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Fairies who are employed about the person, or executing the mandates, of their Queen. It appears to have been the business of one of her retinue to attend to the decoration of her majesty's pensioners, the cowlips tall;
"In their gold coats spots you see;
In those freckles live their savours :
I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear."'
Another duty, not less important, was to lull their mistress asleep on the bosom of a violet or a musk-rose:
"I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Act ii. sc. 2.
And again, with still greater wildness of imagination, but with the utmost propriety and adaptation of imagery, are they drawn in the performance of similar functions:
"Titania. Come, now a roundel and a fairy song;
The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots, and wonders
Then to your offices, and let me rest.”
The song is equally in character, as it forbids, in admirable adherence to poetical truth and consistency, the approach of every insect or reptile, that might be deemed likely to annoy the repose of such a delicate and diminutive being, while Philomel is invoked to add her delicious chaunt to the soothing melody of fairy voices:You spotted snakes, with double tongue, Thorny hedge-hogs, be not seen: Newts, and blindworms, do not wrong; Come not near our fairy queen: " &c.
Act ii. sc. 3.
This scene, beautiful and appropriate as it is, is yet surpassed, in originality and playfulness of fancy, by the passage in which Titania gives directions to her attendants for their conduct to Bottom, to whom she had previously offered their assistance, promising that they should fetch him "jewels from the deep:"
Act iii. sc. 1.
"Be kind and courteous to this gentleman; Hop in his walks, and gambol in his eyes; Feed him with apricots, and dewberries," &c. The working of Oberon's enchantment on Titania, who "straightway lov'd an ass," and led him to "her close and consecrated bower," and the interview between Bottom, her fairy majesty, and her train, though connected with so many supernatural imaginings, have been transferred to the canvas by Fuseli with a felicity which has embodied the very thoughts of Shakspeare, and which may on this subject be said to have placed the genius of the painter almost on a level with that of the poet, so wonderfully has he fixed the illusive creations of his great original. To this detail of fairy occupation, must be added another feature, on which Shakspeare has particularly dwelt, namely, the attention of the tribe to cleanliness: thus Puck, on entering the palace of Theseus, exclaims,
and similar care and neatness are enjoined the elves who haunt the towers of Windsor :
No one could aspire to the favour and protection of the Fairies who was slovenly or personally impure; punishment, indeed, awaited all who thus offended; even the majesty of Mab herself condescended
"To bake the elf-locks in foul sluttish hair;"†
and Cricket, the fairy, being sent on a mission to the chimnies of Windsor, receives the following injunction:
"Where fires thou find'st unraked, and hearths unswept,
There pinch the maids as blue as bilberry:
Our radiant queen hates sluts, and sluttery."
In order to complete the picture of fairy superstition, as given us by Shakspeare, it remains to consider his description of Puck or Robin Good-fellow, the confidential servant of Oberon, an elf or incubus of a mixed and very peculiar character. This quaint, frolicksome, and often mischievous sprite, seems to have been compounded of the qualities ascribed by Gervase of Tilbury to his Goblin Grant, and to his Portuni, two species of demons whom he describes, both in name and character, as denizens of England; of the benevolent propensities attributed by Agricola to the Guteli, Cobali, or Brownies of Germany, and of additional features and powers, the gift and creation of our bard.
A large portion of these descriptions of the German writers, and of his coun¬ tryman Gervase, Shakspeare would find in Reginald Scot, and from their union with the product of his own fancy, has arisen the Puck of the MidsummerNight's Dream, a curious amalgamation of the fairy, the brownie, and the hobgoblin, whom Burton calls "a bigger kind of fairy." Scot's vocabulary of the fairy tribe is singularly copious, including not less than nine or ten appellations which have been bestowed, with more or less propriety, on this Proteus of the Gothic elves." In our childhood," he observes, "our mothers' maids have so terrified us with-bull-beggers, spirits, urchens, elves, hags, fairies, satyrs, pans, faunes, sylens, kit with the cansticke, dwarfes, imps, nymphes, changlings, incubus, Robin Good-fellowe, the spoone, the mare, the man in the oke, the hell waine, the fier drake, the puckle Tom thombe, hob goblin, Tom tumbler, boneless, and such other bugs, that we are afraid of our owne shadowes." S
It is remarkable, however, that the Puck of Shakspeare is introduced by a term not found in this catalogue:-"Farewell, thou Lob of Spirits," says the fairy to him in their first interview,-a title which, as we shall perceive hereafter, could not be meant to imply, as Dr. Johnson supposed, either inactivity of body or
Romeo and Juliet, act. i, sc. 4.
Merry Wives of Windsor, act. v. sc. 5. Burton's account of the Fairies, first published in 1617, is given with his usual erudition, and the part alluded to in the text, proceeds thus :—“ A bigger kind there is of them (fairies), called with us Hobgoblins, and Robin Good fellows, that would in those superstitious times, grind corn for a mess of milk, cut wood, or do any manner of drudgery work. They would mead old Irons in those Eolian Isles of Lypara, in former ages, and have been often seen and heard. Tholosanus calls them Trullos and Getulos, and saith, that in his dayes they were common in many places of France. Dithmarus Bleskenius, in his description of Island, reports for a certainty, that almost in every family they have yet some such familiar spirits; and Felix Malleolus in his book de Crudel. Dæmon, affirms as much, that these Trolli or Telchines are very common in Norway, and seen to do drudgery work, to draw water, saith Wierus, lib. i. cap. 32, dress meat or any such thing." Anatomie of Melancholy, fol. 7th edit., 1676, p. 29, col. 1.
