Common-place Book, 1849

Robert Southey (1849), Common-place Book; pp.278-9. Published by Longman.

[Storey's Account of an Ignis Fatuus.]

"One thing very particular I observed in the way as we went in the night-time: going toward a valley, not above two or three miles from Northampton, we saw several lights, which I took to be candles from the windows of houses in some small village before us; and in a short time they all seemed to vanish, which I took to be by the interposition of some higher ground or hedges; till, coming forward in a lane, near a brook in the valley, we espied a single light a little before us on the way-side, not moving, but fixed as in a window of some house there: but as we approached the place, it began to move, and crossed the lane at some distance from us, and went through a hedge, and a little way along another hedge in a close, mending is pace, so that I took it to be some person in haste, carrying a lanthorn from a house whence it seemed to issue, though there was no house there: then it took a short turn, as if it had some self-direction, and passing along about breast-high from the earth, went side-way in the wind, which was considerably high; and going a little on our right-hand, went northward near the way we had come. It was very bright, though it seemed sometimes to intermit a little, and twinkle in its motion; and so went on as far as we could see it. It put me in mind of some flying beetles I had seen in Hispaniola, and some other parts of the West Indies; which shine as they fly in the night, giving light, in appearance not much short of stars of the first magnitude. I have often heard, and somewhere read, of an Ignis fatuus, or Jack with a lanthorn; of which I suppose this was one sort (for I have heard of several), but have not found the phenomenon solved any where to my satisfaction."—Life of Thomas Storey, p. 730.

This Thomas Storey appears to be the Quaker minister who travelled to America in 1699. He was in Jamaica in 1709 after the great earthquake there, and met with William Penn in 1714. His brother, George Storey, was one time Dean of Limerick. He was a friend of Joseph Gamble, perhaps the father of Archibald Gamble who was a Professor of Oratory at the University of Pennsylvania.

He may have been Master of the Rolls: "Thomas Storey, once Master of the Rolls, who married Shippen's daughter Anne, must have derived a good portion of the rear grounds extending out to Third street, as the late aged Colonel A. J. Morris tells me that in his time 'Storey's grounds', sold to Samuel Powel, were unbuilt, and enclosed with a brick wall from St. Paul's church down to Spruce street, and thence eastward to Laurel Court."—Watson's Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, Vol. I; Written 1830 - 1850.

It's said that his journal was published in 1704. Peter Collinson wrote to the "Quaker preacher" Thomas Storey in 1731, according to Ann Leighton, and a Thomas Storey was still writing on Quaker matters in 1737.

Sean B. Palmer