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Rhys, Ernest, ed. (1859–1946). The Haunters and the Haunted. 1921.

LII. The Wandering Jew in England

“Notes and Queries”

WHEN on the weary way to Golgotha, Christ fainting, and overcome under the burden of the cross, asked Salathiel, as he was standing at his door, for a cup of water to cool His parched throat, he spurned the supplication, and bade Him on the faster.

“I go,” said the Saviour, “but thou shalt thirst and tarry till I come.”

And ever since then, by day and night, through the long centuries he has been doomed to wander about the earth, ever craving for water, and ever expecting the day of judgment which shall end his toils:

  • “Mais toujours le soleil se lève,
  • Toujours, toujours
  • Tourne la terre où moi je cours,
  • Toujours, toujours, toujours, toujours!”
  • Sometimes, during the cold winter nights, the lonely cottager will be awoke by a plaintive demand for “Water, good Christian! water for the love of God!” And if he looks out into the moonlight, he will see a venerable old man in antique raiment, with grey flowing beard, and a tall staff, who beseeches his charity with the most earnest gesture. Woe to the churl who refuses him water or shelter. My old nurse, who was a Warwickshire woman, and, as Sir Walter said of his grandmother, “a most awfu’ le’er,” knew a man who boldly cried out, “All very fine, Mr Ferguson, but you can’t lodge here.” And it was decidedly the worst thing he ever did in his life, for his best mare fell dead lame, and corn went down, I am afraid to say how much per quarter. If, on the contrary, you treat him well, and refrain from indelicate inquiries respecting his age—on which point he is very touchy—his visit is sure to bring good luck. Perhaps years afterwards, when you are on your deathbed, he may happen to be passing; and if he should, you are safe; for three knocks with his staff will make you hale, and he never forgets any kindnesses. Many stories are current of his wonderful cures; but there is one to be found in Peck’s History of Stamford which possesses the rare merit of being written by the patient himself. Upon Whitsunday, in the year of our Lord 1658, “about six of the clock, just after evensong,” one Samuel Wallis, of Stamford, who had been long wasted with a lingering consumption, was sitting by the fire, reading in that delectable book called Abraham’s Suit for Sodom. He heard a knock at the door; and, as his nurse was absent, he crawled to open it himself. What he saw there, Samuel shall say in his own style:—“I beheld a proper, tall, grave old man. Thus he said: ‘Friend, I pray thee, give an old pilgrim a cup of small beere!’ And I said, ‘Sir, I pray you, come in and welcome.’ And he said, ‘I am no Sir, therefore call me not Sir; but come in I must, for I cannot pass by thy doore.’”

    After finishing the beer: “Friend,” he said, “thou art not well.” “I said, ‘No, truly Sir, I have not been well this many yeares.’ He said, ‘What is thy disease?’ I said, ‘A deep consumption, Sir; our doctors say, past cure: for, truly, I am a very poor man, and not able to follow doctors’ councell.’ ‘Then,’ said he, ‘I will tell thee what thou shalt do; and, by the help and power of Almighty God above, thou shalt be well. To-morrow, when thou risest up, go into thy garden, and get there two leaves of red sage, and one of bloodworte, and put them into a cup of thy small beere. Drink as often as need require, and when the cup is empty fill it again, and put in fresh leaves every fourth day, and thou shalt see, through our Lord’s great goodness and mercy, before twelve dayes shall be past, thy disease shall be cured and thy body altered,’”

    After this simple prescription, Wallis pressed him to eat: “But he said, ‘No, friend, I will not eat; the Lord Jesus is sufficient for me. Very seldom doe I drinke any beere neither, but that which comes from the rocke. So, friend, the Lord God be with thee.’”

    So saying, he departed, and was never more heard of; but the patient got well within the given time, and for many a long day there was war hot and fierce among the divines of Stamford, as to whether the stranger was an angel or a devil. His dress has been minutely described by honest Sam. His coat was purple, and buttoned down to the waist; “his britches of the same couler, all new to see to”; his stockings were very white, but whether linen or jersey, deponent knoweth not; his beard and head were white, and he had a white stick in his hand. The day was rainy from morning to night, “but he had not one spot of dirt upon his cloathes.”

    Aubrey gives an almost exactly similar relation, the scene of which he places in the Staffordshire Moorlands. The Jew there appears in a “purple shag gown,” and prescribes balm-leaves.