DR. PLOT, who was a very well-known and reliable man, and a painstaking antiquary and writer of natural history, in his History of Staffordshire, published by him in the time of Charles the Second, relates the following strange story:
That a countryman was employed, at the close of a certain dull summer’s day, in digging a trench in a field in a valley, round which the country rose into sombre, silent woods, vocal only with the quaint cries of the infrequent magpies. It was some little time after the sun had sunk, and the countryman was just about giving over his labour for the day. Dr. Plot says that, in one or two of the last languid strokes of his pick, the rustic came upon something stony and hard, which struck a spark, clearly visible in the increasing gloom. At this surprise he resumed his labour, and, curiously enough, found a large, flat stone in the centre of the field. This field was far away from any of the farms or 'cotes', as they were called in those days, with which the now almost twilight country was sparingly dotted. In a short time he cleared the stone free of the grass and weeds which had grown over it; and it proved to be a large, oblong slab, with an immense iron ring fixed at one end in a socket. For half-an-hour the countryman essayed to stir this stone in vain. At last he bethought himself of some yards of rope which he had lying near amongst his tools; and these he converted, being an ingenious,
inquisitive, inventive man, into a tackle--by means of which, and by passing the sling round a bent tree in a line with the axis of the stone, he contrived, in the last of the light, and with much expenditure of toil, to raise it. And then, greatly to his surprise, he saw a large, deep, hollow place, buried in darkness, which, when his eyes grew accustomed a little to it, he discovered was the top-story to a stone staircase, seemingly of extraordinary depth, for he saw nothing below. The country fellow had not the slightest idea of where this could lead to; but being a man, though a rustic and a clown, of courage, and most probably urged by his idea that the staircase led to some secret repository where treasure lay buried, he descended the first few steps cautiously, and tried to peer in vain down into the darkness. This seemed impenetrable; but there was some object at a vast, cold distance below. Looking up to the fresh air and seeing the star Venus--the evening star--shining suddenly like a planet, in encouraging, unexpected brilliancy, although the sky had still some beautiful placid sunset light in it, the puzzled man left the upper ground, and descended silently a fair, though a somewhat broken staircase. Here, at an angle, as near as he could judge, of a hundred feet underground, he came upon a square landing-place, with a niche in the wall; and then he saw a further long staircase, descending at right angles to the first staircase, and still going down into deep, cold darkness. The man cast a glance upward, as if questioning the small segment of light from the upper world which shot down, whether he should continue his search or desist and return. All was stillest of the still about him; but he saw no reason particularly to fear. So; imagining that he would in some way soon penetrate the mystery, and feeling in the darkness by his hands
upon the wall, and by his toes to make sure first on each step, he resolutely descended; and he .deliberately counted two hundred and twenty steps. He felt no difficulty in his breathing, except a certain sort of aromatic smell of distant incense, that he thought Egyptian, coming up now and then from below, as if from another, though a subterranean, world. 'Possibly', thought he--for he had heard of them--'the world of the mining gnomes: and I am breaking in upon their secrets, which is forbidden for man'. The rustic, though courageous, was superstitious.
But, notwithstanding some fits of fear, the countryman went on, and at a much lower angle he met a wall in his face; but, making a turn to the right, with singular credit to his nerves, the explorer went down again. And now he saw at a vast distance below, at the foot of a deeper staircase of stone, a steady though a pale light. This was shining up as if from a star, or coming from the centre of the earth. Cheered by this light, though absolutely astounded, nay, frightened, at thus discovering light, whether natural or artificial, in the deep bowels of the earth, the man again descended, meeting a thin, humid trail of light, as it looked, mounting up the centre line of the shining though mouldering old stairs, which apparently had not been pressed by a foot for very many ages. He thought now, although it was probably only the wind in some hidden recess, or creeping down some gallery, that he heard a murmur overhead, as. if of the uncertain rumble of horses and of heavy waggons or lumbering wains. Next moment, all subsided into total stillness; but the distant light seemed to flicker, as if in recognition or answer to the strange sound. Half-a-dozen times he paused, and turned as if he would remount--almost flee for his life upward,. as he thought; for this might be the secret
haunt of robbers, or the dreadful abode of evil spirits. What if, in a few moments, he should -come upon some scene to affright, or alight in the midst of desperate ruffians; or be caught by murderers! He listened eagerly. He now almost bitterly repented his descent. Still the light streamed at a distance; but still there was no sound to interpret the meaning of the light, or to display the character of this mysterious place, in which the countryman found himself entangled hopelessly like a knight of romance in an enchanted world.
