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Will-o'-the-wisp   /wɪl-oʊ-ðə-wɪsp/   Listen
Will-o'-the-wisp

noun
1.
A pale light sometimes seen at night over marshy ground.  Synonyms: friar's lantern, ignis fatuus, jack-o'-lantern.
2.
An illusion that misleads.  Synonym: ignis fatuus.






WordNet 3.0 © 2010 Princeton University








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"Will-o'-the-wisp" Quotes from Famous Books



... into the dim recesses of this awful past, we want the aid of some steadfast light which shall illumine the dark places without the treachery of the will-o'-the-wisp. In the absence of that steadfast light, vague conjectures as to the beginning of things could never be entitled to any more respect than was due to ...
— Time and Tide - A Romance of the Moon • Robert S. (Robert Stawell) Ball

... the right kind of a night for a ghost story," said Melissa, her eyes going over the group with a strange, sweet compassion in their depths. "The wind ought to be howling with blood-curdling glee and the will-o'-the-wisp ought to be a-hoppin' in the swamp. There ought to be a graveyard close by—and some skeletons standing just outside the winders, trying to look in upon us ...
— Mr. Bingle • George Barr McCutcheon

... in their various places. Atkinson was leaning against a tree with a listless face; Quinton's wife was still at her window; the doctor had gone strolling round the end of the conservatory; they could see his cigar like a will-o'-the-wisp; and the fakir still sat rigid and yet rocking, while the trees above him began to rock and almost to roar. Storm was ...
— The Innocence of Father Brown • G. K. Chesterton

... was certain: He had just seen what had no existence. The twilight spectres were making game of him, poor wretch! The little man in scarlet was the will-o'-the-wisp of a dream. Sometimes, at night, nothings condensed into flame come and laugh at us. Having had his laugh out, the visionary being had disappeared, and left Gwynplaine behind ...
— The Man Who Laughs • Victor Hugo

... long time to come. But the whole was sickening to look at, and still more so, if possible, to reflect upon; for this was the price which so often has been, so often will be, paid for the alluring dream of liberty, and for the pursuit of that mischievous will-o'-the-wisp - ...
— Tracks of a Rolling Stone • Henry J. Coke

... his new conception of God and of the human struggle, I mean that he could not in sincerest thought hold the contrary to be true. I do not mean to say that daily and hourly, when about his common avocations, his new inspiration did not seem a mere will-o'-the-wisp of the mind. It took months and years to bring it into any accustomed relation to every-day matters of thought and act; and it is this habitual adjustment of our inward belief to our outward environment that makes any creed appear ...
— The Zeit-Geist • Lily Dougall

... lights, not camp lights, but electric lights, and cheered by these, we quickened our pace. Alas! they seemed to play us a sorry game, and mocking, Will-o'-the-Wisp-like, retreated as we advanced. Then, too, we cursed those once blessed electric lights. Finally we reached the outskirts of the town, and seeing a closed store, with rifle butts and threatening tones persuaded the German dealer to open unto us. Here, speaking ...
— A Yeoman's Letters - Third Edition • P. T. Ross

... my purpose. But to a man whose predominant faculty was strong common sense, who was absolutely resolved that whatever paths he took should lead to realities, and traverse solid ground instead of following some will-o'-the-wisp through metaphysical quagmires amidst the delusive mists of a lawless imagination, there was an obvious fascination in the Bentham mode of thought. It must be added, too, that at this time J. S. Mill, the inheritor of Bentham's influences, was at the height of his great ...
— The Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, Bart., K.C.S.I. - A Judge of the High Court of Justice • Sir Leslie Stephen

... career of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) is, in comparison with that of Byron, as a will-o'-the-wisp to a meteor. Byron was of the earth earthy; he fed upon coarse food, shady adventures, scandal, the limelight; ...
— Outlines of English and American Literature • William J. Long

... was no Berserk madness about the young Danishman; there was hardly even seriousness. Now his blade was a fleeing will-o'-the-wisp, keeping just out of reach of Edmund's brand with apparently no thought but of flight. Now, when the Ironside's increasing vehemence betrayed him into an instant's rashness, it was a humming-bird darting into a flower-cup. But it always rose ...
— The Ward of King Canute • Ottilie A. Liljencrantz

... on the ridge now! and the rest is easy. Tell you what, though, boys, now we're all right, I don't mind saying that I didn't take no stock in that blamed corpse light down there. If there ever was a will-o'-the-wisp on a square up mountain, that was one. It wasn't no window! Some of ye thought ye saw a ...
— In a Hollow of the Hills • Bret Harte

... Feeble as a will-o'-the-wisp in that enshrouding dark, the torch showed only hints of things—here a fallen pillar, there a shattered mass of wreckage where a huge section of the ceiling had fallen, yonder a gaping aperture left by the disintegration ...
— Darkness and Dawn • George Allan England

... seen that will-o'-the-wisp light far up the side of the rocky steep on the preceding night, as well as Paul and Jack. He may have been pondering over it since, though neglecting to ...
— The Banner Boy Scouts on a Tour - The Mystery of Rattlesnake Mountain • George A. Warren

