Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
"The Miracle of the Roses and Lilies."
[v] LONG, long ago, when the world was young and gay,
grown-up people must have been much more like children
than they are at present. The grown-ups were quite as
fond of fairy tales as any child can be to-day; and
they actually believed in fairies more than some wise
and grave little boys and girls do at present. Why
should they not believe in them, for they met them
dancing in the open dells of the forests, and saw them,
beautiful girl fairies, wading and swimming in the
river pools. These fairies were as friendly as they
were fair to see; and the fairy of the oak tree or the
well would step out of it when a handsome shepherd or
warrior passed; and the pair would fall in love with
each other, and sometimes marry. Homer, the oldest of
Greek poets, tells us, as if it were the most natural
thing in the world, about a man who married a fairy,
and how, as they were kind, friendly people, they built
their house near a road and entertained all the
passers-by. This sort of thing is still going on in the
islands of the Pacific, or so the natives believe. A
native of New Caledonia, a young man, the friend of a
cousin of mine named Jim, came to see him once, and
stayed long, and seemed nervous and cried when he was
"What is the matter, old man?" asked Jim. "You seem to
have something on your mind. Can I help you?"
[vi] "In three days I shall be a dead man," said the native.
"What put that nonsense into your head?"
"As I came here through the forest I met a fairy, who
looked exactly like the girl I was to marry, and I
"And what for no?" asked Jim, who was a Scot by birth.
"Any fellow would have done it. Is it what you call
tabou to kiss your young woman?"
"No," said the poor
fellow, "it is not tabou. But she
was not Maluka, who will never be my wife. She was a
fairy. She faded away as I kissed her, as a light
morning cloud fades on the hillside. She was a fairy."
"Well, suppose she was, what then?" asked Jim.
"I must die in three days; whoever kisses a fairy dies
in three days. So goodbye, we shall not meet again."
And they did not meet again. The lover died within the
Thus there are fairies, you see, in the far-away isles,
and Louis Stevenson heard of them often, and men see
them, and fall in love with them; so of course they
believe in fairies, though they are grown up. Does not
Mr. Lawson tell us in his book about Greece that he saw
a fairy? (he calls her a nymph or a Nereid, for that is
Greek for a fairy), and he is a learned man. I wish I
had his luck; but, as Joan of Arc said to her judges,
"I never saw a fairy, not that I knew to be a fairy." No, not even in Kensington Gardens. Still, they are
seen in the Highlands, even now, and seeing is
Thus, long ago, grown-ups believed in fairies, as we
all would do if we saw them. Why, when a young Greek in
Homer's time met a pretty girl in the forest he always
began by asking "Are you a fairy, or are you a
goddess?" It was the regular thing to do.
Consequently, these pleasant people of long ago mixed
[vii] fairies with their religion. The stories about the
Greek gods and goddesses are merely fairy tales; some
are pretty, and some are not at all nice.
Now when Christianity came first to be known to the
Greeks and Romans, and Germans and Highlanders, they,
believing in fairies and in all manner of birds and
beasts that could talk, and in everything wonderful,
told about their Christian teachers a number of fairy
tales. This pleasing custom lasted very long. You see
in this book what wonderful stories of beasts and birds
who made friends with saints were told in Egypt about
St. Anthony, and St. Jerome with his amiable lion, and
St. Dorothea, for it was an angel very like a fairy
that brought to her the fruits and flowers of Paradise.
These Saints were the best of men and women, but the
pretty stories are, perhaps, rather fanciful. Look at
the wild fancies of the Irish in the stories of St.
Brendan; and of St. Columba, who first brought
Christianity from Ireland to the Highlands. I think St.
Columba's story is the best of all; and it was written
down in Latin by one of the people in his monastery not
long after his death. Yet many of the anecdotes are not
religious, but are just such tales as the Highlanders
where he lived still tell and believe. Some of them are
true, I daresay, and others, like the story of the
magical stake given by the Saint to the poor man, are
not very probable. The tales of St. Cuthbert are much
less wonderful, for he did not live in the Highlands,
but among people of English race on the Border, near
the Tweed. The English have never taken quite so much
pleasure in fairyland as other people, and the stories
of St. Cuthbert are far more homely than the wild
adventures of Irish Saints like St. Brendan. The story
which somehow came to be told about the patron Saint of
England, St. George, is a mere romance of chivalry, and
[viii] about the dragon was told in the earliest age
of Greece concerning Perseus and Hercules, Andromeda
and Hesione. About that English Saint, Margaret, Queen
of Scotland, there are no marvellous tales at all; but
a volume would be needed for all the miracles wrought
by the intercession of Thomas à Becket after his death.
In his life, however, he had nothing fairy-like.
No Saint has more beautiful and innocent fairy-like
tales told about him than St. Francis, the friend of
the wolf, whom he converted, and the preacher to the
birds; while St. Anthony of Padua was even more
miraculous when he managed to make the fishes of the
sea attend to his sermon. Fishes, we believe, are deaf
to the human voice; you may talk as much as you like
when you are fishing, as long as the trout do not see
you. It is not easy to sympathise with the Saint who
stood so long on the top of a pillar. Perhaps he
thought that by this feat he would make people hear
about him and come to hear his holy words, and, so far,
he seems to have succeeded. Perhaps St. Colette had a
similar reason for shutting herself up in such an
exclusive way for a while, after which she went out and
did good in the world. Like many Saints she was said to
float in the air occasionally; but not so often as St.
Joseph of Cupertino, who, in the time of King Charles
II, once flew a distance of eighty-seven yards, and was
habitually on the wing. In other respects the life of
this holy man was not interesting or useful like the
noble lives of Saint-Francois Xavier, and St. Vincent
de Paul, St. Louis of France, and St. Elizabeth of
Hungary, and the good lover of books, Richard de Bury.
In their histories there is scarcely a wave of the
fairy wand, but there are immortal examples of courage,
patience, kindness, courtesy, and piety towards God and