Imágenes de páginas

this society has been established somewhat more than three years, yet we regret to say, that a very small proportion only of the gentlemen of Wales have condescended to afford it support by becoming members; for, out of the whole population of the Principality, there are not two hundred individuals belonging to the Cymmrodorion! This apathy is, indeed, a sad reproach to a people so ancient and generous as the Welsh; and happy should we be, if the censure, which we have thus ventured to apply, should have the effect of awakening in their bosoms some sparks of that patriotic fire, which is so congenial to the manners of an honourable nation. But this we confess, and we confess it with sorrow, is nearly hopeless; and we have prefaced our article with these remarks, more for the purpose of offering some apology for the apparent idleness of the Welsh scholar, than with the hope of stimulating the Welsh in general to exertion. And having, to the best of our power, accomplished our purpose in this respect, we will now proceed to the more immediate object of our paper; namely, a brief consideration of the popular superstitions of the Welsh.

The Welsh peasantry are highly superstitious; living, as they do, in so rude and secluded a country, and amidst scenery so wild and imposing, their very being is incorporated with divers strange phantasies, handed down from father to son, and influencing their imagination, more or less, according to the intensity of the impression produced upon their minds. The inhabitants, indeed, of all pastoral and mountainous countries are more generally affected with superstition, than those who dwell in plains, and well-cultivated regions. That the scenery of a country has a considerable influence upon the habits of the natives, is indisputable; hence the dispositions and general character of mountaineers are more hardy, robust, hospitable, and impetuous than those of lowlanders, and their imaginations

- Darken'd by their native scenes,
Create wild images and phantoms dire,
Strange as their hills, and gloomy as their storms."

This is particularly exemplified in the mountain inhabitants of our own island; and more especially in the Scottish highlander and the Welsh mountaineer, to both of whom certain superstitious customs and opinions are peculiar, although resembling each other very considerably in their general outline.

In the retired and pastoral counties of Caernarvon and Merioneth, there is scarcely a glen, a wood, or a mountain, that hath not its due quota of fairies and spirits; and every district in North Wales, which has been but little accessible to

the innovating approaches of civilization, can boast of no scanty number of supernatural inhabitants. It would be an amusing and instructive employment, that is, if such an employment were practicable, to trace all the various superstitious notions to their origin, in that department of history, which regards more especially the origin of nations. Such an inquiry, when devoted to popular customs and traditions, is infinitely of more importance than would, upon a' mere cursory glance, appear probable; for it is very observable, that whatsoever be the variation in the manners and customs of any nation, which possesses a tolerably distinct existence, certain traditions, superstitions, forms, and pastimes will be maintained hereditarily from one generation to another, without even a knowledge of, or a respect to, their origin, but merely as a matter of custom or convenience. For such a pertinacious and general adherence to many of these it would not be very easy to account, unless we imagine that they were first impressed upon the minds of the people, when they became organized into a regular society, with an established form of religion and government. Others must be referred to later periods, and some, undoubtedly, to the imperfect relics of a confused and mysterious mythology. In those, which are of the greatest antiquity, there is much that, when lucidly developed, may help to ascertain, what were the very principles of religion and policy, which constituted the character of the nation, and what was the actual state of the nation itself at different periods ;-both important points, although, at first sight, they may appear trivial and unworthy of notice in the annals of the historian. .

This is more especially the case with regard to the superstitious forms and customs of the Welsh ; and many an interesting historical hypothesis might be satisfactorily elucidated by a diligent and careful investigation of the ancient traditions of the Cymry. Something, it is true, has been done to this effect; but the result has shewn how very necessary it is to be cautious, candid, and vigilant in the pursuit; and when we see that such a man as Peter Roberts, to whom Cymric literature stands so greatly indebted, has permitted his judgment to be led astray by the most fanciful and extravagant opinions, we naturally feel discouraged from the attempt. But the object of the present article is not so much to trace to their origin the superstitious phantasies of the Cambro-British, as to take a summary view of their general characters ; and to this latter point it is our intention mainly to confine ourselves.

Of all the popular superstitions prevalent among the Welsh, their idea of fairies is, perhaps, the most poetical; at all events, it is the most ancient. In Wales there appear to have been two distinct species of fairies; the one sort, of gentle

manners, and well disposed toward the whole human race; the other, maliciously inclined, and full of mischievous sportiveness. The former is denominated Tylwyth Tég; or, the Fair Family; the latter, Ellyllon, Elves, or Goblins, The Tylwyth Tég are a mild and diminutive race, leading a life completely pastoral, and befriending fond and youthful lovers, pretty dairymaids, and hospitable and industrious housewives. They are the inspirers of pleasing dreams, and the assiduous encouragers of virtue and benevolence; and never fail to reward the faithful servant, or the affectionate child. But the most prominent attributes and pastimes of this gentle race are sweetly set forth in the following stanzas—the production of a gentleman, whose muse has frequently been rendered subservient to the best interests of the Principality :-

Can y Tylwyth Teg; or, The Fairies' Song.
From grassy blades, and ferny shades,

My happy comrades hie;
Now day declines, bright Hesper shines,

And night invades the sky.
From noon-day pranks, and thymy banks,

To Dolydd's dome repair,
For ours the joy, that cannot cloy,

And mortals cannot share.