§ The Discoverie of Witchraft, 4to, 1584, p. 152, 153.
dulness of mind, for Puck was occasionally swifter than the wind, and notorious, as the immediately subsequent passage informs us, for his shrewdness and ingenuity:
"Either I mistake your shape and making quite,"
says the fairy, after bestowing the above title,
"Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite,
and then proceeds to characterise him by the peculiarity of his functions:
"Are you not he,
That fright the maidens of the villagery;
an interrogatory to which he replies in the following terms:
"Thou speak'st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
Act ii. sc. 1.
The greater part of these frolicks may be traced in Gervase of Tilbury, Agricola, and Scot: the "misleading night-wanderers," for instance, "laughing at their harm," and "neighing in likeness of a filly foal," feats which Puck afterwards thus again enumerates,—
"I'll follow you, I'll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier;
A bog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
are expressly attributed by Gervase to the goblins whom he has termed Grant and Portuni:-"Est in Anglia quoddam dæmonum genus, quod suo idiomate Grant nominant adinstar pulli equini anniculi, tibiis erectum oculis scintillantibus," etc." Cum-inter ambiguas noctis tenebras Angli solitarii quandoque equitant, Portunus nonnunquam invisus equitanti sese copulat, et cum diutius comitatur euntem, tandem loris arreptis equum in latum ad manum ducit, in quo dum infixos volutatur, portunus exiens cachinnum facit, et sic hujuscemodi ludibrio humanam simplicitatem deridet."
The domestic offices and drudgery which Puck delighted to perform for his favourites, are mentioned by Lavaterus as belonging to his Fairies of the Earth; by Agricola to his Cobali and Guteli, and by Scot to his Incubi and Virunculi. Thus the first of these writers observes, in the words of the English translation of 1572, that
"Men imagine there be certayne elves or fairies of the earth, and tell many straunge and marvellous tales of them, which they have heard of their grandmothers and mothers, howe they have appeared unto those of the house, have done service, have rocked the cradell, and (which is a signe of good luck) do continually tary in the house; and he subsequently gives us from Agricola the following passage:-"There be some (demons) very mild and gentle, whome some of the Germans call Cobali, as the Grecians do, because they be as it were apes and counterfeiters of men for they leaping, and skipping for joy do laughe, and sæme as though they did many things, when in very dæde they doo nothing.-Some other call them Elves ;-they are not much ⚫ Vide de Otiis Imperialibus, dec. iii. cap. 61. 62.
Of Ghostes and Spirites walking by nyght, 4to, 1572, p. 49.
unlike unto those whom the Germans call Guteli, bycause they sæme to beare good affection towards men, for they keepe horses, and do other necessary businesse." *
The resemblance which these descriptions bear both to the Brownie of the Scotch and the Puck of Shakspeare are very evident: but the combination and similitude are rendered still more apparent in the words of Scot; the
"Virunculi terrei," says he, are such as was Robin good fellowe, that would supplie the office of servants, speciallie of maids; as to make a fier in the morning, sweepe the house, grind mustard and malt, drawe water, &c. ;" and speaking of the Incubus, he adds:-"In deede your grandams maides were wont to set a boll of milke before him and his cousine Robin goodfellow, for grinding of malt or mustard, and sweeping the house at midnight : `and you have also heard that he would chafe exceedingly, if the maid or goodwife of the house, having compassion on his nakednesse, laid anie clothes for him, beesides his messe of white bread and milke, which was his standing fee. For in that case he saith; What have we here? Hemten, hamten, here will I never more tread nor stampen.” ‡
The lines in italics point out one of the most characteristic features of the Brownie, while the preceding parts, and the last word of the quotation, are in unison, both with the passages just transcribed from our poet, and with that expression of Puck, where, describing to Oberon the terror and dispersion of the rustic comedians, he says
66 And, at our stamp, here o'er and o'er one falls."
It may be also remarked, the idea of fixing "an ass's now!" on Bottom's head, is most probably taken from Scot, who gives us a very curious receipt for this singular metamorphosis.S
So far, then, the Puck of Shakspeare is in conformity with the tales of tradition, and of preceding writers; he is the "Goblin fear'd in field and town;"** who loves all things best "that befal preposterously," and who, even when the poet wrote, had not ceased to excite apprehension; for Scot hath told us, nine years before the era of the Midsummer-Night's Dream, that Robin Good-fellowe ceaseth now to be much feared.++
But to these traits of customary character, Shakspeare has added some which greatly modify the picture, and which have united to the "drudging goblin," and to the demon of mischievous frolic, duties and functions of a very different cast. He is the messenger, ‡‡ and trusty servantSS of the fairy king, by whom, in these capacities, he is called gentle *** and good, +++ and he combines with all his hereditary attributes, the speed, the legerity, and the intellectual skill of the highest order of the fairy world. Accordingly when Oberon says―
"Fetch me this herb: and be thou here again,
Ere the leviathan can swim a league;"
"I'll put a girdle round about the earth
Of Ghostes and Spirites walking by ny ght, 4to, 1752, p. 75.
