Folk-Lore/Volume 21/The Value of European Folklore in the History of Culture

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PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS.


The Value of European Folklore in the History OF Culture.

This is, to the best of my belief, the first time,—at all events in the Old World,—that the duty of delivering the Annual Presidential Address to a learned Society has been entrusted to a woman. I am old-fashioned enough to feel considerable diffidence in occupying a position of so much responsibility, and one which has previously been filled by so many of greater note. But I regard the honour you have done me in placing me in this chair less as a compliment to myself individually, than as one to my sex in my person. I look on it as another pleasant token of the manner in which a generation brought up under the sovereignty of a woman has learnt to appreciate woman's help and counsel. So I am going to speak out frankly, knowing that whatever I may say will receive serious consideration at your hands.

Over thirty years,—the lifetime of a generation,—have elapsed since our Society was founded. The Report that is presented to you to-night is our thirty-second: one can hardly realise the different conditions that prevailed when we issued our first,—the different position then held by all anthropological study, and especially by studies bearing on Religion and Sociology. The patriarchal theory prevailed in Sociology, and the sun-myth, disease-of-language theory in the sphere of Mythology and Religion. We had Primitive Culture and the Early History of Mankind to set our faces in the right direction, our feet in the right path. But Custom and Myth did not appear till 1884, Myth, Ritual, and Religion till 1887, the Golden Bough only in 1890, the Science of Fairy Tales in the same year, and the Legend of Perseus not till 1895. There was all the charm of the discoverer about those early days, twenty and thirty years ago, and perhaps we who groped our way through them need not altogether envy the highly-trained and carefully-instructed young students of the present.

Discussions in the Folk-Lore Journal 1885-87 led to the delimitation of the scope of the study of folklore. The boundary was drawn in accordance with Mr. Thoms's original coinage of the word, to include all branches of "folk's learning,"— all that concerns the intellectual and social life of the folk,— and to exclude arts and crafts,—"technology," as they now begin to be called. In 1890 the Handbook of Folklore set forth a simple and practical scheme of work and study, framed on this principle, and the next year, 1891, saw the gathering of a Congress of Folklorists in London. This not only brought the FolkLore Society into closer touch with students in America and on the Continent of Europe, but also, as I must believe, brought home to the minds of English scholars in general the fact that here was a definite subject of study, hitherto neglected, and worthy of their serious attention.

One very practical outcome of the Congress was to establish, beyond dispute, the importance and interest of children's games, a bit of woman's work on which I may be permitted for a moment to dwell. A young woman from the specially musical parish of Madeley, in Shropshire, went to live as nurse in the family of my sister in Derbyshire. She had a large repertory of singing-games, some of which she taught to her charges. My sister, who was continually under the necessity of organising parish festivities, caused the maid to teach her games to some of the village children for performance at one of these entertainments, and the result was a great success. Mrs. Gomme, hearing of this from me, took up the idea with characteristic energy, trained a party of children at Barnes (teaching them games from other places in addition to those they already knew), overcame the anxieties of the Committee of the Congress, who sent a solemn deputation down to Barnes to inspect and report on her doings, and, finally, when the games were performed at the conversazione, she had the success of the Congress. Following it up, she compiled the Dictionary of British Traditional Games, which must always rank beside Strutt's Sports and Pastimes as a standard work on the subject with which they both deal. How the revival of traditional games and dances has progressed since its appearance we all know.

Perhaps nothing has done more to bring home to us the reality and importance of the phenomenon of "Survival in Culture" than have that little Handbook and those childish games. It is pleasant to reflect that these two foundation-stones were laid by a man and a woman working in partnership, a husband and wife, the founders of our Society, Mr. and Mrs. G. Laurence Gomme.

In the twenty years that have passed since then, the claims of the early history of culture on the attention of anthropologists have gained general recognition, and the study has advanced all along the line. The older Universities have taken it up, each more suo. Cambridge, the scientific, has sent out exploring expeditions commissioned to report not only on physical anthropology and technology, but on the "manners and customs of the natives," chronicled with a thoroughness and exactitude never attempted before. The whole standard of scientific research in the fields of ethnology and culture has been raised by the work of the Cambridge explorers. Oxford, the philosophic, approached the study of culture from the side of the philosophy of religion, and, coming to perceive that systems of religion cannot be studied apart from culture, nor culture from anthropology as a whole, she has instituted a diploma in anthropology, and has succeeded in awakening a real interest in the subject among the young men from whose ranks the future rulers of the native races of the British Empire are likely to be drawn. Of the younger Universities, London has established two Professorships of Sociology and a Lectureship of Ethnology, and Liverpool a Chair of Social Anthropology. The names differ, but the early stages of the history of culture are dealt with under them all.

In other quarters, the barrier once existing between students of physical anthropology and students of culture may now be said to have been thoroughly broken down. The Royal Anthropological Institute has silently and gradually enlarged its borders, and now welcomes cultural studies as freely as the physical or technological work which used to be its chief concern. It has progressed by leaps and bounds, and has become a centre of influence, a voice to be listened to, a power not to be disregarded.

Of the progress made in exploration by America and Australia, of the societies founded and the important works produced on the Continent of Europe, I will not now stay to speak. I have said enough to show the difference of our circumstances to-day from those of thirty years ago.

The change being so great,—the phenomenon of savage survivals in culture established, the position of the history and development of culture as an integral part of anthropology vindicated, and the claims of anthropology as a subject of study recognized by the Universities,—the question has naturally been more than once asked,—Is there any further need for the Folk-Lore Society? Has it not done its work? How can it now justify its existence as a separate organization? It is to these questions that I propose to address myself to-night. Sundry criticisms of our methods of study which begin to make themselves heard will, I think, help to determine the answer.

