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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/57

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35
Presidential Address.

". . . . . overcast the night,
The starry welkin cover up anon
With drooping fog as black as Acheron."

But as a rule they are kindlier disposed; not alone do they war with blight, and fog, and flood, and all powers hostile to the growth of vegetation, but increase of flock and herd, of mankind also, seems good in their eyes—it may be because they know their tithes will be duly paid, and that their own interests are inextricably bound up with that of the mortals whom they aid and mock at, whom they counsel and reprove and befool.

Here let me note that not until the peasant belief has come into the hands of the cultured man do we find the conception of an essential incompatibility between the fairy and the human worlds—of the necessary disappearance of the one before the advance of the other.[1] Chaucer, if I mistake not, first voiced this conception in English literature. In words to be quoted presently he relegates the fairies to a far backward of time, and assigns their disappearance, satirically it is true, to the progress of Christianity. To the peasant, fairydom is part of the necessary machinery by which the scheme of things, as known to him, is ordered and governed; he may wish for less uncanny deities, he could not conceive the world without them; their absence is no cause of rejoicing, rather of anxiety as due to his own neglect of the observances which they expect and which are the price of their favour.

I do not of course claim that the foregoing brief sketch of the psychological basis of the fairy belief found among the peasantry represents the view of it taken by Shakespeare

  1. Mr. Lang calls my attention to the fact that Jeanne d'Arc disbelieved in the fairies whose existence was credited by her fellow-villagers, and beneath whose sacred trees she received the first incitings to her mission. I venture to think the instance confirms what I advance in the text; Jeanne's belief in a higher order of supernatural manifestations was strong enough to carry her beyond her traditional faith, just as the cultured man's higher intellectual knowledge carries him also beyond it.