"THERE is," says he, again [a] "in England a certain kind of demon whom in their language they call Grant, [b] like a yearling foal, erect on its hind legs, with sparkling eyes. This kind of demon often appears in the streets in the heat of the day, or about sunset. If there is any danger impending on the following day or night, it runs about the streets provoking the dogs to bark, and, by feigning flight, draws the dogs after it, in the vain hope of catching it. This illusion warns the inhabitants to beware of fire, and the friendly demon, while he terrifies those who see him, puts by his coining the ignorant on their guard."
Thus far the Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire, and, except in the poets, we have met with no further account of, or allusion to, fairies, until the reign of Elizabeth, when a little work appeared, named, The mad Pranks and merry Jests of Robin Goodfellow, [c] from which Shakespeare seems in a good measure to have derived his Puck.
This work consists of two parts. In the first we are informed that Robin was the offspring of a "proper young wench by a hee-fayrie, a king or something of that kin among them." By the time he was six years old he was so mischievous and unlucky that his mother found it necessary to promise him a whipping. He ran away and engaged with a tailor, from whom also he soon eloped. When tired he sat down and fell asleep, and in his sleep he had a vision of fairies; and when he awoke he found lying beside him a scroll, evidently left by his father, which, in verses written in letters of gold, informed him that he should have any thing he wished for, and have also the power of turning himself "To horse, to hog, to dog, to ape," etc., but he was to harm none but knaves and queans, and was to "love those that honest be, and help them in necessity." He made trials of his power and found that be really possessed it. His first exploit was to turn himself into a horse, to punish a churlish clown, whom he induced to mount him, and gave him a fall that went well nigh to break his neck. The fellow then went to ride him through a great plash of water, "and in the middle of it he found himself with nothing but a pack-saddle between his legs, while Robin went off laughing, Ho, ho, hoh! He next exerted himself in the cause of two young lovers, and secured their happiness.
In the Second Part we find him more in the character of the Nis or Brownie. Coming to a farmer's house, he takes a liking to a "good handsome maid," that was there, and in the night does her work for her, at breaking hemp and flax, bolting meal, etc. Having watched one night and seen him at work, and observed that he was rather bare of clothes, she provided him with a waistcoat against the next night. But when he saw it he started and said:-
Because thou layest me himpen hampen
I will neither bolt nor stampen:
'Tis not your garments, new or old,
That Robin loves: I feel no cold.
Had you left me milk or cream,
You should have had a pleasing dream:
Because you left no drop or crum,
Robin never more will come.
He went off laughing Ho, ho, hoh! and the maid in future had to do all the work herself.
A company of young fellows who had been making merry with their sweethearts were coming home over a heath. Robin met them, and to make himself merry took the form of a walking fire, and led them up and down till daylight, and then went off saying:--
Get you home, you merry lads:
Tell your mammies and your dads,
And all those that news desire,
How you saw a walking fire.
Wenches that do smile and lispe,
Use to call me Willy Wispe.
If that you but weary be,
It is sport alone for me.
Away: unto your houses go,
And I'll go laughing, Ho, ho, hoh!
A fellow was attempting to offer violence to a young maiden. Robin came to her aid, ran between his legs in the shape of a hare, then turning himself into a horse, carried him off on his back, and flung him into a thick hedge.
Robin fell in love with a weaver's pretty wife, and for her sake took service with her husband. The man caught them one day kissing, and next night he went and took Robin as he was sleeping, up out of his bed, and went to the river and threw him in. But instantly he heard behind him--
For this your service, master, I you thank.
Go swim yourself; I'll stay upon the bank;
and was pushed in by Robin, who had put a bag of yarn in his bed, and now went off with, Ho, ho, hoh!
Robin went as a fiddler to a wedding. When the candles came he blew them out, and giving the men boxes in the ears he set them a-fighting. He kissed the prettiest girls, and pinched the others, till he made them scratch one another like cats. When the posset was brought forth, he turned himself into a bear, and frightening them away, had it all to himself.
At length his father who we now find, was king Obreon (i. e. Oberon), [d] called him up out of his bed one night, and took him to where the fairies were dancing to the music of Tom Thumb's bagpipe, and thence to Fairy-land, where he "did show him many secrets which he never did open to the world."
In the same work Sib says of the woman-fairies:
"To walk nightly as do the men-fairies we use not; but now and then we go together, and at good housewives' fires we warm our fairy children. [e] If we find clean water and clean towels we leave them money, either in their basins, or in their shoes; but if we find no clean water in their houses, we wash our children in their pottage, milk, or beer, or whatever we find: for the sluts that have not such things fitting, we wash their faces and hands with a gilded child's clout, or else carry them to some river and duck them over head and ears. We often use to dwell in some great hill, and from thence we do lend money to any poor man or woman that hath need; but if they bring it not again at the day appointed, we do not only punish them with pinching, but also in their goods, so that they never thrive till they have paid us."
The learned and strong-minded Reginald Scot, thus notices the superstitions of his own and the preceding age. [f]
"Indeed your grandams' maids were wont to set a bowl of milk before him (Incubus) and his cousin 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 good-wife of the house, having compassion of his nakedness, laid any clothes for him besides his mess of white bread and milk, 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 Faeries do principally inhabit the mountains and caverns of the earth, whose nature is to make strange apparitions on the earth, in meadows or on mountains, being like men and women, soldiers, kings, and lathes, children and horsemen, clothed in green, to which purpose they do in the night steal hempen stalks from the fields where they grow, to convert them into horses, as the story goes.
