SINCE Mr. Thoms invented the term in 1846, Folk-lore has undergone a continual widening of its meaning and its reference. It was confined at first to the unconsidered trifles of popular thought and usage that go to make up the bulk of such books as Brand’s (or rather Bourn’s) Popular Antiquities. But it was soon found that these were only to be explained, if explained at all, by comparison with the larger and more definite products of the popular mind—the folk-tale, the folk-song, and the folk-institution—which in their turn formed the raw material, the protoplasm as it were, out of which Literature itself and the Institutions of the State were evolved. In short, Folk-lore has now been extended to include the whole vast background of popular thought, feeling, and usage, out of which and in contrast to which have been developed all the individual products of human activity which go to make up what is called History.
As the meaning of the term Folk-lore has expanded, so the relations of the science that studies its manifestations have extended, till it has been correlated with all the groups of organised studies that deal with the Past of Man. Folk-lore, in its investigations into popular belief, gives aid to, and receives help from, the cognate studies of Comparative Mythology and Comparative Religion. Folk-lore, in investigating popular usages, often finds traces of past institutions which are being studied by the new and vigorous science of Institutional Archæology. And in studying the literature of the people—the ballad, the fairy-tale, the proverb, the chap-book—Folk-lore has often to resort for elucidation to the products of individual artistic creation which go to form Literature properly so-called, especially in that mediaeval phase of it that is known as Romance. And finally, as it has been found by practice that much of Folk-lore that eludes explanation from the thoughts and customs of civilised peoples finds ready elucidation from savage practice and belief, Folk-lore has here points of contact with Ethnography and Anthropology.
It has been thought fit that the enlarged scope and outlook that Folk-lore has reached in the present state of the science should find full recognition in the official organ of the Folk-Lore Society, henceforth to be called by the name of the science. Folk-Lore will accordingly welcome contributions dealing with the above-named cognate sciences so far as they throw light on popular usage and belief. It will record from time to time, in special reports, recent research in these studies that may tend to throw light on the obscurer problems of Folk-lore. One of these studies is so intimately connected with it that no research in Institutional Archæology can be considered as altogether alien to Folk-lore. Folk-Lore will, therefore, in this direction take over the functions performed almost exclusively in this country by the Archæological Review, and will welcome any contribution throwing light on the origin or development of institutions other than those brought into existence by the direct action of the State. And in all these studies an attempt will be made to give exact and prompt bibliographical information of noteworthy contributions in books or articles published at home and abroad. Readers of Folk-Lore are requested to aid it in this attempt by forwarding to its Editor references to any of this kind that they think likely to escape notice. The instalment in the present number, with the unavoidable deficiencies of a first attempt, will at least indicate the ideal at which we aim.
While paying attention to these cognate studies, Folk-Lore will continue the work so efficiently carried on by its predecessors, the Folk-Lore Record and the Folk-Lore Journal, of recording, classifying, and discussing the facts of Folk-lore properly so called. In doing this, the aid of members of the Folk-lore Society and of others interested in the subject is cordially invited. Such aid can consist of forwarding to this Journal any instances of popular “superstition”, legend, or practice, that still linger in the British Islands or in the outlying parts of the British Empire. In particular, there is reason to hope that a number of genuine English “fairy tales” akin to, but not identical with, “Grimm’s Goblins”, still linger among old nurses and elderly peasants. It is eminently desirable that these should be saved from oblivion while there is yet time. Correspondence on points relating to the methods of Folklore, the best means of obtaining facts and of dealing with them when obtained, is also cordially invited.
Lastly, while addressed primarily to the members of the Folk-lore Society and folk-lorists in general, this Journal also hopes to meet with sympathetic readers among all those who are interested in the lives of the people. For when it is asked, who are the Folk whose Lore we study, the answer must be that they are those who have borne and who bear the burden of the world’s work. Indeed, the Humanity in whose name we are called upon to exercise our highest strivings is nothing other than the Folk whose feelings and inmost thoughts find their sole expression in the utterance and usages which Folk-lore collects, classifies, and reverently examines.