... practical judgment and virtue of life, next to Socrates, who was a kind of Greek combination of Dr. Paley and Dr. Franklin, indicates a very different impression of him from what would generally be expressed of a poet, certainly what would not have been placed on the grave of an eccentric, erratic will-o'-the-wisp genius, however distinguished. Moreover, the pious author of good Mistress Hall's epitaph records the fact of her being "wise to salvation," as a more especial point of resemblance to her father than even her being "witty above her sex," ...
— Sunny Memories Of Foreign Lands, Volume 1 (of 2) • Harriet Elizabeth (Beecher) Stowe

... the end, and after a good deal of hard work I hauled her up. It was jolly cold, I can tell you, and when we saw a light moving about ahead we made a bee-line for it. Joyce thought it was a will-o'-the-wisp; she had never seen one, but she had read of them, and she said they moved up and down just like that. We had to plunge through a lot of very marshy ground before we got to it, and sometimes we lost sight of it ...
— Round the Wonderful World • G. E. Mitton

... don't mean that though at the moment of death there is a real being—the soul, in fact, as distinct from the body, in which all but materialists believe—that this has no permanent existence, but melts away by degrees till it becomes an irresponsible, purposeless nothing—a will-o'-the-wisp in fact? I think I heard of some theory of the kind lately in a French book, but it shocked and repelled me so that I tried to forget it. Just as well, better, believe that we are nothing but our bodies, and that all is over when we die. Surely ...
— Four Ghost Stories • Mrs. Molesworth

... on that long journey in such a frail craft. One complete upset chilled me most thoroughly, as the water was about down to freezing point. At one place, where we tried to push on all night, we were tantalised by some most brilliant "Will-o'-the-wisp" lights, which our experienced Indians thought were decoy signals put out by wicked Indians to bewilder or injure us. Canoe travelling on this great lake is risky business. The storms come up with surprising rapidity, and the waves rise up like those of the ...
— By Canoe and Dog-Train • Egerton Ryerson Young

... the mouth of Pigeon River each season, going into that untracked region of romance and dreams where the call of his still sturdy manhood had beckoned him,—how long none might know. And at last he had heeded, laid down the staid, the sane, and followed the will-o'-the-wisp of conquest and adventure that took the current by ...
— The Maid of the Whispering Hills • Vingie E. Roe

... voyagers were doomed to disappointment. On arriving at the coast of America Cabot's ships seem first to have turned towards the north. The fatal idea, that the empires of Asia might be reached through the northern seas already asserted its sway. The search for a north-west passage, that will-o'-the-wisp of three centuries, had already begun. Many years later Sebastian Cabot related to a friend at Seville some details regarding this unfortunate attempt of his father to reach the spice islands of the East. The fleet, he said, with its three hundred men, first directed its course so far to the ...
— The Dawn of Canadian History: A Chronicle of Aboriginal Canada • Stephen Leacock

... and he jumped into his wagon and rattled away in the darkness, his lantern looking like a "will-o'-the-wisp" ...
— What Can She Do? • Edward Payson Roe

... out of Hudson Bay and to keep them out. The enthusiast had played his game with more zeal than discretion. The English had what they wanted—furs and fort. In return, Radisson had what had misled him like a will-o'-the-wisp all his life—vague promises. In vain Radisson protested that he had given his promise to the French before they surrendered the fort. The English distrusted foreigners. The Frenchmen had been mustered on the ships to receive ...
— Pathfinders of the West • A. C. Laut

... Miss Hosmer, you have such a talent for toes!" Very true, for this statue, with the several copies made from it, brought her thirty thousand dollars! The Prince of Wales has a copy, the Duke of Hamilton also, and it has gone even to Australia and the West Indies. A companion piece is the "Will-o'-the-wisp." ...
— Lives of Girls Who Became Famous • Sarah Knowles Bolton

... two white friends, whom he loved so dearly, might be killed. They, accordingly, pulled on during the night, passing a large town, from which issued a loud noise, as of a multitude quarrelling. Once they fancied they saw a light following them, but it turned out to be a will-o'-the-wisp. ...
— Great African Travellers - From Mungo Park to Livingstone and Stanley • W.H.G. Kingston

... She had run away from a squalid home to the gorgeous freedom of stage-life, only to find that the stage also is squalid and slavish, and that the will-o'-the-wisp of gorgeous freedom had jumped back to home life. She left the cheap theaters for the expensive luxury of Sir Joseph's mansion. But that had its squalors and slaveries, too. She had fled from troubled England to joyous America, only to find in ...
— The Cup of Fury - A Novel of Cities and Shipyards • Rupert Hughes

... said at last, slowly, "it seems to me that a moose is a troublesome brute to tackle, however you take him. It's plaguy hard for a hunter to get the better of him, and if it's only knowledge you're after, he'll dodge you like a will-o'-the-wisp till you get pretty mixed in your notions about his habits. I guess these English fellows know already that he's the largest animal of the deer tribe, or any other tribe, to be seen on this continent, and as grand ...
— Camp and Trail - A Story of the Maine Woods • Isabel Hornibrook

... there were little luminous spots in her mouth. I had heard somewhere that there is a phosphorescence appearing during decay of organic substances which once gave rise to the ancient superstition of "corpse lights" and the will-o'-the-wisp. It was really due, I knew, to living bacteria. But there surely had been no time for such micro-organisms to develop, even in the almost tropic heat of the Novella. Could she have been poisoned by these phosphorescent bacilli? What was it—a strange new ...
— The Dream Doctor • Arthur B. Reeve

