Folk-Lore/Volume 22/The Essential Unity of Folklore
The Essential Unity of Folklore.
When last year I had the honour of addressing you from this Chair, I ventured to prophesy that in a year's time the Council would be able to come before you with proposals for some definite work which should employ and concentrate the energies of the Society at large. I am now so fortunate as to find my prophecy fulfilled. You will have seen from the Annual Report, now before you, that the Council feel with me that the time has come for an endeavour to present the world with some authoritative corpus of British Folklore. A full and complete record can hardly be obtained until the series of County Folklore is completed; but that can hardly be in the lifetime of many of us here present, and meanwhile, in the picturesque language of the folk, "while the grass grows, the horse starves." We have, therefore, resolved, at the suggestion of Mr. Crooke, to undertake the very serious and important task of bringing out a new edition of the Calendar Customs portion of the work well known to us all as Brand's Antiquities. The history of the book, however, is not so well known. The nucleus of it is a little treatise on the local popular beliefs and customs, compiled by the Rev. Henry Bourne, Curate of All Saints, Newcastle-on-Tyne, in 1725. Fifty-two years later (in 1777), this was enlarged and added to by the Rev. John Brand, subsequently Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries. Mr. Brand continued to accumulate materials for the enrichment of the work, but at his death in 1806 these were still in Ms. They came eventually into the hands of Sir Henry Ellis, who added considerably to them, rewrote and rearranged them on a new plan, and published them in two quarto volumes in 1813. He then further enlarged and published them in 1841 in the three-volume edition familiar as Ellis s Brand. Several crimes have since then been committed in the name of Brand, but Sir Henry Ellis's still remains the standard edition, and the standard work on the folklore of Great Britain. Much water has, however, flowed under London Bridge since 1841 and 1848, the date of his last recension, and the time seems ripe for a new and fuller edition of the historic work. The Council propose for the present to confine themselves to the Calendar Customs. These, it is suggested, should be collated with certain notes by Brand and Ellis left still in Ms., with Hone's Every Day Book and Table Book, with Chambers' Book of Days, the old volumes known as Time's Telescope, the publications of our own Society, Notes and Queries, the collections of the late Canon Benham contributed to the Church Times, and with local works of all sorts. Further, the information should be brought up to date, and customs now extinct be distinguished from those still existing.
Mr. Henry B. Wheatley, a member of the Council, who has been a member of the Society from very early days, and whose special qualifications for the work need no explanation or recommendation from me, has kindly consented to act as Honorary Editor, with the assistance of a competent staff of sub-editors. But a whole army of readers, collectors, and correspondents will be needed for some years to come, if the work is to be done in a manner worthy of the Society and the subject. It will mean a long pull, and a strong pull, and a pull all together, and no member should be deterred by diffidence from offering to take some small part in the work. What the book will eventually grow to, and in what form it will appear, must be left to the future. Meantime, Folk-Lore will go on as usual, and the County Folklore series will not be discontinued.
I have now to ask your attention to the revised edition of the Prospectus, copies of which have been forwarded to all members. In it the Council have endeavoured to formulate with greater precision the exact scope and limits of the Society's studies, and you will be asked to-night to sanction a revised wording of Rule I. in accordance with this definition. Even yet there are those who confound folklore with architectural antiquities on the one hand, and with dialects on the other. Others, who have arrived at some perception of its nature, still look upon it as a miscellaneous collection of odds and ends, interesting only to the mere dilettante, the intellectual bric-a-brac hunter, and are far from realizing that it is the product of an important phase of man's intellectual history, and, as such, most worthy the attention of all serious students of human nature.
For what is Folklore? The word itself answers the question. It is the learning of the people, the traditional lore of the folk,—whether among the backward races of mankind or among the backward classes of more advanced races. It is not folk-speech. It is not art or handicraft. It is the product of the Thought, the Idea, of early or barbaric man, expressed in word or in action, in Belief, Custom, Story, Song, or Saying. This is no mere arbitrary selection of subjects. On the contrary, it represents with tolerable completeness the mental activities of unlettered folk.
