The Fairy belief, we have said, is a composite thing. On the materials given by tradition, such as the memory, perhaps, of a pre-historic race, and by old religion, as in the thoughts about the pre-Christian Hades, poetry and fancy have been at work. Consumption, lingering disease, unexplained disappearances, sudden deaths, have been accounted for by the agency of the Fairies, or People of Peace. If the superstition included no more than this, we might regard it as a natural result of imagination, dealing with facts quite natural in the ordinary course of things. But there are elements in the belief which cannot be so easily dismissed. We must ask whether the abnormal phenomena which have been so frequently discussed, fought over, forgotten, and revived, do not enter into the general mass of folk-lore. They appear most notably in the two branches of Browniedom--of "Pixies," as they say in Devonshire, who haunt the house, and in the
alleged examples of the second sight. The former topic is the more obscure, if not the more curious. Let us examine the occurrences, then, which may have begotten the belief in Brownies, and in house-haunting Pixies or Fairies. These appearances may be alleged, on one hand, to be actual facts in Nature, the workings of some yet unexplained forces; or they may merely be the consequences of some very old traditional method of imposture, vulgar in itself, but still historical. That form of imposture, again, may be wrought either by conscious agents, or unconsciously and automatically by persons under the influence of somnambulism; or, finally, the phenomena may in various cases be due to any one of these three agencies, all of which may possibly be veræ causæ, as conscious imposture and trickery is certainly one vera causa.
In Mr. Kirk's book we meet "the invisible Wights which haunt Houses, . . . throw great Stones, Pieces of Earth and Wood at the Inhabitants," but "hurt them not at all." As we have said, Major (1518) calls these wights "Fauni or Brobne"--that is, Brownies--and says that they thrash as much grain in one
night as twenty men could do, and throw stones about. The legend of their working was common in Scotland, and a correspondent says that in Devonshire the belief in Pixies who set the house in order exists among the grandparents of the present generation. But the sportive is more common than the kindly aspect of Brownies. Through history we constantly find them causing objects to move without visible contact, and "acting in sport, like Buffoons and Drolls." In his Letters on Demonology (p. 377) Scott gives instances where the buffoon or droll was detected, and confessed that the rattlings of plates and movements of objects were caused by an apparatus of threads or horsehair. He also quotes the famous doings of "The Just Devil of Woodstock" in 1649, which so perplexed and discomfited the Cromwellian Commissioners. He accounts for those annoyances by the confessions of Joe Collins of Oxford, "Funny Joe," which he quotes from Hone's Every-Day Book, while Hone quotes from the British Magazine of 1747. But the writer in the British Magazine gives no references or authorities for the authenticity of Funny Joe's confessions, nor even for the existence of Joseph.
[paragraph continues] Scott could not find his original in the pamphlets of the British Museum, and some of the statements attributed to Joe do not tally with the official account, and other contemporary documents collected in Sir Walter's Woodstock. Joe pretends, for example, to have been secretary to the Commission under the name of Giles Sharpe; but in the other accounts the secretary is named Browne. A Royalist Brownie or Polter-geist lies under shrewd suspicion, but Joe's own existence is unproved, and his alleged evidence is of no value. However, no sane person can dream of doubting that many a Brownie has been as much in flesh and blood as the Brownie of Bodsbeck in Hogg's story.
There remain the less easily explicable tales of strange and humorous disturbances, accompanied by loud sounds, rappings, the moving of objects without visible contact, and so forth. 1 Perhaps we may best examine these by taking modern instances, collected by the Psychical Society, in the first place, and then comparing them with cases recorded at distant times and in remote places. Some curious common features
will be observed, and the evidence has at least the value of undesigned coincidence. Glanvil, Telfair (minister of Rerrick), the Wesleys, Dr. Adam Clarke, Increase Mather, were not modern students of psychical research. The modern Psychical Researchers, we fear, are not students of old legendary lore, which they dismiss on evidence not first-hand nor scientifically valid. Thus they do not seem to be aware that they are describing, almost in identical terms, phenomena identical with those noted by Telfair, Mather, Lavater, and the rest, and by those ancients attributed to devils. The modern recorders axe not consciously copying from old accounts; the coincidences therefore have their value, as proving that certain phenomena have occurred and recurred. Now those phenomena may be due to conscious or to hysterical imposture, but they have been frequent and common enough to keep alive, and probably to originate, a part of the Fairy belief--that part which is concerned with Brownies and house-haunting Pixies, or Domovoys. These, again, correspond to the tricky beings described by Mr. Leland in his Etruscan Remains as survivals of old Roman and Etruscan popular religions, while we find
similar occurrences in the Empire of the Incas not long after the Spanish conquest of Peru. 1
Beginning, then, with what is nearest to us in time, we take Mr. F. W. H. Myers's essays "On the Alleged Movement of Objects without Contact, occurring not in the Presence of a Paid Medium." 2 The alleged phenomena are, of course, as common as blackberries in the presence of paid mediums, but are to the last degree untrustworthy. Even when there is no paid medium present, the mere contagious excitement which is said to be developed at séances makes all that is thought to occur there a story to be taken with plenty of salt. 3 One of Mr. Myers's examples was the result of séances, but it had features of great importance for the argument. It will be found in Proc. S. P. R., vol. xix. p. 139, July 1891. The performers are Mr. C., Mrs. C., and Mr. H. Mr. C. and Mrs. C. are spoken of as good witnesses, known to Mr. Myers and Professor Barrett. Mr. H.'s health has suffered so much that he cannot be examined, and Mr.