For here and there it is whispered that our progress is not altogether sound. Voices from across the Channel begin to murmur that English anthropologists are going too fast. Ten years ago Monsieur Henri Hubert[1] warned us against trying to discover the origins of traditional rites before we have ascertained the laws which govern them; in other words, against attempting to go direct to the source and omitting the intermediate history. Others, even among ourselves, tell us that we are proceeding on wrong methods, comparing recklessly, pulling up "items" of folklore by the roots to set them beside other items, similarly uprooted, from other social systems and other stages of culture. More discrimination, they say, is needed, more close examination of definite areas, more study of variations, and more enquiry into causes. The complaint against us amounts to this,—that we pay too much attention to similarities, and not enough to differences, and, further, that we confine our attention to the incident, ceremony, or saying itself, without taking environment into consideration. The following seems to be a case in point:—

In 1902, a correspondent writing to Folk-Lore (xiii., p. 171) recorded an Oxfordshire proverbial saying applied to a lazy man in the hayfield or harvest-field, or to "one as wouldn't work," viz.—"He's got the little white dog." On the strength of parallel expressions used in the north-east of France, he hastily added this saying to the vast memorial cairn of folklore erected to the honour of the Corn-spirit. But take the environment into consideration. This is one of the obscurely-worded metaphorical sayings in which country people delight. The metaphor is one of disease. "He's got the little white dog,"—as if it had been, he has got the yellow janders, the brown typhus, the Harry's slippers, the wolf, or any other of the occult diseases the folk tell you that their friends are suffering from. What malady could be likened to, or symbolized by, a little white dog? Well, what place does the actual little white dog hold in the economy of English agricultural life? I say nothing about French country life, because I have no acquaintance with it; but in an old-fashioned English farmhouse the only creature that is not kept for profit is the little white dog. There are no pet animals, no tame rabbits, white mice, or canaries,—no sporting-dogs, because there is (or was) no sport. The sheep-dog, if there is one, and the big house-dog tied up in the yard both have their uses and duties. They "earn their living," as the people say. Only the little white terrier has no duties or responsibilities, and may play about all day long at his own sweet will. What he typifies is idleness. He is a "lazy dog," and the man who has "got" him is the one who has been infected by his laziness. This is sufficiently shown by the parallel expression given by the country informant in explanation,—"the Lawrence has got him,"—"Lazy Lawrence," the personification of the idle fellow.

(Even since these lines were written, a country-woman incidentally said to me, a propos of a license for a pet dog,—"It's waste of money, ma'am, for 'e don't earn 'is living." This casual remark in itself shows the point of view from which the "little dog" is regarded.)

I cannot put the whole matter better than it has been put by Mr. Gomme:[2]—"Similarity in form does not necessarily imply similarity in origin. It does not mean similarity in motive. Customs and rites which are alike in practice can be shown to have originated from quite different causes, to express quite different motives, and cannot, therefore, be held to belong to a common class, the elements of which are comparable." In evidence of this he adduces the custom of the inheritance of the youngest son. In Europe this appears to arise from migration, from the Teutonic fashion of letting the adult sons go out into the world to found families elsewhere, so that the youngest, remaining longest at home, was naturally the one who inherited the paternal homestead. But in South Africa the inheritance of younger sons, where it occurs, is due to polygamy and wife-purchase. In the struggling days of his youth a man cannot always afford to give much for a wife, and the "great" or chief wife, whose son will be his successor, may not be acquired till, in his mature and prosperous years, his means and position enable him to look higher for an alliance. In such a case, the younger children inherit before their elder brethren, the sons of her humbler predecessors. Thus a superficial likeness of effect may be produced by two entirely distinct causes.[3]

How important it is to study differences as well as likenesses, history as well as environment, I shall now endeavour to show by an examination of some annual customs still observed in England.

In 1901 Mr. S. O. Addy published in Folk-Lore (vol. xii., p. 394) a detailed and very interesting account of a May festival, celebrated at Castleton in the Peak of Derbyshire, and known by the name of "Garland Day." On the 29th of May in each year, the bellringers of Castleton make an enormous "garland" of flowers, which is carried round the village on the head and shoulders of a man on horseback, in costume, accompanied by a band playing a special traditional air and followed by a party of morris-dancers, while another man on horseback, dressed in woman's clothes, brings up the rear. After perambulating the place, they hoist the garland to the top of the church-tower, and fix it on one of the pinnacles. The day is kept as a general holiday. The dancers now are girls, dressed in white and carrying wands adorned with ribbon streamers, but formerly they were men, and it is remembered that the ringers themselves used once to perform the dance, and also that a man with a "besom" (broom) used to lead the procession, sweeping the crowd out of the way. The villagers call the riders the King and Queen, but the ringers themselves speak of "the man that carries the garland" and "the lady." The "garland" is neither a simple wreath or circlet, nor the combination of transverse circles which is the ordinary form of May-garland in England. It is a dome-shaped crown with seven arches, and the apex is formed by a nosegay called the "queen" (or "quane"), of which more anon. The crown is so large that it covers the wearer down to the hips as he sits on horseback. His appearance naturally suggested to Mr, Addy a comparison with the German spring-festivals, in which a "Grass-King," or "Green George," or other such character, is escorted round the town or district encased in a covering of leaves and branches.

Now dressing up a man in greenery is not the usual type of May-celebration in England, except among the chimney-sweeps. Nor is it common to the whole of the Peak district. Far from that, May Day is there observed only by the most conservative part of the population, the children, who keep it in the characteristic old English fashion, by setting up a Maypole and dancing round it, (cf. Folk-Lore, vol. xvi., p. 461); and, whether the 29th of May is observed or the 1st, it is kept in the same way, and by the children only. Why should Castleton differ from its neighbours, and why should its festival resemble a German rather than an English rite? Is there anything in the circumstances of the place to account for these peculiarities?

