Imatges de pÓgina

reminded continually, in the progress of the play, of Bacon's weighty sentence in the essay Of Love : ' If it check once with business, it troubleth men's fortunes, and maketh men that they can no ways

be true to their own ends.' Troilus only gets misery out of his passion for Cressida, which is of a very sensual order; and the foolish empty talk of Pandarus, Paris and Helen (Act iii. scene 1.)-people who have nothing to occupy their minds all day but idle philandering—is a most characteristic bit of light satire. And lastly, if Shakspeare is, as was suggested, rather indulgent to the slips of healthy passion, he has apparently the greatest contempt for mercenary vice. With Shakspeare it is only fools who sink to that. Men and women may have their guilty passions in which there is a note of tragedy ; but as to the ‘harlots' houses, it is poor old Falstaff who is found there (the only scene perhaps in which he is entirely contemptible), sitting with Doll Tearsheet on his knee ; it is that silly old prig Justice Shallow who boasts of his former exploits in that line, and asks if Jane Nightwork is alive still ; it is Lucio, the light-living gentleman, one of the most contemptible characters Shakspeare ever drew, who is hand in glove with all the vermin of the bad houses, and thinks it a capital joke to meet the male procurer on his way to prison, and to call after him, “Does Bridget paint still, Pompey, Ha ? Shakspeare is a more effective preacher on that matter than the author of the Book of Proverbs; and if one did know of any young man of education who was such a fool as to require a sermon on the subject, one could not do better than give him a Shakspeare and turn down the leaf at

those passages.


'I am speaking, of course, only of the Falstaff of Henry the Fourth. The Falstaff of The Merry Wives is a different person altogether.




Few of us can there be who have not, at least during our childhood, come under the spell of fairy lore : the weird tales of gnomes, korrigans, pixies and the like, that form a mythology peculiar to the European continent and characteristic of it. Should all these legends of the nursery, of the hamlet, and of the village fireside be considered merely as an amalgam of the superstitions of the uneducated with the finer fancies of a few poetical minds ? May they not in reality have a wider and more far-reaching significance, and should we not rather recognise that we have here a mass of tradition, vague and incoherent, no doubt, whose records have altered with time, and become tinged with the imagination of successive generations, but wherein is imbedded, as are fossils in a rock, much valuable information as to the circumstances attending the settlement of our early ancestors in Europe, and the fate of the still earlier races by whom they were preceded? Of course it is clear that, if we adopt the latter principle, we must exercise a certain discrimination. There are collections of fairy stories, like those of Hans Andersen, which are obviously as imaginative and allegorical as is Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress ; they have little or no connexion with tradition, and we should no more endeavour to trace for them an historical origin than we should take down a Times atlas to ascertain the geographical whereabouts of the city of Beulah. Shakespeare's delightful little elves, his Queen Mab, Titania, Peasblossom, and the rest occupy a sort of intermediate position as between the fairy stories we should consider traditional, and, therefore, to some extent historical, and those which are purely imaginative inventions. The brilliant imagination of the poet has, indeed, transmuted his fairies into ideal little creatures of a race that really 'never was on sea or land’; nevertheless, Queen Mab must borrow her name, at all events, from Meave, the fair-haired Queen of Connaught, a perfectly historical warrior queen, of whom it is recorded " that, tall and beautiful, with her white face and yellow hair, terrible in her battle chariot, she drove at full speed into the press of fighting

President Roosevelt .On Ancient Irish Sagas,' Century Magazine, January 1907. VOL. LXIII-No. 372



men and fought over the ears of the horses. And the wildest legends may sometimes be of real practical service to the historian ; as, for instance, when in the Annals oj the Four Masters it is stated that the Isle of Man was discovered and colonised by a certain Druid and magician; and of the same Druid it is also independently related that, being set upon unexpectedly by a crowd of enemies at the Curragh of Kildare, he escaped from them by magically turning himself into a wheel, when he ran before them with incredible swiftness and disappeared from their view. Here we have an obviously absurd traditional legend, but which, nevertheless, is valuable in its way, for, taken in conjunction with the queer three-legged symbol of the Isle of Man, it does tend to confirm the assertion that the island really was discovered and colonised by this particular Druid. In fact, as that great student of ethnology, de Gobineau, remarks, legendary tradition should be regarded by the historian in much the same light as that in which the philosophy of the Greeks was regarded by St. Clement of Alexandria. This philosophy, said the good Father, was like a nut, whereof the shell was rough and bitter to a Christian's taste, but the kernel after the shell was broken would be found sweet and nutritious. In the endeavour to extract the kernel of fact from the rough shell of tradition let us consider the legends and stories concerning fairy folk that exist more or less all over Europe, but are found in their most realistic form among the Celtic races of France, Ireland and Scotland, the partly Celtised Germans, and among the Scandinavians of the North. We must distinguish between the genuine old traditions kept alive among the peasantry, and stories imported by travellers or by men of letters from the East. The Peri of the Arabian Nights has nothing except, perhaps, the derivation of her name in common with the fairies of the Irish or Highland peasantry. These latter are always dwarfish and small, generally ugly, and always odd in appearance; they live among mountains, heaths, and in out-of-the-way places; they possess magical powers, are cunning, malicious, jealous, and revengeful. To this day the Irish peasant will never mention their name, especially if he finds himself by night in a lonely place ; he prefers to allude to them as the good people,' 'them people,' or by some such synonym. Nor is it considered wise to praise a child, at least without a protective invocation to a higher power. 'He's a fine healthy child, God bless him!' is the usual formula. Between the birth of a child and its christening special precautions, the nature of which is most unwillingly disclosed, have to be taken ; a votive rag or a cross of ash twigs must be placed over the door of the room where the child is lying, and it must never be left alone for a moment. This brings us to what, according to tradition, was the great crime of the fairies against the races amongst whom they existed. It lay in their stealing