[paragraph continues] H. is the person who interests us here, for reasons which will be given later. All three were "unbelievers" in these matters. On the second evening "lights floated about the room," which was lit, apparently, by a full moon. "F." (who is also "H.") felt cold hands touching, and "hands" recur in the old pre-scientific accounts. The three mages were holding hands tightly at the time. Now Mr. H. had hitherto been in excellent health, but after his chair was dragged from under him, and he was "thrown down on the ground," he went into "a trance." His watch and ring (on the finger of a hand held by Mrs. C.) were carried to a remote part of the room. H. leaves the circle and sits at the window. Another figure walks through the room. H. returns, is "thrown down," his coat is dragged off, and his boots are discovered on a distant sofa. He asks for "something from home," goes into a trance, a photograph locked up by him at home is found on the table. His wife, in town, "being quite ignorant of our having had séances, told us that, at that very hour, a fearful crash occurred in his bedroom. The photograph vanished, and returned last night, when H. was in a trance." He is "thrown
down" again. He has "alternate fits of unconsciousness and raving delirium." The home of Mr. and Mrs. C. (not the house where they sat) is vexed by "figures," noises, knockings; "we were sprinkled with water in the night," haunted by sounds of drums and horns, and so forth. Before a "manifestation," "we all felt a sudden chill, like either a wave of intensely cold air passing, or a rapid decrease of temperature." 1
This is a disgusting story if Mr. H's health was ruined by his presence at the performances. The point, however, is that he did behave in epileptic fashion while these events were in progress. It is natural to suppose that, in his "trances," he may have been capable, unconsciously, of feats physically and morally impossible to him in his normal condition. This explanation would not cover all the alleged occurrences, but would account for many of them.
We now take an ancient instance, similar disturbances at Newberry, in New England, in 1679, similarly accompanied by the presence of an epileptic patient. 1 The house of William Morse was "strangely disquieted by a dæmon." The inmates were Morse, his wife, and their grandson, a boy whose age is not given. The trouble began on December 3, with a sound of heavy objects falling on the roof. On December 8, large stones and bricks "were thrown in at the west end of the house . . . the bedstead was lifted up from the floor, and the bed-staff flung out of the window, and a cat was hurled at the wife. A long staff danced up and down in the chimney. The man's wife put the staff in the fire, but she could not hold it there, inasmuch as it would forcibly fly out; yet after much ado, with joynt strength, they made it to burn. . . . A chair flew about, and at last lighted on the table, where victuals stood ready to eat, and was likely to spoil all, only by a nimble catching they saved some of their meat. . . . A chest was removed from place to place,
no hand touching it. Two keys would fly about, making a loud noise by knocking against each other. . . . As they lay in bed with their little boy between them, a great stone from the floor of the loft was thrown upon the man's stomach, and he turning it down upon the floor, it was once more thrown upon him." On January 23, 1680, "his ink-horn was taken away from him while he was writing" (he was keeping a diary of these events), "and when by all his seeking he could not find it, at last he saw it drop out of the air, down by the fire. . . . February 2, while he and his boy were eating of cheese, the pieces which he cut were wrested from them. . . . But as for the boy, he was a great sufferer in these afflictions, for on the 18th of December he, sitting by his grandfather, was hurried into great motions. The man made him stand between his legs, but the chair danced up and down, and was like to have cast both man and boy into the fire, and the child was tossed about in such a manner as that they feared his brains would have been beaten out."
