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  • Teething and the Black Tramp September 26, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beach stumbled on the following unlikely superstition. He has never come across anything like it before. The story apparently came out of Exeter in south-western England: 1839.

    On Monday, as a negro convicted of vagrancy was about being locked up, a servant came into the office, and stating that she came from an opulent tradesman in Back-street, asked the magistrate’s permission that the black man might be allowed to kiss his infant to assist its teething. The magistrates, not believing it possible that such superstition could be practised by persons in the walk of life of the applicant, sent an officer with the girl to say that if the child were sent to the police-office the black man might kiss it. To the surprise of the officer the tradesman thanked the magistrates for their kindness, and asked that the black man might be kept until the child could be dressed in its best. In about half an hour the child was brought in a gala dress into the office, and was about to be handed into the arms of the black man, when the magistrates interfered, and desired that the man should be locked up, telling the applicant, at the same time, that it excited deep regret that a person who should know better could be wrapped in such disgusting superstition.

    The impression is that the judge knew of the superstition. It was just that he could not believe that any middle class burgher would take it seriously. Can anyone find other sources for this: has it perhaps crossed from North America, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. It would be interesting to know what the prisoner thought about all this: or was this an occasional source of income.

    31 Oct 2017: Janet writes Could this be similar to the tradition in England that an encounter with a chimney-sweep (black with soot) is lucky? Brides used to think it lucky to be kissed by a chimney-sweep on their wedding day.
    Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, in A Dictionary of Superstitions (OUP, 1989), have this entry under “Black Man” (among other indications of bad luck also being associated):
    1963 S. PATTERSON Dark Strangers 232 [Brixton] The widespread belief that to touch a Negro brings good luck.
    And further, among other references under “Chimney Sweep”:
    1983 Daily Telegraph 26 Aug. 7 A chimney sweep, Mr Cyril Buckland, is finding that kissing brides at weekend weddings is more profitable than sweeping chimneys … His charge for a 20-minute chimney sweeping is £4, but a five-minute ‘good luck’ attendance at a wedding is £5.