Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER V.

FAIRIES.

MODERN European mythology, to account for the minor operations of nature, peopled the air, the sea, and the land with innumerable spirits, who held a middle place between the benevolent powers of the universe and the bad, and at one time inclined to good acts, at another to evil. But of all the intermediate creations of man's poiesis, none became so widely spread and so popular as the superstition of the fairies. There is very little in the mythology to account for the origin of these beings. Waldron (Description of the Isle of Man) informs us that “the Manks confidently assert that the first inhabitants of their island were fairies,” but that they now live in wilds and forests, and on mountains. This idea agrees with one of the theoretical explanations of the giants, and there is every appearance that a confusion of creeds has so far misled the Manks people.

According to another theory, and one much more consonant to the varying systems of Celts and Goths, the fairies are a species of the Devs. This view of their origin, which seems to be HibernoCeltic, is still current in Ireland, and is made to conform to the teachings of the Christian doctrine. When the rebellion of the angels brought about their expulsion from heaven, the archangel Michael, who was placed at the gate, after some time made intercession with these words, “O Lord, the heavens are emptying!" The wrath of the Almighty ceased, and all were suffered to remain

in the state of the moment until the consummation of the world. At that precise time many of the fallen angels were already in the bottomless abyss, but some were still in the air, others on the earth, more in the sea. The spirits of the earth, which we now know as fairies, as well as those of the air and the sea, still hope for pardon, and though inclined to evil, are thus restrained from doing all the injury to mortals of which they are capable. This tradition is not very modern; it is told by Giraldus Cambrensis, on the authority of a bishop who received the information from one of themselves, that elves and fairies are fallen angels, but having been seduced, are less criminal than the rest *

The most notable adventure of the fairies in these counties, is that concerning the loss of their glass drinking-cup, the well-known Luck of Edenhall. One night the butler having gone out to bring water from the well called St. Cuthbert's, which is near the Hall, surprised a company of fairies dancing on the lawn. They had probably been drinking at the well, for they had left their cup in a niche, or, as some say, lying on the grass. However that be, the butler seized the vessel, and though called upon, refused to restore it; when the queen of the fairies uttered the ominous couplet :

If e'er that glass should break or fall,
Farewell the luck of Edenhall.

The Luck of Edenhall, as the cup is now called, has attained a world-wide celebrity, partly through the antiquity of the glass, but still more for the sake of the legend. Ludwig Uhland, a German poet of the “romantic school,” has made it the subject of a ballad, in which he adopts the idea that the glass was a present from the queen of the fairies to one of the Musgrave family, and represents the Luck as broken, determinedly hob-a-nobbed to pieces by some reckless “lord.” There is a banquet at the Hall, to which the

* Fairy has been supposed to be the Persian Peri, but this is by no means proved. H. C. sigh (sidh, a fairy hill), and G. elf (alb, a hill) both seem to imply an inhabitant of the hills. The Chinese character for genius, a “spirit," is composed of man and hill.

THE LUCK OF EDENHALL.

135

lord of the castle orders the fairies' cup to be brought. It is filled with wine, when with an insanity that would be quite unaccountable before dinner, he bids all the guests, according to the German custom, “strike on,” in order to test the Luck of Edenhall. The glass breaks; the guests are no longer to be seen. Then in rush the enemy, climbing over the battlements; the lord is slain by the sword, and still holds in his hand a fragment of his broken Luck. Next morning the old butler is searching among the ruins for his lord's bones, and on finding some pieces of the fatal cup, he moralisingly consoles himself, inasmuch as the world itself must one day go to pieces, like the Luck of Edenhall.

This thoroughly German ballad has been translated by Longfellow, the American poet, who comforts his readers with the assurance that the goblet is not so entirely shattered as is represented, for that “the tradition, and the shards of the Luck of Edenhall, still exist in England.” The information of the poet is fortunately not as correct as his translation; the fairy gift is in singular preservation, and carefully kept in a leathern case. Such care was however not always bestowed on it, as “it is a tradition in the Musgrave family that the Duke of Wharton, when feasting with one of the early baronets, was accustomed, after his revels and amidst his boon companions, to toss up the cup in the airwhen he, or some one in attendance, caught it again !"*

