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THE GREAT FAIR OF OBERONOPOLIS AND FRAUDS OF THE FAIRIES.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "XY UNCLE THE CURATE," ETC.
The Great Fair of Faeryland is held at Oberonopolis, the capital of that country, which I need not say is the most romantic on the face of the earth; resembling indeed much more a land of the imagination than a region of reality. The fair is held in a gorgeous building, not made of glass, like our Palace of Industry at Sydenham, but of the same material as the baseless fabrics of Prospero, which, we all know, was infinitely finer than glass,"air, thin air.” Air of the very finest and thinnest description is as abundant in Faeryland as marble in Italy or glass in England ; there are vast mines or quarries of it in some provinces ; and it is consequently used almost universally for building purposes. The castles of the Faery noblesse are constructed with it; and the cottages of the elfin peasantry are airy edifices also, though made of the coarsest descriptions, sometimes not much thinner than the purest English atmosphere. Indeed, in one of the poor suburbs of Oberonopolis, (which I was told was the quarter of the Irish fairies) I saw a hut which seemed built of air of the consistency of a London fog. It was in fact a cabin, built of what in this aerial country corresponds to what is called mud with us. The inhabitants, however, appeared to me, notwithstanding the poverty of their abode, to be among the merriest and pleasantest elves in the commonwealth ; for in Faeryland as elsewhere it is not always the most agreeable people who live in the finest and richest houses.
The Great Fair, as it is called, is held at the feast of Nevercometide (nearly coincident with the Greek Kalends); and besides an extraordinary concourse of fairies, elves, sprites, fays, sylphs, and various other tiny tribes and nations under the sway of Oberon and Titania, it is attended also by crowds of loungers, saunterers, idlers, poets, pedlars, and nobodies, from this matter-of-fact world, led thither either by motives of curiosity, or to purchase the various wares and fanciful commodities for which the artificers and manufacturers of the
faery dominions have been renowned from time immemorial.
For myself, I was one of those who had no better excuse than Horatio's, -"a truant spirit,”—for mingling in the throng ; but after all å man may spend a few sunny holidays as well in Oberonopolis as in Paris ; and there is something worth seeing and taking note of everywhere, if we only bave our eyes open, and have cultivated the talent of observation.
Of the vast and brilliant aerial structure where the metropolitan fair is held, I can give no more accurate idea than what you may frame for yourself by imagining a crystal palace like our own ; only, as I have said, of infinitely finer materials, and of infinitely more delicate and beautiful architecture. The fairy architects are as much superior to ours as the materials they employ are to our most splended mineral or metallic substances, gold, or silver, malachite or alabaster. If a fairy builder were to erect such an enormity as the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, he would be sentenced to hard labour for life in the air-mines, or at least to a thousand years' solitary confinement in the flower of a snap-dragon. The consequence is that Oberonopolis resembles Paris more than London, and of all the public buildings the most superb is that which we are now entering.
I never before had a conception where the inexhaustible variety of objects with which we decorate our works of fancy came from, until I visited this great emporium of wares of that description, and actually saw them exposed there for sale, like the goods in the shops of Regent-Street, or in the booths of our rural fairs and markets.
The first fairy booth that drew my attention had “Moth and Peasblossom" inscribed over it in radiant characters; it belonged of course to two fairy partners of those celebrated names, with which Shakspeare has made the world so well acquainted. Here were displayed for sale all sorts of flowers such as poets have so great demand for; and I observed several
members of the rhyming fraternity laying in their annual stock at Moth and Peasblossom's, not, however, without the usual complaints that purchasers make of high prices; and in truth the most of the flowers did appear to me exorbitantly dear, not with respect to what the poets actually paid for them (which was a mere nothing) but with respect to the intrinsic value of the commodities. I stood by while one bard in particular bought a great basket-full for half a Mab, (not four-pence of English money,) and I could perceive no perfume from them whatever, except indeed a general smell of poppies ; the things seemed to me so faded and scentless that I cannot but suspect the Oberonopolitan flower-merchants of buying back the flowers of former years, after they have been quite used up, and reselling them to new customers who are either not very nice in their selection, or perhaps intend to impose upon their customers or readers in turn.