We may reasonably look for traces of extreme antiquity in the folklore of the Peak District. The evidence of barrows, roads, and other remains shows that it was already inhabited in Roman and even in pre-Roman times, and it seems to have retained a continuous existence through the Saxon and Danish invasions, for the inhabitants at that time are always spoken of as a distinct people,—the Péc-sætas, or dwellers in the Peak. But, as it is obvious that we have to do with a case of the transference of a festival from one date to another (May 1st to May 29th), we must begin by enquiring into the circumstances of the locality at the time of the change.

The 29th of May was, as we all know, made a public holiday by Act of Parliament in 1660 (12 Car. II.), in memory of the restoration of the monarchy. A special service was provided for it in the Prayer Book of 1662. But the day does not appear to have been universally or even generally observed.

Derbyshire took the side of the Parliament during the Civil Wars. That is to say, the county town was garrisoned for the Parliament, and overawed the surrounding country, but the miners of "Derby hills so free" cared little for the opinion of the county town. They were a rough and independent folk, accustomed (as Mr. Addy shows) to manage their own affairs and fight out their own quarrels. Within living memory fights were arranged between neighbouring villages, traditional taunts were exchanged, and visitors to the rival "wakes" were "aggravated" and insulted. The king stood in a special relation to them. As Duke of Lancaster he was Lord of the Peak,—their landlord as well as their sovereign; and there is plenty of evidence that Derbyshire men leaned for the most part to the Royalist side. They mustered 300 horse to fight for Charles I. at Tissington just before Naseby; they rioted for Charles II. in Derby streets under Richard Cromwell. In religious matters too, the Peaklanders were accustomed to act for themselves. Not ten years before the outbreak of the Rebellion the parishioners of Castleton built a district church in the parish, and retained the right of patronage in their own hands. At Chapel-en-le-Frith (or Forest) the freeholders were the patrons. They presented a Royalist to the living in 1648. A few years later, under Cromwell, Peak Forest Chapel was built, and was dedicated to King Charles the Martyr,—one out of only four such dedications in England. Such was the state of popular feeling in the Peak at the eve of the Restoration.

Anxious to find out something of the circumstances of Castleton parish itself at the time, I paid a visit to the place last summer. It is a little, old, decayed market town, overlooked by the ruins of the famous Castle of the Peak. The lines of a rampart that surrounded the town and connected it with the fortifications of the castle may still be traced. The houses are built close together,—on the waste of the manor, I was told,—without gardens. They line rectangular streets that remind one of Winchelsea, and suggest definite “town-planning.”[4] The place is situated on level ground at the farther end of one of the highest dales of the Peak, at the spot where the valley becomes a pass. Two miles below it, at the mouth of the dale, is Hope, a village of which the local proverb says,—“There’s many a one lives in Hope as never saw Castleton,” so little ‘through traffic’ is there in the valley. The present vicar, the Rev. J. H. Brooksbank, received me with the utmost kindness. He is deeply interested in the local history, and from the parish registers and other data in his possession I obtained the information I wanted.

Through all the ups and downs of the period the Reverend Samuel Cryer was vicar of Castleton. Appointed in 1644[5] by I know not whom, (the patronage was in the hands of the Bishops of Chester), the Parliamentary Commissioners found him there in 1650, and left him in possession. He was re-instituted on the eve of “Black Bartholomew” in 1662, and died vicar under William and Mary, in 1697, after fifty-three years’ unbroken ministry. Such a length of time could hardly help leaving some trace of his personality in the parish, and, in fact, the present vicarage-house, a building of the seventeenth century, is still called Cryer House. That he and his people welcomed the Restoration we may feel sure, for on its accomplishment the re-pewing of the church was immediately taken in hand. It was filled with fine carved oak pews with book-rests and wooden candlesticks, and holes in them to receive the sprigs of holly with which it is still decorated by the ringers at Christmas. Mr. Cryer's own pew bears his name in full, and the date 1661. Other initialled pews are dated 1662 and 1663. Wood-carving was a local trade, and these pews must have been carved in the village, for the special pattern favoured by the Castleton people occurs on them. (The last old woodcarver, who died only last year, so Mr, Brooksbank informed me, would not have used a Hope pattern.)

Now it is of course open to anyone to call Mr. Cryer a Vicar of Bray,[6] but it may equally well be maintained that to live peaceably with all parties through such troublous times implies the possession of no little tact and judgment and power of conciliation, and I suggest that to this we owe the institution of the Castleton Garland in its present form. The principles of a Church-and-King man of the seventeenth century were in favour of public sports and holidays, and we know from the evidence of the pews that Mr. Cryer and his parishioners pulled together in Church matters. But, even if his own principles allowed him to countenance a complete revival of the May-games prohibited under the Commonwealth, a prudent man would not give offence to Puritan neighbours or visitors by restoring that "stinckyng ydoll," the Maypole, with the rowdy expeditions to "bring it home," and the dancing of both sexes about it, to which they took such exception So the whole festival is turned into a loyal celebration of the restoration of "Church and King." Instead of the old garlands adorning the Maypole on May Day, a floral crown is hoisted to the steeple on the new authorised holiday. The dancing is decorously performed by skilled and selected dancers. Women take no part in it, (though children have lately begun to do so), and the whole affair is carried out by responsible Church officials, the ringers, whose beloved bells the Puritans would have silenced. The thirty-seven years which Mr. Cryer's incumbency lasted after the Restoration would be long enough to allow his reforms to take root. Before his death a new generation would have grown up to whom the reorganized festival would seem part of the natural order of things, and the ringers, who were responsible for it, would have begun to keep it up as a matter of course. It is thus that I would account for the peculiar features of the Castleton Garland Day. Its resemblance to the German spring festivals seems to me to be merely accidental.