Let me try to show this by a concrete example. A traditional ballad, known by the name of the "Bitter Withy," has lately come to light in Herefordshire and the adjoining counties (and in one case in Sussex), where it is (or was) sung as a Christmas carol. It does not appear in Professor Child's great collection of ballads, and its discovery is due to the personal enquiries of members of the Folk-Song Society, followed up by letters to local papers. The ballad tells how the Virgin Mary granted her Son's request to be allowed to go and play, on condition that she should "hear no tales" of Him "at night when" He "came home." His playfellows taunt Him with His lowly birth, and so, to prove His real origin rmd His powers, He makes a bridge of sunbeams over the sea, and runs across it safely. His companions trying to do the same are drowned.
"So it's up Lincull, and down Lincull
Their mothers did whoop and call;
'O Mary mild, call home your Child,
For ours are drowned all.'
Then Mary mild called home her Child
And laid Him across her knee,
And with a handful of bitter withy
She gave Him slashes three.
'And it's oh! the withy, the bitter withy.
That caused Me to smart;
The withy shall be the very first tree
To perish at the heart!'"
Now here we have, first of all, the observation of a fact in Nature. The willow does actually decay before other trees. It "perishes at the heart" while preserving an outward appearance of soundness. Then we have an aetiological myth invented to account for this peculiar property of the willow. It is attributed to a curse laid on the tree by a Higher Power. (The particular story told is a version of an incident in the Apocryphal Gospels. I shall return to this by and by.)
Resulting from the perishable nature of the willow we have, further, not quite a taboo, strictly so-called, but a customary prohibition. For in Herefordshire and the adjacent counties the willow may not be used as a whip for chastising children or animals; because, says one informant, our Saviour was beaten with it by His Mother,—(here we have the myth alleged as a reason for the custom); because it will stunt their growth, says another; because it will give them internal pains, says a third. Here we meet with the world-wide belief that the qualities of any given object may be imparted to another by simple contact. The scientific call that "sympathetic magic," but there is little or no magic about it in the eyes of the simple folk who hold the belief To them it is merely a natural law to be reckoned with or utilized as occasion demands. They reason, I imagine,—or their forefathers did,—on the analogy of disease. If that can be communicated by contact, why not anything else? At all events willow-rods may not be used in chastisement on the Welsh Marches, and neither (in Salop, at least) may the low-growing broom, on the same plea that it will stunt the victim's growth. The mountain-ash, sovereign against witchcraft, is there, as in Scotland, considered the proper wood for carters' whip-stocks. The popular use of the tall and slender birch is known to every one (painfully well known, it may be, to some!). The ground-ash, too, probably owes much of its credit as an instrument of punishment to its straight and noble growth, A Scottish schoolmaster migrated to Cheshire and imported with him the national attribute of his office, the tawse. Public opinion was greatly incensed by his choice of a weapon, and the village black-smith spoke out. "Hey, gaffer," he said firmly to the Dominie, "thou'st been a-'ammerin' our Tom wi' a strap wi' a 'ole in it, 'stead of a stick, and ah wunna 'ave it. Whoy what dost think ash-plants was growed for?"
To return to the willow. If its use is forbidden for some purposes, it is prescribed for others. Its quick decay, and especially its deceptive appearance of soundness, are no doubt the reasons that it is used as the emblem of a forsaken maiden. To "wear the willow" for a false lover is a proverbial saying, and Brand tells us that in the seventeenth century a girl about to be married would send presents of willow garlands to her discarded suitors. It was used with similar symbolism in funeral rites.
"Lay a garland on my herse
Of the dismal yew;
Maidens, willow-branches bear,
Say I died true."
Here, in the folklore of the willow-tree, we have Belief and Practice, Myth, Song, and Saying, inextricably mingled,—and this is the point I want to put before you to-night, that Folklore is not an assemblage of miscellaneous items,—it is an essential unity. You cannot separate Belief, Custom, and Myth,—(Songs and Sayings are but concrete forms enshrining these),—as matters of study. The three are interdependent, homogeneous. They are in their several ways the expression of the psychology of uncultured man; in other words, they make up the Learning of the Folk,—Folklore.
