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to come in unto them, and so sent them away home to their own houses, some in coches, others in horselitters, guided and conducted by strange and unknown persons, which gave them as great cause of fear as their former entertainment. And they were no sooner arrived everyone to his own house, and had scant taken breath from the feare they had conceived, but that one of their servants came to tell them, that there were at the gates certaine which came to speake with them from the Emperour. God knows how this message made them stirre, what excessive lamentations they made, and with how exceeding feares they were perplexed in their minds; there was not any, no, not the hardiest of them all, but thought that hee was sent for to be put to death. But to make short, those which were to speake with them from the Emperour, came to no other purpose but to bring them either a little piller of silver, or some such like vessel or piece of plate (which had beene set before them at the time of their entertainment); after which, everyone of them had also sent unto him, for a present from the Emperour, one of those pages that had counterfeyted those Manes or Spirits at the banquet, they being first washed and cleansed before they were presented unto them.”
Spirits of old could become small; but we read of none that were essentially little except the fairies. It was a Rabbinical notion, that angelical beings could render themselves as small as they pleased ; a fancy of which Milton has not scrupled to avail himself in his Pandemonium.* It was proper enough to the idea of a being made of thought or fire; though one would think it was easier to make it expand like the genius when let loose, than be contracted into the jar or vial in the first instance. But if spirits went in and out of crevices, means, it was thought, must be taken to enable them to do so; and this may serve to account for the Fairies themselves, in countries where other circumstances disposed the fancy to create them : but all the attributes of the little northern being, its petty stature, its workmanship, its superiority to men in some things, its simplicity and inferiority in others, its supernatural practices, and the doubt entertained by its believers whether it is in the way of salvation, conspire, we think, to render the opinion of M. Mallet, in his “ Northern Antiquities,” extremely probable ; viz., that the character of the fairy has been modified by the feelings entertained by our Gothic and Celtic ancestors respecting the little race of the Laplanders, a people whom they despised for their timid peacefulness, and yet could not help admiring for their industry, and fearing for their magic.
* Milton's reduction of the size of his angels is surely a superfluity, and diminishes the grandeur of their meeting. It was one of the rare instances (theology apart) in which his learning betrayed his judgment.
In the “ Edda," or northern “Pantheon,” the dwarfs are described as a species of beings bred in the dust of the earth, like maggots in a carcase. “ It was indeed," says the Edda, “in the body of the Giant Ymer, that they were engendered and first began to move and live. At first they were only worms; but by order of the gods they at length partook both of human shape and reason ; nevertheless, they always dwell in subterranean caverns and among rocks."
Upon this passage, M. Mallet says (under correction of his translator), “We may discover here one of the effects of that ignorant prejudice, which hath made us for so many years regard all arts and handicrafts as the occupation of mean people and slaves. Our Celtic and Gothic ancestors, whether Germans, Scandinavians, or Gauls, imagining there was something magical, and beyond the reach of man in mechanic skill and industry, could scarcely believe that an able artist was one of their own species, or descended from the same common origin. This, it must be granted, was a very foolish conceit; but let us consider what might possibly facilitate the entrance of it in their minds. There was perhaps some neighboring people, which bordered upon the Celtic or Gothic tribes; and which, although less warlike than themselves, and much inferior in strength and stature, might yet excel them in dexterity; and addicting themselves to the manual arts, might carry on commerce with them, sufficiently extensive to have the fame of it spread pretty far. All these circumstances will agree well enough with the Laplanders, who are still as famous for their magic, as remarkable for the lowness of their stature ; pacific even to a degree of cowardice, but of a mechanic industry which formerly must have appeared very considerable. The stories that were invented concerning this people, passing through the mouths of so many ignorant relators, would soon acquire all the degrees of the marvellous of which they were susceptible. Thus the dwarfs soon became (as all know, who have dipped but a little into the ancient romances) the forgers of enchanted armor, upon which neither swords nor conjurations could make any impression. They were possessed of caverns full of treasure, entirely at their own disposal. This, to observe by the bye, hath given birth to one of the cabalistic doctrines, which is perhaps only one of the branches of the ancient northern theology. As the dwarfs were feeble, and but of small courage, they were supposed to be crafty, full of artifice and deceit. This, which in the old romances is called disloyalty, is the character always given of them in those fabulous narratives. All these fancies having received the seal of time and universal consent, could be no longer contested, and it was the business of the poets to assign a fit origin for such ungracious beings. This was done in their pretended rise from the dead carcase of a great giant. The dwarfs at first were only the maggots, engendered by its putrefaction: afterwards the gods bestowed upon them understanding and cunning. By this fiction the northern warriors justified their contempt of them ; and at the same time accounted for their small stature, their industry, and for their supposed propensity for inhabiting caves and clefts of the rocks. After all, the notion is not everywhere exploded, that there are in the bowels of the earth Fairies, or a kind of dwarfish and tiny beings, of human shape, remarkable for their riches, their industry, and their malevolence. In many countries of the North, the people are still firmly persuaded of their existence. In Ireland, at this day, the good folks show the very rocks and hills, in which they maintain that there are swarms of these small subterranean men, of the most tiny size, but most delicate figures."
When Christianity came into the North, these little people, who had formed part of the national faith, were converted by the ordinary process into devils ; but the converts could never heartily enter into the notion. Accordingly, in spite of the endeavors of the clergy (which it is said, have been more or less exerted in vain to this day), a sort of half-and-half case was made out for them; and the inhabitants of several northern countries are still of opinion that elves may be saved, and that it is cruel to tell them otherwise. An author, quoted in the “Fairy Mythology" (vol. i. p. 136), has a touching theory on this subject. We are informed in that work, “ that the common people of Sweden and thereabouts believe in an intermediate class of elves, who, when they show themselves, have a handsome human form, and the idea of whom is connected with a deep feeling of melancholy, as if bewailing a halfquenched hope of redemption." —- “Afzelius is of opinion,” says a note on the passage, “ that the superstition on this point is derived from the time of the introduction of Christianity into the North ; and expresses the sympathy of the first converts with their forefathers, who died without a knowledge of the Redeemer, and lay bound in heathen earth, and whose unhappy spirits were doomed to wander about these lower regions, or sigh within their mounds, till the great day of redemption.”
Our old prose writers scarcely ever mention the Fairies without letting us see how they were confounded with devils, and yet distinguished from them. « Terrestrial devils,” says Burton, “ are those Lares, Genii, Faunes, Satyrs, Wood-nymphs, Foliots, Fairies, Robin Goodfellows, &c., which as they are most conversant with men, so they do them the most harm. Some think it was they alone that kept the heathen people in awe of old, and had so many idols and temples erected to them. Of this range was Dagon amongst the Philistines, Bel amongst the Babylonians, Astarte amongst the Sidonians, Baal amongst the Samaritans, Isis and Osiris amongst the Egyptians, &c. Some put our Fairies into this rank, which have been informer times adored with much superstition ; with sweeping their houses, and setting of a pail of water, good victuals, and the like ; and then they should not be pinched, but find money in their shoes, and be sortunate in their enterprises. These are they that dance