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Pages (PDF): 27
Publication Date: 1913
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This is not the considered dogma of schoolmen or of sages in council, but the whirling utterance of a poet, and it is with some such answer on our lips that we must affirm our belief in the fairy world. For this belief is with most of us like a little plant, open to the morning sun, shivering gaily in the winds of life; scorched some times, and sometimes almost uprooted and vanishing away; yet ready always to blossom again at the stirring of ecstasy or the breath of an enchanted air. It is so inconsiderable that it will never harden into a creed; so tiny and humble a thing that the wise of this world have never tried to preserve it as a talisman or to use it as an artificial symbol of contention. So that it has been left from the beginning to grow free like the daisies, and children from the morning of time have woven it into happy coronals and into flower-chains, which, becoming longer and ever longer, and flung forth as they were by little, heedless fingers to the dews and the winds of heaven, have at last enmeshed the whole round world in their magical network.
It is of no use our asking how the belief sprang up, or when; nor need we inquire too precisely into its nature, for while fairy lore belongs to every country it has been able hitherto to defy those of the learned who would trace its origin or reduce it to a system. Science cannot examine nor reason grasp it, for what they touch is not the entrancing secret of the fairies, that indescribable, elusive thing, but some trace of it rather, some shining in the fields and forests, in poetry and in childhood; some glamour of the morning world, left there perhaps by the passing of the Little People.
It is significant that except to the child and the seer they have always passed. It is not for nothing that the immemorial beginning of our fairy tales should be: "Once upon a time, long, long ago." It all happened, tantalizingly, in the "good old days," and the good old days recede, as we know, for ever. It was thus when Chaucer wrote:
The Elf-quene with her joly compagnie,
Danced full oft in many a grene mede;
This was the old opinion as I rede;
I speke of many hundred years ago.
But now can no man see non elves mo.
And thus it is now according to a poet of the present day, who does not however, happily, quite believe his own words:
Englishmen care little now
For elves beneath the hawthorn bough.
Even Mr. Kipling is constrained to put a melancholy speech into the mouth of his gallant Puck : ". . . there's no good beating about the bush: it's true. The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes, and the rest--gone, all gone !"
But this is after all only another way of saying that in Faery there is no time, just as there is no space either (as Euclid understood space) and no logic, but only the glamorous twilight and the soft beauty of the Borderland.
This region must be of man's own unconscious making--the indispensable atmosphere which lies about the more solid world of his thought--perhaps the "frange" of M. Bergson--a place of delicate mist and colour, and of gently moving winds; outside it a man could not breathe, nor would his winged fancies ever learn to fly. This is the true home of the fairies, and we need not wonder that they prefer for the most part to dwell there in hiding, behind the glimmering ramparts and the gates of which we have glimpses now and then, making excursions of course--for they are an adventurous race--into our human world, but liable to retreat suddenly on a flash of rainbow wings, hurling back a shower of silvery arrows, flame-tipped with laughter, at all those matter-of-fact, sturdy mortals who call themselves the sons of Common Sense, but who nevertheless gaze after them wistful-eyed from the hither side of the fairy frontier.
This enchanted strip of country at the confines of the human soul has been peopled by man from the beginning of time. The primitive gods would appear to have been among its earliest denizens--grotesque monsters, many of them--hydra-headed, changeful, vague and terrifying as the forms in some nightmare of childhood--but these passed away. And slowly, from varying periods, from the sea and the mountains, the desert and the plain, we find gathering a motley host of creatures : unicorns flash along, swift-footed; phoenixes, fiery of wing, go sweeping by; mighty genii appear suddenly with the vaporous whirlwind for a garment; the hoofs of centaurs are heard thundering, "pawing in the valley, swallowing the ground with fierceness and rage," and among them pierces the thin reed-piping of some goat-footed, shaggy-bearded Pan; we catch the dancing of woodland nymphs and fauns, and the rustle of shy dryads among the leaves.