The discoverer by his time stood still with fear. But at last, summoning courage, and recommending himself devoutly to God, he determined to complete his discovery. Above, he had been working in no strange place; the field he well knew, the woods were very familiar to him, and his own hamlet and his wife and family were only a few miles distant. He now hastily, and more in fear than through courage, noisily with his feet descended the remainder of the stairs; and the light grew brighter and brighter as he approached, until at last, at another turn, he came upon a square chamber, built up of large hewn ancient stones. He stopped, silent and awe-struck. Here was a flagged pavement and a somewhat lofty roof, gathering up into a centre, in the groins of which was a rose, carved exquisitely in some dark stone or in marble. But what was this poor man’s fright when, making another sudden turn, from between the jambs, and from under the large archivolt of a Gothic, stone portal, light streamed out over him with inexpressible brilliancy, shining over everything, and lighting up the place with brilliant radiance, like an intense golden sunset. He started back. Then his limbs shook and bent under him as he gazed with terror at the figure of a than, whose face: was
hidden, as he sat in a studious attitude in a stone chair, reading in a great book, with his elbow testing on a table like a rectangular altar, in the light of a large, ancient iron lamp, suspended by a thick chain to the middle of the roof. A cry of alarm, which he could not suppress, escaped from the scared discoverer, who involuntarily advanced one pace, beside himself with terror. He was now within the illuminated chamber. As his foot fell on the stone, the figure started bolt upright from his seated position, as if in. awful astonishment. He erected his hooded head, and showed himself as if in anger about to question the intruder. Doubtful if what he saw were a reality, or whether he was not in some terrific dream, the countryman advanced, without being aware of what he was doing, another audacious step. The hooded man now thrust out a long arm, as if in warning; and in a moment the discoverer perceived that this hand was armed with an iron baton, and that he pointed it as if tremendously to forbid further approach. Now, however, the poor man, not being in a condition either to reason or to restrain himself, with a cry, and in a passion of fear, took a third fatal step; and as his foot descended on the groaning stone, which seemed to give way for a moment under him, the dreadful man, or image, raised his arm high like a machine, and with his truncheon struck a prodigious blow upon the lamp, shattering it into a thousand pieces, and leaving the place in utter darkness.
This was the end of this terrifying adventure. There was total silence now, far and near. Only a long, low roll of thunder, or a noise similar to thunder, seemed to begin from a distance, and then to move with snatches, as if making turns; and it then rumbled sullenly to sleep, as if through unknown, inaccessible passages. What these were--if any passages--nobody
ever found out. It was only suspected that this hidden place referred in some way to the Rosicrucians, and that the mysterious people of that famous order had there concealed some of their scientific secrets. The place in Staffordshire became afterwards famed as the sepulchre of one of the brotherhood, whom, for want of a more distinct recognition or name, the people chose to call 'Rosicrucius', in general reference to his order; and from the circumstance of the lamp, and its sudden extinguishment by the figure that started up, it was supposed that some Rosicrucian had determined to inform posterity that he had penetrated to the secret of the making of the ever-burning lamps of the ancients--though, at the moment that he displayed his knowledge, he took effectual means that no one should reap any advantage from it.
The Spectator, in No. 379, for Thursday, May 15th, 1712, under the signature of 'X', which is understood to be that of Budgell, has the following account of that which is chosen there to be designated 'Rosicrucius’s Sepulchre':
Rosicrucius, say his disciples, made use of this method to show the world that he had re-invented the ever-burning lamps of the ancients, though he was resolved no one should reap any advantage from the discovery'.
We have chosen the above story as the introduction to our curious history.
Christian Rosencreutz died in 1484. To account for Rosicrucianism not having been heard of until 1604, it has been asserted that this supposed first founder of Rosicrucianism bound his disciples not to reveal any of his doctrines until a period of one hundred and twenty years after his death.
The ancient Romans are said to have preserved
lights in their sepulchres many ages by the oiliness of gold (here steps in the art of the Rosicrucians), resolved by hermetic methods into a liquid substance; and it is reported that at the dissolution of monasteries, in the time of Henry the Eighth, there was a lamp found that had then burned in a tomb from about three hundred years after Christ--nearly twelve hundred years. Two of these subterranean lamps are to be seen in the Museum of Rarities at Leyden, in Holland. One of these lamps, in the Papacy of Paul the Third, was found in the Tomb of Tullia (so named), Cicero's daughter, which had been shut up fifteen hundred and fifty years (Second edition of N. Bailey's Φιλόλογος, 1731).