Act ii. sc. 2.
Discoverie, p. 85.
"Cut of the head of a horse or an asse (before they be dead), otherwise the vertue or strength thereof will be the lesse effectuall, and make an earthen vessell of fit capacitie to conteine the same, and let it be filled with the oile and fat thereof; cover it close, and dawbe it over with lome: let it boile over a soft fier three daies continuallie, that the flesh boiled may run into oile, so as the bare bones may be seene: beate the haire into powder, and mingle the same with the oile; and annoint the heads of the standers by, and they shall seeme to have horses or asses heads."-Discoverie of Witchcraft, 1584, p. 315. **Midsummer-Night's Dream. act iii. sc. 2.
tt Discoverie of Witchcraft, 1584.-Epistle to the Readers, in which he afterwards speaks of "the want of Robin Goodfellowe and the fairies, which were woont to mainteine chat, and the common peoples talke in this behalfe."
"Ob. Here comes my messenger."- Midsummer-Night's Dream, act iii. sc. 2. §§"Puck. Fear not, my lord, your servant shall do so."-Act ii. sc. 3. *** "Ob. My gentle Puck, come hither :"-Act ii. sc. 3.
ttt "Ob. Welcome, good Robin."-Act iv. sc. 1.
and again, on receiving commission from the same quarter:
About the wood go swifter than the wind :
Swifter than arrow from the Tartar's bow."
Act iii. sc. 2.
Upon the whole we may be allowed, from the preceding dissertation, to consider the following series of circumstances as entitled to the appellation of facts: namely, that the patria of our popular system of fairy mythology, was the Scandinavian Peninsula; that, on its admission into this country, it gradually underwent various modifications through the influence of Christianity, the introduction of classical associations, and the prevalence of feudal manners; but that ultimately two systems became established; one in Scotland, founded on the wild and more terrific parts of the Gothic mythology, and the other in England, built, indeed, on the same system, but from a selection of its milder features, and converted by the genius of Shakspeare into one of the most lovely creations of a sportive imagination. Such, in fact, has been the success of our bard in expanding and colouring the germs of Gothic fairyism; in assigning to its tiny agents new attri— butes and powers; and in clothing their ministration with the most light and exquisite imagery, that his portraits, in all their essential parts, have descended to us as indissolubly connected with, and indeed nearly, if not altogether, forming our ideas of the fairy tribe.
The canvas, it is true, which he stretched, has been since expanded, and new groups have been introduced; but the outline and the mode of colouring which he employed, have been invariably followed. It is, in short, to his picture of the fairy world, that we are indebted for the "Nymphidia" of Drayton;* the "Robin Goodfellow" of Jonson;† the miniatures of Fletcher and Browne; the full-length portraits of Herrick; the sly allusions of Corbet, ** and the spirited and picturesque sketches of Milton.++
To Shakspeare, therefore, as the remodeller, and almost the inventor of our fairy system, may, with the utmost propriety, be addressed the elegant compliment which Browne has paid to Occleve, certainly inappropriate as applied to that rugged imitator of Chaucer, but admirably adapted to the peculiar powers of our bard, and delightfully expressive of what we may conceive would be the gratitude, were such testimony possible, of these children of his playful fancy:
Many times he hath been seene
With the faeries on the greene,
And to them his pipe did sound
Mickle solace would they make him,
Or into the meadowes where
Mints perfume the gentle aire,
And where Flora spreads her treasure,
* This beautiful and highly fanciful poem could not certainly have been written before 1605; for the Don Quixote of Cervantes, which was first published in Spain during the above year, is expressly mentioned in one of the stanzas; and Mr. Malone thinks that the earliest edition of the Nymphidia was printed
+ Peck attributes this song to Ben Jonson; and Percy observes, that it seems to have been originally intended for some masque. Reliques, vol. iii. p. 203. ed. 1594.
See Fletcher's Faithfull Shepherdess, and Browne's Britannia's Pastorals.
Herrick, as I have observed in a former work, seems more particularly to have delighted in drawing the manners and costume of the fairy world.-He has devoted several of his most elaborate poems to these sportive creations of fancy. Under the titles of The Fairy Temple, Oberon's Palace, The Fairy Queen, and Oberon's Feast. a variety of curious and minute imagery is appositely introduced-Literary Hours, 3d edit. vol. iii, p. 85. To these may be added another elegantly descriptive piece, entitled, King Oberon's Apparel, written by Sir John Mennis, and published in The Musarum Delicia, or The Muses Recreation, 1656.
In his political ballad entitled The Fairies Farewell.
++ Vide L'Allegro, and the occasional sketehes in Paradise Lost and Comus.
# See Shepherd's Pipe, Eglogue 1. Chalmers's English Poets, vol. vi. p. 315. col. 2.