The Ingoldsby Legends, by Thomas Ingoldsby

The Lay of St Aloys: A Legend of Blois.

‘S. Heloïus in hâc urbe fuit episcopus, qui, defunctus, sepulturus est a fidelibus. Nocte autem sequenti, veniens quidam paganus lapidem, qui sarcophagum, tegebat, revolvit, erectumque contra se corpús Sancti spoliare conatur. At ille, lacertis constrictum, ad se hominem fortiter amplexatur, et usque mane, populis spectantibus, tanquam constipatum loris, ita miserum brachiis detinebat . . . . . Judex loci sepulchri violatorem jubet abstrahi, et legali poenæ sententiâ condemnari; sed non laxabatur a Sancto. Tunc intelligens voluntatem defuncti, Judex, factâ de vitâ promissione, absolvit, deinde laxatur, et sic incolumis redditur: non vero fur demissus quin se vitam monastericam amplexurum spopondisset.’

Greg: Turonens: de Gloriâ Confessorum.

Saint Aloys

Was the Bishop of Blois,

And a pitiful man was he,

He grieved and he pined

For the woes of mankind,

And of brutes in their degree, —

He would rescue the rat

From the claws of the cat,

And set the poor captive free;

Though his cassock was swarming

With all sorts of vermin,

He’d not take the life of a flea! —

Kind, tender, forgiving

To all things living,

From injury still he’d endeavour to screen ’em,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, — no difference between ’em —


The Bishop of Blois was a holy man, —

A holy man was he!

For Holy Church

He’d seek and he’d search

As a Bishop in his degree.

From foe and from friend

He’d ‘rap and he’d rend,’

To augment her treasurie.

Nought would he give, and little he’d lend,

That Holy Church might have more to spend —

‘Count Stephen’1 (of Blois) ‘was a worthy Peer,

His breeches cost him but a crown,

He held them sixpence all too dear,

And so he call’d the Tailor lown!’ —

Had it been the Bishop instead of the Count,

And he’d overcharged him to half the amount,

He had knock’d that Tailor down! —

Not for himself! —

He despised the pelf;

He dress’d in sackcloth, he dined off delf;

And, when it was cold, in lieu of a surtout,

The good man would wrap himself up in his virtue,2

Alack! that a man so holy as he,

So frank and free in his degree,

And so good and so kind, should mortal be!

Yet so it is — for loud and clear

From St. Nicholas’ tower, on the listening ear,

With solemn swell

The deep-toned bell

Flings to the gale the funeral knell;

And hark! — at its sound, as a cunning old hound,

When he opens, at once causes all the young whelps

Of the cry to put in their less dignified yelps,

So — the little bells all,

No matter how small,

From the steeples both inside and outside the wall,

With bell-metal throat

Respond to the note,

And join the lament that a prelate so pious is

Forced thus to leave his disconsolate diocese,

Or, as Blois’ Lord May’r

Is heard to declare,

‘Should leave this here world for to go to that there.’

And see, the portals opening wide,

From the Abbey flows the living tide;

Forth from the doors

The torrent pours,

Acolytes, Monks, and Friars in scores,

This with his chasuble, that with his rosary,

This from his incense-pot turning his nose awry,

Holy Father, and Holy Mother,

Holy Sister, and Holy Brother,

Holy Son and Holy Daughter,

Holy Wafer, and Holy Water;

Every one drest

Like a guest in his best,

In the smartest of clothes they’re permitted to wear

Serge, sackcloth, and shirts of the same sort of hair

As now we make use of to stuff an arm-chair,

Or weave into gloves at three shillings a pair,

And employ for shampooing in cases rheumatic, — a

Special specific, I’m told, for Sciatica.

Through groined arch, and by cloister’d stone,

With mosses and ivy long o’ergrown,

Slowly the throng

Come passing along,

With many a chaunt and solemn song,

Adapted for holidays, high-days, and Sundays,

Dies iræ, and De profundis,

Miserere, and Domine dirige nos, —

Such as, I hear, to a very slow tune are all

Commonly chaunted by Monks at a funeral,

To secure the defunct’s repose,

And to give a broad hint to Old Nick, should the news

Of a prelate’s decease bring him there on a cruise,

That he’d better be minding his P’s and his Q’s,

And not come too near, — since they can, if they choose,

Make him shake in his hoofs — as he does not wear shoes.

Still on they go,

A goodly show,

With footsteps sure, though certainly slow,

Two by two in a very long row;

With feathers, and Mutes

In morning suits,

Undertaker’s men walking in hat-bands and boots, —

Then comes the Crozier, all jewels and gold,

Borne by a lad about eighteen years old;

Next, on a black velvet cushion, the Mitre,

Borne by a younger boy, ‘cause it is lighter.