The adjoining compartment was allotted to Figures and Images, of which the assortment was prodigious; and here too I saw the poets very busy making their bargains, and not a few prose-writers also. Good figures, I remarked, were extremely dear; so much so as to be quite out of the reach of many of the purchasers; but, on the other hand, there was a commoner sort of which you might have any quantity for the merest trifle. My friend Bavius, who had just bought one of the largest cases, assured me it contained images enough for a long epic poem which he meditated; and though he affirmed he had paid a gold Oberon for it, I heard, upon more trustworthy authority than his, that it had not cost him sixpence, and was dear for the money.
A word in passing on the coinage of Faeryland. The gold Oberon, (if indeed it is not made of a still finer metal,) is about the size of a Queen Anne's farthing. There are also half Oberons, something like spangles. The silver Mab resembles one of our silver pennies. There are also Pucks and demi-Pucks. There is a great deal of false money current, and there is no law to restrain the issue or circulation of it. You receive a gift, or a payment, for instance, in Oberons, and put them up in your purse, which
when you open again you find full of violets or rose-leaves. Fairy money goes very fast, but not much faster perhaps upon the whole than money does of every kind in every part of the world.
What I remarked on the prices of Figures and Images, I had occasion to remark again in the simile department; an original simile was very expensive, a good simile expensive also, but for one that was both good and original the price demanded by Spangle, Pippin, and Co., of Elfinburgh, Simila-Makers to the Royal Family, was so high as to place it out of the reach of nine out of ten of our modern poets. Trumpery similes, however, were as plenty and cheap as blackberries. Bavius showed me a packet containing a thousand, the price marked on which was only a quarterMab; and I heard Pippin himself offer Mævius a bundle containing a thousand lions, the same number of swans, eight-hundred dew-drops, sixhundred rainbows, and five-hundred butterflies, (some from Cashmere,) for a still smaller coin. Mævius seemed to think it a good speculation, and was just about to jump at it, when Dot and Jot, who kept the opposite booth in the same line, offered him for the same money a parcel containing exactly the same articles, with a handful of fire-flies into the bargain.
From all I observed of the way in which this curious trade is carried on, I could not help coming to the conclusion that the fairy tradesmen are not much more upright in their dealings than the Chinese. As the people of the Celestial Empire adulterate their teas for the English market, in some instances actually painting them, as they notoriously do, so I apprehend King Oberon's manufacturers are in the habit of producing counterfeit similes, images, metaphors, and spurious poetical materials and fancy goods of all descriptions, which they palm upon respectable poets and writers of fiction as the genuine produce of Faeryland, and are thus really the responsible parties for a large proportion of the indifferent poetry and bad writing of the day.
I have my suspicions, moreover, that these roguish fairy tradesmen use opium in some form or another in their daring adulterations of fancy
wares. The same smell which I of business, but very much to be comnoticed in the flower booths was per- mended also for his sincerity and ceptible wherever I went; and if I candour. He frankly admitted that am right in my conjecture as to the there was very little genuine now in drug employed, the true cause of the the figure and image trade, or indeed drowsy influences and soporific effects in the poetical line generally. of a multitude of modern works, both “Some thirty or forty years since," in prose and rhyme, is apparent; and he said, "there were many substantial the world is in the habit of unjustly good articles in the market, but they accusing many writers of dullness, were secured by Scott, Byron, Moore, who ought to be pitied instead of Campbell, and one or two more disblamed as the innocent victims of distinguished customers of ours, who fairy tricks and impostures.
knew what a good article was when I am mistaken, too, if we cannot they saw it, and were not to be imalso trace to the systematic commer- posed on by counterfeits. Since their cial frauds of Faeryland, another sin time," added Seedling, “while the continually laid to the doors of literary stock of genuine wares has diminished, men ; I mean the sin of plagiarism, the demand has increased to such a or filching from one another. The degree as to tempt the cupidity of fact is, that there is a low set of itine some of my countrymen who are more rant fairy traders, who travel like inventive than honest; and the result pedlars about the commonwealth of is that several fairy firms in this city, letters, and buy up quantities of old and elsewhere in Faeryland, have images, figures, similes, allusions, made large fortunes by the manufacquotations, illustrations ; in short all ture and sale of rubbish, a thousand sorts of second-hand literary wares; pounds worth of which would not these they carry back with them to produce a good stanza or a tolerable Oberonopolis, where they are fur sentence." bished up afresh, by various processes Upon this I remarked that a reform akin to gilding or electrotyping, and of fairy morality would be very imthen sold again as new at the Great portant to the interests of literature, Fair, whence in the natural course of and I hoped King Oberon would issue things they find their way back again some edict to restrain the rogueries of to London or Paris, where there is of his subjects. Seedling laughed, and course a cry of "stop thief,” or “au replied that his Majesty was not very voleur," raised at the expense of the likely to fetter one of the most lucraunfortunate dupes who purchased tive branches of commerce in his them.
dominions. “Your best remedy," Some genuine articles, however, added he,“ is either to improve the were cheap enough ; a phial of moon- taste of your writers, or your readers; beams costs no more than a box of if your writers had any discriminalucifer matches : nightingales (old tion, they would not take our counterbirds certainly, and the most of them feits off our hands; and if their readmore melancholy than musical) are ers had any judgment, they would not more expensive than sparrows; buy very few of the books that are and if you contract by the year with manufactured from the materials sold Messrs. Moth and Seedling, a cele- by Messrs. Spangle and Pippin, or brated house in Mabville, I was told even from those which I sell myself." you may have for a mere song more Rhymes are sold at this fair made blushes, dimples, glow-worms, and up in little bundles like matches, cut common smiles and frowns than you and dry, warranted to jingle in any could possibly make use of in a twelve- climate, and ready for immediate use. month.
I bought a few bundles merely as They will also undertake to furnish curiosities. One was a bunch of at a very short notice, and at a most “blisses, kisses, misses, and abysses ;" reasonable figure, a complete Allegory, another was a packet of“ doves, loves, as good, they state in their card, as and gloves ;” and a third, which cost has been brought into the literary a fraction more than the others market for many a long day. I had because the rhymes were double, consome conversation with Seedling, sisted of gleamings, beamings, streamwhom I found not only a most intelli- ings, dreamings, and seemings, &c." gent trades-fairy, and a capital fairy Seeing a booth on the point of
being closed, though containing an bolt. Spark informed me that they immense supply of goods in the ein- had taken the idea of the eagle and blem line, I asked the cause of the olive-branch from the whimsical emimpending crash, and was told that ployment of the quill of the imperial the booth belonged to a fairy house bird to sign the treaty of Paris ; and which had during the war carried on Hark added that it was only fair the a vast business in eagles, tridents, dove should take the eagle's office, British lions, trumps of discord, since the eagle had usurped that of thunderbolts, &c. ; but the peace had the dove. taken them by surprise ; not only In another part of the fair I saw a were they left with a glut of poetical trade carried on, which afforded a artillery on their little hands, but clear explanation of the recent rapid more than one poet, who, (reckoning multiplication of Artemisias, Corinnas, on a scale of victories commensurate and Rosa-Matildas in every branch with the renown of England and the of literature. This was the hosiery zeal of her people) had made impru- department, in which several sections dent investments in warlike imagery, were devoted exclusively to the sale of had unceremoniously returned their stockings of the peculiar colour of superfluous thunderbolts and spare Minerva's eyes. I asked the price of tridents, and thus reduced the unfor the bluest; it was such a mere trifle tunate fairy firm to bankruptcy, that I could only wonder there was a
Over another booth in the same lady anywhere to be met with, unprodeclining business, I saw inscribed in vided with at least one pair. You huge letters, nearly the tenth of an inch may guess how great a crowd of long, “Tremendous Sacrifice;" and you ambitious maids and matrons surcould there have had lions and eagles rounded a booth so attractive to the enough for an Iliad, almost for the sex as this. I saw Azurina there, trouble of carrying them off. Bavius Studiosa Brunetta, and Clara Cærulea, made a considerable purchase with a all so intent upon this one article of view to the possible contingency of an dress as to neglect almost every other. American war.
Azurina's shoe-strings were dangling On the other hand the little mer about her heels; Cærulea looked an chants in the Peace-Emblem line were impersonation of one of her own full of business and full of glee. novels after six months' wear and Large orders were arriving every tear of a circulating library; and it moment for doves, lambs, olive- seemed to me that Brunetta might branches, cornu-copias, sickles made have been laying out her money more out of old swords, and flasks of fairy properly at one of the booths where oil to pour upon the troubled waters. soaps and cosmetics of all kinds were I saw many bales of these commodi exposed for sale. ties lying packed up, directed to I have already mentioned the inex. several minor minstrels of the day; haustible supply of air of all degrees so that a deluge may soon be expected of fineness in Faeryland; they not of odes to Peace and stanzas to only build with it, but use it in the Astræa Redux. The bales, by the fabrication of a thousand ingenious bye, had in general a very heavy and pretty things. A department in odour, proceeding (as I ascertained) the fair was assigned to air manufacfrom the flasks of oil I have just tures. I saw exhibited judicial wigs mentioned, which was evidently ran- made of air for aspiring barristers ; cid ; and no wonder, since the most of air-mitres for sanguine country clergyit was what remained on hand after men ; air-frigates for veteran lieutenthe peace of 1815, and probably was ants in the navy; and the most charmnot very fresh upon that occasion. ing wedding dresses made of the same
I was pleased with the alacrity of exquisite stuff for young ladies beginthe fairy artificers in taking hints ning to dream of settlements for life. from all quarters for the production Under a gas-case, also, I observed a of anything new in the emblematic few diadems, sceptres, and other
I was struck by two very ingenious novelties; one was an eagle with an olive-branch in his beak, and the other was a dove bearing a thunder
indeed, but rather dim, as it appeared to me; upon enquiry I found the articles had been made expressly for the wandering princes of the House of Bourbon ; but the manufacturer, part of the world, (numbers from the to prove his impartiality, exhibited United States) who had come to simultaneously à cap of liberty for Faeryland to provide themselves with modern French wear, made of the instruments so important in their self-same vapoury material, the very vocation. King Oberon must make thinnest that ever passed through an a handsome revenue in this way, as air-loom. I was assured and have handsome perhaps as the Popes somereason to believe that this is the only times make by the sale of indulgences, cap of the kind worn at present by to which indeed these licences to comour fanciful French neighbours. mit all sorts of poetical crimes bear
The Bubble booth, in the same a strong family resemblance. Unquarter, was one of the most attrac fortunately, too, the fees payable are tive. There I saw bubbles of all so ridiculously small, as to place these sizes, forms, and colours, for there is dangerous privileges within the reach air in Faeryland of every tint, and of the poorest creatures that ever the great art of bubble-making struck stationed themselves on the Muses' me to consist in dexterously mingling Hill to beg an obolus from a passing sober colours with brilliant ones, so as bookseller, or at the door of Genius to to fascinate the grave as well as the catch the crumbs that fall from his gay, and impose on the solemnest rich table. greybeard as well as on the most Nor (to make the matter worse) is sanguine young enthusiast. The there any power of revocation exerbubbles that seemed most attractive, cised. No matter how execrably the judging by the crowds that stood privilege may be abused, it continues admiring them, were in the form of in full force; the only check consistRailway Companies and Provincial ing in the liberty which the public Banks. But there were not a few happily enjoys of discouraging versepolitical and religious bubbles also, mongers and song-writers by steadily which I deliberately abstain from de- refusing to read them ; just as we get scribing, lest I should be suspected of rid of another member of the same being a fairy-agent, and indirectly fraternity, the organ-grinder, from puffing their most objectionable wares. before our doors, by firmly declining
Often as I had heard of poetic licen- to give him a doit. ces, it was now for the first time I The most fascinating booth of the discovered where and by whom they next department was that of Messis. were granted. Observing a mob of Spy and Pry, the celebrated fairy odd-featured people of both sexes, opticians ; inventors and patentees, their eyes rolling about in a frenzied among other things, of the admirable manner, their attire loose and neglect Rosy Spectacles; an instrument not ed, and many of them looking as if only highly curious, but eminently dinners were not matters of routine beneficial to the mental vision even in their daily lives ;-observing them, more than to the physical ; and conI say, flocking into a place like an fidently recommended for its success office, and coming out of it again with in curing one of the most unpleasant papers in their hands like writs or maladies to which the mind's eye is warrants, I enquired what all this subject. The properties and uses, meant, and was told that this was the however, of these spectacles will be Poetic-Licence-Office, and that the more suitably treated of in a short gentlemen and ladies going in and out separate paper which I propose to were poets and poetesses from every devote to them.
It was a satyr sung under a vine,
Shaking the grapes in the light of the moon;
Hark to the cymbal clash ! Hark to its tune!