... permanent way. It struck one of the metals with a sharp click. A blue-linen-clad porter, short of stature and heavy of build, lighted the gas lamps along the platform. The flame of these wavered at first, and flickered, showing thin and will-o'-the-wisp-like against the great outspread of darkening country across which the wind came with a certain effect of harshness and barrenness—the inevitable concomitant of its inherent purity. And the said ...
— The History of Sir Richard Calmady - A Romance • Lucas Malet

... the island. The increase in size told him that. It was no will-o'-the-wisp on the water, appearing a moment, then gone, foully cheating his hopes. If she kept her course, and there was no reason why she should not, she would make the island. He had no doubt from the first that a landing there was its definite purpose, most ...
— The Sun Of Quebec - A Story of a Great Crisis • Joseph A. Altsheler

... true object of life is not the attainment of happiness, yet if we attain the true object of life we find happiness. Those who are ignorant of life's true purpose and who seek happiness high and low, year after year, fail to find it. Like a will-o'-the-wisp, it for ever eludes them. On the other hand, those who recognize the true object of life, and follow it, attain ...
— Within You is the Power • Henry Thomas Hamblin

... whim, greater dangers than he would be likely to meet in defending her from the wolf-pack which circumstances had set upon her. He was thinking that heretofore his life had been lived without regard to order or system—that he had led a will-o'-the-wisp existence, never knowing that such women as she graced the world. He was thinking of what might have happened to her had not Davey Langan been killed, and if he had not started ...
— 'Drag' Harlan • Charles Alden Seltzer

... order in the universe, and they unhesitatingly declare that existence is an evil. They would have us therefore exchange our hopes for insight, and warn us that even this is very circumscribed at best. For not only is happiness a mockery, but knowledge is a will-o'-the-wisp. Mankind resembles the bricklayer and the hodman who help to raise an imposing edifice without any knowledge of the general plan. And yet the structure is the outcome of their labour. In like manner this mysterious world is the work of man—the ...
— The Sceptics of the Old Testament: Job - Koheleth - Agur • Emile Joseph Dillon

... maintenance of Protestantism, and as a necessary corollary hostility to Spain, as the first object which ought to be pursued. This attitude of England, coupled with the irreconcilable character of French religious animosities, which made the prospects of effective French interference a mere will-o'-the-wisp, reduced Orange and his party to ...
— England Under the Tudors • Arthur D. Innes

... Had the human race attained its zenith—was there nothing beyond, nothing to look forward to, and he merely the latest dreamer and enthusiast who was pursuing the same will-o'-the-wisp that others had sought through the ages? If so, then what fatality was it that encompassed him and continually urged him on? Doubt counseled him to return, but pride and confidence in self still cried forward. Come what would, he either must go on to ...
— When Dreams Come True • Ritter Brown

... are you?" asked Tom, startled, and with reason; yet conscious, in his dark, dreary despair, of a vague glimmer, bearing the same relation to hope that a will-o'-the-wisp does to the light on our hearth ...
— M. or N. "Similia similibus curantur." • G.J. Whyte-Melville

... vague little rudiment of a hint of a ghost of a sunny, funny old French remembrance long forgotten—a brand-new old remembrance—a kind of will-o'-the-wisp. Chut! my soul stalks it on tiptoe, while these earthly legs bear this poor old body of clay, by mere reflex action, straight home to the beautiful Elisabethan house on the hill; through the great warm hall, up the broad oak stairs, into the ...
— The Martian • George Du Maurier

... the whip of party policy, Douglas supported Polk. Slowly he deteriorated in his moral fibre. One by one the moral lights seem to have gone out. He was intoxicated by his own success. Ambition deluded him. He began to follow the will-o'-the-wisp, the light that rises from putrescence and decay in the swamp, and forgot the eternal stars in God's sky. In 1854 he entered the valley of decision, and like the rich young ruler made the great refusal, and chose compromise instead of principle. Later Douglas led his party along a ...
— The Battle of Principles - A Study of the Heroism and Eloquence of the Anti-Slavery Conflict • Newell Dwight Hillis

... supply of lamps did little more than illumine the surface of the darkness, leaving unfathomed and unexplained mysterious shadows that brooded in distant corners, or, towering giant-wise to the ceiling, loomed ominously overhead. Will-o'-the-wisp-like reflections from our lighted candles danced in the polished surface of panel and balustrade, as from the hall we went upstairs, I helping myself from step to step by Atherley's arm, as instinctively, as unconsciously almost, as he offered it. We stopped on the first ...
— Cecilia de Noel • Lanoe Falconer

... which is insufficient to pay the Dutch teacher employed to bring the children up to the required standard in that language. It is small wonder, then, that most teachers prefer to dispense with this Will-o'-the-wisp grant altogether, seeing that the efforts of some to earn it have resulted in pecuniary loss. The actual sum expended on Uitlander schools last year amounted to L650, or 1s. 10d. a head out of a total expenditure for education ...
— The Transvaal from Within - A Private Record of Public Affairs • J. P. Fitzpatrick

