,
Of hideous shape with blazing eyes,
And stand before him on the floor
Between the furnace and the door;
Then in a deep sepulchral tone
Said, " Ewan Lewaigue, art thou alone?
For I’ve a mandate dark t’ unfold
Which must in secrecy be told ;
And, if there is a prying ear
Our evening’s conference to hear,
Remember that this night’s his last
Thus thundered he, and then a blast
Of hot sulphureous vapour dense
Came from his mouth, widespread, immense,
The Fiend now round his girdle felt
And took from out his flaming belt
A key, then instantly unlocks
A massive adamantine box;
When, just as he the bolts withdrew,
A vivid flash of lightning flew
Athwart the sky, and hid the moon,
And then a thunder-peal was soon
Heard with a most tremendous crash
To follow close the fiery flash
From out this hell-constructed case,
Which shook Kirk Maughold to its base,
Frightening poor Kellia into fits,
Splitting the crucible to bits,
Splitting the red-hot tin and zinc,
Knocking the head from off the bink.

" Come hither," said the hideous thing
" And touch this sulphur-hardened spring,
Which will disclose at my desire
The implements you much require,
Supply you with both brass and lead
To finish well your Brazen Head,
Which when matured can just as well
As we ourselves the Future tell.
But mark ! If thou dost undertake
This conjuring Brazen Head to make,
Thou must this strict injunction keep
That seven long years thou wilt not sleep;
For, sleeping, thou wilt break the spell
Sealed by the blazing arms of Hell
And stamped by Plutos’ pondrous hand
At Rhadamanthus’s command.
But crc we further can proceed
Thou first must sign this contract deed
Drawn out by Lucifer, the great
Satanic Councillor of State,
The Judge of all th’ infernal regions
And Viceroy of ten thousand legions.
Here ! Take this lancet and this pen,
Which oft has sealed the fate of men,
And with thy blood before my sight
Thy Christian and thy Surname write."

Now Lewaigue, no doubt, Nick’s scheme foresaw,
For he’d taken care each night to draw
A spell-bound circle on the ground
Himself and implements around,
The strength of which he soon saw tested;
For this foul Fiend, by Nick invested,
With all the power at his command,
Was made outside the ring to stand ; .
He could not on the line encroach,
Nor nearer Lewaigue would he approach,
But. like a tiger fraught with rage
Confined within an iron cage,
He tried to tear the spell asunder
With red-hot bolts and bars of thunder,
Whose fierce combustibles were cast
And forged o’er Etna’s roaring blast
By mighty Vulcan’s ponderous sledge
And filed by Cyclops to an edge;
But he might just as well have tried
The Atlantic Ocean to divide.

Here Lewaigue with an exulting look
Took from his fob a calf-skin book
And craftily began to read
His powerful necromancing creed
To break the enchantment of the night
And put the monster to the flight;
But. just as he the first word spoke,
The cock’s shrill crow the enchantment broke
And sent the Fiend across the sky
Much faster than a shot would fly.
So suddenly, he left behind
His box of tools of every kind
And manuscript (as it is stated)
Of what I have above related.
And more, by which Lewaigue came to know
All that was going on below
In the Satanic House of Peers,
Which banished all his former fears;
For now, most plainly he could see,
As long as he his hand kept free
From signing with his blood his name,
The imps of darkness could not claim
A right with him to interfere;
Hence he determined to keep clear
For ever after from that hour
From Nick and his bewitching power.

Old Kellia now began to cough,
Soon as he found the Fiend was off,
For all the while he’d stopped his breath
And almost choked himself to death.
Nor when was split the red-hot metal
And split the crucible and kettle
Did he give utterance to a groan
Though badly burnt, e’en to the bone,
But crept him closer ‘neath the bellows
(As the authors of the story tell us)’.
He now sprang from his hiding hole
And swore that " sure as he’d a soul
If he could catch the big Mac Mollagh 2
He’d roast his carcase on the chiollagh, 3
And teach the rascal, he’d be bound,
That there in Maughold could be found
A Kellia who could more than match him
And quickly to his den despatch him.
For when he did your power resist
I only shook at him my fist
Which sent him off, and not your creed,
Back to his dark abode with speed.
But Lewaigue I’m thinking thou wilt pay
For all these tricks some future day."