All these contortions of the boy were apparently what M. Charcot calls clownisms. 1 When
taken to a doctor's house the boy "was free of disturbances," which returned with his return home. He barked like a dog, clucked like a hen, talked nonsense about "Powel," who pinched and bullied him. While he was in bed with the old people, "a pot with its contents was thrown upon them." They were clutched by hands, like Mr. and Mrs. C. Once a voice was heard singing, "Revenge, revenge is sweet." Finally a mate of a ship came, declared that the grandmother was not rightly suspected as a witch, and offered, if he were left alone with the boy, to cure him. "The mate came next day betimes, and the boy was with him till night; since which time his house, Morse saith, has not been molested with evil spirits." Probably the mate used a rope's end: the boy was more speedily cured than Mr. H.
The phenomena are those of droll or buffooning wights, as Air. Kirk says, and no man can doubt that the boy was at the bottom of the whole affair. But whether he was capable, when well and conscious, of such diversions, is another question. Children like him produced the famous witch-mania in New England.
We have here, undeniably, a well-recorded
case, analogous to that of Mr. H. In a modern case of bell-ringing, heavy thumps, and movement of objects, the agent was "a young girl who had never been out to service before," and who passed the night in a state of wildly agitated somnambulism, repeating the whole of the Service for the day. 1 Mather gives several other examples, in which motives for trickery are manifest, while we hear nothing of an epileptic or hysterical patient.
In the majority of instances, ancient or modern, children are the agents. Thus we have "Physical Phenomena obtained in a Family Circle," that of Mr. and Mrs. Davis, with their children, at Rio Janeiro. 2 The time was 1888. Curiosity had been caused by "the notorious Henry Slade." There were "touches and grasps of hands." A table "ran after me" (Professor Alexander) "and attempted to hem me in," when only C., a little girl, was in the room. "As far as I could see, she did not even touch the table." The chair of Amy (aged thirteen months) was moved about, like that of Master Morse two hundred years earlier. A table jumped into the laps of the
public. There were raps and thumps, which "seemed to shake the whole building." Lights floated about. A slate, covered with flour, was placed on C.'s lap; her hands lay on the table. Marks of fingers came on the flour, and, in answer to request, the mark of "a naked baby foot." The children present were wearing laced boots, and we are not told that little Amy was under the table. Bluish lights and the phantasm of a dog were seen.
All this answers to an ancient example--the disturbances in Mr. Wesley's house at Epworth, December 1715 to January 1716. 1 The house was a new one, rebuilt in 1709. We have Mr. Samuel Wesley's Journal, with many contemporary letters from members of the family, and later reminiscences. There were many lively girls in the house, and two servants--a maid and a man, recently engaged. The disturbances began with groanings; then came knockings, which flitted about the house. Mr. Wesley heard nothing till December 21. The knocks replied to those made by the family, but they never could imitate the sounds. Mrs. Wesley
and Emily saw an object "like a badger" run from under a bed and vanish. The mastiff was much alarmed by the sounds. Mr. Wesley was "thrice pushed by invisible power." The bogie was a Jacobite, as was Mrs. Wesley: Mr. Wesley was for King George. The knocks were violent when that usurper was prayed for. They did not try praying for King James. Robin, the servant, saw a hand-mill work violently. "Naught vexed me but that it was empty. I thought, had it but been full of malt, he might have ground his heart out for me." But this was a jocose, not an industrious devil. Robin called it "old Jeffries," after a gentleman lately dead; the family called it "Jeffrey," unless one name is a mere misspelling. It "seemed to sweep after" Nancy Wesley, when she swept the chambers. "She thought he might have done it for her, and saved her the trouble." Mrs. Wesley concealed the matter from her husband, "lest he should fancy it was against his own death" (Letter of January 12, 1716-17). This belief in noises foretelling death is very common; compare Scott's nocturnal disturbances at Abbotsford when Bullock, his agent in building it, was dying in London. The racket occurred on April
[paragraph continues] 28 and 29, 1818, and Scott examined the scene "with Beardie's broadsword under my arm." 1 Bullock died in Tenterden Street, in London, whether on April 28 or 29 is not easily to be ascertained. "The noise resembled half a dozen men putting up boards and furniture, and nothing can be more certain than that there was nobody on the premises at the time." 2 The noises used to follow Hetty Wesley, and thump under her feet, as under those of C. in Professor Alexander's narrative. Mr. Wesley's plate "danced before him on the table a pretty while, without anybody's stirring the table." 3 The disturbances quieted down in January, but recurred on March 31. Similar phenomena had occurred "long before" in the family. 4 "The sound very often seemed in the air, in the middle of a room, nor could they ever make any such themselves by any contrivance." 5 On February 16, 1740, twenty-three years later, Emily writes to Jack about "that wonderful thing called by us Jeffrey.
