According to the old Norse belief, these dwarfs form the current machinery of the northern Sagas, and their inferiority in size is represented as compensated by skill and wisdom superior to those of ordinary mortals. In the Niebelungen-Lied, one of the oldest romances of Germany, and compiled, it would seem, not long after the time of Attila, Theodorick of Bern, or of Verona, figures among a cycle of champions, over whom he presides, like the Charlemagne of France, or Arthur of England. Among others vanquished by him is the Elf King, or Dwarf Laurin, whose dwelling was in an enchanted garden of roses, and who had a body-guard of giants, a sort of persons seldom supposed to be themselves conjurers. He becomes a formidable opponent to Theodorick and his chivalry; but as he attempted by treachery to attain the victory, he is, when overcome, condemned to fill the dishonourable yet appropriate office of buffoon and juggler at the court of Verona.*
* See an abstract, by the late learned Henry Weber, of a Lay on this subject of King Laurin, compiled by Henry of Osterdingen. Northern Antiquities, Edinburgh, 1814.
Such possession of supernatural wisdom is still imputed, by the natives of the Orkney and Zetland islands, to the people called Droivs, being a corruption of Duergar, or dwarfs, and who may, in most other respects, be identified with the Caledonian fairies. Lucas Jacobson Debes, who dates his description of Feroe from his Pathmos, in Thorshaven, 12th March, 1670, dedicates a long chapter to the spectres who disturbed his congregation, and sometimes carried off his hearers. The actors in these disturbances he states to be the Skow, or Btergen-Trold, i. e. the spirits of the woods and mountains, sometimes called subterranean people, and adds, they appeared in deep caverns and among horrid rocks ; as also, that they haunted the places where murders, or other deeds of mortal sin, had been acted. They appear to have been the genuine northern dwarfs, or Trows, another pronunciation of Trollds, and are considered by the reverend author as something very little better than actual fiends.
But it is not only, or even chiefly, to the Gothic race that we must trace the opinions concerning the elves of the middle ages ; these, as already hinted, were deeply blended with the attributes which the Celtic tribes had, from the remotest ages, ascribed to their deities of rocks, valleys, and forests. We have already observed, what indeed makes a great feature of their national character, that the power of the imagination is peculiarly active among the Celts, and leads to an enthusiasm concerning national music and dancing, national poetry and song, the departments in which fancy most readily indulges herself. The Irish, the Welsh, the Gael or Scottish Highlander, all tribes of Celtic descent, assigned to the Men of Peace, Good Neighbours, or by whatever other names they called these silvan pigmies, more social habits, and a course of existence far more gay, than the sullen and heavy toils of the more saturnine Duergar. Their elves did not avoid the society of men, though they behaved to those who associated with them with caprice, which rendered it dangerous to displease them and although their gifts were sometimes valuable, they were usually wantonly given, and unexpectedly resumed.
The employment, the benefits, the amusements of the Fairy court, resembled the aerial people themselves. Their government was always represented as monarchical. A King, more frequently a Queen, of Fairies was acknowledged ; and sometimes both held their court together. Their pageants and court entertainments comprehended all that the imagination could conceive of what was, by that age, accounted gallant and splendid. At their processions they paraded more beautiful steeds than those of mere earthly parentage —the hawks and hounds which they employed in their chase were of the first race. At their daily banquets the board was set forth with a splendour which the proudest kings of the earth dared not aspire to; and the hall of their dancers echoed to the most exquisite music. But when viewed by the eye of a seer the illusion vanished. The young knights and beautiful ladies showed themselves as wrinkled carles and odious hags—their wealth turned into slate-stones—their splendid plate into pieces of clay fantastically twisted and their victuals, unsavoured by salt (prohibited to them, we are told, because an emblem of eternity), became tasteless and insipid—the stately halls were turned into miserable damp caverns—all the delights of the Elfin Elysium vanished at once. In a word, their pleasures were showy, but totally unsubstantial—their activity unceasing, but fruitless and unavailing—and their condemnation appears to have consisted in the necessity of maintaining the appearance of constant industry or enjoyment, though their toil was fruitless, and their pleasures shadowy and unsubstantial. Hence poets have designed them as " the crew that never rest." Besides the unceasing and useless bustle in which these spirits seemed to live, they had propensities unfavourable and distressing to mortals.
One injury of a very serious nature was supposed to be constantly practised by the fairies against " the human mortals," that of carrying off their children, and breeding them as beings of their race. Unchrist-ened infants were chiefly exposed to this calamity ; but adults were also liable to be abstracted from earthly commerce, notwithstanding it was their natural sphere. "With respect to the first, it may be easily conceived that the want of the sacred ceremony of introduction into the Christian church rendered them the more obnoxious to the power of those creatures, who, if not to be in all respects considered as fiends, had nevertheless, considering their constant round of idle occupation, little right to rank themselves among good spirits, and were accounted by most divines as belonging to a very different class. An adult, on the other hand, must have been engaged in some action which exposed him to the power of the spirits, and so, as the legal phrase went, " taken in the manner." Sleeping on a fairy mount, within which the Fairy court happened to be held for the time, was a very ready mode of obtaining a passport for Elfland. It was well for the individual if the irate elves were contented, on such occasions, with transporting him through the air to a city at some forty miles' distance, and leaving, perhaps, his hat or bonnet on some steeple between, to mark the direct line of his course. Others, when engaged in some unlawful action, or in the act of giving way to some headlong and sinful passion, exposed themselves also to become inmates of Fairy land.