Two points in the rite seem to be survivals from the older May festival. First, the man in woman's clothes, who can be no Queen of England, nor of the May. Her crown is a recent innovation; she used to wear a bonnet, and "the oldest shawl that could be found;" and her place is not beside the "King," but at the fag-end of the procession. She is, in fact, that mysterious, but invariable, attendant on the morris-dance, the "Molly" or "Bessy." Second, the nosegay, or "queen," which surmounts the garland, which, before it is hoisted, is taken off and presented to a woman, the latest comer to the parish;[7] just as the harvest-queen, harvest-dolly, or kern-baby is presented to the mistress of the farm. From what dim background of antiquity, from what primitive stages of society, these two features descend, I will not attempt to decide. But the point I want to emphasise is this, that local peculiarities should be observed and possible local reasons enquired into, before parallels are sought for farther afield.

To take another example,—the Horn Dance at Abbot's Bromley in Staffordshire takes place every year on the Monday after September 4th.[8] Six men carrying horns,—reindeers' horns,—and accompanied by a hobby-horse and a man carrying a cross-bow, and also (as usual) by a fool and a man in woman's clothing, dance a morris-dance in the streets of the town, and before the principal houses in the neighbourhood, after which money is collected from the spectators in an ancient wooden ladle. The "properties,"—horns, hobby-horse, cross-bow, and ladle,—are kept in the church tower from year to year. (The present leader, or, as they call him, the "father" of the band, is a man named Bentley. It gives an idea of the unchanging ways of the place to learn that a Bentley is entered as Constable of Abbot's Bromley in the Muster Roll of Henry VIII., 1539.)

The first notice we have of this dance is from Dr. Plot, the historian of Staffordshire, who wrote in 1686. In his time the horns were painted with the arms of the lords of the three manors included in the parish. He adds this curious information,—"To this Hobby Horse dance there also belong'd a Pot, which was kept by Turnes by 4 or 5 of the cheif of the Town, whom they call'd Reeves, who provided Cakes and Ale to put in this pot." Every householder contributed "pence a piece" to the expenses, and the fund raised by this means and by the contribution of "forraigners that came to see it" was applied to the repair of the church and the relief of the poor; in other words, it supplied the place of church-rate and poor-rate.[9]

I first drew attention to this performance in 1896 (Folk-Lore, vol. vii., p. 382), and at once a comparison was made between it and the Buffalo Dances of the North American Indians, and the suggestion was advanced that it must have had a magical import, and have been primarily intended to secure success in hunting. I myself supposed that it was a mock hunt, probably instituted to commemorate some right of the chase, some privilege of annual hunting in the preserves of the lord of the manor, or the like. I was wrong. But, before giving you the evidence lately brought to light, I must say something about the locality itself. The parish consists of two townships, Abbot’s Bromley itself, and Bromley Hurst (or wood), together with the extra-parochial liberty of Bagot’s Bromley.[10] It lies a little to the north of the Trent on the banks of its tributary the Blythe, hemmed in on the further side by Needwood Forest. There is no trace of any pre-Saxon, or rather pre-Anglian occupation, and the name Bromley, the broomy ley, or pasture, seems to indicate that the Anglian settlers of the seventh century, or thereabouts, found it an open space covered with nothing higher than brushwood. (The oaks of Needwood were famous; some still remain.) We first hear of the place in 1002, in the midst of the worst time of the Danish invasions. In that year Wulfric, surnamed Spot, Ealdorman of Mercia, gave it to his new foundation of the Benedictine Abbey of Burton-on-Trent. Up to that time it must, like most of the surrounding district, have formed part of the possessions of the Ealdormanship, and before that no doubt of the Mercian kings. It continued to belong to the Abbey till the Dissolution, when it passed to the Paget family, ancestors of the present Marquis of Anglesey, who is still Lord of the Manor of Abbot's Bromley itself.

My nephew, Mr. S. A. H. Burne, following the lead of his father's sister as dutifully as if he had been a native of the Banks' Islands,[11] determined to go further into the history of the place, and what I have now to tell you is the result of his investigations.

The Chartulary of Burton Abbey contains a document drawn up circa 1125, in the reign of Henry I,, from which it appears that the rents of the manor of Abbot's Bromley were then farmed by five men,—Aisulf the Priest, Godwin, Bristoald, Leuric, and Orm,—but the wood the Abbot kept in his own hands. He also received three shillings rent from Edric the Forester. The "wood" referred to is evidently the township of Bromley Hurst, and the "five men" must be the predecessors of the "4 or 5 of the cheif of the Town, whom they call'd Reeves," of Plot's account. I need not remind you that the Reeve was the ancient elected headman and representative of the township, as the Sheriff (shire-reeve) was of the county. But this is not all. A postcript in another hand follows this entry. It may be translated thus:—"Nevertheless, later on, Edric ceased to make this payment, and on their petition the Abbot granted to them his enclosures (hayes) with the grazing thereof to feed their cattle on, at a rent of 10s. per annum, and they" (i.e. the tenants) "acknowledge themselves to be the foresters and keepers of the woods (forestarii et custodes silvarum)."

