Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they;
And though they sweep their hearths no less
Than maids were wont to doe,
Yet who of late for cleanliness,
Finds sixpence in her shoe?
Lament, lament old abbeys
The fairies' lost command,
They did but change priests' babies,
But some have changed your land
And all your children stolen from thence
Are now grown puritans,
Who live as changelings ever since
For love of your demesnes.
At morning and at evening both,
You merry were and glad,
So little care of sleep and sloth,
These pretty ladies had,
When Tom came home from labour,
Or Cisse to milking rose;
Then merrily went their tabor
And nimbly went their toes.
Witness those rings and roundelays
Of theirs which yet remain,
Were footed in Queen Mary's days
On many a grassy plain.
But since of late Elizabeth
And later James came in,
They never danced on any heath
As when the time had been.
By which we note the fairies
Were of the old profession,
Their songs were Ave Maries,
Their dances were procession;
But now alas they all are dead
Or gone beyond the seas,
Or further from religion fled
Or else they take their ease.
A tell-tale in their company
They never could endure,
And who so kept not secretly
Their mirth was punished sure.
It was a just and Christian deed
To pinch such black and blue;
O how the commonwealth doth need
Such Justices as you!
Now they have left our quarters,
A Register they have,
Who can preserve their charters;
A man both wise and grave.
A hundred of their merry pranks
By one that I could name,
Are kept in store; con twenty thanks
To William for the same.
To William Churne of Staffordshire,
Give laud and praises due;
Who every meal can mend your cheer,
With tales both old and true.
To William all give audience,
And pray you for his noddle;
For all the fairies' evidence,
Were lost if it were addle.
[Spelling and punctuation modernized]
Richard Corbet (1582–1635), the son
of a gardener, rose to be Bishop of Oxford and of Norwich. Anything
but a puritan, Corbet who was known for his witty conversation, spent
his youth partying with Ben Jonson and others in London taverns.
"His chaplain, Dr. Lushington was a very learned and ingenious man, and they loved one another. The Bishop sometimes would take the key of the wine-cellar, and he and his chaplain would go and lock themselves in and be merry. Then first he lays down his episcopal hat - There lies the Doctor. Then he puts off his gown - There lies the Bishop. Then 'twas, Here's to thee, Corbet, and Here's to thee, Lushington." (Aubrey, Brief Lives).
old abbeys = The Monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII and their property seized. Richard Corbet refers to the legend that the fairies stole children and replaced them with sick, dying or mischievous substitutes. In the same way, the puritans have seized good monastic lands (demesnes) and given nothing worthwhile in exchange.
tabor = a small drum used to keep the beat in folk dancing.
roundelay = a song with a recurring refrain
James = "For as we know, more ghosts and spirits were seen, nor tongue can tell, in the time of blind papistry in these countries, where now by the contrary, a man shall scarcely all his time here once once [sic] of such things" (James VI Daemonologie, 1597)
old profession = Roman Catholics. Corbet suggests that the fairies were Catholics, who - like many Catholic recusants - have now fled to the Continent.
Ave Maries = Ave Maria (Hail Mary) are the two first words of a prayer to Our Lady based on Luke 1:28 "And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." Protestant theologians generally disapproved of Catholic veneration of Mary - dismissing it as a form of idolatry.
dances were procession = Puritans disapproved both of public dancing (which they believed led to sexual immorality) and of the religious processions that had formed a central role in medieval veneration of saints.
noddle = a colloquial term for the head or brain.
addle = to confuse or corrupt.