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“ He!" adds he, “quelle musique et quelle repos pour sa nuit !" However, it seems, “there is great justness and beauty in this image, as the vulgar opinion is, that the mermaid always sings in storms." “ The vulgar opinion," I am persuaded, is peculiar to the ingenious commentator; as, if the mermaid is ever supposed to sing, it is in calms, which presage storms. I can perceive no propriety in calling the insurrection of the Northern earls the quarrel of Queen Mary, unless in so far as it was that of the religion she professed. But this perhaps is the least objectionable part of a chimerical allegory of which the poet himself had no idea, and which the commentator, to whose creative fancy it owes its existence, seems to have very justly characterized, in telling us it is “ out of nature;” that is, as I conceive, perfectly groundless and unnatural. Ritson.
“ Obe. With this field-dew consecrate
Through this palace with sweet peace.”
“ Search Windsor castle, elves, within and out :
“ Strew good luck, ouphes, on every sacred room." In the first line of Oberon's speech there seems to be a covert satire against holy water. Whilst the popular confidence in the power of fairies existed, they had obtained the credit of occasionally performing much good service to mankind; and the great influence which they possessed gave so much offence to the holy monks and friars, that they determined to exert all their power to expel the above imaginary beings from the minds of the people, by taking the office of the fairies' benedictions entirely into their own hands. Of this we have a curious proof in the beginning of Chaucer's admirable tale of the Wife of Bath;
“ I speke of many hundred yeres ago;
Thropes and bernes, shepenes and dairies,
“ Ther walketh now the limitour himself." The other quotation from Chaucer, which Mr. Steevens has given, is not to the present purpose. The fairies' blessing was to bring peace upon the house of Theseus ; the night-spell in the Miller's Tale, is pronounced against the influence of elves, and those demons, or evil spirits, that were supposed to occasion the night-mare, and other nocturnal illusions. As this is a subject that has never been professedly handled, it may be worth while to bring together a few facts that relate to it; to do it ample justice would require an express dissertation.
A belief in the influence of evil spirits has been common to all nations, and in the remotest periods of the human history. The gross superstitions of the middle ages, which even exceeded those in Pagan times, had given birth to a variety of imaginary beings, who were supposed to be perpetually occupied in doing mischief to mankind." The chief of these were the Incubus, or nightmare, and certain fairies of a malignant nature. It therefore became necessary to check and counteract their operations spells, charms, and invocations to saints. Some of these have been preserved. The lines given to Mad Tom in Lear, beginning
“ Saint Withold footed thrice the wold," is one of them; and in the notes belonging
to it, as well as in those by Mr. Tyrwhitt on the Canterbury Tales, vol. iv. 242, others have been collected. To these may be added the following in Cartwright's play of The Ordinary, Act III. Sc. I. :
“ Saint Francis, and Saint Benedight,
* From curfew time
“ To the next prime.” This indeed may be rather considered as satirical, but it is a parody on those which were genuine. Sinclair, in his Satan's Invisible World Discovered, informs us that “At night, in the time of popery, when folks went to bed, they believed the repetition of this following prayer was effectual to preserve them from danger, and the house too:
“ Who sains the house the night,
Keep this house from the weir;
“ And from an ill Rea,
Keep it all the night;
“Fast on Good-friday." As darkness was supposed to be more immediately adapted to the machinations of these malicious spirits, it was natural that, on retiring to rest, certain prayers should be chosen to deprecate their influence, which was often regarded as of a particular kind. To this Imogen alludes when she exclaims :
“To your protection I commend me, Gods !
“Guard me, beseech ye !” Cymbeline, Act II. Sc. II. So, Banquo in Macbeth :
“ Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
“Gives way to in repose."
“ Procul recedant somnia
“ Ne polluantur corpora.' The demon who was supposed to have particular influence in these nocturnal illusions, was Asmodeus, the lame devil of whom Mons. Le Sage has made such admirable use. In expelling him, the sign of the cross was most efficacious; a very old practice on similar occasions, as we learn from the following lines in Prudentius :
“ Fac, cum vocante somno
Frontem, locumque cordis
Fugunt crucem tenebræ :
“Procul, ô procul vagantum
Præstigiator astu.” Relics of saints, images of the holy Virgin, sanctified girdles, and a variety of other amulets, were resorted to on the same occasion, exhibiting a lamentable proof of the imbecility of human nature. Douce.