I will give my nephew's conclusions in his own words. "If this means anything, it means that the Abbot relieved his tenants at Abbot's Bromley from the unwelcome presence of the forester, and allowed them, for a consideration, the grazing in his "hayes," which were small parks. But he still had the right of hunting, and these five men mentioned above undertook to safeguard his rights in this respect. (The Abbot seems to have held the modern belief that no gamekeeper is as good as an old poacher!)"

"The substitution of themselves for Edric would be a great gain for the tenants. They evidently recognized it to be so. Not only would the absence of a troublesome official be a matter for congratulation, but the recognized forester's perquisites,—such as dead wood, windfalls, and an occasional deer,—would be regarded as worth having. The more one looks into the economy of a forest manor such as this, the more clear is it that this concession of the Abbot's was one to which the villeins would cling most tenaciously. Now a parade, or, in modern terminology, 'a demonstration,' was in the Middle Ages the recognized way of asserting and keeping alive privileges and customs. I believe the Horn Dance served this purpose. No doubt from time to time the Abbots sought to detract from their predecessor's grant, and the villagers took themselves horns,—the natural emblem of a forester,—and paraded the village every year in assertion of their right to be themselves 'forestarii et custodes silvarum.'"[12]

I think there can be little doubt that it was in fact this feature of the local economic system that led to the institution of the local Horn Dance. But to every beginning there is a yet earlier beginning, and if anyone should maintain that the reindeers' horns,—for reindeers' horns they are beyond dispute,—came to Abbot's Bromley up the Trent and the Blythe in Viking galleys from the far north, I should not have a word to say to the contrary. Nor will I venture even to guess what memories of elkhunts in the snow, of earlier dramatic dances and disguises, may have crossed the seas with them. But that any more direct relationship than this can have existed between a rite practised by a settled agricultural and pastoral people[13] and one practised by nomadic tribes of hunters, can hardly, I think, be maintained.

One more example, of a more general kind. I mean the annual hunts of creatures not usually killed, either for food or for sport. These at once suggest the idea of totemism to the folklorist mind, and, in the case of Hunting the Wren on St. Stephen's Day, I would not attempt to contest the point. That custom is confined to the "Celtic fringe" of our islands, the parts where invasions have been fewest, where the oldest existing stocks of the population are to be found, and where, if anywhere, totemism may be supposed once to have flourished. But the annual hunts of owls and squirrels noted in various parts of England (and included by Mr. N. W. Thomas among relics of totemism, Folk-Lore, vol. xi., p. 250), differ from the wren-hunt in several important points. The species of creature hunted is not held specially sacred at other times, the dead body of the victim is not the subject of any subsequent rite, and the pursuit (wherever any definite details are forthcoming), is carried on in some particular spot, not visited or accessible on other occasions. The likeness to the wren-hunt is in fact only the superficial one of the annual recurrence of the chase.

The origin of the squirrel-hunt must be looked for, I think, in the hi.story of enclosures. From the time of the Statute of Merton in 1235, which empowered the lords of manors to enclose the waste lands of their manors, down to the final settlement come to by the local Enclosure Acts of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the question of enclosures was a source of chronic dispute and litigation in practically every parish in England. The Assize Rolls of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries teem with actions for trespass, for thefts of wood from parks, or fish from ponds, in reply to which the offenders pleaded ancient customary rights. The records of the Privy Council in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are full of petitions containing complaints and counter-complaints of illegal enclosure and illegal fence-breaking; when the incensed owners, like Justice Shallow, "made a Star Chamber matter of it." Often it is plain that the invasion of private enclosures was made simply for the purpose of testing or asserting a customary right of common. Now this, I submit, was the probable object of the owl and squirrel hunts. Observe that the incursions are not undertaken in pursuit of game birds or beasts. That would have rendered the hunters amenable to the game-law or forest-law. The quarry is worthless when captured, and nothing is recorded of its eventual fate. But the annual entry of a crowd into an enclosed park would be sufficient to prevent any customary right-of-way from lapsing. Conversely, owners of private roads sometimes still lock their gates once a year, to prevent a right-of-way from being acquired.[14]

It is in this way that I would explain the Good Friday squirrel-hunt in Shervage Wood, on the slope of the Quantock Hills (Folk-Lore, vol. xix., p. 41), and the similar hunt at the November Wake by Duffield men in Kedleston Park, enclosed no one knows when or by what authority from the Forest of Duffield Frith, In the latter case the raiders were accompanied by "rough music,"—clanging of pots and pans, as in that well-known form of popular legal demonstration, "riding the stang," (Folk-Lore, vol, xiv., p. 185.) With these, I think, should be classed the septennial Whitsuntide Ale held at the entrance to Blenheim Park. Here the surrounding district was nominally subject to forest law (as part of Wychwood Forest), as late as 1704, and the object of the festival is expressly said to have been a right-of-way. If it were not kept up, so the people said, a turnpike could be put up across the road from Woodstock to Bladon, which, they declare, was actually done as soon as it was discontinued. The people "claimed certain portions of wood from Wychwood Forest for use on the occasion," and the owner of the park, the Duke of Marlborough, provided a Maypole, and evergreens for the "Bowery," or open shed, erected for the sports. From the roof of this shed were hung two cages containing an owl and a hawk, which were supposed to be the pets of the burlesque "lady" of the feast, but it is not stated how they were procured. Burlesque ceremonies resembling the "Mock Mayor" rites were practised with regard to them, and the festival included a procession, morris-dancing, festival cakes, and other details into which I cannot now enter, (Folk-Lore, vol. xiv., pp. 171-75).

No one, I think, will accuse me of wishing to undervalue survivals, but it is needful to distinguish between one survival and another, between survivals from mediæval days and survivals from totemic days, between local variations and radical differences. It is the possibility of doing this that constitutes the special value and importance of European (and Oriental) folklore, as compared with that of peoples which have no recorded history.

