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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/54

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32
Presidential Address.

it is either of so general a character as to yield no assured warrant of kinship, or there is reason to suspect contamination of the popular form by the literary ideal derived from and built up out of Shakespeare. Yet if we turn back to the poet of the Midsummer Night's Dream we can detect in his picture all the essentials of the fairy creed as it has appealed, and still appeals, to the faith and fancy of generations more countless than ever acknowledged the sway of any of the great world-religions, we can recover from it the elements of a conception of life and nature older than the most ancient recorded utterance of earth's most ancient races.

Modern commentators have pointed out that Shakespeare drew his account of the fairy world from at least two sources: the folk-belief of his day and the romance literature of the previous four centuries. This or that trait has been referred to one or the other source; the differences between these two have been dwelt upon, and there, as a rule, the discussion has been allowed to rest. What I shall essay to prove is that in reality sixteenth-century folk-belief and mediaeval fairy-romance derive their origin from one and the same set of beliefs and rites; that the differences between them are due to historical and psychological causes, the working of which we can trace; that their reunion, after ages of separation, in the England of the late sixteenth century, is due to the continued working of those same causes; and that as a result of this reunion, which took place in England because in England alone it could take place, English poetry became free of Fairydom, and has thus been enabled to preserve for the modern world a source of joy and beauty which must otherwise have perished.

I observed just now that the modern literary presentation of Faery (which is almost wholly dependent upon Shakespeare) differed essentially from the popular one still living in various districts of Europe, nowhere, perhaps, more tenaciously than in some of the Celtic-speaking