SYLPHS, in the fantastic system of the Paracelsists, are the elemental spirits of the air, who, like the other elemental spirits (q.v.), hold an intermediate place between imma terial and material beings. They eat, drink, speak, move about, beget children, and are subject to infirmities like. men; but, on the other baud, they resemble spirits in being more nimble and swift in their motions, while their bodies are more diaphanous than those of the human race. They also surpass the latter in their knowledge, both of the present and the future, but have no soul; and when they die, nothing is left. In form they are ruder, taller, and stronger than men; but stand nearest to them of all the ele mental spirits, in consequence of which they occasionally hold intercourse with human creatures, being especially fond of children, and of simple harmless people; they eves.
marry with our race, like the undines and the gnomes, and the children of such a union have souls, and belong to the human race.
In common usage, the term sylph has a feminine signification, and is applied to a graceful maiden. How this curious change of meaning occurred is not quite certain; but it is probably to the popularity of Pope's Rape of the Lock, which introduced the term into the world of fashion and literature. For although even in Pope, the sylph that guards Belinda is a lie, yet the poet so refined and etherealized his spiritual agents, that they soon came to be associated with all our ideas of feminine grace and beauty, and this circumstance may have reacted on the popular idea—always loose and inaccurate— of their character and sex, and brought about the change of gender to which we have alluded. See Paracelsus's Liber de Nymphis, Sylphis, Pygmais et Salamandris et Cateris: Spiritibus (Basel ed. of Paracelsus's works, 1590).