We may ask, (as was asked at a recent meeting), why a given people should change from the matrilineal to the patrilineal method of reckoning descent, what are the causes of the varying forms assumed by totemism in different countries (as numerous in Melanesia as the variants of Cinderella or as the islands of the South Seas), why it should flourish in one place and die out in another, and so on. But in such cases we can do little more than speculate on the external influences, the psychological ideas, which may from time to time have caused change, development, decay, or survival of belief or custom. On the other hand, where historical records are forthcoming, we can go a good way towards actually ascertaining these things. We can say with tolerable confidence that the special form of the May festival at Castleton was caused by the political leanings of the people and the special idiosyncrasy of their clerical guide, at a time of political and religious stress; that the special form and continued existence of the morris dance at Abbot's Bromley is due to the local form of land tenure; that the effect of centuries of struggle between communal and individual rights in land may be traced in the jealous maintenance of perfectly useless privileges which takes shape in the squirrel-hunts. The analogy of this and other such evidence should assist our judgment as to the varied forms assumed by the institutions of savagery. Thirty years ago, we studied savage customs to explain European survivals; now we need to study European survivals to understand the developments of savage customs.

This is a point which I do not think has hitherto been sufficiently recognized. Sociology is the coming study of the immediate future, but sociologists seem not yet to realize that European folklore is the missing link, the bridge over the gulf, between savagery on one side and culture on the other. As was feelingly observed in my hearing not long ago, it is a far cry from the slums of East London to the Australian marriage system, and it is difficult to get young sociologists, eager to remedy the evils of the former, to spend time and patience in mastering the intricacies of the latter. The folklore of Europe shows the bearing of the one branch of study on the other, if only it is considered, not as a set of barren facts, but as the rungs of the ladder by which we have climbed, the landmarks of the successive stages through which we have passed, to reach our present level, a level to which others have yet to ascend.

The preference of savage to European folklore has also, as it seems to me, affected the progress of anthropology among classical students. The classical scholar, standing amazed before the spectacle of a civilization such as in some respects has never since been equalled, recoils from a comparison between the philosophers, the poets, the legislators, the empire-builders, to whom he looks up with veneration, and the half-naked savages of Australia or New Guinea. But to compare their actions with such "last infirmities of noble minds" as Lord Bacon "salving the weapon and not the wound," or Dr. Johnson touching every post as he passed, might not seem to them so bizarre and irreverent.

Yet what body, what organization in England, outside our own, takes more than a passing cognizance of such matters? Much is being done in the way of direct study of the rudimentary culture of the lower races, little in the study of the folk-learning of the more advanced. Yet the latter, as I have tried to show, is needful in the best interests of the former.

And herein lies the answer to the question with which I set out:—How can the Folk-Lore Society justify its continued existence? What is now its proper sphere. This field of labour is ours to go in and occupy. No one disputes it with us. Let us enter in and possess it.

Hitherto we have generalized, have taken up work now in this direction and now in that. "The pages of Folk-Lore" as one of the Council remarked the other day, "are strewn with the débris of abandoned projects." This is inevitable in the vague and formless period of beginnings. Experiments must be tried, and attempts be made, now in this direction, now in that. Some will prove failures; some, too successful, will be taken up by others better equipped for the task. Only gradually does the right path unfold itself Now, after the unorganized labour of a whole generation, the time for concentration of energies has come, for concentration on the methodical study of the folklore of our own country,

I do not appeal to the dilettante, nor even to the local antiquary. I appeal to the serious anthropologist, the sociologist, the philosopher, the historian of culture. The French, led by Monsieur Sébillot, have already gathered and synthetized the folklore of France; most of the principal countries of Europe have formed schemes and societies for dealing with theirs; what has been done in thirty years for the folklore of Great Britain? Henderson's Northern Counties, two volumes of reprints of Denham's Tracts, six of collected passages from other works, relating to as many English counties, one dealing with the Orkney and Shetland Islands, Dr. Maclagan's and Dr. Gregor's collections in the Highlands, ten or twelve articles in the Journal on English county folklore, a few on Scottish, and five or six on Irish, and a few studies of single customs. Independently of the Society, Wales is now fairly well represented, projects are mooted for further work in Ireland, and Mrs. Leather's Herefordshire collection will soon be ready. But eleven out of the forty English counties have practically never been dealt with at all, either by ourselves or anyone else, including such famous and individual ones as Kent, Hampshire, Somerset, Warwick, Derby, Cheshire, Norfolk, and the greater part of the Fen country; and the rest, as I have shown, have been very imperfectly examined.[15]

Let no one say there is nothing now to be found. Ten years ago, no one knew that there was any folk-music in England. The Folk-Song Society was founded. Not long ago I found the Secretary of the Society surrounded by the MSS. of a thousand airs from Dorset alone, which were awaiting classification and sifting. Mr. Cecil Sharp's Somerset collections grew under his hands, and filled volume after volume. Some months ago, a visitor at a country-house where I was staying entertained the party for the whole evening with Somersetshire songs, collected by Mr. Sharp from labourers on the estate of the singer's father,—old men whom he and his family had known all their lives without ever having discovered their musical powers. It is the same with folklore. Those who look for it will find it.

I do not mean of course that British folklore is of more value than that of other European countries, but that, as most countries have now taken up the study of their own lore, Great Britain and India are the principal fields lying untilled.

