Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/55

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45
EVOLUTION IN FOLK LORE.

large regular cavities which are said to have been the refuge of Protestants during the religious wars. They were afterward converted into quarries, from which a soft shell stone was obtained. The places are still to be seen where the barges landed at the entrance of the quarries, and the older people of the country remember when they were worked.

For specimens of modern cave dwellings in the United States we might turn to the sod-houses of the Western plains, which the settlers construct for temporary shelter while waiting for a supply of lumber with which to build a more conventional if not better house. They can not, however, be classed with the permanent dwellings which this paper has held in view. As soon as the new house is done, they are turned over to the cattle and pigs, or abandoned and left to the mercy of the elements.


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EVOLUTION IN FOLK LORE.

AN OLD STORY IN A NEW FORM.

By DAVID DWIGHT WELLS.

To the historian folk lore is both a blessing and a curse. It presents an almost insurmountable barrier to scientific investigation; for, to separate the kernel of truth from the mass of superstitious chaff by which it is surrounded, is a task in comparison with which the proverbial finding of the needle in the hay-stack sinks into insignificance. Viewed in another aspect, however, folk lore is of the greatest importance to the inquirer in the past, for it forms the connecting link in the evolution of a tribe, a race, or a nation.

Long after a people has passed away as a unit, its traditions will survive, and, wherever they may be found, they will point conclusively to the existence of some portion of that race. The legend, however, seldom retains much of its original form, and this is not to be wondered at. Common experience teaches us daily how a story can grow in the mouths of men, and when it comes to be a matter of generations and not of days, it naturally undergoes many marked changes. The legend or folk-lore story adapts itself also to its surroundings, which, parasite-like, cling to it so effectually that often it is extremely difficult to distinguish the original legend in its corrupted form.

These changes are especially noticeable when the race or tribe has migrated from one country to another, and a careful study of the alterations which take place in the typical legends of a people illuminates the history of the race itself.

It is not my intention to enter into any such elaborate under-