Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Folklore

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FOLKLORE, the science which embraces all that relates to ancient observances and customs, to the notions, beliefs, traditions, superstitions, and prejudices of the common people. Gomme's divisions are: (1) Traditional Narratives: (a) Folk-tales, (b) Hero Tales, (c) Ballads and Songs, (d) Place Legends; (2) Traditional Customs: (a) Local Customs, (b) Festival Customs, (c) Ceremonial Customs, (d) Games; (3) Superstitions and Beliefs: (a) Witchcraft, (b) Astrology, (c) Superstitious Practices and Fancies; (4) Folk-speech: (a) Popular Sayings, (b) Popular Nomenclature, (c) Proverbs, (d) Jingle Rhymes, Riddles, etc.

Folklore had indeed been observed and noted by countless writers from the Father of History downward, but it was not till after the beginning of the 19th century that its value for the elucidation of the social history of mankind had become apparent to thinkers, and its systematic study been seriously begun. Meantime the reawakening to natural poetry and to the beauty of free emotional expression in literature, which lay at the foundation of what it is usual to call Romanticism, had already commenced even in the 18th century, and the publication of Percy's “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry” (1765) had given a powerful impulse to Scott and others in England, to Herder, and to Arnim and Brentano in Germany, who found lying to hand a rich wealth of traditional poetry, the poetic value of which they fortunately had the eyes to see. But the study of folksongs really began with Scott's “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border” (1802-1803). Popular traditions began to be valued duly just as they began to decline and disappear; but fortunately a plentiful crop had been gathered and put into writing beyond the risk of oblivion.

Such works as E. B. Tylor's “Primitive Culture” (1871), and G. L. Gomme's “Folklore Relics of Early Village Life” (1883), have shown us what significant constructive results may already be attained with the evidence we possess.