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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/75

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53
Presidential Address.

out the literature of the sixteenth century we may note the same pre-occupation with romantic themes which are older than, and outside, Christianity. In Italy, as was but natural, the purely classic side of the revival predominated, and the romantic poems of Pulci, Berni, and Ariosto, are only brilliant examples of conscious literary art; in France, peasant folklore and romance formed the groundwork of the great realistic burlesque in which the chief master of French prose satirised the society of his day and sketched the society of his dreams; in Germany, no supreme literary genius arose to voice the tendency of the age, but there was developed the last of the great impersonal legends of the world, the story of Faustus, ready to the hands of Germany's master poet when he should come, and reminding us that wizardcraft has the same ultimate origin as, and is but the unholy and malign side of, the fairy belief. In England, where Celtic mythology had lived on as the Arthurian romance, where the latter, although a late comer, was at home, where alone literature had not been wholly divorced from folk-belief, Shakespeare created his fairy world.

Since his days, fairydom became, chiefly owing to the perfection of his embodiment, a mere literary convention and gradually lost life and savour. Instead of the simpering puppets—stock properties of a machine-made children's literature—to which the fairies have been degraded, I have brought before you to-night beings of ancient and awful aspect, elemental powers, mighty, capricious, cruel, and benignant as is Nature herself. I believe that the fairy creed, this ancient source of inspiration, of symbolic interpretation of man's relation to nature, is not yet dried up, and that English literature, with its mixed strain of Teutonic and Celtic blood, with its share in the mythologies of both these races, and in especial with its claim to the sole body of mythology and romance, the Celtic, which grew up wholly unaffected by classic culture, is destined to drink deeply of it in the future as in the past, and to find in it the material for new creations of undying beauty.