The German and Swiss Folklore Societies confine their output of Nachrichten and Zeitschriften mainly to the folklore of their own countries. We can hardly go so far as that. For our own sakes we must not confine ourselves to Great Britain. We must not get out of touch with the travellers who return to us from time to time, bringing their sheaves with them. Nor must we forget the needs of our Indian and Colonial members, some of whom are ill-placed for obtaining books, and depend on Folk-Lore to keep them in touch with the world. But some sort of concentration of our work seems to me desirable and even needful. I will not enter into details until I have some assurance of your support, but, if my views find favour with the Council and with the Society at large, I feel convinced that we shall be able to frame some definite proposals to lay before you at our next Annual Meeting.

Note I. Castleton.

At the time of my visit to Castleton, I did not know what I afterwards learnt, that Edward I. was Constable of the Castle of the Peak before his accession to the throne. He gave the patronage of the living to the Abbey of Vale Royal in Cheshire, with whom it continued till the Dissolution, when it was handed over to the newly-founded See of Chester. The church, which contains Norman features, is dedicated to St. Edmund, one of the royal English saints specially honoured by Henry III. Doubtless this was a re-dedication by Edward. His connection with the place is curiously corroborated by the resemblance I observed to Winchelsea. Castleton is not mentioned by name in Domesday Book, but is simply called "the land of William Peverel's Castle in Peak Forest."

There are two slight discrepancies between the accounts of Mr. Addy and Mr. Brooksbank. Mr. Addy says that the Bradwell people are supposed to be descended from convicts, and the Castletonians from slaves. Mr. Brooksbank reverses this. Mr. Addy says that the tower is adorned with oak-boughs on Garland Day, and the people carry sprigs of oak. Mr. Brooksbank says it is not oak but sycamore. If so, this probably betokens the Whig ascendancy under William and Mary.

"Royal oak
The Whigs to provoke.
Plane-tree leaves
The Church-folk are thieves: "

runs a rhyme of the rival factions quoted by Brand (i., p. 275). The Cavendish family, who were, as we know, among the main instruments in bringing about the Revolution, were then, and are still, lessees under the Crown of the Manor and Castle of the Peak, and the Rev. Samuel Cryer, as we have seen, was not a non-juror. He accepted the Revolution.

Mr. Brooksbank has given me the following interesting notes:

"For a young man and woman to go together in the evening on 'Cauler' (Cawlowe), the hill next the Castle, was supposed to be tantamount to a betrothal, and young people who are suspected to be keeping company furtively are advised to go on Cauler."

"If a Castleton girl married into another village a rope was put across the road to Hope, to bar her passage, and a forfeit exacted. This was done in the old road to Hope, skirting the hillside, not on the new road which runs down the centre of the valley."

"The Friday night before Wakes Sunday, (the first Sunday in September), was always called Stealing Night. The youths of the village were in the habit of taking anything they found out of its place, whether a broom, a cart, or anything else, and carrying it into the market-place, whence it had to be reclaimed by its owner. I can find no trace of redemption money being paid." "The steps of houses which abutted on the roadway were in comparatively recent times ploughed up on Plough Monday unless a fine were paid."

"On Christmas Eve all the miners used to knock off work at noon, choose the best bit of lead ore they could find, place a special candle on it, and then sit around it singing carols. They left the candle burning. This is said to have taken place at Odin Mine."

"'Shaking Day' is still kept. On Good Friday the children used to take bottles to the well of 'our Lady' in Cavedale, fill them from it, bring them home, put in Spanish juice (liquorice) and spices, and then put them in the dark till Easter Day, when they brought them to church, shook them, and allowed one another to drink out of each other's bottles." "The following seems to be part of an old carol referring to pre-Reformation education in the arts of illumination and embroidery:

They teached the boys to read and to write
With a silver pen and golden ink.
They teached the girls to knit and to sew
With . . . and golden thread."


Note II. The Horn-dance.

The following is Dr. Plot's account of the Horn-dance:

"At Abbots, or now rather Pagets Bromley, they had also within memory a sort of sport, which they celebrated at Christmas (on New Year, and Twelft-day) call'd the Hobby-horse dance, from a person that carryed the image of a horse between his leggs, made of thin boards, and in his hand a bow and arrow, which passing through a hole in the bow, and stopping upon a sholder it had in it, he made a snapping noise as he drew it to and fro, keeping time with the Musick: with this Man danced 6 others, carrying on their shoulders as many Rain deers heads, 3 of them painted white, and 3 red, with the Armes of the cheif families (viz. of Paget, Bagot, and Wells) to whom the revenews of the Town cheifly belonged, depicted on the palms of them, with which they danced the Hays, and other Country dances. To this Hobby-horse dance there also belong'd a pot, which was kept by turnes, by 4 or 5 of the cheif of the Town, whom they call'd Reeves, who provided Cakes and Ale to put in this pot; all people who had any kindness for the good intent of the Institution of the sport, giving pence a piece for themselves and families; and so forraigners too, that came to see it: with which Mony (the charge of the Cakes and Ale being defrayed) they not only repaired their Church but kept their poore too: which charges are not now perhaps so cheerfully boarn" (Plot's Natural History of Staffordshire, p. 434, ch. x., par. 66).