"Stand back ! thou natural slave to fear,"
Said Lewaigue, "and let us see what’s here !"
Then nearing cautiously the case
A flash ecstatic lit his face
As he beheld good cast-steel wimbles
And cranks to hinge the tongue on gimbals,
And bars of silver, zinc, and gold,
With brass in wedges, wrought and rolled,
Borax and spelter in great masses
Were there with jars of various gases,
Besides a wonderful compound
Whose equal Davy never found
As flux metallic, (for ‘tis said
That platinum ‘t would fuse like lead),
Jewels in ample number, too,
He found (if all that’s said be true),
i’o form his bushes, cups and glands
And centre of his breathing fans,
That without friction all his points,
His cranks and universal joints
Might freely move, for he’d a notion
Of making a perpetual motion
Of all the gear that worked the brains;
With this he took peculiar pains.

As he selected thing by thing
He found the very moving spring
Within a box of hardened steel
Compressed around a diamond reel
With these words stampt upon the top,
"Attach me and I’ll never stop,
But he who dares take off my lid
Will rue it that he ever did."
Searching a second time, he found
He’d dropped a phial on the ground
Bearing this label on its side,
" All ye who did my powers confide
Be sure in darkness still to keep
My genuine essence of seven years’ sleep.
Whenere you are inclined to doze
Just place the stopper ‘neath your nose,
And you will find that but a smell
From me would serve you quite as well
To renovate your living powers
As if in bed you’d slept for hours."

Thus found Lewaigue all required t’ assure
His favourite project to mature;
But as for the infernal box,
He threw it down among the rocks,
Where it is seen, as some folk say,
Within the Glen unto this day.

To enter further in detail
I fear my humble powers would fail;
How he his Brazen Head constructed
And all his various plans conducted.
Suffice it that he never slept
For seven long years, and strictly kept
That royal spell from being broken
Of which the conquered Fiend had spoken,
But, through the virtue of the phial,
It was to him no self-denial
No doubt, but he with strict compliance
Adhered to the best rules of Science.
For he is said to’ve been a man
Who never into blunders ran,
And ne’er was known to undertake
A project which he could not make.

And so it proved in the Kione Prash,
Though’ he was thought by most men rash
For wasting thus his time and skill
For seven long years down in a gill,
Labouring hard from week to week
" To make a brazen blockhead speak."
But Lewaigue was deaf to all they said
About him or his Brazen Head,
And went on setting up his gear
Until the time was drawing near
To put his project to the test
And set all clamouring tongues at rest.

But, when the speaking night arrived,
Old Kellia by some means contrived
To steal the phial from his master,
Which proved to Lewaigue a sad disaster;
For, when he for the bottle sought,
He missed it; then old Kellia caught
And round the throat, and said " my phial !
Come give me ! I’ll have no denial."
" There ! There !" said Kellia, " ‘neath the floor,
Close by the threshold of the door
I hid it deep, when you were out,
Not knowing what I was about."
Lewaigue sprang towards the fatal spot,,
And sought the drug, but found it not,
For it had vanished out of sight.
When Kellia brought it to the light,
Cried he, " May Heaven preserve and keep me
I feel myself already sleepy.
The Head’s to speak at midnight, too,
When I’m asleep what can I do?
I fear the agency of Nick,"
Said he, " is clearly in this trick,
And on me he’ll retaliate
Through Kellia’s intermeddling pate;
Come here and take that fess queeyl-wooarl 4
And skulk not’ there behind the door,"
Said Lewaigue, " and heat it in the fire
And mind that it is my desire,
If thou canst me not quickly wake,
Whene’er you find the head to shake
That thou wilt with these words comply
‘ Run the hot fess right through my thigh.’
And then, if that will not awake me,
Set me on my legs and shake me,
And halloo loudly in my ear,
For I shall soundly sleep, I fear."

Here Lewaigue lay down and closed his eyes
In hopes again refreshed to rise
Before the midnight stroke would chime
The niagie sound, and be in time
To start the tongue and moving spring
Before the pend’lum got in swing.

Old’ Kellia now began to fear,
The thought of midnight drawing near
Assailed his guilty breast with terror ;
He would a thousand times his error
Recall, but now it was too late.
Rueing most bitterly his fate
That e’er he’d yielded to the thought
Which on him such disaster brought.
" Oh,’that I should have been so weak
That -cursed drug," said he, " to seek
And hide it with that foul intentioïi,
So foul I’iii now afraid to mention,
To send my master to his bed
That I myself might hear the head.
But ‘las, ‘tis done, and there he lies,
Perhaps no more a -man to rise,
And who can say, when now the spell
Is broken too, aye, who can tell
But what Nick’s agents may appear!
O, Lord ! I wish me out of here !"

He now took by the door his stand
Keeping the latch fast in his hand,
His exit from the shed to make
Whene’er the head began to shake;
For he foresaw to use the " fess"
His heart could never bear the test.

