Bruce and the spider. In the spring of 1305, Robert Bruce was crowned at Scone King of Scotland, but, being attacked by the English, retreated first to the wilds of Athole, and then to the little island of Rathlin, off the north coast of Ireland, and all supposed him to be dead. While lying perdu in this island, he one day noticed a spider near his bed try six times to fix its web on a beam in the ceiling. “Now shall this spider (said Bruce) teach me what I am to do, for I also have failed six times.” The spider made a seventh effort and succeeded; whereupon Bruce left the island (in the spring of 1307), collecting together 300 followers, landed at Carrick, and at midnight surprised the English garrison in Turnberry Castle; he next overthrew the Earl of Gloucester, and in two years made himself master of well nigh all Scotland, which Edward III. declared in 1328 to be an independent kingdom. Sir Walter Scott tells us, in his Tales of a Grandfather (p. 26, col. 2), that in remembrance of this incident, it has always been deemed a foul crime in Scotland for any of the name of Bruce to injure a spider.
“I will grant you, my father, that this valiant burgess of Perth is one of the best-hearted men that draws breath ... He would be as loth, in wantonness to kill a spider, as if he were a kinsman to King Robert of happy memory.” —SirWalterScott: Fair Maid of Perth, ch. ii.
Frederick the Great and the spider. While Frederick II. was at Sans Souci, he one day went into his ante-room, as usual, to drink a cup of chocolate, but set his cup down to fetch his handkerchief from his bedroom. On his return he found a great spider had fallen from the ceiling into his cup. He called for fresh chocolate, and next moment heard the report of a pistol. The cook had been suborned to poison the chocolate, and, supposing his treachery had been found out, shot himself. On the ceiling of the room in Sans Souci a spider has been painted (according to tradition) in remembrance of this story.
Spider. When Mahomet fled from Mecca he hid in a certain cave, and the Koreishites were close upon him. Suddenly an acacia in full leaf sprang up at the mouth of the cave, a wood-pigeon had its nest in the branches, and a spider had woven its net between the tree and the cave. When the Koreishites saw this, they felt persuaded that no one could have recently passed that way, and went on.
Spider anciently supposed to envenom everything it touched. In the examination into the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, one of the witnesses deposed “that the countess wished him to get the strongest poison that he could ...” Accordingly he brought seven great spiders.
There may be in the cup A spider steeped, and one may drink, depart, And yet partake no venom.
Shakespeare: Winter's Tale, ii. f.
Spider. According to old wives' fable, fever may be cured by wearing a spider in a nutshell round the neck.
“Cured by wearing a spider hung round one's neck in a nutshell.” Longfellow: Evangeline.
Spiders will never set their webs on a cedar roof. (Caughey: Letters, 1845.) Spiders spin only on dark days.
The subtle spider never spins, But on dark days, his slimy gins.
S.Butler: On a Nonconformist. iv
Spider. The shoal called the Shambles at the entrance of Portland Roads was very dangerous before the break-water was constructed. According to legend, at the bottom of the gigantic shaft are the wrecks of ships seized and sunk by the huge spider Kraken, called also the fish-mountain.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894