[paragraph continues] . . . That something calls on me against any extraordinary new affliction."
Priestley styles this affair "the best-authenticated that is anywhere extant." He supposes it to have been "a trick of the servants, for mere amusement." The modus operandi is difficult to explain. We hear nothing of bad health or hysterics in the household. 1 For our purpose it is enough that a few incidents of this kind, however produced, might originate and keep alive the belief in Brownies, and
"That shrewd and knavish sprite
Called Robin Goodfellow,"
"Frights the maidens of the villagery,
Skims milk, and sometimes labours in the quern."
By a curious coincidence, we can show a case in which phenomena of the kind usually reported as occurring at séances, and in examples like that of William Morse, were actually accepted as manifestations of the Sleagh Maith, or Fairies. In his account of the disturbances in the Wesley family, Dr. Clarke, the author, averred that be had himself witnessed similar events. It thus became necessary to consult his Life (London,
1833). "In the history of my own life," says Dr. Clarke, "I have related this matter in sufficient detail." 1 Unluckily, in his Life (pp. 76, 77) he gives scarce any details. Previous to sudden deaths in a family called Church, the phenomena of falling plates, heavy tread, and other noises occurred. Mr. Clarke "sat up one whole night in the kitchen, and most distinctly heard the above noises." He was a born mystic, and even in childhood a reader of Cornelius Agrippa, and, later, of the alchemists. But he records the instance of a woman, who solemnly declared to Mrs. Clarke that a number of the gentle people (Sleagh Maith) "occasionally frequented her house; that they often conversed with her, one of them putting its hands on her eyes during the time, which hands she represented, from the sensation she had, to be about the size of those of a child of four or five years of age." The family were "worn down" with these visits, and from the mention of touches of hands it is pretty plain that we have to do with the kind of sprite who paws people at séances. But these sprites are recognised (the scene is the North of Ireland) as "gentle people," Folk of
[paragraph continues] Peace. The amusing thing is, that Mr. Clarke, while he believes in Mr. Wesley's Jeffrey, and in the supernatural origin of a noise in a kitchen laughs at similar phenomena when assigned to Fairies. It is a mere difference of terminology.
Another old example may be given. It is Alexander Telfair's "True Relation" of disturbances at Ringcroft, in the parish of Rerrick. 1 The story is attested by the signatures of Ewart, minister of Kells, in Galloway; Monteith, minister of Borg; Murdoch, minister of Crosmichael, on Loch Ken; Spalding, minister at Parton, also by Loch Ken; Falconer, minister at Keltown; Mr. M'Lellan of Colline, Lennox of Milhouse, and a number of farmers. These were all neighbours, and all attested what they saw and heard. Robert Chambers says, "There never, perhaps, was any mystic history better attested. Few narrations of the kind have included occurrences and appearances which it was more difficult to reconcile with the theory of trick or imposture." Mr. Telfair himself had been
chaplain, in 1687, to Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick of Closeburn. He was then an Episcopalian.
Andrew Mackie was a stone-mason at Rerrick. On March 7 (1695?), and for long after, stones began to fly about in his house by night and day. "The stones which hit any person had not half their natural weight." Mackie complained to Telfair, his minister, who entered the house and prayed: nothing odd occurred. As he stood outside, he "saw two little stones drop down on the croft;" then he was asked to return, and was pelted inside the cottage. This was March 11. For a week there was no more trouble, then the disturbances began again. Mr. Telfair was sent for, and was pelted, beaten with a staff, and heard loud knockings. "That night, as I was at prayer, leaning on a bedside, I felt something lifting up my arm. I, casting my eyes thither, perceived a little white hand and arm from the elbow down, but presently it evanished." "There was never anything seen except that hand I saw," and an apparition of a boy in grey clothes. Sometimes the stoning went on in the open air. 1 There were plenty
of touchings, grippings, and scratchings. "The door-bar" (a long, heavy piece of squared wood) "would go thorow the house as if a person were carrying it in their hand, yet nothing seen doing it." Here we compare, in Proc. S. P. R., February 1892, the story of a carpenter's shop at Swanland, in Yorkshire, where pieces of wood were "levitated" into abnormal flight. No imposture was discovered, nor was the presence of any one person necessary.