... always been to see a Will-o'-the-wisp, and I am still hoping; but that hot summer, had I known it at the time, they were quite common within an easy walk of my house in the New Forest. There was some correspondence on the subject in The Observer, and the following is extracted ...
— Grain and Chaff from an English Manor • Arthur H. Savory

... interminable ages. He watched a full moon rise blood-red and awful and turn gradually to a whiteness of still more appalling purity. For a long, long time he watched it, trying to recall something which eluded him, chasing a will-o'-the-wisp memory round and round the fevered labyrinths of ...
— The Bars of Iron • Ethel May Dell

... that is in thee is darkness." We think we see, and all the time we are the children of the night. We think it is "the dawn of God's sweet morning," and behold! it is the perverse flare of the evil one. He has given us a will-o'-the-wisp, and we boastfully proclaim it to be ...
— My Daily Meditation for the Circling Year • John Henry Jowett

... your "horoscope." We are aware that many commentators have discussed the star of Christ's birth from various points of view. Some have thought it a real star; others have had enough astronomy to see that this was impossible, and have argued that it was a big will-o'-the-wisp, created and directed by supernatural power, like the pillar of day-cloud and night-fire that led the Jews in the wilderness; while still others have favored the idea of a supernatural illusion, which was confined ...
— Flowers of Freethought - (Second Series) • George W. Foote

... grows dull and the bright colouring fades to neutral tints in the dust and heat of the day. But when it survives play-days and school-days, circumstances alone determine whether the electric sparkle shall go to play will-o'-the-wisp with the larrikin type, or warm the breasts of the spirited, single-hearted, loyal ones ...
— Seven Little Australians • Ethel Sybil Turner

... decision which exacts respect alike from men and women. Seen thus, with the more vivacious Julia at her side, Estella gained suddenly in moral strength and depth—suggesting a steady fire in contrast with a flickering will-o'-the-wisp blown hither and thither on every zephyr. Yet Julia Barenna would pass anywhere as a woman ...
— In Kedar's Tents • Henry Seton Merriman

... have occurred to Hawthorne, that, if George Ripley, instead of following after a will-o'-the-wisp notion, which could only lead him into a bog, had used the means at his disposal to cultivate Brook Farm in a rational manner, and had made it a hospitable rendezvous for intellectual and progressive people,—an oasis of culture amid the wide waste of commercialism,—the ...
— The Life and Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne • Frank Preston Stearns

... very reckless young woman! You—it's your nature—you are an incorrigible madcap! You bewitch a poor wretch until he doesn't know his head from his heels—puts his feet into his hat and covers his scalp with his boots! You are a will-o'-the-wisp who lures a poor fellow on through woods, bogs and briars, until you land him in the quicksands! You whirl him around and around until he grows dizzy and delirious, and talks at random, and then you'd have him called out, you blood-thirsty little vixen! I tell you, Cousin Cap, if I were to take ...
— Capitola the Madcap • Emma D. E. N. Southworth

... would have prosecuted him; nominally he had the charge of the mule and two ponies, but he illtreated these poor animals, and the donkeys also, in a disgraceful manner. However, I had no other guide, and although I knew him to be in partnership with some Will-o'-the-wisp, I was obliged to follow him. It was an easy course for saddle-animals, as the cathedral of Famagousta formed the prominent point; therefore a steeple-chase might have been the direct cross-country way. There was no change in the usual features of the barren ...
— Cyprus, as I Saw it in 1879 • Sir Samuel W. Baker

... darkness swallowed them. The last faint gleam of the alcohol lamp died out. Jolly Roger did not look back. Blindly he stumbled ahead, counting his footsteps as he went, and shouting Nada's name. Twice he thought he heard a reply, and each time the will-o'-the-wisp voice seemed to be still farther ahead of him. Then, with a fiercer blast of the wind beating upon his back, he stumbled and fell forward upon his face. His hand reached out and touched the thing that had tripped ...
— The Country Beyond - A Romance of the Wilderness • James Oliver Curwood

... the elder tree, the nightmare, or, as we call it, Maren. There is also the tradition of gigantic dragons or serpents, called by us Lindorm, in which your story of St. George and the dragon prominently figures. There are also minor superstitions of the will-o'-the-wisp, the bird called in English the goatsucker, ...
— A Danish Parsonage • John Fulford Vicary

... aestheticism which, in the organic world, is first expressed in beauty of form. It is long since the great May flies, large as swifts, had their aerial cloudy dances over the vast everglades and ancient forests of ferns; and when, on some dark night, a brilliant Will-o'-the-wisp rose and floated above the feathery foliage, drawn in myriads to its light, they revolved about it in an immense mystical wheel, misty-white, glistening, and touched with prismatic colour. Floating fire and wheel were visible ...
— Birds in Town and Village • W. H. Hudson

... this Witches' Sabbath, as the 1st of May was sacred to her. To this midnight orgy of the Walpurgisnacht Mephistopheles takes Faust.... They are lighted on their toilsome ascent of the Blocksberg by a will-o'-the-wisp. A vast multitude of witches and goblins are flocking to the summit; the midnight air resounds with their shrieks and jabberings; weird lights flash from every quarter, revealing thronging swarms of ghoulish shapes and dancing Hexen. The trees themselves ...
— The Faust-Legend and Goethe's 'Faust' • H. B. Cotterill