"Such jocund and facetious spirits," he continues, "are said to sport themselves in the night by tumbling and fooling with servants and shepherds in country houses, pinching them black and blue, and leaving bread, butter, and cheese, sometimes with them, which, if they refuse to eat, some mischief shall undoubtedly befal them by the means of these Faeries; and many such have been taken away by the said spirits for a fortnight or a month together, being carried with them in chariots through the air, over hills and dales, rocks and precipices, till at last they have been found lying in some meadow or mountain, bereaved of their senses, and commonly one of their members to boot."
Elsewhere [h] he gives the following goodly catalogue of these objects of popular terror:--"Our mother's maids have so frayed us with Bull-beggars, Spirits, Witches, Urchins, Elves, Hags, Faeries, Satyrs, Pans, Faunes, Sylens, Kit-wi-the-Canstick, Tritons, Centaurs, Dwarfs, Gyants, Impes, Calcars, Coujurors, Nymphs, Changelings, Incubus, Robin Goodfellow, the Spoorn, the Mare, the Man-in-the-Oak, the Hell-wain, the Firedrake, the Puckle, Tom-thombe, Hob-goblin, Tom-tumbler, Boneless, and such other Bugs, that we are afraid of our shadow." [i]
Burton, after noticing from Paracelsus those which in Germany "do usually walk in little coats, some two foot long," says,[j] "A bigger kind there is of them called with us Hobgoblins and Robin Goodfellows, that would, in those superstitious times, grind corn for a mess of milk, cut wood, or do any manner of drudgery work." And again: "Some put our Fairies into this rank (that of terrestrial devils), which have been in former times adored with much superstition, with sweeping their houses, and setting of a pail of clean water, good victuals, and the like, and then they should not be pinched, but find money in their shoes, and be fortunate in their enterprises." In another place (p. 30,) he says, "And so those which Miyaldus calls Ambulones, that walk about midnight, on heaths and desert places, which (saith Lavater) draw men out of the way and lead them all night a by-way, or quite barre them of their way; these have several names, in several places; we commonly call them Pucks."
Harsenet thus speaks of them in his Declaration: [k]
"And if that the bowl of curds and cream were not duly set out for Robin Goodfellow, the friar, and Sisse the dairy-maid, why then, either the pottage was burned the next day in the pot, or the cheeses would not curdle, or the butter would not come, or the ale in the fat never would have good head. But if a Peter-penny or a Housle-egge [l] were behind, or a patch of tythe unpaid--then 'ware of bull-beggars, spirits, &c."
Nash thus describes them: [m]
"Then ground they malt, and had hempen shirts for their labours; daunced in rounds in green meadows; pincht maids in their sleep that swept not their houses clean, and led poor travellers out of their way."
As the celebrated Luck of Eden Hall is supposed to have been a chalice, due respect for the piety of our forefathers will not allow of our placing the desecration of it any higher than the reign of Elizabeth, or that of her father at farthest. We will therefore introduce its history in this place.
[a] Otis Imperiaila apud Leibnitz Scriptores rerum Brunsvicarum, vol.i. p. 980.
[b] Can this name be connected with that of Grendel, the malignant spirit in Beowulf?
[c] Edited for the Percy Society by J. P. Collyer, Esq., 1841. Mr. Collyer says there is little doubt but that this work was printed before 1588, or even 1584. We think this is true only of the First Part; for the Second, which is of a different texture, must have been added some time after tobacco had come into common use in England: see the verses in p. 34.
[d] Mr. Collyer does not seem to have recollected that Huon de Bordeaux had been translated by Lord Berners
[e] It It is, according to this authority the man-fairy Gunn that steals children and leaves changelings.
[f] Discoverie of Witchcrafte, iv. ch. 10.
[g] R. Scot, Discoverie of Witchcrafte, ii. ch. 4.
[h] Ib. vii. 15.
[i] This appears to us to be rather a display of the author's learning than an actual enumeration of the objects of popular terror; for the maids hardly talked of Satyrs, Pans, etc. Hag is the Anglo-Saxon ..., German here, "witche," and hence the Nightmare which was ascribed to witches; we still say Hag-ridden. Calcar and Sporn (spurs?) may be the same, from the idea of riding: the French call the Nightmare, (Cauchemare, from Caucher, calcare. Kit-wi-the-canstick is Jack-with-the-Lanthorn. The Man in the Oak is probably Puck, "Turn your cloakes, quoth hee, for Pucke is busy in these oakes."--Iter Boreale. The Hell-wain is perhaps the Death-coach, connected with Northern and German superstitions, and the Fire-drake an Ignis Fatuus. Boneless may have been some impalpable spectre; the other terms seem to be mere appellations of Puck.
[j] Anat. of Mel. p. 47.
[k] Chap. xx. p. 134. Lond. 1604.
[l] This is, we apprehend, an egg at Easter or on Good Friday. Housle is the Anglo-Saxon ...; Goth. hunsl, sacrifice or offering, and thence the Eucharist.
[m] Terrors of the Night, 1594.