Fairies in Modern Times
From the time of Chaucer onwards, the fairies have been said to have departured or to be in decline, but still they linger. Some 200 years later, Bishop Richard Corbet pursues the same theme:
Farewell rewards and fairies,
Good housewives now may say;
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they.
And though they sweep their hearths no less
Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for cleanliness
Finds sixpence in her shoe?
A little later Aubrey has a story of a fairy driven away when Bells were hung in Inkberrow Church. He was heard lamenting:
'Neither sleep, neither lie,
Inkberrow's ting-tang hangs so high.'
Some two centuries later, Ruth Tongue picked up a similar story in Somerset, to be found in COUNTY FOLK-LORE VOL.VIII. It was about the farmer of Knighton Farm on Exmoor, who was on very friendly terms with the Pixies. They used to thresh his corn for him and do all manner of odd jobs, until his wife, full of good-will, left suits of clothes for them, and of course, like Brownies, they had to leave. But they did not lose their k indly feeling for the farmer, and one day, after the Withypool bells were hung, the pixy father met him. 'Wilt gie us the lend of thy plough and tackle?' he said. The farmer was cautious - he'd heard how the pixies used horses. 'What vor do 'ee want'n? he asked. 'I d'want to take my good wife and littlings out of the noise of they ding-dongs.' The farmer trusted the pixies, and they moved, lock, stock and barrel over to Windsford Hill, and when the old pack horses trotted home they looked like beautiful two-year-olds.
Those were only partial moves, not total evacuations, but they illustrate one of the factors that were said to drive the fairies out of the country. Kipling's 'Dymchurch Flit' in PUCK OF POOK'S HILL is probably founded on an actual Sussex folk tradition. Somewhere at the beginning of the 19th century, Hugh Miller recorded what was supposed to be the final departure of the fairies from Scotland at Burn of Eathie. It is to be found in THE OLD RED SANDSTONE as a footnote in Chapter ii.
On a Sabbath morning... the inmates of this little hamlet had all gone to church, all except a herd-boy, and a little girl, his sister, who were lounging beside one of the cottages; when, just as the shadow of the garden-dial had fallen on the line of noon, they saw a long cavalcade ascending out of the ravine through the wooded hollow. It winded among the
knolls and bushes; and, turning round the northern gable of the cottage beside which the sole spectators of the scene were stationed, began to ascend the eminence toward the south. The horses were shaggy, diminutive things, speckled dun and grey; the riders, stunted, misgrown, ugly creatures, attired in antique jerkins of plaid, long grey cloaks, and
little red caps, from under which their wild uncombed locks shot out over their cheeks and foreheads. The boy and his sister stood gazing in utter dismay and astonishment, as rider after rider, each one more uncouth and dwarfish than the one that had preceded it, passed the cottage, and disappeared among the brushwood which at that period covered the hill, until at length the entire rout, except the last rider, who lingered a few yards behind the others, had gone by. 'What are ye, little mannie? And where are ye going?' inquired the boy, his curiosity getting the better of his fears and his prudence. 'Not of the race of Adam,' said the creature, turning for a moment in his saddle: 'the People of Peace shall never more be seen in Scotland.' Aberdeenshire is in the Northern Lowlands; the Highlanders would not so easily bid the fairies farewell. Indeed, in all the Celtic parts of Britain living traditions still linger. Even in the Midlands, in Oxfordshire, A. J. Evans, writing about the Rollright Stones in the FOLK-LORE JOURNAL of 1895, gives the last recorded tradition of the fairies. An old man, Will Hughes, recently dead when Evans wrote, claimed to have seen them dancing round the King Stone. They came out of a hole in
the ground near it. Betsy Hughes, his widow, knew the hole: she and her playmates used to put a stone over it, to keep the fairies from coming out when they were playing there.
Yet, however often they may be reported as gone, the fairies still linger. In Ireland the fairy beliefs are still part of the normal texture of life; in the Highlands and Islands the traditions continue. Not only in the Celtic areas, but all over England scattered fairy anecdotes are always turning up. Like the chorus of policemen in THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, they say, 'We go, we go,' but they don't go. By tradition, the last Oxfordshire fairies were seen disappearing down a hole under the Rollright Stones in the 18th century, and two Scottish children were witness to the farewell procession of Scottish fairies.