... is a very bewildering thing—and thoughts do sometimes play the very will-o'-the-wisp with one. And when somebody you know is at a party, there is a funny inclination to go through the motions at least, and be up as late as anybody else. So it was with a somewhat sudden recollection that Mr. Rollo bethought him of what his watch might say. Just then he ...
— Wych Hazel • Susan and Anna Warner

... offered to do anything, "except bootblacking and water-carrying, which latter my chest could not endure at present." Then he decided that fame and fortune awaited him, as they usually do, just over the horizon. The only trouble with the horizon, as with to-morrow and the will-o'-the-wisp, is that ...
— The Love Affairs of Great Musicians, Volume 2 • Rupert Hughes

... pitch-black and narrow, was dotted with moving lights which wandered here and there, each a restless will-o'-the-wisp. It was very damp, and from somewhere came a monotonous drip of water. The tapping of picks sounded incessantly out of the darkness, and occasionally there were hoarse voices raised in wanton curses or harsh commands. ...
— Nicanor - Teller of Tales - A Story of Roman Britain • C. Bryson Taylor

... rays of the love-star burned low upon the grey horizon, that star towards which the eyes of women yearn and which women's feet are fain to follow, though, like a will-o'-the-wisp, it leads them through strange and difficult ...
— Master of the Vineyard • Myrtle Reed

... do not yet covet, or of prestige which they enjoy in a superlative degree already? Although chivalrous and highly impressible to everything that can appeal to a high-minded people, they are also practical and far-sighted and are not to be lured by a will-o'-the-wisp. They had already assisted the Allies in the Far East and performed ...
— England and Germany • Emile Joseph Dillon

... sotto voce, "if I were a young fellow, there's a trail I'd follow, and not that will-o'-the-wisp yonder." ...
— A Young Girl's Wooing • E. P. Roe

... spoke. His people were her people and her people his. And she had proved herself a brave, true woman. Before him no longer gleamed the will-o'-the-wisp leading him a fantastic dance through life. Before him lay only darkness. Jane and he, hand in hand, could walk through it fearless and undismayed. And her own great love, shown unashamed in the abandonment of this moment of intense emotion' made ...
— The Fortunate Youth • William J. Locke

... the editor, would say if he knew of it. And what about his search for the missing man, Henry Redmond? Instead of throwing himself earnestly and actively into the quest he was frittering away his time, following the will-o'-the-wisp of a fancy, and going daft over a mere slip of a girl who moved serenely apart from his world of thought and being. He called himself a fool and chided himself over and over again. But for all that, he was unable to tear her out of his heart and mind. She seemed to belong to him, and ...
— Glen of the High North • H. A. Cody

... again opened, and Gagniere glided in softly, like a will-o'-the-wisp. He had come straight from Melun, and was quite alone, for he never showed his wife to anybody. When he thus came to dinner he brought the country dust with him on his boots, and carried it back with him the same night ...
— His Masterpiece • Emile Zola

... are only symbols to him who is enslaved by the pen. Moreover, he suffers always the pangs of an unsatisfied hunger, the exquisite torture of an unappeased and unappeasable thirst, for something which, like a will-o'-the-wisp, hovers ever above and beyond him, past the power of words to interpret ...
— At the Sign of the Jack O'Lantern • Myrtle Reed

... him the rules. Within the first few hours, he came dangerously close to being murdered and then to being thrown in jail. He had no clues to the whereabouts of Steve, and couldn't even be sure his nine-years-older twin brother was still alive. And the Cavour Hyperdrive was the merest will-o'-the-wisp, dancing wildly before ...
— Starman's Quest • Robert Silverberg

... never seemed to come nearer; rather it receded as the adventurers advanced, a yellow will-o'-the-wisp that had led them through tangled forest and pestilential swamp only to mock them in the end. The natives grew fiercer and more threatening; the guides began to murmur at the length of the way—their river homes seemed so far behind them. Savage faces peered out from bush and rock upon ...
— Sea-Dogs All! - A Tale of Forest and Sea • Tom Bevan

... out of the window, watching his progress, and wondering with what sudden madness he was bitten. Indeed, I could not credit my senses, could not believe that I heard and saw aright. Yet there out in the darkness on the moor moved the will-o'-the-wisp, and ten yards along the gutter crept my friend, like a great gaunt cat. Unknown to me he must have prospected the route by daylight, for now I saw his design. The ledge terminated only where it met the ancient wall of the tower, and it was possible for an agile climber to step ...
— The Devil Doctor • Sax Rohmer

... him far oftener than he won from them, but it was these infrequent winnings that encouraged him. He believed that some day he would make a big "killing"; the thought of that was ever before him, beckoning him on like the dancing will-o'-the-wisp. He took no note of the fact that these bland gentlemen could pocket their losings as well as their winnings. It was part of their trade to suffer loss. They had everything to gain and nothing to lose, so they throve ...
— Viola Gwyn • George Barr McCutcheon

... on a wharf one bright October day awaiting the arrival of an ocean steamer with an impatience which found a vent in lively skirmishes with a small lad, who pervaded the premises like a will-o'-the-wisp and afforded much amusement to the other groups ...
— Rose in Bloom - A Sequel to "Eight Cousins" • Louisa May Alcott

