Page:Journal of American Folklore vol. 12.djvu/587

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Bibliographical Notes. 239

President of the Folk-Lore Society for 1899. The writer defines folk-lore as the science of tradition ; its problem is therefore to determine the laws by which tradition is determined. For example, the passing of a babe through a young ash-tree, split for the purpose, and afterwards bound up, is still in country places a common remedy for hernia, it being believed that the health of the child is bound up with the life of the tree. This very ancient remedy Mr. Hartland explains as connected with the prim- itive idea that union with a god, in this case the tree-god, is effected so long as any object associated with the person remains in touch with the deity. For a similar reason pins are cast into wishing-wells, or shreds of garments suspended on the bushes which overhang these, and which once were considered as sacred. So again it is possible for a witch to con- jure any one by obtaining possession of objects belonging to him. In this manner Mr. Hartland shows that the most absurd superstitions are not arbitrary, but the logical result of principles accepted by people in a state of savagery. The importance of comprehending the ideas of races in a backward condition of culture is exhibited in the contrast of the treatment of India and Ireland ; the disaffection of the latter country is due to a course of government which has constituted the most pernicious tyranny, yet which was pursued with good intentions, as the result of complete mis- conception of the social state and legal usages of a race which maintained ancient customs out of touch with the more advanced civilization of Great Britain. As regards missionary effort, also, the writer points out the ab- surdity of remaining in complete and wilful ignorance of the true character of the culture which is to be improved.

No. 3, "Ossian and the Ossianic Literature," by Alfred Nutt, furnishes an account of the Irish material connected with the name of Oisin (in Eng- lish spelling, Ossian). This he divides into three classes of texts, the second being truly mediaeval, while the first antedates that period, and the third is relatively modern. In spite of differences of style, a singular uniformity is exhibited in the literature, the ideas of modern compositions being some- times identical with those appearing in texts a thousand years older. The most ancient texts, of very limited compass, are wildly mythical. These form only a small part of Irish fiction in their time ; but in the middle age Ossi- anic story comes to be preponderant. In the later tales Ossian is turned into a reckless pagan. Mr. Nutt questions whether this character may not be a survival. The recent fictions exhibit elements obviously derived ulti- mately from French romance. Up to the fifteenth century, Ireland and the Scottish Highlands formed one literary domain, so that controversy regarding the place of origin has no point. Macpherson's Ossian, it should be understood, is as much his own composition as was the Paradise Lost of Milton.

In No. 4, "King Arthur and his Knights," Jessie L. Weston (translator of the Parzival of Wolfram of Eschenbach) mentions the chief mediaeval works of the cycle, and gives opinions in regard to the evolution of the romances, which cannot here be critically considered.

No. 5, "The Popular Poetry of the Finns," by C. J. Billson, supplies

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