« PreviousContinue »
never dance. They are the only fairies in the world that resemble the 10th Hussars in this particular, that they don't dance. Then again, at night they are beautiful-in the day, wrinkled and ugly. Like certain other fascinating people, they look best by candlelight. The popular notion amongst the peasantry is, that the fairies are great princesses who refused to embrace Christianity when it was introduced into Armorica, and who were struck with the divine malediction for their obstinacy. The Welsh believe them to be the souls of the Druids compelled to do penance. The coincidence is striking. The prohibition against dancing, however, does not extend to the nains, or dwarfs. This happy, mischievous, rollicking race take infinite pleasure in their midnight gambols. They go about with leather purses in their hands, are the hosts of the Druidical altars, which they profess to have built, and dance their merry round by the light of the stars, calling out lundi, mardi, mecredi, sometimes adding joudi and vendredi, but always keeping clear of samedi, which is the virgin's day, and above all of dimanche, which is still more fatal to them. We can fancy them, when they come to Friday, breaking off with a scream of terror, lest, by some sudden impulse, they might be tempted to continue the enumeration. The following ballad is an amusing illustration of this class of superstitions. In rendering it into English, we have clung closely to the text, so that nothing must be looked for in the shape of poetical refinement. The measure is that of the original Breton.
THE TAILOR AND THE DWARFS.
On a Friday evening see
Out of work, his customers
All are gone to join the wars 'Gainst the French and their seigneurs. With his spade, into the grot Of the fairies he has got, Digging for the golden pot. Well too has his labor sped! With his treasure he has fled Home like mad, and gone to bed. "Shut the door, and bar it well, How the little devils yell!" "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, too, Thursday also, Friday-heu !" "Shut the door, good people, do!
Crowding come the dwarfish crew!" Now they gather in the court, Dancing till their breath grows short. "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, too, Thursday also, Friday-heu !"
To the roof they clamber all,
Ah! poor Paskou's kill'd with fear-
Down the post he glides and pries.
Show us but your nose's tip-
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday-hear!
-Fairies' coin doth value lack!"
The tailors-that is to say, the working tailors-as a craft, are regarded in Brittany much as they are in England; and the old scrap of ridicule prevails there just as it does among ourselves, that it requires no less than nine tailors to make one man. The above story in different shapes, may be found in the fairy mythologies of most countries. In one version, the thief is a baker, who with more cunning than the tailor, strews hot ashes round his house, so that when the fairies come they scorch their feet; for which indignity, however, they take ample vengeance by breaking all his pans and ovens. A similar trick is played off upon the German fairies, in a tradition called The Fairies on the Rock.' In the Irish version of the legend, the poor fellow, who is suddenly surrounded in the moonlight by a troop of fairies, dancing and singing," Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday," &c. finding the refrain rather monotonous, adds,
Saturday and Sunday," &c. whereupon the whole company vanish with a scream.
There is also a French version to the same effect, only that instead of vanishing, the horrified fairies stamp with their feet, and utter such tremendous cries that the traveller is ready to die with fear. Had he only added, And thus the week is ended!' the penance of the poor fairies would have ended also. The moral of the tradition ought to be borne in mind by all persons who may hereafter contemplate thefts on the 'good people,'—namely, that their money is of no value. It is worthy of note, in connexion with this point, that the Welsh assign this story to the Coraniens, a race whom they accused of the practice of coining false money; and that in designating the false money, they usethe very same terms employed by the Breton poet-terms for which neither the Welsh nor the Breton dictionaries furnish any satisfactory explanation. It is a curious incident in fairy lore, this identification of the fairies with the false coiners.
The Breton fairies seem to possess one distinctive characteristic-their close relationship with Druidical reliques and traditions. This is easily accounted for in a country where the remains of the Celtic worship are so numerous. The grottos of the fairies are always amongst the monuments of the Druids, and one of the names by which the fairy is popularly knownKorrigan-is borrowed from them. The ballad called 'Lord Nann and the Korrigan' affords us a glimpse of the fairy in her grotto by the side of the fountain or well-both of which, the altar of stones and the spring of water, were anciently objects of the superstitious worship of the Druids. The Lord Nann goes into the green forest to hunt a roe for his young wife, and seeing a white hind, he follows it through the woods with such ardor, that he grows hot and exhausted. Evening is now setting in, and discovering a little stream running from a well, close at the foot of a fairy grotto, he descends to drink. The Korrigan is seated by the side of her fountain, combing her flaxen hair with a comb of gold. She is outraged at his audacity in troubling her waters, and gives him his choice, either to her on the instant, to linger pining marry away for seven years, or to die in three days. He tells her he cannot marry her, because he is already married; that as to the seven years, he must die when it shall please God; but that in any event he would rather die at once than marry a Korrigan. The vindictive Korrigan pronounces his doom, and
in three days the young wife begins to question her mother.
"Oh! tell me, mother, why the bells ring out so loud and slow?
And why the priests, all clad in white, are chanting sad and low?"
"A poor unfortunate, my child, to whom we shelter gave,
Expired last night, and now the priests are chanting at his grave."
