AN esteemed and learned correspondent, himself a Cornishman, writing to me on the Côrnish character, says -
"There are some adages in which beadledom receives various hard knocks--that abstraction mostly taking the shape of some unlucky mayor; and I have heard in Cornwall, but never elsewhere, that the greatest fool in the place for the time being is always made the mayor.
"There is an adage of the Mayor of Calenich (and yet I doubt if ever that hamlet had such an officer). Calenich is one mile from Truro, and the mayor's hackney was pastured two miles from home; so, as his worship would by no means compromise his dignity by walking to Truro, he invariably walked to his horse to ride there, so that it was said of any one who would keep up appearances at great trouble, that he was 'like the Mayor of Calenich, who walked two miles to ride one.'
"The class who never know on which side their bread is buttered, are said to be 'like the Mayor of Market-Jew, sitting in their own light,' and the stupid man whose moods, whether of sadness or merriment, are inopportune, is, as may be, said to be 'like the Mayor of Falmouth, who thanked God when the town-jail was enlarged.'
"Many persons are chronicled in the same manner.
"'Like Nicholas Kemp, he's got occasion for all.' Nicholas was said to be a voter in a Cornish borough, who was told to help himself (so that no one should have given him a bribe) from a table covered with gold, in the election committee-room. Taking off his hat, he swept the whole mass into it, saying, 'I 'ye occasion for all.'
'"Like Uncle Acky Stoddern, the picture of ill luck.' This was always applied to a once well-known Gwennap-man.
"When a boy is asked what he will be, it is sometimes answered on his behalf, 'I'll be like Knuckey, be as l am.'
"Like Nanny Painter's hens, very high upon the legs,' is applied to a starveling or threadpaper.
"'Like Malachi's cheeld, choke-full of sense,' applied derisively to any one boasting of himself or of his children. This is, I believe, purely Cornish.
"'Like a toad under a harrow, I don't know whichee corse to steer.' The first division of this adage is common property, the last is confined to Cornwall.
"'He's coming home with Penny Liggan,' sometimes 'Peter Lacken,' signifies the return of a penniless scapegrace. The term was probably 'penny lacking' originally.
"Are the Cornish folk given to making 'bulls,' like the Irish?" asks my correspondent. "I have heard of one or two curious inversions of speech.
"Once upon a time a little boy having vainly importuned his seniors for a penny to go and buy sweets, being determined not to be disappointed, went off, exclaiming, 'I don't care; I'll go and trust Betty Rule (the sweatmeat vendor). This is native and genuine Gwennapian.
"The common people are fond of figures of speech. Port-wine negus was christened by the miners 'black wine toddy.' They go on Midsummer. day to Falmouth or Penzance, to get 'a pen'ord o' say '--that is, they go out in a boat on payment of a penny.
"With them, when their health is inquired after, every man is 'brave,' and every women 'charming;' and friendship takes dear household names into its mouth for more expressiveness.
"Well, Billy, my son, how's faether?'
"'Brave, thank ee.'
" 'How are you, Coden [Cousin] Jaan, and how's Betty?'
"'She's charming, thank ee.'
"Trade is a word of special application, 'a pa'cel o' trade.'
"A precious mess is 'a brave shape.'
"Of an undecided person it is said, 'He is neither Nim nor Doll.' Does this mean he is neither Nimrod nor Dorothy?
A phrase descriptive of vacuity of expression is, 'He looks like anybody that has neither got nor lost.'"
Years since it was a common custom to assign some ridiculous action to the people of a small town or village. For example, the people of one place were called "Buccas," "because some one of them was frightened at his shadow."
Those of another town were named "Gulls," "because two of the townsmen threw a gull over a cliff to break its neck."
The men of a fishing-village were nicknamed "Congers," "because they threw a conger overboard to drown it."
"Who whipped the hake?" was applied to the inhabitants of another town, because hake, it is said, being excessively plenty, the fishermen flogged one of those fish, and flung it back into the sea; upon which all the hakes left that coast, and kept away for years. [a]
"Who drowned the man in a dry ditch?" belongs especially to another place.
Certain Cornishmen built a wall around the cuckoo, to prevent that bird from leaving the county, and thus to insure an early spring. When built, the bird flew out, crying "Cuckoo! cuckoo !" "If we had put one course more on the wall we should a' kept 'n in," said they.
Camborne is so called from Camburne, a crooked well-pit of water. This crooked well was at one time far famed for the cure of many diseases.
The persons who washed in this well were called Merrasicke. I know not the meaning of the word. According to an old Cornish custom of fixing nicknames on people, the inhabitants of Camborne are called Mearageeks, signifying perverse, or obstinate.--(Lanyon.)
The Church was anciently called Mariadoci. I therefore suspect that the above terms have some connection with this name. By an easy corruption, and the addition of geeks, or gawks (meaning awkward), either word can be produced.
Of the Gorran men it is asked, "Who tried to throw the moon over the cliffs?"
[a] In Hugh Miller's "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," edit. 1858, pp. 256, 257, will be found some stories of the flight of the "herring drove" from the coast of Cromarty, which are analogous to this.