'The Blacksmith in Legend and History' - by Vigilant, Westralian Worker, 28 September 1917, page 5

Fitzgerald describes this piece as:

an entertainment: light-hearted and humorous….As in previous week [‘The Literature of Vagabondage’], a well stocked, well read essayist, with the standard essayist’s relaxed good humour. [1]


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The Blacksmith in Legend and History by Vigilant

As George Borrow says in “Lavengro,” “There is something highly poetical about a forge.” He was thinking, ‘tis true, only of the forge of Longfellow’s “Village Blacksmith,” but nevertheless he knew of the forge of the Sagos, which was presided over by Volundar, a magical blacksmith, who manufactured, besides other wonderful machines, the chariot and hammer of Thor, the thunderer and War God of Northern Myths. His Grecian counterpart was Vulcan, who carried on his work beneath the volcanoes. That this gentleman should live in so gloomy an abode, rather than on the heights of Olympus, requires some explanation. Jupiter was the son of Saturn, a pleasant old gentleman who ate his children. Jupiter, who fortunately escaped his father, grew up to inherit some of his unnatural characteristics. He did not, indeed , eat his sons, but he married his sister, Juno, and things went smoothly until their daughter Hebe became old enough to attract the old scamp’s attention. Mrs Jupiter objected to the old gentleman’s vagaries, and was rewarded for her interference by being suspended in chains from the firmament. Vulcan, whose sympathies were aroused by the sufferings of the disgraced Queen, set her free, and for punishment he was kicked out of Olympus by the irate Jupiter. He struck the ground rather hard, and ever after walked lame. This, no doubt, explains the significance of the Forge as an altar of Revolt. As Bernard O’Dowd puts it in his poem “Vulcan” –

“For I am Labor, scorned, and hurled
From the ruling God’s abode –
Lame Labor – bearer of the World,
And haggard with its load.

To myth again must we go for our earliest Blacksmith rebel. Zohak was son of an usurping King of Persia. Early in his manhood he came under the spell of Eblis, the Evil One, who persuaded him to murder his father, and so succeed to the throne. This Zohak did, and during his reign Eblis devised daily new tyrannies, which the king imposed on the people. Now, Eblis was the inventor of the art of cookery, and constantly delighted the king’s palate with new dishes. One day he excelled himself, with no less a dish than a boiled egg. So delighted was Zohak that he promised Eblis any boon he might ask. The Evil One replied with a request to be allowed to kiss the bare shoulders of the King; and in response to the caress of the lips of the fiend two vipers grew up from the monarch’s shoulders. The creatures twined and hissed, demanding food. Eblis assured the King that nothing would satisfy the monsters save the brains of men, and advised him to draw up a census of his subjects. This the King did, and as no National Volunteers were forthcoming, conscription was immediately introduced, and each day saw the brain pans of two citizens of Iran spilt of their precious content to satisfy the hell-gotten monsters that had sprang from the corrupt carcass of royalty.

So things went on, until one day the lots were drawn against the two sons of Gavah, the Blacksmith. But rather than submit tamely the Blacksmith prepared to meet tyranny with insurrection; and Gavah’s forge became the Altar of Liberty. A great army gathered, and was armed by Gavah and his sons. All was ready to march against the tyrant, when Gavah bethought him that a flag was necessary. So he nailed his leathern apron to a pike, and held it aloft. But at this moment another army appeared. It was Feridum, the rightful king, who joined his forces with those of Govah, and together they overthrew Zohak. The vanquished tyrant escaped to the mountains, where he took refuge in a cave, only, however, to be eaten alive by the vipers, that still writhed and hissed about his head.

  And whoever does not believe this story is referred to the flag of Persia, which, to the present day takes the form of a blacksmith’s leathern apron, adorned with the jewels of Feridun.

If the moral needs pointing, it is this; Let Labor beware when its erstwhile champions bare their shoulders to the kiss of Mammon; let Labor never rest until such are hurled from power, for out of their hearts grow the vipers of Anarchy.

Coming down to more recent times we find the banner of Labor again raised aloft by a blacksmith in England in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Men were not free at that time, but bound to the soil as serfs, or villeins. Numbers, however, had gained a qualified freedom by paying a quit rent, or blackmail, instead of personal service, but after the terrible plague, known as the Black Death, which swept over England towards the middle of the century, even this meagre privilege was curtailed, and when Richard II, imposed a poll-tax of one shilling upon rich and poor alike the rising discontent reached fever heat, and Wat Tyler, a Kentish blacksmith, placed himself at the head of an armed host, and marched on London. There his men sacked a portion of the city, and hanged a goodly number of lawyers, but Tyler himself was struck down by a treacherous blow while parleying with the King. The young monarch stemmed the anger of the peasants by promising himself to replace their fallen leader, and the army of liberty dispersed. At the same time the army of John Ball, a travelling friar, was advancing from the Eastern Counties. This man’s teaching was summed up in the couplet:

“When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman.”

He further held that “until villeinage be abolished, and goods held in common, things will never be well in England.”

Now, John Ball’s army was not to be dispersed with the idle promises, but it was overthrown by force of arms, and it’s resistance served as an excuse to the rulers to break the promise the king had made that bondage would be abolished. Nevertheless the landlords had learned their lesson, and villeinage gradually died a natural death.

Such are a few of the delightful episodes in the tale of the craft of Tubal Cain. “Tis true, we have neglected the ploughshare for the sword, but the sword we have followed is the brand of freedom, not the dagger of tyranny.


The “Shah Nemeh” (Book of Kings) contains the legendary history of Persia, including the story of Gavah the Blacksmith. It is obtainable in a moderately cheap edition.

For the condition of the people in Mediaeval England the best work is Thorold Rogers’ “Six Centuries of Work and Wages,” but any economic history, like Warner’s “Trade, Tillage and Invention,” will give a fair idea. “Piers the Plowman,” by Langland, a poet of the time, should be read at leisure.


1. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Curtin: Book discussions (largely from Our Bookshelf), 1917 - 1988. JCPML00653/36