This suggests that the Horn-dance, with other such sports, had been discontinued under the Commonwealth. If it had been already revived in 1686, Dr. Plot had not heard of it. When I visited the place in the early nineties, the then vicar, who showed me the horns, told me that he was informed that the dance was formerly performed in the churchyard, after service, on three successive Sundays at Christmas time. Whether these were the Sundays between the dedication-day, Dec. 6th, and Christmas Day, or whether they were the Sundays in Christmas-tide, with Christmas Day itself, I cannot say, nor when the dance was removed (or restored?) to the fair-day. Miss Mary Bagot, daughter of the Rev. Walter Bagot, rector of the adjoining parish of Blithfield, wrote in 1817 of the local Christmas sports in the last years of the eighteenth century,—"a party from Abbot's Bromley came once, and must, I think, have performed Maid Marian's dance, from the faint recollection I have of it" (Links with the Past, p. 190). The cross-bow man, who still makes the "snapping" noise as described by Plot, and the man in woman's clothes, are now known as Robin Hood and Maid Marian, but it may be doubted whether this is not a modern pseudo-antique touch. The costumes now worn have been made and presented by some neighbouring ladies since 1899. The members of the North Staffordshire Field Club were informed in 1909 that they had been copied from the figures of the morris-dancers in the famous window at Betley (see Douce's Illustrations of Shakspeare), so they might be depended on to be quite correct! Three plates in Sir Benjamin Stone's Pictures show the various properties and the present costumes.


Note III. Folklore of the United Kingdom.

The following is a rough sketch of the progress of folklore collection in the United Kingdom. Additions to the list would be welcome.


ENGLAND.

Counties in which nothing has been done (11).

Bedford.
Buckingham.
Chester.
Essex.
Hampshire.
Huntingdon.
Kent.
Middlesex.
Nottingham.
Surrey.
Warwick.

Counties dealt with only by old-fashioned writers (6).

Cumberland.
Lancaster.
Norfolk.
Northampton.
Westmoreland.
Worcester.

Counties dealt with only in County Folklore (3).

Leicester.
Rutland.
Suffolk.

Counties in which only single Rites or Legends etc. have been dealt with in Folk-Lore (4).

Cambridge.
Derby.
Herts.
Somerset.

Counties on which articles have appeared in Folk-Lore etc., but not otherwise dealt with (6).

Berks.
Dorset.
Monmouth.
Oxford.
Sussex.
Wilts.

Counties variously dealt with (10).

(a, by old writers; b, by modern ones; c, in County Folklore; d, in Folk-Lore etc.)

Cornwall, a, b.
Devon, a, b, d.
Durham, a, b.
Gloucester, c, d.
Hereford, b (promised).
Lincoln, c, d.
Northumberland, a, b, c, d.
Salop, b.
Stafford, a, b (slight), d.
York—N. Riding, b; E. Riding, b, c; W. Riding, b. (The West Riding Anthropological Society is now beginning work)


WALES.

Works by Sir John Rhys, Rev. Elias Owen, Mrs. Trevelyan, Wirt Sikes. Byegones columns.


ISLE OF MAN.

Sir John Rhys, A. W, Moore, Train, Sophia Morison in Folk-Lore.


SCOTLAND.

Aberdeenshire.—Gregor.
Argyllshire.—R. C Maclagan, J. G. Campbell.
Caithness, Sutherland, and Ross.—Folk-Lore and Folk-Lore Journal.
Hebrides.—Goodrich Freer, Macphail in Folk-Lore.
Highland Folk-tales.— J. F. Campbell.
Lowlands.—Sir W. Scott, Napier.


IRELAND.

Folk-tales.—Patrick Kennedy, Larminie, Croker, Curtin, Hyde,. Joyce, Lady Wilde.
Articles in Folk-Lore, Folk-Lore Journal, etc.—Connemara, Donegal, Down, Galway, Leitrim, Louth, Meath, Roscommon, Sligo, Wexford, etc.


CHANNEL ISLANDS.

Guernsey.—Macculloch (ed. Carey).
Jersey.—Entirely wanting.


SCILLY ISLANDS.

Wanting.

  1. L'Annee Sociologique, 1900, reviewing A. F. Scot, Offering and Sacrifice.
  2. Folklore as an Historical Science, p. 171.
  3. Ibid., citing the Rev. James Macdonald in Folk-Lore, vol. iii., 338, q.v.
  4. See Note I., infra.
  5. The year of Marston Moor.
  6. One who "whatsoever King might reign would still be Vicar of Bray, Sir!"
  7. So Mr. Brooksbank tells me: the point escaped Mr.Addy. The "queen" was given to Mrs. Brooksbank in the first year of her residence at Castleton, 1904.
  8. The date is now popularly supposed to be that of the Wake or Dedication Feast, but is noted in the Staffordshire Directory of 1861 as being that of the local fair. Henry III. granted the Abbots of Burton a fair at Abbot's Bromley on the Eve, Day, and Morrow of St. Bartholomew (August 24th). This is doubtless the same fair, reckoning the date by Old Style. The dedication of the Church is St. Nicholas (December 6th).
  9. See Note III., infra.
  10. Bagot’s Bromley is first mentioned in the twelfth century, when it was already the property of the lineal ancestor of Lord Bagot, the present owner. It contains a woodland tract of some 1200 acres, called Bagot’s Park, probably already enclosed from Needwood Forest in the same century and preserving its natural features untouched. In it are some wonderful old oaks, (among them the Beggar’s Oak, under which tradition says any beggar has a right to a night’s lodging), a herd of deer, and a herd of wild goats, on the preservation of which the existence of the Bagot family is popularly supposed to depend. They are said to have been given by King John to the Bagot of his day.
  11. See infra, p. 42.
  12. S. A. H. Burne, Transactions North Staffs. Field Club, 1908-9, p. 143. Not impossibly, in King Stephen's time, they had some difficulty in getting their rights acknowledged by the defaulter Edric.
  13. Cattle pastures were a special feature of Needwood Forest at the time of Domesday, and remain so to this day.
  14. A particular date is often chosen for this. An old gentleman in Cheshire, who died in 18—, always locked his gates on All Fools' Day, April 1st. I have myself been stopped on New Year's Day by a locked gate, in Shropshire. Staple Inn in London is always closed to casual wayfarers on Ascension Day.
  15. See Note III., infra.