The ministers of Kells and Crosmichael were pelted with stones of eight pounds weight. On April 6, fire-balls floated through the cottage. When five ministers were present, "it made all the house shake, brake a hole through the thatch, and poured in great stones." "It handled the legs of some as with a man's hand;" it hoisted Mr. Telfair, Lennox of Millhouse, and others off the ground! A sieve flew through the house; Mackie caught it; a force gripped it, and pulled the interior part out of the rim. A day of humiliation was solemnly kept in the parish, which only excited the emulation of the disturbing agent; "it continued in a most fearful manner without intermission." Voices were heard, which talked nonsense of a semi-scriptural
kind; finally the thing died out early in May. By the way, on April 28, "it pulled down the end of the house, all the stone-work thereof."
This is a very odd case, as no suspicion is thrown on the children. The attestations of several witnesses are given, not only at the close, but for almost every separate incident. The vision of the white hand is agreeable.
The Devil of Glen Luce, in Galloway, was published by Sinclair in his Hydrostaticks, of all places, in 1672, and again in Satan's Invisible World, and by Glanvil in Sadducismus Triumphatus. In this affair a boy called Thomas, a son of the unlucky householder, was clearly the agent. The phenomena were stone-throwing, beating with sticks, levitation of a plate, and a great deal of voices, probably uttered by the aforesaid Thomas. The Synod ordered a day of humiliation (1655-56).
The affair of the Drummer of Tedworth (1661) is, or ought to be, too well known for quotation. The troubles began after Mr. Momposson seized the drum of a vagrant musician. In the presence of a clergyman, chairs walked about the room of themselves, "a bed-staff was thrown at the minister, but so favourably that a lock of
wool could not have fallen more softly." The children, as usual, were especially haunted. A jingling of money was common, as it also was at Epworth. Lights wandered about the house, "blue and glimmering." The noise was persistent in the woodwork of the children's beds, while their hands were outside. The knocks answered knocks made by visitors. There were divers other marvels. The Drummer was suspected, but, consciously or not, the children were probably the agents. They seem to have been in their usual health. 1 In Galashiels (date not given), loud knocks on the floor accompanied a hystero-epileptic girl wherever she sat. In bed, "her body was so lifted up that many strong men were not able to keep it down." The minister, who could make nothing of her, was Mr. Wilkie; the girl was Margaret Wilson (Sinclair, p. 200).
This little parcel of strange stories may suffice to show that part of the Fairy belief is based on such incidents as still occur, or are reported to occur, just in the old fashion. It is for psychologists and physicians to ascertain how far, if at
all, the incidents are produced by hysterical, or epileptic, or somnambulistic patients. Common forthright trickery is usually detected in paid mediums. But the trickery simulates real events, or continues an old traditional form of imposture. The moral that parents should not allow their children to be present at séances hardly needs enforcing. Some of them may escape unharmed, but frightful injuries may be inflicted on health and on character. 1
xxxviii:1 Many instances may be read of in a little anonymous work, Obeah. The scene is Hayti.
xl:1 Note ( c), p. 82.
xl:2 Proc. S. P. R., July 1891, February 1892.
xl:3 As far as the author has watched séances personally, they have ended in nothing but "giggling and making giggle."
xlii:1 Some séances were held at ------ College, Oxford, about 1875. The performers were all athletic undergraduates. The breath of chill air was always felt "before anything happened," and, when the out-college men had gone, the owner of the rooms, in his bedchamber, was disturbed by the racket which continued in the sitting-room. But I know not if he had sported his oak!
xliii:1 An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences, by Increase Mather. Boston, 1684; London, Reeves & Turner, 1890, pp. 101-111.
xliv:1 Diseases of the Nervous System, iii. 249. London, 1890.
xlvi:1 Proc. S. P. R., xix. 160-173.
xlvi:2 op. cit., pp. 173-189.
xlvii:1 Memoirs of the Wesley Family, by Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.A.S. London, 1823, pp. 161-200.
xlix:1 Letter to Terry, April 30. Lockhart, v. 309.
xlix:2 Scott to Terry, May 16.
xlix:3 Susannah Wesley to Samuel Wesley, March 27, 1717.
xlix:4 Op. cit., p. 193.
xlix:5 Op. cit., p. 194.
l:1 Note ( d), p. 83.
li:1 Memoirs of the Wesley Family, p. 198.
lii:1 Edinburgh: Mossman, 1696. There is a London reprint, of which I have a copy. The pamphlet is republished in Mr. Stevenson's edition of Sinclair's Satan's Invisible World Discovered, 1685-1871, Appendix, p. xix.
liii:1 Compare similar phenomena in Obeah, and in Peruvian example, note ( c), p. 82.
lvi:1 Glanvil's version is given in Sinclair's Satan's Invisible World.
lvii:1 Note ( e), p. 85.