Eight Franciscans, sturdy and strong,

Bear, in the midst, the good Bishop along;

Eight Franciscans, stout and tall,

Walk at the corners, and hold up the pall;

Eight more hold a canopy high over all,

With eight Trumpeters tooting the Dead March in Saul. —

Behind, as Chief Mourner, the Lord Abbot goes, his

Monks coming after him, all with posies,

And white pocket-handkerchiefs up at their noses,

Which they blow whenever his Lordship blows his —

And oh! ’tis a comely sight to see

How Lords and Ladies, of high degree,

Vail, as they pass, upon bended knee,

While quite as polite are the Squires and the Knights,

In their helmets, and hauberks, and cast-iron tights.

Ay, ’tis a comely sight to behold,

As the company march

Through the rounded arch

Of that Cathedral old! —

Singers behind ’em, and singers before ’em,

All of them ranging in due decorum,

Around the inside of the Sanctum Sanctorum,

While, brilliant and bright,

An unwonted light

(I forgot to premise this was all done at night)

The links, and the torches, and flambeaux shed

On the sculptured forms of the Mighty Dead,

That rest below, mostly buried in lead,

And above, recumbent in grim repose,

With their mailed hose,

And their dogs at their toes,

And little boys kneeling beneath them in rows,

Their hands join’d in pray’r, all in very long clothes,

With inscriptions on brass, begging each who survives,

As they some of them seem to have led so-so lives,

To Praie for the Sowles of themselves and their wives. —

— The effect of the music, too, really was fine,

When they let the good prelate down into his shrine,

And by old and young The ‘Requiem’ was sung;

Not vernacular French, but a classical tongue,

That is — Latin — I don’t think they meddled with Greek —

In short, the whole thing produced — so to speak —

What in Blois they would call a Coup d’oeil magnifique!

Yet, surely, when the level ray

Of some mild eve’s descending sun

Lights on the village pastor, grey

In years ere ours had well begun —

As there — in simplest vestment clad,

He speaks beneath the churchyard tree,

In solemn tones, — but yet not sad, —

Of what Man is — what Man shall be!

And clustering round the grave, half hid

By that same quiet churchyard yew,

The rustic mourners bend, to bid

The dust they loved a last adieu —

— That ray, methinks, that rests so sheen

Upon each briar-bound hillock green,

So calm, so tranquil, so serene,

Gives us to the eye a fairer scene, —

Speaks to the heart with holier breath

Than all this pageantry of Death. —

But chacun à son gout — this is talking at random —

We all know ‘De gustibus non disputandum!’

So canter back, Muse, to the scene of your story

The Cathedral of Blois —

Where the Sainted Aloys

Is by this time, you’ll find, ‘left alone in his glory,’

‘In the dead of the night,’ though with labour opprest,

Some ‘mortals’ disdain ‘the calm blessings of rest;’

Your cracksman, for instance, thinks night-time the best

To break open a door, or the lid of a chest;

And the gipsy who close round your premises prowls,

To ransack your hen-roost, and steal all your fowls,

Always sneaks out at night with the bats and the owls,

— So do Witches and Warlocks, Ghosts, Goblins, and Ghouls,

To say nothing at all of those troublesome ‘Swells’

Who come from the playhouses, ‘flash kens,’ and ‘hells,’

To pull off people’s knockers, and ring people’s bells.

Well — ’tis now the hour

Ill things have power!

And all who, in Blois, entertain honest views,

Have long been in bed, and enjoying a snooze, —

Nought is waking

Save Mischief and ‘Faking,’3

And a few who are sitting up brewing or baking,

When an ill-looking Infidel, sallow of hue,

Who stands in his slippers some six feet two,

(A rather remarkable height for a Jew),

Creeps cautiously out of the churchwarden’s pew,

Into which, during service, he’d managed to slide himself —

While all were intent on the anthem, and hide himself.

Witches and warlocks, ghosts, goblins and ghouls

From his lurking place,

With stealthy pace,

Through the ‘long-drawn aisle’ he begins to crawl,

As you see a cat walk on the top of a wall,

When it’s stuck full of glass, and she thinks she shall fall.

— He proceeds to feel

For his flint and his steel,

(An invention on which we’ve improved a great deal

Of late years — the substitute best to rely on

‘s what Jones of the Strand calls his Pyrogeneion,)

He strikes with despatch! — his Tinder catches! —

Now, where is his candle? — and where are his matches? —

’Tis done! — they are found! —

He stands up, and looks round

By the light of a ‘dip’ of sixteen to the pound!

