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He proceeds to dismiss the idols of Palestine, and the brute gods of Egypt,
Trampling the unshowered grass with lowings loud. We do not feel for those, nor does he ; but the little household gods of Rome, trembling like kittens on the hearth, and the nymphs of Greece mourning their flowery shades, he loses with an air of tenderness. He forgets that he and the other poets had gathered them into their own Elysium.
HE word fairy, in the sense of a little minia
ture being, is peculiar to this country, and is a southern appellation applied to a northern idea. It is the fee and fata of the French
and Italians; who mean by it an imaginary lady of any sort, not of necessity small and generally of the human size. With us, it is the elf of our northern ancestors, and means exclusively the little creature inhabiting the woods and caverns, and dancing on the grass.
The progress of knowledge, which humanizes everything, and enables our fancies to pick and choose, has long rendered the English fairy a harmless being, rarely seen of eye and known quite as much, if not more, through the pleasant fancies of the poets, than the earthier creed of the common people. In Germany, also, the fairy is said to have become a being almost entirely benevolent. But among our kinsmen of the North, the Swedes and Danes, and especially the insular races of Iceland and Rugen, the old opinions appear to be in force; and, generally speaking, the pigmy world may be divided into four classes.
First, the white or good fairies, who live above ground, dancing on the grass, or sitting on the leaves of trees — the fairy of our poets. They are fond of sunshine, and are ethereal little creatures.
Second, the dark or under-ground fairies (the dwarfs, trolls, and hill-folk of the continent), an irritable race, workers in mines and smithies, and doing good or evil offices, as it may happen.
Third, the house or homestead fairy, our Puck, Robin Goodfellow, Hobgoblin, &c. (the Nis of Denmark and Norway, the kobold of Germany, the brownie of Scotland, and tomtegubbe, or old man of the house in Sweden). He is of a similar temper, but good upon the whole, and fond of cleanliness, rewarding and helping the servants for being tidy, and punishing them for the reverse.
And fourth, the water fairy, the kelpie of Scotland, and Nick, Neck, Nickel, Nickar, and Nix, of other countries, the most dangerous of all, appearing like a horse, or a mermaid, or a beautiful girl, and enticing people to their destruction. He is supposed by some, however, not to do it out of ill will, but in order to procure companions in the spirits of those who are drowned.
All the fairies have qualities in common; and for the most part, eat, drink, marry, and are governed like human beings; and all without exception are thieves, and fond of power. In other words, they are like the human beings that invented them. They do the same good and ill offices, are subject to the same passions, and are called guid folk and good neighbors, out of the same feelings of fear or gratitude. The better sort dress in gay clothes of green, and are handsome; the more equivocal are ugly, bignosed little knaves, round-eyed and humpbacked, like Punch, or the figures in caricatures. The latter dress in red or brown caps, which they have a great dread of losing, as they must not rest till they get another; and the hill-folk among them are great enemies to noise. They keep their promises, because if they did not, the Rugen people say they would be changed into reptiles, beetles, and other ugly creatures, and be obliged to wander in that shape many years. The ordinary German kobold, or house goblin, delights in a mess of grits or water-gruel, with a lump of butter in it. In other countries, as in England of old, he aspires to a cream bowl. Hear our great poet, who was as fond of a rustic supper as any man, and has recorded his roasting chestnuts with his friend Diodati.
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale,
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 roll'd
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 a 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