But hark ! What’s that ! A thin white cloud
Descended like a winding shroud
From ‘mongst the rafters of the shed,
And settled round the Brazen Head,
And then a clock, or something like,
Began the midnight hour to strike.
With now a click, and then a dong
Much louder than a Chinese gong,
Making old Kellia stand surprised
As if he had been mesmerized.
His open mouth and hair on end,
His legs could neither move nor bend,
His heart refused to move his blood,
And thus he like a statue stood
Until he saw the cloud forsaking
The Brazen Head, and left it shaking
As if in strong convulsive throes,
While issued, from the mouth and nose,
A strangely tinted vap’rous stream—
A kind of purple gaseous steam;
But e’er the pendulum made a stroke,
The crank-head of the brain-gear broke,
Which set the whole construction wrong
Except th’ eccentric of the tongue,
Which only made one revolution
Before the general dissolution.
And when with gas it got inflated,
It these few words articulated,
" Traa va, traa ta,
Traa vees dy braa!"5

At the last word up blew the head
And knocked the roof clean off the shed,
Leaving poor Lewaigue still snoring fast
Unconscious quite of what had passed.
Three days and nights, ‘tis said, he slept,
While Kellia at his bedside wept
Most bitterly, and rued the day
He sought his master to betray.

But on the fourth day he awoke
And to old Kelhia silence broke:
" Where is the Head, I need not ask.
I would that thou’dst been in a cask
Made of the best Norwegian deals
And spiked inside with three-inch nails,
Then rolled from great Slieu Whallian’s top,6
Ere thou’dst conceived that artful plot."

Old Kellia ran from Lewaigue’s bedside
With an accelerated stride,
For well he knew, to tarry longer
Would only tend to waxen stronger
The rising passion in his breast.
Hence to be off he thought was best.

Poor Lewaigue soon found that day by day
His body wasted to decay,
Nor all the drugs that he could take
Would help him keep himself awake,
But found old Kellia’s words come true,
That he some future day -would rue
For playing boldly, trick for trick,
In self-impunity with Nick.
Instead of conquering, as he thought,
He found him in Nick’s trammels caught.
And now was under horrid fears
That he’d to sleep for seven long years,
And thus full restitution make
For all the time he kept awake.
He therefore sent, and warned old Kellia
To take his tools to Ballagilley.
And keep them there till he was dead,
Then throw them over Maughold Head.

Week by week Lewaigue wasted fast
And slept himself to death at last.
Then Keilia did as he was ordered,
(As it is verbally recorded),
And all Lewaigue’s curious gimeracks took
Out to a solitary nook
Where nightly shrieks the wild sea-mew,
And o’er the promontery threw
Them in the ocean with a splash
And closed the scene of the " Kione Prash"

1 His manservant or steward.
2 Son of a curse—the Devil.
3 Hearth.
4 The spindle of the big spinning-wheel.
5 Time was, time is, time ever will be.
6 A form of punishment of witches in olden times.


The following quaint lines relate to the story of " The Kione Prash." They were amongst some old Manx manuscripts which were sent me from the Island some years ago, and form part of a communication addressed by the writer to a friend in Ramsey in the year 1836, but with what object is not apparent from the context. The spelling of the Manx in the original is very corrupt, but I think the version now given may be accepted as what the writer intended the Manx to be. The English translation may, however, not be unimpeachable. The " Sumner’s Sheaf’ ‘ carries us back to an old Manx custom when fees in kind were received by that official from the farmers on their corn crops. The chief interest of the lines now lies in connexion with the age of the legend of " The Kione Prash," as applied to Christian Lewaigue, which, in the light of the foregoing, appears to be not less than 84 years.


Nagh smooinee, charrey, dy vel olk erbee
Dy floutagh scruit ny troggal voish my chree.
Ga ta mee cur dhyt bunney sunderagh,
Cha vel eh jeant myr bondiaght ny myr clagh,
Agh aigney mie myr paitchyn cloie er tig.
Eisht, quoi goys ec Kione Prash Phurt Lewaigue
Cha vod yn balloo jalloo hene ny spoyrt,
She Jee ta coyrt da’n claghyn hene dy loayrt.


Do not think, friend, that there is any evil
Tauntingly written arising from my heart.
Though I give thee the Sumner’s sheaf,
It is not done under constraint or as a stone,*
But [with] good-will as children play at touch.
Then, let who will assume for the Kione Prash of Port Lewaigue
That the dumb image itself could not work,+
It is God who makes the stones themselves to speak.

*i.e., unfeelingly (?)
+ Spoyrt to sport, but used here in the sense of working.

[W. W. Gill suggests that the author was William Kinnish]


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