... beautiful a chance Shields set forth down the eastern side of Massanutton, with intent to round the mountain at Port Republic, turn north again, and somewhere on the Valley pike make that will-o'-the-wisp junction with Fremont and stamp out rebellion. But of late it had rained much, and the roads were muddy and the streams swollen. His army was split into sections; here a brigade and there a brigade, the advance south of Conrad's Store, the rear yet at Luray. He had, however, the advantage ...
— The Long Roll • Mary Johnston

... Charles of Hesse about 1780-85? Did he, on the other hand, escape from the French prison where Grosley thought he saw him, during the French Revolution? Was he known to Lord Lytton about 1860? Was he then Major Fraser? Is he the mysterious Muscovite adviser of the Dalai Lama? Who knows? He is a will-o'-the-wisp of the memoir-writers of the eighteenth century. Whenever you think you have a chance of finding him in good authentic State papers, he gives you the slip; and if his existence were not vouched for by Horace Walpole, I should incline to deem him ...
— The Lock and Key Library/Real Life #2 • Julian Hawthorne

... hare-brained, most obstinate comrade o' mine, that must go running his poor sconce into a thousand dangers (which was bad) and upsetting all my schemes and calculations (which was worse, mark you!) and all to chase a will-o'-the-wisp, a mare's nest, a—oh, Lord love you, Martin—!" ...
— Martin Conisby's Vengeance • Jeffery Farnol

... he dismounts from his steed, tethers it to a tree, and looks about for a bed of moss on which to repose. As he does so his wandering gaze fixes upon a beam of light piercing the gloom of the forest. Well aware of the traditions of his country, he thinks at first that it is only the glimmer of a will-o'-the-wisp or a light carried by a wandering elf. But no, on moving nearer the gleam he is surprised to behold a row of windows brilliantly lit as if ...
— Legends & Romances of Brittany • Lewis Spence

... croaking of the frogs. Strangely the sound fitted the hour, with its like touch of mysterious suggestion. As the twilight indefinite, it pervaded everything, yet was never anywhere. Deafening at a distance, it hushed at our approach only to begin again behind us. Will-o'-the-wisp of the ear, infatuating because forever illusive! And the distance and the numbers blended what had perhaps been harsh into a mellow whole that filled the gloaming with a sort of voice. I began to understand why the Japanese are ...
— Noto, An Unexplored Corner of Japan • Percival Lowell

... most likely to conquer if we lift up the voice of thanks for victory in advance, and go into the battle expecting to triumph, because we trust in God. The world's expectation of success is too often a dream, a will-o'-the-wisp that tempts to bogs where the beguiled victim is choked, though even in the world it is often true; 'screw your courage to the sticking point, and we'll not fail.' But faith, that is the expectation of success based on God's help and inspiring to struggles for things dear to His heart, ...
— Expositions Of Holy Scripture - Volume I: St. Luke, Chaps. I to XII • Alexander Maclaren

... only be good and unmake me, and let darkness cover the place where once was me! That would be like a good God! All I should be sorry for then would be, that there was not enough of me left for a dim flitting Will-o'-the-wisp of praise, ever singing my thankfulness to him that I was no more.—Yet even then my deed would remain, for I dare not ask that she should die outright also—that would be to heap wrong upon wrong. What an awful thing being is! Not even my annihilation could ...
— Thomas Wingfold, Curate • George MacDonald

... chimeras thou art the most chimerical! I would rather seek dry figs on the bottom of the sea and fresh ones on this heath,—I would rather seek liberty, or truth itself, or the philosopher's stone, than to run after thee, most deceitful of lights, will-o'-the-wisp of our ...
— Library Of The World's Best Literature, Ancient And Modern, Vol 3 • Various

... used the word happy, even in his solitary thoughts. Happiness, that priceless elusive treasure, can come only to a heart at peace in the warm sunshine of love. Material things can make for contentment, but ah! how uncertain is that will-o'-the-wisp happiness. ...
— High Noon - A New Sequel to 'Three Weeks' by Elinor Glyn • Anonymous

... should eulogise it as a masterpiece. It is a gigantic effort, of a kind; so is the sustained throe of a wrestling Titan. That the poem contains much which is beautiful is undeniable, also that it is surcharged with winsome and profound thoughts and a multitude of will-o'-the-wisp-like fancies which ...
— Life of Robert Browning • William Sharp

... had been there it would not have seemed so lonely. Suddenly—what was that in the distance? A light, a tiny light, bobbing in and out of sight among the trees? Could it be a star come out of its way to take pity on her? Much more likely a Will-o'-the-wisp; for she did not stop to reflect that a dry pine forest in summer-time is not one of Will-o'-the-wisp's favourite playgrounds. It was a light, as to that there was no doubt, and it was coming nearer. Whether she was more frightened or glad Olive scarcely knew. Still, almost anything ...
— A Christmas Posy • Mary Louisa Stewart Molesworth

... tramped again, following that will-o'-the-wisp of a hand-sled track into the thick spruce forest. For the first nine or ten miles everything went well; then one of the dangers of the great Maine woods in ...
— A Busy Year at the Old Squire's • Charles Asbury Stephens