The cup is of Venetian manufacture, and one of the oldest glasses in England, for even the case in which it is preserved belongs to the fifteenth century. It is supposed to have been used as a chalice at a time when the vicinity of the Scottish border made the preservation of silver utensils in churches an unsafe speculation. After the cessation of border strife Edenhall church was perhaps the only place at which one of those vessels remained: and the replacing thereof by a silver chalice might easily give rise

* The Luck of Edenhall, a poem in three cantos, by the Rev. B. Porteus, Notes—the latest tribute to the fairy chalice. This elegant little poem is described by the author as a "modern lay of the olden day.A coloured engraving of the cup forms the frontispiece.

to the legend, that the Musgraves hold their fortune by so frail a tenure. In reality, the fairies were priests, and the plundering butler a Scottish “reiver.”*

The Dobbie, a kind of household fairy, was once a regular resident of these counties, and may possibly still be found in some localities. His habits were nearly the same as those of the Brownie of Scotland, and Robin Goodfellow of England; and the name appears to be a popular transformation of Robert (cf. Dobson), and therefore identical with Robin, and probably with the Hob (another form of Robert) in Hobgoblin. Only to favoured families did the Dobbie attach himself, and the conditions of service were simple; a bowl of milk and an oaten cake, or a bowl of curds and cream, was to be left every night for his usein other words, there should be no niggardliness of the household economy-and in return he assisted the operations of the servants, and all things went on favourably. Any neglect of the Dobbie's tribute was followed by the penalty of ill-luck in the cooking, churning, or cheese-making; and even the work performed during the day, like the web of Penelope, was undone or spoiled by night.

“ It is recorded in a manuscript history of Crosby Ravensworth, that a Dobbie at Crosby Hall revealed to a farmer the place in which he would find a treasure. • It would not, perhaps, be considered a faithful history,' says the writer, 'were no mention made of a certain extraordinary being, which is said to have paid nightly visits to the Hall about this time, to the no small terror and astonishment of the family then belonging to it; which, whether a real preternatural apparition, or whether the effect of some clandestine knavery, or whether a phantom of imagination only, did certainly at that time excite more public curiosity, furnish more subject for marvellous anecdote, and will, I believe, be longer remembered than any living lord that owned the placed before or after.' At what date it commenced its gloomy walks we cannot learn, all the old records being silent upon the subject; but tradition says,

The Luck of Edenhall is likewise made mention of in a ballad supposed to have been written by the Duke of Wharton.

THE LAST APPEARANCE OF THE FAIRIES.

137

"*

it left the place after the demolition of the old tower, and on taking leave gave an old gentleman, the farmer at the Hall, information of some hidden treasure, and also a very friendly intimation of the exact time and manner of his death, which old people say, with much confidence, and within their remembrance, did happen accordingly."

For some time no fairies have been seen in this district, and in one part of Westmorland, indeed, the date of their departure hence is known. An inhabitant of Martindale, Jack Wilson by name, was one evening crossing Sandwick Rigg on his return home, when he suddenly perceived before him, in the glimpses of the moon, a large company of fairies intensely engaged in their favourite diversions. He drew near unobserved, and presently descried a stee (ladder) reaching from amongst them up into a cloud. But no sooner was the presence of mortal discovered than all made a hasty retreat up the stee. Jack rushed forward, doubtless firmly determined to follow them into fairy-land, but arrived too late. They had effected their retreat, and quickly drawing up the stee, they shut the cloud, and disappeared. And in the concluding words of Jack's story, which afterwards became proverbial in that neighbourhood, “yance gane, ae gane, and niver saw mair o' them.” The grandson of the man who thus strangely witnessed this last apparition of the fairies, himself an old man, was appealed to not long ago on the truth of this tradition. Having listened attentively to the account of it already printed, he declared, “It was a' true however, for he heard his grandfather tell it many a time.”

“ It is still believed,” says a writer on the superstitions of the Scottish highlands, “that the Shi'ichs (fairies) are present on all occasions of public entertainment, as at funerals and weddings, and even at fairs; and that they are there busily employed, though invisible to mortal eyes, in abstracting the substantial articles and provisions which are exhibited, and in substituting shadowy forms in their stead.” Offerings and sacrifices to the fairies are usual

* Rev. J. Simpson at the Kendal Nat. Hist. Society.

S

« ForrigeFortsæt »