Robert Southey on the Well of st. Keyne.


Figure 736
736.—Sanctuary, Westminster.

A poet,*

* Robert Southey.

we regret to say no longer living to enjoy the honours of a reputation as universal as it was well earned, tells, in humorous verse, the story that has made the well of St. Keyne (Fig. 715) popular for many an age among all classes of the people, and which still invests its waters with a certain air of romance, finely harmonizing with their picturesque appearance and position in a little green nook some two miles and a half south of Liskeard.

A well there is in the west countrie,

And a clearer one never was seen;

There is not a wife in the west countrie

But has heard of the well of St. Keyne.

An oak and an elm tree stand beside,

And behind does an ash tree grow,

And a willow from the hank above

Droops to the water below.

A traveller came to the well of St. Keyne,

And pleasant it. was to his eye,

For from cock-crow he had been travelling,

And there was not a cloud in the sky.

He drank of the wafers so cool and clear,

For thirsty and hot was he,

And he sat him down on the grassy bank

Under the willow tree.

There came a man from the neighbouring town

At the well to fill his pail,

By the well-side he rested it down

And bade the stranger hail.

Now art thou a bachelor, Stranger?” quoth he,

“Or if thou hast a wife,

The happiest draught thou hast, drank this day

That ever thou didst in thy life.

“Or has your good woman, if one you have,

In Cornwall ever been?

For, and if she had, I’ll venture my life

She has drank of the well of St. Keyne.”

I left a good woman who never was here,

The stranger he made reply,

“But that my draught should be better for that,

I pray thee answer me why?”

St. Keyne,” quoth the countryman, “many a time

Drank of this crystal well;

And before the angel summon’d her

She laid on its waters a spell.

“If the husband of this gifted well

Shall drink before his wife,

A happy man henceforth is he,

For he shall be master for life.

“But if the wife should drink of it first,

Alas for the husband then—”

The traveller stoop’d to the well of St. Keyne

And drank of its waters again.

You drank of the waters, I warrant, betimes,

He to the countryman said;

But the countryman smiled as the stranger spoke,

And sheepishly shook his head.

“I hastened as soon as the wedding was o’er,

And left my good wife in the porch;

But, faith! she had been wiser than I,

For she took a bottle to church.”

The pious lady who gave these miraculous virtues to the wells and consequently her name, St. Keyne, appears to have been a virgin of the royal British blood; her father was Braganus, Prince of Brecknockshire. About the year 490 she came to Mount St. Michael, Cornwall, on a pilgrimage, and there remained so long that her nephew, Cadoc, went to fetch her. The people, however, had grown no less attached to her than she to them, and refused her permission to depart, until, as the poet informs us, an angel summoned her, and of course all parties were bound to obey the mandate. The well of St. Keyne was then endowed with its marvellous properties, in memory of her, and perhaps by way of suggesting a piece of excellent domestic philosophy,—namely, that in the married state to live happily together there must be an acknowledged supremacy; but whether that attaches to the man or woman, as superior wit and mental characteristics may determine, St. Keyne does not seem to have thought very material, and we are very much disposed to be of the same opinion.