The next morning the terrified widower carried a statement of his perplexity to Mr. Matthew Reid, the clergyman. This reverend person, besides being an excellent divine in other respects, was at the same time a man of sagacity, who understood the human passions. He did not attempt to combat the reality of the vision which had thrown his parishioner into this tribulation, but he contended it could be only an illusion of the devil. He explained to the widower, that no created being could have the right or power to imprison or detain the soul of a Christian—conjured him not to believe that his wife was otherwise disposed of than according to God's pleasure—assured him that Protestant doctrine utterly denies the existence of any middle state in the world to come—and explained to him that he, as a clergyman of the Church of Scotland, neither could nor dared authorize opening graves, or using the intervention of prayer to sanction rites of a suspicious character. The poor man, confounded and perplexed by various feelings, asked his pastor what he should do. " I will give you my best advice," said the clergyman. " Get your new bride's consent to be married to-morrow, or to-day, if you can ; I will take it on me to dispense with the rest of the bans, or proclaim them three times in one day. You will have a new wife, and if you think of the former, it will be only as of one from whom death has separated you, and for whom you may have thoughts of affection and sorrow, but as a saint in heaven, and not as a prisoner in Elfland." The advice was taken, and the perplexed widower had no more visitations from his former spouse.
An instance, perhaps the latest which has been made public, of communication with the Restless People—(a more proper epithet than that of Daoine Shi, or Men of Peace, as they are called in Gaelic,)—came under Pennant's notice, so late as during that observant traveller's tour in 1769. Being perhaps the latest news from the invisible commonwealth, we give the tourist's own words.
" A poor visionary who had been working in his cabbage garden, (in Breadalbane,) imagined that he was raised suddenly up into the air, and conveyed over a wall into an adjacent cornfield ; that he found himself surrounded by a crowd of men and women, many of whom he knew to have been dead for some years, and who appeared to him skimming over the tops of the unbending corn, and mingling together like bees going to a hive ; that they spoke an unknown language, and with a hollow sound; that they very roughly pushed him to and fro, but on his uttering the name of God, all vanished but a female sprite, who, seizing him by the shoulder, obliged him to promise an assignation at that very hour that day seven-night; that he then found his hair was all tied in double knots, (well-known by the name of elf-locks,) and that he had almost lost his speech; that he kept his word with the spectre, whom he soon saw floating through the air towards him ; that he spoke to her, but she told him she was at that time in too much haste to attend to him, but bid him go away, and no harm should befall him, and so the affair rested when I left the country. But it is incredible the mischief these agri somn'ia did in the neighbourhood. The friends and neighbours of the deceased, whom the old dreamer had named, were in the utmost anxiety at finding them in such bad company in the other world ; the almost extinct belief of the old idle tales began to gain ground, and the good minister will have many a weary discourse and exhortation before he can eradicate the absurd ideas this idle story has revived."*
It is scarcely necessary to add, that this comparatively recent tale is just the counterpart of the story of Bessie Dunlop, Alison Pearson, and of the Irish butler, who was so nearly carried off, all of whom found in Elfland some friend formerly of middle earth, who attached themselves to the child of humanity, and who endeavoured to protect a fellow-mortal against their less philanthropic companions.
These instances may tend to show how the fairy superstition, which, in its general sense of worshipping the Dii Campestres, was much the older of the two, came to bear upon, and have connexion with, that horrid belief in witchcraft which cost so many innocent persons and crazy impostors their lives, for the supposed commission of impossible crimes. In the next chapter, I propose to trace how the general disbelief in the fairy creed began to take place, and gradually brought into discredit the supposed feat's of witchcraft, which afforded pretext for such cruel practical consequences.
* Pennant's Tour in Scotland, vol. i. p. 110,