Folk-Lore/Volume 1/Review: Les Contes Moralisés de Nicole Bozon

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Folk-Lore, Volume 1
Review: Les Contes Moralisés de Nicole Bozon
by Joseph Jacobs

REVIEW.


Les Contes moralisés de Nicole Bozon. Publiés pour la première fois par Lucy Toulmin Smith et Paul Meyer. (Société des Anciens Textes Français.) Paris, 1889, 8vo., pp. Ixxiv, 333.

Miss TOULMIN SMITH and M. Paul Meyer have made students of folk-lore their debtors by their admirable edition of the exempla of Nicole Bozon, an English friar of the fourteenth century, who wrote down in Norman-French some 150 tales of the kind then considered suitable as seasoning for sermons. Members of the Folk-Lore Society should be especially interested in the book, as they are soon to have in their hands a very similar work, the exempla of Jacques de Vitry, edited by the capable hands of Prof. Crane.

These “Examples” form a necessary part of the apparatus of the student of folk-tales, for in them we often get the earliest appearance in literature of many folk-tales. Some of the examples, it is true, can be traced to purely literary sources, as, e.g., the beast-fables. But at times we come across tales evidently taken from oral tradition, with scraps of folk-rhymes repeated in them, and in other ways bearing marks of origin from the folk.

It cannot be said that Bozon’s Contes afford many examples of purely oral tradition. The industry of the editors has succeeded in tracing the sources of nearly every one of the stories. Some of these are well known, e.g., the Coffer-choice of the Merchant of Venice (§ 84); The Angel and Hermit, familiar to English readers from Parnell’s poem (§ 31); The Miller, his Son, and the Ass (§ 132). Others, not so well known, are often equally interesting and instructive, as, e.g., Satan’s Letter (§ 93); The Man made to believe the Lamb he is carrying is a Dog (§ 117); The Parable of the Unicorn from Barlaam and Josaphat (§ 29), etc. Those who seek to find a literary source for all folk-tales will find in Bozon’s work ample material for their thesis. No one denies the existence of a literary tradition, but it yet remains to be proved that there has not always been side by side with it a stream of oral legend, scarcely affected, if at all, by literature.

A very large proportion of Bozon’s examples are taken from fables, a word which he uses strictly in the modern sense for beast-tales. Here, again, we have the literary sources pointed out in most cases by the editors, who fail to do so in only seven instances (§§ 2, 3, 15, 17, 19, 26, 35). I regret to say that I am unable to assist them with these, though I have lately had to review the whole literature of the beast-fable. I can only suggest that these fables are survivals of the collection associated with the name of King Alfred, which I have traced to Alfred the Englishman, a translator from the Arabic in the twelfth century. But none of these seven finds a place in the Hebrew collection of Benedict of Oxford, which I also associate with Alfred’s Æsop. Some of the English words and phrases, I would suggest, may come from the Middle English translation of Alfred, from which, as Herr Mall has shown, Marie de France derived her fables. The bibliographical references to the fables might have been largely increased, but this was perhaps deemed unnecessary. An alphabetical list of the fables and stories would have been useful. The editors, perhaps, omitted it in order that there might be at least one thing on which the critic might exercise his proverbial propensity to cavil.

Joseph Jacobs.