"Oh! tell me, mother, of my lord-oh! tell me where he's gone?"
"He's gone into the town, my child, and he'll be here anon."
"Oh! tell me, mother, shall I wear my red robe or my blue?
For I would go to church to-day, to church today with you."
Oh! it was wondrous in the night which follow'd the sad day
When they interr'd that lady bright where her dear husband lay,
'Twas wond'rous in the night to see, in the night-time dark and drear,
Two oak-trees o'er that recent tomb, spring up into the air;
And in their branches two white doves, all gaily through the night
Sing even till the dawn of day, then heavenwards plume their flight.
This fanciful notion of trees springing up with doves singing in them, is of frequent occurrence in the old tragic ballads. Sometimes, as in our English ballad of 'Lord Lovel and the fair Ouncebell,' two briars or yews grow up to a brave height, and tie themselves at the top into a true lover's knot. This was a very common resource of the poets of the middle ages. of 'Lord Nann and the Korrigan' is familiar, in other shapes, to the poetry of Sweden, Denmark, Servia, and other countries, and the reader may probably remember an old Scotch ballad to which it bears a close resemblance.
Although the Bretons supply their fairies
(a Breton superstition) tells her that she is sold to the Baron of Jauioz. She comes home and asks her mother, is it true? Her mother refers her to her father—he desires her to ask her brother, who avows at once that they have sold her, that the money is received, and that she must go instantly. She asks her mother what dress she shall wear; but her mother tells her it is of no consequence; a black horse waits at the door to convey her. As she goes she hears the bells of her village, and weeps and bids them adieu! Passing a lake she sees small boats filled with crowds of the dead in winding sheets. She is overwhelmed with grief and terror, and nearly loses her reason. At last she reaches the château.
with fountains and running streams, we do [ of Jauioz' is a conspicuous instance. The not find that they people their inland wa- Baron himself is an historical character. ters with any other description of poetical He flourished in the 14th century, particispirits. There are no naiads or dryads in pated in most of the public events of that Brittany. But they seem to have transport-period in France, and served in the Holy ed into the interior some of their salt-wa- Land. The ballad relates to circumstances ter phantasies, and to give an honorable re- which occurred during his stay in Brittany, ception to syrens and mermaids in their where it is said, he bought a young country lakes and ponds. One of the most remark-girl for gold from her family, and carried able instances is that of a syren who is said her off to France, where she died of grief. to inhabit the pond of a duke near Vannes, The ballad opens with the young girl sitwhich is so close to the sea that she may en-ting by the river side, when the death-bird joy, whenever she pleases, the sight of those terrible calamities which were said, of old, to have been so grateful to her sisterhood. This beautiful nymph comes out of a morning to take the air, and spread her green tresses in the sun. According to the tradition, a soldier surprised her once on the summit of a hill, and was so charmed by her aspect, that he could not resist the temptation of approaching her, when she seized him in her wiry arms, and plunged with him to the bottom of the water. If you ask for the story of this syren, they will tell you that she was formerly a princess to whom these waters belonged; and that she refused to marry a noble suitor, the owner of the Lake of Plaisance. One day, fatigued by his entreaties, she hastily said to him, believing the thing to be impossible,that she would become his wife when the waters of the Lake of Plaisance should join those of her own domain. Her lover took her at her word, and constructed a canal, by which the miracle was accomplished. Having finished his work, he invited her to a grand fete at his chateau, and, to crown his triumph, conveyed her in a barge with great pomp along the canal, demanding the fulfilment of her promise at the end of the journey. The princess was in despair; and, seeing no escape from a marriage she loathed, being all the while secretly attached to another, she threw herself head-foremost into the lake-an effectual recipe for the manufacture of syrens, Of course she was never seen again; but from that day to the present, the lake has been haunted by a syren, believed to be the said princess, who takes particular pleasure in making her appearance on the rocks in the fine summer mornings, deliberately combing out her long hair, and weaving coronals of water-lilies.
Whenever any of these ballads touch upon the domestic affections, they exhibit considerable delicacy of treatment and truthfulness of feeling. The ballad of 'The Baron
That fearful lord-his beard is black
His hair is blanch'd-a wild flash flies
I've long desired! Come, sweet, and see "My wealth; come, range my chambers o'er, And count my gold and silver store." "I'd rather to my mother forth!
To count her faggots by the hearth."
"I'd drink my father's ditch stream first,
Of stuff by my dear mother wrought." Finding her inconsolable, the noble lord begins to repent his bargain. But it is too late. Her heart is broken. The rest of the ballad is very melancholy.
"Ye birds, that on the wing rejoice,
"To all my friends at your next meeting,
Two-three months had pass'd away;
'Twas in the midnight, still and deep,
bat, will come back for her in three weeks and three days. She runs home, looks at the ring, and finds that it is the same which her foster-brother wears on his right hand. In the interval, her step-mother resolves that she shall marry a stable-boy. This relentless determination is carried into effect; but on the night of the wedding, the bride disappears, and nobody knows where she is gone.
The manor-house in darkness lay; its inmates soundly slept;
But at the farm the poor young girl her lonely vigil kept.
