Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/72

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
50
Presidential Address.

only known edition bears the date 1628, and it has been much debated if it was composed before or after the Midsummer Night's Dream. Mr. Chambers inclines to the latter opinion. Now in this tract, Robin Goodfellow is son of the fairy king by a maiden whom he came nightly to visit, "but early in the morning he would go his way whither she knew not, he went so suddainly." Later, the son has a vision, in which he beholds the dances and hears the strains of fairyland, and when he awakes he finds lying by his side a scroll, beginning with these words:

"Robin, my only sonne and heire,"

in which the father promises, amongst other gifts:

"Thou hast the power to change thy shape
To horse, to hog, to dog, to ape;"

and assures him:

"If thou observe my just command
One day thou shalt see Fayry Land"

I believe that in this doggrel chap-book we have the worn-down form of the same incident found in the legends of Arthur and Merlin, of Cuchulinn and Mongan, told also in Greek mythology of no less a person than Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele, the mischievous youth who, as we learn from the Homeric Hymn, amused himself by frightening Greek sailors by transformation tricks of much the same nature as those dear to Puck.

We may now revert to our starting point, to the question why should the fairy world be specially prominent in English literature, a question which, if asked before, has doubtless been answered by unmeaning generalities about national temperament. But national temperament is the outcome of historic conditions and circumstances which exist none the less though we cannot always trace them. In essaying an answer I will pick up the various dropped threads of the investigation and endeavour to weave them into one connected strand.

Mythology presupposes beliefs and also rites in which