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PAGE 2

Charms And Fairy Faith
by [?]

It is not to be denied, and for truth’s sake not to be regretted, that this amusing juvenile glammary has seen its best days in New England. The schoolmaster has been abroad to some purpose. Not without results have our lyceum lecturers and travels of Peter Parley brought everything in heaven above and in the earth below to the level of childhood’s capacities. In our cities and large towns children nowadays pass through the opening acts of life’s marvellous drama with as little manifestation of wonder and surprise as the Indian does through the streets of a civilized city which he has entered for the first time. Yet Nature, sooner or later, vindicates her mysteries; voices from the unseen penetrate the din of civilization. The child philosopher and materialist often becomes the visionary of riper years, running into illuminism, magnetism, and transcendentalism, with its inspired priests and priestesses, its revelations and oracular responses.

But in many a green valley of rural New England there are children yet; boys and girls are still to be found not quite overtaken by the march of mind. There, too, are huskings, and apple-bees, and quilting parties, and huge old-fashioned fireplaces piled with crackling walnut, flinging its rosy light over happy countenances of youth and scarcely less happy age. If it be true that, according to Cornelius Agrippa, “a wood fire doth drive away dark spirits,” it is, nevertheless, also true that around it the simple superstitions of our ancestors still love to linger; and there the half-sportful, half-serious charms of which I have spoken are oftenest resorted to. It would be altogether out of place to think of them by our black, unsightly stoves, or in the dull and dark monotony of our furnace-heated rooms. Within the circle of the light of the open fire safely might the young conjurers question destiny; for none but kindly and gentle messengers from wonderland could venture among them. And who of us, looking back to those long autumnal evenings of childhood when the glow of the kitchen-fire rested on the beloved faces of home, does not feel that there is truth and beauty in what the quaint old author just quoted affirms? “As the spirits of darkness grow stronger in the dark, so good spirits, which are angels of light, are multiplied and strengthened, not only by the divine light of the sun and stars, but also by the light of our common wood-fires.” Even Lord Bacon, in condemning the superstitious beliefs of his day, admits that they might serve for winter talk around the fireside.

Fairy faith is, we may safely say, now dead everywhere,–buried, indeed,–for the mad painter Blake saw the funeral of the last of the little people, and an irreverent English bishop has sung their requiem. It never had much hold upon the Yankee mind, our superstitions being mostly of a sterner and less poetical kind. The Irish Presbyterians who settled in New Hampshire about the year 1720 brought indeed with them, among other strange matters, potatoes and fairies; but while the former took root and flourished among us, the latter died out, after lingering a few years in a very melancholy and disconsolate way, looking regretfully back to their green turf dances, moonlight revels, and cheerful nestling around the shealing fires of Ireland. The last that has been heard of them was some forty or fifty years ago in a tavern house in S——-, New Hampshire. The landlord was a spiteful little man, whose sour, pinched look was a standing libel upon the state of his larder. He made his house so uncomfortable by his moroseness that travellers even at nightfall pushed by his door and drove to the next town. Teamsters and drovers, who in those days were apt to be very thirsty, learned, even before temperance societies were thought of, to practice total abstinence on that road, and cracked their whips and goaded on their teams in full view of a most tempting array of bottles and glasses, from behind which the surly little landlord glared out upon them with a look which seemed expressive of all sorts of evil wishes, broken legs, overturned carriages, spavined horses, sprained oxen, unsavory poultry, damaged butter, and bad markets. And if, as a matter of necessity, to “keep the cold out of his stomach,” occasionally a wayfarer stopped his team and ventured to call for “somethin’ warmin’,” the testy publican stirred up the beverage in such a spiteful way, that, on receiving it foaming from his hand, the poor customer was half afraid to open his mouth, lest the red-hot flip iron should be plunged down his gullet.