"Who's there?" ""Tis I, thy foster-brother, Nola." "Can it be?
It is it is my brother dear-Ah! welcome sight to me!"
She leaps behind him on a horse, a horse as white trembling twines her arm, her right arm as snow,
round them as they go.
God, how rapidly we ride!—ten leagues
at least an hour!
I am happy close to thee-ah! ne'er so blest
Through wood and stream like madden'd things, to hear the noise they make.]
"How like the wind thy steed flies on!-an arrow on the gale!
Why, brother, thou art very grand !—how brightly gleams thy mail!'
Amongst other subjects treated by the Breton poets, in common with the popular writers of nearly every literature in Europe, is that which is best known to the majority of readers by the 'Leonore' of Bürger. There is a Danish version, a Welsh version, and even a modern Greek version of this famous story. The Breton poem is" Cling closely to me, sister mine! and we shall not destitute of a poetical energy, and breadth of style worthy of so striking a "Thy heart is frozen-aad thy hair, thy hair is theme. It is called 'The Foster-Brother.'
"How grand thou art—but tell me, is thy mother's mansion near?"
soon be there.'
wet and chill
Thy hand's like ice!—thy hand and heart!—dear brother, art thou ill !”
Gwennolaik, the heroine of this ballad, is an orphan. Her father, mother, and her two sisters, are all dead. She lives in the "Cling closely to me, sister mine! the house is manor-house with her step-mother, who ill-You hear our bridal songs already-listen, sister very neartreats her, and puts her to drudgery. She has only one friend in the world, her fosterbrother; but he has been at sea for six years. She is constantly watching for his return. One dark night she is sent to draw water at a fairy well, when a voice asks her, 'Is she betrothed?' She answers 'No' and receives a bridal ring, and a pledge that a chevalier returning from Nantes, where he was wounded in a com
This is very characteristic in the French version: Faites mes compliments à tous mes compatriotes quand vous les verres!
Unlike the hero of the German and Greek ballads, our lover conducts his mistress to a charming isle, filled with crowds of happy souls dancing merrily, and singing for joy, where she finds her mother and two sisters, and where the nuptials, we are led to infer, take place under the most auspicious circumstances. This delightful spot is no other than the Elysium of the Druids, which, according to the Welsh tradition, is the Isle of Avalon, now called Glaston
Heave as with sudden tempests, and the earth roll fearfully.
"I know all things that through all time, in all the world were known,
All things that ever happen'd yet, or ever shall be done."
bury, a large orchard of apple-trees completely surrounded by running streams. The belief in this old tradition still holds good in Brittany; and, as it is a part of the articles of faith that no soul can obtain admission until the funeral honors have been She then goes on to recite some of her duly performed, the Bretons exhibit an exmeans of sorcery; as how she has three emplary rigor in discharging all offices of that nature. Their funeral rites are pre-which is destined to desolate the earth, and vipers sitting on the egg of a dragon, cisely the same now as they were in the earliest times.
The story of Heloïse and Abelard forms a favorite subject in the popular poetry of Brittany. For many years those lovers, so famous in the rhymes of all countries, lived at the village of Pallet, near Nantes; and they soon acquired in their own neighborhood such a reputation for wisdom and knowledge, that it is nothing very surprising to find them, in that credulous and exaggerating age, converted by popular wonder into something over and above the average of humanity. But the English reader will scarcely be prepared to find them transformed into a pair of sorcerers. Yet such is the actual substance of the popular ballad in which Heloise, speaking in her own person, celebrates her love and her learning. There is a curious mixture of the ridiculous and the profane in this ballad, from which we give the opening verses, following the original nearly word for word.
"At twelve years old, not fearing either scandal or reproof,
To follow my dear Abelard, I left my father's
how she nourishes her vipers, not with the
mand, she threatens to overturn the world
If we remain upon the earth, one year, or two,
"Yet two or three, my Light and I, ere they have swiftly flown,
My Abelard and I shall make the earth turn upside down."
The poet finding his imgination running a little too far, and apparently afraid of the consequences, steps in at this critical point, and winds up the song with a sort of religious moral
"Take care, oh! Heloise, and think upon your soul's abode ;
For if this world belongs to you, the next be longs to God!"
There are several songs in the collection to which we would gladly direct attention, either for their traditional and historical interest or their poetical beauty. Amongst these may be mentioned the celebrated ballad of Geneviève of Rustéfan,' 'Our Lady of Fulgoat,' 'The Heiress of Kéroulaz,' the Elegy on Monsieur de Névet,' 'LezBriez,' the historical song of [the Bretons, 'The Exiled Priest,' several of the short tender love songs, and some songs of the feasts, festivals, and seasons. But we have already extended our notice of these lyrics to as great a length as we can reasonably spare; and the reader will probably be sufficiently enabled to estimate their general characteristics from the specimens we have laid before him.
There is another subject of great interest connected with the literature of Brittany, and still less known beyond the frontiers of the country-the drama of the Bretons. Upon this strange class of productions-certainly the most curious of their kind and form now existing in any part of Europe-we may take another opportunity of offering an extended notice.