... were, into the innermost circle of her being, burning in answer to her fire, yet so curiously enthralled as to be scarcely aware of the ever-mounting, ever-spreading heat. She was like a mocking spirit, a will-o'-the-wisp, luring him, ...
— The Safety Curtain, and Other Stories • Ethel M. Dell

... was sometimes seen in the company of a half-drunken old guide named Shanks somewhere around Mount Tom district. And now we've come up this way in the hope of crossing his trail. Not that I've got much expectation myself that we'll be sure to find this same; Roland, who turns out to be a sort of will-o'-the-wisp to us; but since his old aunt was so kind as to finance this expedition, why we're bound to do all we can to make it a ...
— At Whispering Pine Lodge • Lawrence J. Leslie

... their hills, and carry fire and sword through a district, and are off again before a force can be gathered to strike a blow. Then there are marches to and fro among their hills, but it is like chasing a will-o'-the-wisp; and like enough, just when you think you have got them cooped up, and prepare to strike a heavy blow, they are a hundred miles away, plundering and ravaging on our side of the frontier. They are half-wild men, short in stature, and no match for us when it comes to ...
— Both Sides the Border - A Tale of Hotspur and Glendower • G. A. Henty

... arose; at last the day died; unheralded by any dusk, on came the night. Color of blood changed to color of gold, gleamed and glistened the sea, sparkled the fire-flies, shone the deep stars; over the marsh flared the will-o'-the-wisp like a torch lit ...
— Sir Mortimer • Mary Johnston

... birds, beasts, and the like, whose peculiar notes and voices betray them as having once been little children, or were compelled to join, the train of the wild huntsman, or mingle in the retinue of some other outcast, wandering sprite or devil; or, again, as some deceitful star, or will-o'-the-wisp, mislead and torment the traveller on moor and in bog and swamp, and guide him to an untimely death amid desert solitudes. Ploss, Henderson, and Swainson have a good deal to say on the subject of Frau Berctha and her train, the ...
— The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought • Alexander F. Chamberlain

... nuisance the whole thing was! It was such an awkward situation. As the thought developed, gradually, that he really would have to choose, there could be no sort of doubt that he would choose Hyacinth.... Yes, his fancy for Eugenia was the shadow, a will-o'-the-wisp; Hyacinth was the reality—a very lovely and loving reality. Hers was the insidious charm that grows rather than dazzles, the attraction that increases with time. He could not imagine, however ...
— Love's Shadow • Ada Leverson

... they heard the low death-rattle of a creature whose throat was suddenly cut, and the countess, with her fears redoubled, fled so quickly that Blondet could scarcely follow her. She ran like a will-o'-the-wisp, and did not listen to Blondet who called to her, "You are mistaken." On she ran, and Emile with her, till they suddenly came upon Michaud and his wife, who were walking along arm-in-arm. Emile was ...
— Sons of the Soil • Honore de Balzac

... from him? At the thought a forlorn sense of loneliness swept over him greater than he had known since he had started upon his tramp. She was tired out; could he in some way have frightened her, or had a mad spirit of adventure sent her on like a will-o'-the-wisp into the night? ...
— Anything Once • Douglas Grant

... as he leaped back and forth. Perhaps mere weight of rushing would beat the dancing will-o'-the-wisp to the floor. Silent bored in with lowered head and clutched at his enemy. Then he roared with triumph. His outstretched hand caught Dan's shirt as the latter flicked to one side. Instantly they were locked in each other's arms! ...
— The Untamed • Max Brand

... convulsive effort and attempt to crush this insolent devil; or he might jerk his head around and catch Perris with his teeth. A third and better thought, however, immediately followed—that bound as he was he would have little chance to reach this elusive will-o'-the-wisp. He could not repress a quiver of horror and anger, but beyond ...
— Alcatraz • Max Brand

... night. Even Rosalie, our servant, did most of her cooking in the open air with the aid of a portable charcoal stove, which she placed in the shade of some noble plane-trees that were planted by accident on the day of Prince Louis Napolon's coup d'tat. They were already tall and strong when his Will-o'-the-wisp, which he had mistaken for a star, sank in the bloody swamp of Sedan. When the rising wind announced a storm, the swaying branches shed their dry bark, which was piled upon the hearth indoors, where a cheerful blaze shot up if by chance the rain fell and the air grew chilly. ...
— Two Summers in Guyenne • Edward Harrison Barker

... excitedly. "Here we are, getting well within range of the islands where we know this wretched traffic is carried on, where the plantations are cultivated by the unfortunate blacks, and we seem bound to encounter a slaver, and yet the days pass on and we prove to be hunting a will-o'-the-wisp." ...
— Hunting the Skipper - The Cruise of the "Seafowl" Sloop • George Manville Fenn

... Cytherea's breath." How the brother and sister would croon over him "with murmurs made to bless," calling him their "tender novice" "in the first bloom of his nigritude," their belated straggler from the "rear of darkness thin," their little night-shade, not deadly, their infantile Will-o'-the-wisp caught before his sins, their "poor Blot," "their innocent Blackness," their ...
— Spare Hours • John Brown