— What is it that now makes his nerves to quiver? —

His hand to shake — and his limbs to shiver? —

Fear? — Pooh! it is only a touch of the liver —

All is silent — all is still —

It’s ‘gammon’ — it’s ‘stuff!’ — he may do what he will!

Carefully now he approaches the shrine,

In which, as I’ve mentioned before, about nine,

They had placed in such state the lamented Divine!

But not to worship — No! — No such thing! —


Fancy his fright

When with all his might

Having forced up the lid, which they’d not fasten’d quite,

Of the marble sarcophagus — ‘All in white’

The dead Bishop started up, bolt upright

On his hinder end, — and grasped him so tight,

That the clutch of a kite

Or a bull-dog’s bite

When he’s most provoked and in bitterest spite,

May well be conceived in comparison slight,

And having thus ‘tackled’ him — blew out his light!!

Oh, dear! Oh, dear! The fright and the fear! —

No one to hear! — nobody near! —

In the dead of the night! — at a bad time of year! —

A defunct Bishop squatting upright on his bier,

And shouting so loud, that the drum of his ear

He thought would have split as these awful words met it —


Oh, dear! Oh, dear!

’Twas a night of fear!

— I should just like to know, if the boldest man here,

In his situation would not have felt queer?

The wretched man bawls,

And he yells and he squalls,

But there’s nothing responds to his shrieks save the walls,

And the desk, and the pulpit, the pews, and the stalls.

Held firmly at bay,

Kick and plunge as he may,

His struggles are fruitless — he can’t get away,

He really can’t tell what to do or to say,

And being a Pagan, don’t know how to pray;

Till through the east window, a few streaks of grey

Announce the approach of the dawn of the day!

Oh, a welcome sight

Is the rosy light

Which lovelily heralds a morning bright,

Above all to a wretch kept in durance all night

By a horrid dead gentleman holding him tight, —

Of all sorts of gins that a trespasser can trap,

The most disagreeable kind of a man-trap!

— Oh! welcome that bell’s Matin chime, which tells

To one caught in this worst of all possible snares,

That the hour is arrived to begin Morning Prayers,

And the monks and the friars are coming down stairs!

Conceive the surprise Of the Choir — how their eyes

Are distended to twice their original size, —

How some begin bless, — some anathematize, —

And all look on the thief as Old Nick in disguise.

While the mystified Abbot cries, ‘Well! — I declare! —

— This is really a very mysterious affair! —

Bid the bandy-legg’d Sexton go run for the May’r!’

The May’r and his suite

Are soon on their feet, —

(His worship kept house in the very same street, — )

At once he awakes, ‘His compliments’ makes,

‘He’ll be up at the Church in a couple of shakes!’

Meanwhile the whole Convent is pulling and hauling,

And bawling and squalling

And terribly mauling

The thief whose endeavour to follow his calling

Had thus brought him into a grasp so enthralling. —

Now high, now low,

They drag ‘to and fro,’ —

Now this way, now that way they twist him — but — No! —

The glazed eye of St. Aloys distinctly says ‘Poh!

You may pull as you please, I shall not let him go!’

Nay, more; — when his Worship at length came to say

He was perfectly ready to take him away,

And fat him to grace the next Auto-da-fé,

Still closer he prest

The poor wretch to his breast,

While a voice — though his jaws still together were jamm’d —

Was heard from his chest, ‘If you do, I’ll — ’ here slamm’d

The great door of the Church, — with so awful a sound

That the close of the good Bishop’s sentence was drown’d!

Out spake Frère Jehan,

A pitiful man,

Oh! a pitiful man was he!

And he wept and he pined

For the sins of mankind,

As a Friar in his degree.

‘Remember, good gentlefolks,’ so he began,

‘Dear Aloys was always a pitiful man! —

That voice from his chest

Has clearly exprest

He has pardoned the culprit — and as for the rest,

Before you shall burn him — he’ll see you all blest!’

The Monks, and the Abbot, the Sexton, and Clerk

Were exceedingly struck with the Friar’s remark,

And the Judge, who himself was by no means a shark

Of a Lawyer, and did not do things in the dark,

But still leaned (having once been himself a gay spark,)

To the merciful side, — like the late Allan Park, —

Agreed that, indeed,

The best way to succeed,

And by which this poor caitiff alone could be freed,

Would be to absolve him, and grant a free pardon,

On a certain condition, and that not a hard one,

Viz. — ‘That he, the said Infidel, straightway should open

His mind to conviction, and worship the Pope,

And “ev’ry man Jack” in an amice or cope;

And that, to do so,

He should forthwith go

To Rome, and salute there his Holiness’ toe; —

And never again

Read Voltaire or Tom Paine,

Or Percy Bysshe Shelley or Lord Byron’s Cain; —

His pilgrimage o’er, take St. Francis’s habit; —

If anything lay about never to “nab” it;

Or, at worst, if he should light on articles gone astray,

To be sure and deposit them safe in the Monast’ry!’

