KING'S EVIL, n. A malady that was formerly cured by the touch of the
sovereign, but has now to be treated by the physicians. Thus 'the
most pious Edward" of England used to lay his royal hand upon the
ailing subjects and make them whole --
a crowd of wretched souls
That stay his cure: their malady convinces
The great essay of art; but at his touch,
Such sanctity hath Heaven given his hand,
They presently amend,
as the "Doctor" in _Macbeth_ hath it. This useful property of the
royal hand could, it appears, be transmitted along with other crown
properties; for according to "Malcolm,"
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction.
But the gift somewhere dropped out of the line of succession: the
later sovereigns of England have not been tactual healers, and the
disease once honored with the name "king's evil" now bears the humbler
one of "scrofula," from _scrofa_, a sow. The date and author of the
following epigram are known only to the author of this dictionary, but
it is old enough to show that the jest about Scotland's national
disorder is not a thing of yesterday.
Ye Kynge his evill in me laye,
Wh. he of Scottlande charmed awaye.
He layde his hand on mine and sayd:
"Be gone!" Ye ill no longer stayd.
But O ye wofull plyght in wh.
I'm now y-pight: I have ye itche!
The superstition that maladies can be cured by royal taction is
dead, but like many a departed conviction it has left a monument of
custom to keep its memory green. The practice of forming a line and
shaking the President's hand had no other origin, and when that great
dignitary bestows his healing salutation on
strangely visited people,
All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despair of surgery,
he and his patients are handing along an extinguished torch which once
was kindled at the altar-fire of a faith long held by all classes of
men. It is a beautiful and edifying "survival" -- one which brings
the sainted past close home in our "business and bosoms."