... lowered it was felt to grow lighter, while there poured from it a swarm of fat and filthy snakes. The fog that overspread the earth that morning seemed to blow by in human forms, the grave rolled like a wave after it had been covered, and after darkness fell a blue will-o'-the-wisp danced over it. A storm set in, heaping the billows on shore until the church was undermined, and with a crash it fell into the seething flood. But the curse had passed, and when a new chapel was built the old ...
— Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete • Charles M. Skinner

... science were the gradual metamorphoses of the investigations of the old searchers after the "philosopher's stone" and "elixir of life." The long hours of study and experiment in the chase for this will-o'-the-wisp were of vast benefit to the coming generations; and to these deluded philosophers of the Middle Ages, and even of ancient times, we are doubtless indebted for much in this ...
— Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine • George M. Gould

... that Mr Fawkes should bring grist to our mill," said Gatesby, thoughtfully: "but I see that is but a Will-o'-the-Wisp." ...
— It Might Have Been - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot • Emily Sarah Holt

... spirit of wonder, like a will-o'-the-wisp, leads on through a fairy tale, enticing the child who follows, knowing that something will happen, and wondering what. When magic comes in he is gratified because some one becomes master of the universe—Cinderella, when she plants the hazel bough, ...
— A Study of Fairy Tales • Laura F. Kready

... the elixir of life, but it had proved as delusive as a will-o'-the-wisp to him, and ever, just as he felt assured of success, the prize had slipped away from his grasp, leaving him further away from success than he had been before. But now it was not the elixir that he was seeking to find. From trying to discover something that should rob the grave ...
— Heiress of Haddon • William E. Doubleday

... great implacable abyss in which are swallowed up all those phantoms which call themselves living beings. I saw that the living are but apparitions hovering for a moment over the earth, made out of the ashes of the dead, and swiftly re-absorbed by eternal night, as the will-o'-the-wisp sinks into the marsh. The nothingness of our joys, the emptiness of our existence, and the futility of our ambitions, filled me with a quiet disgust. From regret to disenchantment I floated on to Buddhism, to universal weariness. Ah, ...
— Amiel's Journal • Mrs. Humphry Ward

... Carolina there is a great deal of something that calls itself Unionism; but I know nothing more like the apples of Sodom than most of this North Carolina Unionism. It is a cheat, a Will-o'-the-wisp; and any man who trusts it will meet with overthrow. Its quality is shown in a hundred ways. An old farmer came into Raleigh to sell a little corn. I had some talk with him. He claimed that he had been a Union man from the beginning of the war, but he refused ...
— The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 17, No. 100, February, 1866 • Various

... I relate the reason for my presence, why for months I have searched country after country for one who ever seemed to be just beyond my reach, like a will-o'-the-wisp ...
— Miss Caprice • St. George Rathborne

... the counsels of a servant, who takes away his master's character: for of such are the poor man's worst oppressors. Be satisfied with all your lowliness on earth, and keep your just ambitions for another world. Flee strong liquors and ill company. Nurse no heated hopes, no will-o'-the-wisp bright wishes: rather let your warmest hopes be temperately these—health, work, wages: and as for wishing, mates, wish any thing you will—sooner than to ...
— The Complete Prose Works of Martin Farquhar Tupper • Martin Farquhar Tupper

... snark? No. The snark had a flavor like that of will-o'-the-wisp. And I must remember to distinguish those that have feathers, and bite, from those that have ...
— Anything You Can Do ... • Gordon Randall Garrett

... determined to lose no chance for want of trouble. But Sir Philip had gone abroad, and it would be some time before I could receive an answer. So I followed my uncle's advice, to whom I had mentioned how wearied I felt, both in body and mind, by my will-o'-the-wisp search. He immediately told me to go to Harrogate, there to await Sir Philip's reply. I should be near to one of the places connected with my search, Coldholme; not far from Sir Philip Tempest, in case he returned, ...
— Curious, if True - Strange Tales • Elizabeth Gaskell

... topsail yard and scrambled down on deck again after making everything snug aloft. "If she were still afloat we must have overhauled her before this. I really think, youngster, she must have been only a sort of will-o'-the-wisp, like that we saw just now—an optical illusion, as I told you at the time, recollect, caused by some cross light from the afterglow of the sunset thrown upon the white mist which we noticed subsequently rising off ...
— The Ghost Ship - A Mystery of the Sea • John C. Hutcheson

... work. On the contrary, he roamed about the country occupying himself at odd times with such bits of light mental or physical work as came his way. Being without training and taking no real interest in his work, he never retained any job long. Sometimes, lured by the will-o'-the-wisp of some fancied opportunity to make a million, he gave up his work. Sometimes he merely got tired of working and quit. But most often he was discharged for his incompetence. It is difficult indeed for any man to attend properly to the cent-a-piece ...
— Analyzing Character • Katherine M. H. Blackford and Arthur Newcomb

... read the thoughts of the young better than you may think. Now, lad, I tell you that you are following a will-o'-the-wisp if you ever think to make the girl your father saved from the wreck your wife. She would laugh you to scorn if you breathed such a notion in her ear, and tell you to go and drown yourself, or be off to foreign lands so that she might never set eyes on you again. Don't ...
— Won from the Waves • W.H.G. Kingston



Words linked to "Will-o'-the-wisp" :   fantasy, jack-o'-lantern, ignis fatuus, phantasy, light, visible radiation, illusion, visible light, fancy



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