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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/56

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34
Presidential Address.

fully winning his bread from Mother Earth, was scarce so enamoured with the little he knew of kings and queens that he must feign the existence of an invisible realm; nor would the contrast, which touches alike our fantasy and our sense of the ludicrous, between minute size and superhuman power appeal to him. He had far other cause to fear and reverence the fairy world. In his daily struggle with nature he would count upon fairy aid if he performed with due ceremony the ancient ritual handed down to him by his forefathers; but woe betide him if through carelessness or sluttish neglect of these rites he aroused fairy wrath—not help, but hindrance and punishment would be his lot. And if neglect was hateful to these mysterious powers of nature, still more so was prying interference—they work as they list, and when man essays to change and, in his own conceit, to better the old order, the fairy vanishes. All this the peasant knows; it is part of that antique religion of the soil which means so much more to him than our religions do to us, because upon it, as he conceives, depend his and his children's sustenance. But be he as attentive as he may to the rites by which the fairy world may be placated and with which it must be worshipped, there come times and seasons of mysterious calamity, convulsions in the invisible world, and then:

"The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;

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"No night is now with hymn or carol blest;
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter."

Such calamities are luckily rare, though, as the peasant full well knows, the powers he dreads and believes in can: