steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

More Churns than Butter

I was thinking about Kipling's "Dymchurch Flit" this morning, which led me to the "Fairies' Farewell" by Richard Corbet(t) (1582-1665), from which Rewards and Fairies takes its name:

FAREWELL rewards and Fairies!
Good housewives now may say;
For now foule sluts in dairies
Doe fare as well as they;
And though they sweepe their hearths no less
Than mayds were wont to doe,
Yet who of late for cleaneliness
Finds sixe-pence in her shoe?

Story of my life, I muttered. If you don't know "Fairies Farewell", you should read it. It's appealing in somewhat the same way as "Tom o' Bedlam's Song". Anyway, judge for yourself

Lament, lament old Abbies,
The fairies lost command;
They did but change priests babies,
But some have chang'd your land;
And all your children stoln from thence
Are now growne Puritanes,
Who live as changelings ever since,
For love of your demaines.

At morning and at evening both
You merry were and glad,
So little care of sleepe and sloth
These prettie ladies had.
When Tom came home from labour,
Or Ciss to milking rose,
Then merrily went their tabour,
And nimbly went their toes.

Witness those rings and roundelayes
Of theirs, which yet remaine;
Were footed in queene Maries dayes
On many a grassy playne.
But since of late Elizabeth
And later James came in;
They never danc'd on any heath,
As when the time hath bin.

By which wee 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 farther for religion fled,
Or else they take their ease.

A tell-tale in their company
They never could endure;
And whoso kept not secretly
Their mirth, was punished sure;
It was a just and Christian deed
To pinch such blacke and blue;
O how the common-welth doth need
Such justices as you!

At least, that's where the version I first read ends. However, it turns out there are

Now they have left our quarters;
A register they have,
Who can preserve their charters;
A man both wise and grave.
An 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 meale can mend your cheare
With tales both old and true:
To William all give audience,
And pray yee for his noddle:
For all the fairies evidence
Were lost, if it were addle.

Who is this William Churne? It seems unlikely that he's an invented person: this is surely Corbett's compliment to an antiquarian friend. Okay, just possibly Churne is not an antiquarian but a rustic storyteller of Corbett's acquaintance, but the "of Staffordshire" addition suggests gentle birth. Besides, Corbett was a pupil at Westminster school when the headmaster was William Camden - the antiquarian's antiquarian. Perhaps Churne was a fellow pupil? Or someone Corbett knew through Camden? Anyway, when you're bishop of Oxford, as Corbett was, you probably get to meet a fair few scholars.

The fact is, I can't easily find out who William Churne is at all, and before plunging down the rabbit-hole of research I thought I'd ask my learned friends list whether this information is "out there" or not.

There is, by the way, a William Churne of Staffordshire who has some claim to have authored the earliest children's fantasy novel in English, The Hope of the Katzekopfs (1844), but that alas was just a pseudonym for Rev. Francis Paget. (It tells of the wayward Prince Eigenwillig, who is kidnapped by a fairy called Abracadabra. Abracadabra then "rolls him into a rubber ball and bounces him to Fairyland where he has to submit to the grave old man, Discipline, before he can return home." Much like the Redcrosse Knight at the Holy Hospital, really.)

ETA: Okay, mystery solved. Apparently Churne was a servant of Corbett's father-in-law - at least, if we can believe Twentieth-Century English, by William Skinkle Knickerbocker. And why wouldn't we?
Tags: books

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