Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/51

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS.




THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE: ITS ORIGIN AND NATURE.

[The title of the following study is, perhaps, too wide and general in scope. To adequately discuss the origin or nature of English fairy mythology would demand volumes. What I have here done is to essay an explanation of the special part played by fairy mythology in English literature, as well as of the essential conceptions which underlie generally that mythology, and from which it derives force and sanction. The two problems are by no means necessarily connected; but I found that by emphasising certain elements, unduly neglected hitherto, in the fairy creed I was brought into contact with historic facts and conditions which, as it seems to me, adequately explain why England, alone of modern countries, has admitted the fairy world into its highest imaginative literature.

My paper is in reality an outcome of my work in the second volume of the Voyage of Bran. In that volume, which will appear shortly, I discuss the Celtic doctrine of re-birth. I was compelled to form a theory, which would fit the facts, of primitive conceptions of life and sacrifice; compelled also to determine the real nature of the Tuatha de Danann, the ancestors of the fairies believed in to this day by the Irish peasantry. In postulating an agricultural basis for the Tuatha de Danann mythology and ritual I do but find myself in accord with all recent students of mythology in this country. I need but mention the most striking instance of the way in which Mannhardt's teaching has borne fruit in this country: Mr. Farnell's Cults of the Greek Gods. But when I insist upon the dominant nature of the agricultural element in the fairy creed, I by no means deny or overlook the numerous other elements which have entered into it. The latter, however, are, I believe, secondary, the former primary.

I have not thought it necessary to burden this paper with