The oath he took —

As he kiss’d the book,

Nave, transept, and aisle with a thunder-clap shook!

The Bishop sat down with a satisfied look,

And the Thief, releas’d

By the Saint deceas’d

Fell into the arms of a neighbouring priest!

It skills not now

To tell you how

The transmogrified Pagan perform’d his vow;

How he quitted his home,

Travell’d to Rome,

And went to St. Peter’s and looked at the Dome,

And obtain’d from the Pope an assurance of bliss,

And kiss’d — whatever he gave him to kiss —

Toe, relic, embroidery, nought came amiss;

And how Pope Urban

Had the man’s turban

Hung up in the Sistine chapel, by way

Of a relic — and how it hangs there to this day. —

Suffice it to tell,

Which will do quite as well,

That the whole of the Convent the miracle saw,

And the Abbot’s report was sufficient to draw

Ev’ry bon Catholique in la belle France to Blois,

Among others, the Monarch himself, Francois,

The Archbishop of Rheims, and his ‘Pious Jackdaw,’4

And there was not a man in Church, Chapel, or Meeting-house,

Still less in Cabaret, Hotel, or Eating-house,

But made an oration,

And said ‘In the nation

If ever a man deserved canonization,

It was the kind, pitiful, pious Aloys.’ —

So the Pope says — says he, ‘Then a saint he shall be!’ —

So he made him a Saint, — and remitted the fee.

What became of the Pagan I really can’t say;

But I think I’ve been told,

When he’d enter’d their fold,

And was now a Franciscan some twenty days old,

He got up one fine morning before break of day,

Put the Pyx in his pocket — and then ran away.


I think we may coax out a moral or two

From the facts which have lately come under our view.

First — Don’t meddle with Saints; — for you’ll find if you do

They’re what Scotch people call, ‘kittle cattle to shoe!’

And when once they have managed to take you in tow,

It’s a deuced hard matter to make them let go!

Now to you, wicked Pagans! — who wander about,

Up and down Regent Street every night, ‘on the scout,’ —

Recollect the Police keep a sharpish look-out,

And if once you’re suspected, your skirts they will stick to

Till they catch you at last in flagrante delicto! —

Don’t the inference draw

That because he of Blois

Suffer’d one to bilk ‘Old father Antic the Law,’

That our May’rs and our Aldermen — and we’ve a City full —

Show themselves, at our Guildhall, quite so pitiful!

Lastly, as to the Pagan who play’d such a trick,

First assuming the tonsure, then cutting his stick,

There is but one thing which occurs to me — that

Is, — Don’t give too much credit to people who ‘rat!’

— Never forget Early habit’s a net

Which entangles us all, more or less, in its mesh;

And ‘What’s bred in the bone won’t come out of the flesh!’

We must all be aware Nature’s prone to rebel, as

Old Juvenal tells us, Naturam expellas

Tamen usque recurret! There’s no making Her rat!

So that all that I have on this head to advance

Is, — whatever they think of these matters in France,

There’s a proverb, the truth of which each one allows here,


1 Teste Messire Iago, a distinguished subaltern in the Venetian service, circiter A.D. 1580. His Biographer, Mr. William Shakspeare, a contemporary writer of some note, makes him say ‘King Stephen,’ inasmuch as the ‘worthy peer’ subsequently usurped the crown of England. The anachronism is a pardonable one. — Mr. Simpkinson of Bath.

2 — Meâ Virtute me involvo. — HOR.

3 ‘Nix my dolly, pals, Fake away!’ — words of deep and mysterious import in the ancient language of Upper Egypt, and recently inscribed on the sacred banner of Mehemet Ali. They are supposed to intimate, to the initiated in the art of Abstraction, the absence of all human observation, and to suggest the propriety of making the best use of their time — and fingers.

4 Vide supra, The Jackdaw of Rheims.

In the succeeding Legend we come nearer home. — Father Ingoldsby is particular in describing its locality, situate some eight miles from the Hall — less, if you take the bridle-road by the Church-yard, and so along the valley by Mr. Fector’s Abbey.

In the enumeration of the various attempts to appropriate the treasure (drawn from a later source), is omitted one, said to have been undertaken by the worthy ecclesiastic himself, who, as Mrs. Botherby insinuates, is reported to have started for Dover, one fine morning, duly furnished with all the means and appliances of Exorcism. I cannot learn, however, that the family was ever enriched by his expedition.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56