The light-latch'd door, the well-swept floor,

The hearth so trim and neat,
The blaze so clear, the water near,

The pleasant circling seat.
With proper care, your needs prepare ;

Your tuneful labours bring;
And day shall haste to tinge the east,

Ere we shall cease to sing.

But first I'll creep where mortals sleep,

And form the blissful dream;
I'll hover near the maiden dear,

That keeps this hearth so clean :
I'll shew her when that best of men,

So rich in manly charms,
Her Einion true, in best of blue,

Shall bless her longing arms.

Your little sheaves, or primrose leaves,

Your acorns, berries-spread;

Let kernels sweet increase the treat,

And flowers their fragrance shed ;
And when 'tis o'er, we'll crowd the floor,

In jocund pairs advance:
No voice be mute, and each shrill Aute

Shall cheer the mazy dance.

When morning breaks, and man awakes

From sleep's restoring hours,
The flocks, the field, his house we yield,

To his more active powers.
While clad in green, unheard, unseen,

On sunny banks we'll play,
And give to man his little span-

His empire of the day.”

Who does not admire the beautiful instruction, which is so pleasingly conveyed in this credulity ? In a country so com.. pletely pastoral as Wales, something more than the sage precepts of mere experience and wisdom was necessary to inculcate in the minds of the people the more homely virtues adapted to their condition; and hence even superstition was rendered subservient to the purpose, in a manner at once mild, persuasive, and impressive. Thus, it is a common opinion, in many parts of the Principality, that if, on retiring to rest,'the cottage hearth is made clean, the floor swept, and the pails left full of water, the fairies will come at midnight to a spot thus prepared for their reception, continue their harmless revels till day-break, sing the well-known strain of Toriad y Dydd, or the Dawn of Day-leave a piece of money upon the hearth, and disappear. The suggestions of intellect and the salutary precautions of . prudence are easily discernible under this fiction : a safety from fire in the neatness of the hearth,-a provision for its extinction in the replenished pails,-and a motive to perseverance and industry in the expected boon. Like the popular superstitions of Germany, there is always more or less of MORAL in the Fairy Tales of the Welsh ; and the following curious narrative, related by Giraldus Cambrensis, was probably held forth as a warning against stealing. It affords also a good idea of the popular opinion of the “manners and customs” of the Tylwyth Têg of the twelfth century.

A short time before our days, a circumstance worthy of note occurred in those parts, (Neath, in Glamorganshire,) which Elidorus, a priest, most strenuously affirmed, had befallen himself. When a youth about twelve years of age, in order to avoid the severity of his preceptor, he ran away, and concealed

himself under the hollow bank of a river; and after fasting, in that situation, for two days, two little men, of pigmy stature, (“ homunculi duo staturæ quasi pigmeæ," as the monk calls it,) appeared to him, and said—“If you will go with us, we will lead you into a country full of delights and sports.” Assenting, and rising up, he followed his guides, at first, through a path, subterraneous and dark, into a most beautiful country, murky, however, and not illuminated with the full light of the sun. All the days were cloudy, and the nights extremely dark. The boy was brought before the king, and introduced to him in the presence of his court, when, having examined him for a long time, to the great admiration of the courtiers, he delivered him to his son, who was then a boy. These people were of the smallest stature; but very well proportioned ; fair complexioned, with long hair, particularly the females, who wore it flowing over their shoulders. They had horses and bounds adapted to their size. They neither ate fish, nor flesh; but lived, for the most part, on milk and saffron. As often as they returned from our hemisphere, they reprobated our ambition, infidelities, and inconstancies; and although they had no form of public worship, they were, it seems, strict lovers and reverers of truthfor no one was so utterly detested by them as a liar.

The boy frequently returned to our world, sometimes by the way he had gone, sometimes by others; at first, in company, and afterwards alone, making himself known only to his mother, to whom he described what he had seen. Being desired by her to bring her a present of gold, with which that country abounds, he stole, while at play with the king's son, a golden ball, with which he used to divert himself, and brought it in haste to his mother: but not unpursued ; for, as he entered the house, he stumbled at the threshold, let his ball drop, which two pigmies seized, and departed, shewing the boy every mark of contempt and derision. Notwithstanding every attempt for the space of a whole year, he never again could discover the track to the subterraneous passage; but after suffering many misfortunes, he did, at length, succeed in securing his intimacy with this mysterious race. He had, however, previously made himself acquainted with their language, which, observes Giraldus, was very conformable to the Greek idiom. When they asked for water, udor udorum, (üdwg üdwgon,) and when they wanted salt, Halgein udorum, (ans vero Græcè Sal dicitur, et Haleu Britannicè.*).

We must now proceed to a brief description of the Ellyllon, or mischievous sprites. As the Tylwyth Tég usually fixed

* Girald. Cambrensis Itiner. Cambr. lib. i. cap. 8.

« AnteriorContinuar »