The Secret Commonwealth: Of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies
New York Review of Books, 2019 M05 14 - 144 pages
A classic, enchanting document of Scottish folklore about fairies, elves, and other supernatural creatures.
Late in the seventeenth century, Robert Kirk, an Episcopalian minister in the Scottish Highlands, set out to collect his parishioners’ many striking stories about elves, fairies, fauns, doppelgängers, wraiths, and other beings of, in Kirk’s words, “a middle nature betwixt man and angel.” For Kirk these stories constituted strong evidence for the reality of a supernatural world, existing parallel to ours, which, he passionately believed, demanded exploration as much as the New World across the seas. Kirk defended these views in The Secret Commonwealth, an essay that was left in manuscript when he died in 1692. It is a rare and fascinating work, an extraordinary amalgam of science, religion, and folklore, suffused with the spirit of active curiosity and bemused wonder that fills Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and the works of Sir Thomas Browne. The Secret Commonwealth is not only a remarkable document in the history of ideas but a study of enchantment that enchants in its own right.
First published in 1815 by Sir Walter Scott, then reedited in 1893 by Andrew Lang, with a dedication to Robert Louis Stevenson, The Secret Commonwealth has long been difficult to obtain—available, if at all, only in scholarly editions. This new edition modernizes the spelling and punctuation of Kirk’s little book and features a wide-ranging and illuminating introduction by the critic and historian Marina Warner, who brings out the originality of Kirk’s contribution and reflects on the ongoing life of fairies in the modern mind.
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Aberfoyle aerial Andrew Lang angels apparitions appear Barrie beast believe in fairies betwixt Bible body called Cardano Celtic charm conjecture conveyed creatures cure curious daemons dead devils doth earth EILEEN CHANG Elisha ELIZABETH HARDwick EMMANUEL BOVE enchanted essay evil fairyland Gaelic ghost habit hand hath haunt HENRY GREEN Highlands hill inhabitants invisible Irish isle J. M. Barrie J.G. FARRELL James Jesus John King KINGSLEY AMIS Kirk's glossary knew L.P. HARTLEY living London Lord lore magic Memoirs ment minister nature night occult ond sight PATRICKLEIGH FERMOR perceived person Peter powers Robert Boyle Robert Kirk Scotland Scots Scottish Scottish-Irish second sight Secret Commonwealth seen seer seventh Sir Norman sith sluagh souls species spell spirits Stories strange subterranean supernatural Tarbat terrestrial things tion told tradition Twilight uncanny VASILY GROSSMAN vision W. B. Yeats waters whereof wights Witchcraft witches words