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This gigantifying of Robin Goodfellow is a sin against the true fairy religion; but a poet's sins are apt to be too agreeable not to be forgiven.* The friar with his lantern, is the same Robin, whose pranks he delighted to record even amidst the stately solemnities of Paradise Lost, philosophizing upon the nature of the ignis fatuus, that he might have an excuse for bringing him in.
Lead then, said Eve. He, leading, swiftly rollid
We have remarked more than once, that the belief in supernatural existences round about us is indigenous to every country, and as natural as fears and hopes. Cli
*“Robin Goodfellow," says Warton, “who is here made a gigantic spirit, fond of lying before the fire, and called the lubbar fiend, seems to be confounded with the sleepy giant mentioned in Beaumont and Fletcher's ‘ Knight of the Burning Pestle,' Act iii, Sc. I. vol. vi. p. 411, edit. 1751.” There is a pretty tale of a witch that had the devil's mark about her, God bless us, that had a giant to her son that was called “ Lob-lye-by-the-fire.” Todd's Milton, vol. vi. p. 96. Burton in a passage subsequently quoted, tells us in speaking of these fairies, that there is "a bigger kind of them, called with us Hobgoblins and Robin Goodfellows, that would in those superstitious times grinde corne for a messe of milke, cut wood, or do any manner of drudgery worke.” Melanch. part i. sec. 2, p. 42, edit. 1632. The bigness arose probably out of the superhuman labor; but, though Milton has made fine use of the lubbar fiend with his “hairy strength,” it is surprising he should have sacrificed the greater wonder of the little potent fairy to that of giant.
mate and national character modify it; parts of it may
be borrowed; a people may abound in it at one time, and outgrow the abuse of it in another : but wherever human nature is to be found, either in a state of superstitious ignorance, or imaginative knowledge, there the belief will be found with it, modified accordingly.
We shall not trouble ourselves, therefore, with attempting to confine the origin of the fairies to this or that region. A bird, a squirrel, a voice, a tree nodding and gesticulating in the wind, was sufficient to people every one of them with imaginary beings. But creeds may oust creeds or alter them, as invaders alter a people; and there are two circumstances in the nature of the popular fairy, assignable to that northern mythology, to which the belief itself has been traced ; we mean the smallness of its stature, and the supposition at one time prevailing, that it was little better than a devil. It is remarkable, also, that inasmuch as the northern mythology is traceable to the Eastern invaders of Europe, our fairies may have issued out of those same mountains of Caucasus, the great Kaf, to which we are indebted for the Peries and Genii. The Pygmies were supposed by the ancients to people the two ends of the earth, northern and southern, where the growth of nature was faint and stunted. In the north they were inhabitants of India, the cranes their enemies being Scythians: in the other quarters, they were found by Hercules in the desert where they assailed him with their bows and arrows, as the Lilliputians did Gulliver, and were carried off by the smiling demigod, in the skin of his lion. Odin, the supposed Scythian or Tartar, is thought to have been the importer of the northern fables. His wandering countrymen of the crane region, may have a nigher personal acquaintance with the little people of
the North, than is supposed. In the tales now extant among the Calmuc Tartars, and originating it seems in Thibet, mention is made of certain little children encountered by a wandering Khan in a wood, and quarrelling about 6 an invisible cup.” The Khan tricks them of it in good swindling style; and proceeding onwards meets with certain Tchadkurs or evil spirits, quarrelling about some “boots of swiftness," of which he beguiles them in like manner.
These may be chance coincidences; but these fictions are not of so universal a nature as most; and we cannot help regarding them as corroborations of the Eastern rise of our fablers of the North. We take this opportunity, before we proceed, of noticing another remarkable circumstance in the history of popular fictions; which is, that it is doubtful whether the Greeks had any little beings in their mythology. They regarded the Pygmies as a real people, and never seem to have thought of giving them a lift into the supernatural. And it may be observed, that although the Spaniards have a house-spirit which they call Duende, and Tasso, in the fever of his dungeon, was haunted with a Folletto, which is the Follet or Lutin of the French, it does not appear that these southern spirits are of necessity small; still less have those sunny nations any embodied system of fairyism. Their fairies are the
* See an excellent article in the “Quarterly Review,” entitled “ Antiquities of Nursery Literature.” Of similar merit and probably by the same hand (which we presume to be that of Mr. Southey) is another on the popular mythology of the Middle Ages. We cannot refer to the volume, our copy happening to form part of a selection which we made some years ago from a bundle of the two reigning Reviews. [These articles are in volumes 21 and 22, of the “Quarterly Review.” They were not written by Southey, at least they are not in the list of his contributions to the “Review” published in his biography. ED.]
enchantresses of romance. Little spirits appear to be of the country of little people, commented on by their larger neighbors. It is true that little shapes and shadows are seen in all countries; but the general tendency of fear is to magnify. Particular circumstances must have created a spirit at once petty and formidable.
We are of opinion with the author of the “Fairy Mythology,” that the petty size of the haunted idols of antiquity argues nothing conclusive respecting the size of the beings they represented. Besides, they were often large as well as small, though the more domestic of them, or those that immediately presided over the hearth, were of a size suitable to convenience. The domestic idols of all nations have probably been small, for the like reason.
Whether the Lares were supposed to be of greater stature or not by the learned, it is not impossible that the constant sight of the little images generated a corresponding notion of the originals. The best argument against the smallness of these divinities is, that there is no mention of it in books; and yet the only passage we remember to have met with, implying any determinate notion of stature, is in favor of the little. We here give it out of an old and not very sage author.
“ After the victory had and gotten against the Gethes, the Emperor Domitian caused many shewes and triumphs to be made, in signe and token of joy; and amongst others hee invited publickly to dine with him, all sorts of persons, both noble and unnoble, but especially the Senators and Knights of Rome, to whom he made a feast in this fashion. Hee had caused a certaine house of al sides to bee painted black, the pavement thereof was black, so likewise were the hangings, or seelings, the roofe and the wals also black; and within it hee had prepared a very low room, not unlike a hollow vault or cell, ful of emptie siedges or seats. Into this place he caused the Senators and Knights, his ghests, to be brought, without suffering any of their pages or attendants to enter in with them. And first of all he caused a little square piller to be set near to every one of them, upon the which was written the partie's name sitting next it; by which there hanged also a lamp burning before each seat, in such sort as is used in sepulchers. After this, there comes into this melancholicke and dark place a number of yong pages, with great joy and merriment, starke naked, and spotted or painted all over with a die or colour as blacke as inke : who, resembling these spirits called Manes, and such like idols, did leape and skip round about those Senators and Knights, who, at this unexpected accident, were not a little frighted and afraid. After which, those pages set them down at their feete, against each of them one, and there stayed, whilste certaine other persons (ordayned there of purpose) did execute with great solemnity all those ceremonies that were usually fit and requisit at the funeralls and exequies of the dead. This done, there came in others, who brought and served in, in black dishes and platters, divers meats and viands, all coloured black, in such sort that there was not any one in the place but was in great doubt what would become of him, and thought himself utterly undone, supposing he should have his throat cut, onely to give pleasure and content to the Emperour. Besides, there was kept the greatest silence that could be imagined. And Domitian himself being present, did nothing else but (without ceasing) speake and talke unto them of murthers, death and tragedies. In the end, the Emperour having taken his pleasure of them at the full, he caused their pages and lackies, which attended them without the gates,