2 Mapaanan Beg Mac y Leir. Arms of the Isle of Man: these arms were said to have been bestowed on the island by Alexander III. of scotland, probably on account of the legend.

of baby children, concerning which many legends exist, especially in Ireland. They would bring up the stolen child to marry among their own people, and replace it at the time of the theft with an infant of their own. The changeling is invariably described as yellow, coarse and hideous in appearance, with a huge head and beady black eyes. By beating and ill-treating the wretched little elf the original child might sometimes be recovered. The records of the Royal Irish Constabulary would show, it is to be feared, that this superstition is not even yet entirely extinct in Ireland, for their interference has sometimes been necessary to prevent or punish an otherwise inexplicable cruelty. The wanderer who by night strayed or ventured among the fairy haunts was liable to be pursued and jeered at, led round in a circle, soused in a bog, or otherwise tormented. In extreme cases he might be lured into the fairy dwellings and kept prisoner for years, sometimes harshly treated as a slave, sometimes féted, made much of, and married to a fairy queen. Sometimes, again, the captive would be released, bearing with him in his imagination handfuls of gold and treasure, to realise on hearing a shout of mocking laughter that his hands were full of nothing better than dead leaves and rubbish. The Breton, Irish or Highland villager stepping softly through the evening dew might chance unexpectedly on an excited swarm of the little people, engaged in faction fighting, bargaining, or in busy confabulation round an ancient cairn or Druidical stone altar or menhir. Or he might come upon them singly, slipping through the bracken of the woodlands, or the tall whispering reeds fringing the shores of some lonely mountain lake. Although as a rule hostile and suspicious, they were not invariably so, but on those who knew, so to speak, how to get on the right side of them they capriciously bestowed their favours. These fortunate mortals would sometimes be presented with real treasures that did not turn into leaves; or more often they would be assisted in their dairy and other farmwork. Or a fairy might fall in love with some handsome Gaelic shepherd or soldier lad, as happened to the lovely chief of Colonsay' when, with other gifts, the lady presented her lover with a fairy horn, by means of which if in difficulty or danger he might summon her to his assistance, and with her all her tribe. In Switzerland they were known by the local name of ‘Servans,' and when friendly would perform good service to the mountain herdsman, watching over the cattle and protecting them from danger ; for this they expected a dish of cream or portion of cheese to be placed outside the chalet doors at night.

Surtout n'oubliez pas la part du Servan' said the prudent Swiss farmer to his sons on setting out on a journey. Of course, in the story, they did forget to put it out, and in the result there were storms and avalanches, and cattle found straying or driven over precipices.

Essai sur l'Inégalité des Races Humaines, par Le Comte de Gobineau, vol. ii. P. 93.

1:1 German fairy stories are in general rather more removed from anything approaching to actuality, but they include tales of little mining gnomes, of little cobblers like the Irish leprechaun, and of the Erlkönig who endeavours to tempt away the child from his father, as did the Irish fairy in the poem :

Come away, 0 human child !
To the waters and the wild

With a fairy, hand in hand, The Scandinavians have their cunning dwarfs, who inhabit passages dug into the bowels of the mountain and are frequently the possessors of hidden treasures; and the Gaelic Scots come a long step forward into the domain of actual fact by pointing out to us the Picts' houses which, according to the popular imagination, are haunted by fairies and resemble the fairy forts of Ireland.” These Picts' houses or forts are usually circular, in the shape of a mound or ring, and are constructed of earth, or of rough unhewn and unmortared masonry. In the thickness of the walls are worked passages, doorways and rooms, whose small size is evidently suited to the convenience of a squat and dwarfish race. This association of the fairies and the Picts in the popular imagination brings us to the borderland of true history. For the Picts were an historical people, although little enough is accurately known about them, except that they are mentioned by the earliest writers of Britain as allies, or subjects, of the Gaelic Scots."

Turning now to what we can ascertain of the circumstances attending the settlement of the first white races in Europe, let us see if there are any facts, within our knowledge, to account for the very widespread belief in a race of little people, quaint and odd in appearance, living in retired places, jealous, and generally hostile towards ordinary mankind, and supposed by the latter to be possessed of magical powers and equally remarkable treasures. Did there exist, widely distributed over this continent, a race of real human beings differing in appearance and characteristics from our early ancestors to such an extent that these latter failed to recognise their common humanity, and connected with their existence the legends and superstitions that ultimately developed into our modern fairy lore.

Our knowledge of the conditions under which our ancestors lived in Europe during the period preceding written history is derived from inference and deduction, from vague tradition, or from investigations of a geological character into the soil of caverns, into prehistoric tombs or barrows, or into the silted-over deposits of ancient

* W. B. Yeats, Lyra Celtica Anthology.

• Staigue Fort, near Sneem, in co. Kerry, is one of the most perfect instances of the old forts, or raths, of Ireland.

• Kenneth MacAlpine, the first King of Scotland that can be regarded as really historic, was himself a Scot, but was recognised King of the Picts. Other older Pictish kings, beginning with Cruithne, after whom the Picts called their nation, are mentioned in the oldest Scottish and Irish annals, but the subject is much enveloped in myth. See article • Scotland,' Encyc. Brit.

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