You will, however, I am sure, have already perceived the weak point in my illustration from the willow-tree. It does not involve Custom in the sense of Social Organization or Institution, and it may reasonably be asked how Folklore, under our definition of the word, can be held to include social, or, rather, institutional customs? In reply to this question we may point to India, where the whole social fabric of Hinduism is reared on the foundation of the caste system, the main feature of which is the preservation of purity of race or caste by avoidance of contact. Or we may cite totemism with its accompaniment of exogamy. Here it is impossible to say where Belief ends and Custom begins. We can only perceive that the whole social system is moulded by obscure beliefs about the relations between the human race, the brute creation, and inanimate nature.
But it is certainly more difficult to perceive the connection between Belief and Custom in Europe, and especially in England, where the old village system has been so entirely broken up, and the old social groups disintegrated. In Ireland something of an older state of things still remains. Their agrarian system differs from ours, the ancient customs of inheritance still linger among the peasantry, and the sense of family solidarity and mutual responsibility is still strong. Penniless members of the family group quarter themselves together without ceremony on their richer brethren, and marriage continues to be a family affair, not merely the concern of the contracting parties only. There is a different tone of thought, and a corresponding difference in practice. But in England the whole trend of our social system for the past few generations has been increasingly individualistic. Individual ownership of land prevails, individual occupation, individual cultivation. Self-help is the approved principle of action in all classes. Every adult must struggle for himself, must make his own way, and marriage becomes more and more a matter for the individuals themselves alone. The influence of the traditional solidarities wanes on every hand. Yet even here, when society re-moulds itself and men gather into groups again, common belief is a factor in re-creating common action. We see Roman Catholics intermarrying among themselves, each individual Nonconformist chapel tending to become the nucleus of a social set, and adherence to particular economic tenets inspiring the formation of Trades Unions. Thought still moves to action, and to common action, but the old traditional ideas have ceased to shape or colour the institutions of the country. Hence we often say that European folklore exists in a state of survival.
Now what is Survival?
Etymologically, it should mean something qui survit, which outlives its fellows, like the Wandering Jew, encountered suddenly and unexpectedly, now here, now there, in every quarter of the globe from century to century. In practice, we use the word rather to denote a relic, a dead thing cut off from its source, like a lock of hair preserved long after the head it was cut from has mouldered into dust. A survival, in the technical sense, has been defined as "a vestigial or decadent element of culture, which has ceased to be in organic relation with the prevailing form of culture," or, as it might be expressed, "has out-lasted the form of culture to which it originally belonged." If we look into the matter closely we shall find, I think, that the folklore survival consists of certain special elements of an ancient culture existing apart from the rest. Either the strong framework of Institution is wanting, or else the animating force of Belief. When the Lord Mayor offers his sword to the King at the City boundary, only to have it returned to him, the ceremony was once a living reality, the acknowledgment by a tributary ruler of his liege lord on the one hand, and on the other the proof of the sovereign's confidence in the loyalty of his vassal. Now, (though hardly to be reckoned folklore), it has become "a mere survival," an empty form, a relic of the past which no longer has any real function in the social polity of the day. The ceremony, in fact, has out-lasted the Institution to which it belonged. When we mechanically avoid walking under ladders, or throw spilt salt over the left shoulder, or turn over a coin on hearing the first cuckoo,—still more, when we deal cards, or pass the decanter, the way of the sun,—Custom (or rather Practice) survives, Belief, Again, the Lushai, the Hausa, and the Bushman believes that the marvellous incidents in his folk-tales might, and probably did, happen,—that men were changed into beasts, and beasts spoke and acted as men. The European child listens with delight to Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, but he does not believe that a rat could become a coachman or a beast be a transformed prince. The Story survives the Belief.
But when Belief survives, though Customs may be changed and Stories forgotten, then "the case is altered." The survival is no mere dead relic then.
Let me tell you of an incident which happened within my own knowledge, and which could probably be paralleled in any county in England. On the 2ist January, 1879, a labouring man was sent with a horse and cart from Ranton Abbey in Staffordshire to Woodcote Hall, Shropshire, a distance of fourteen or fifteen miles. On the way he had to pass over a bridge which carries the high road over the Birmingham and Liverpool Canal. The canal runs through a deep cutting between spoil-banks planted with trees, the bridge is of peculiar construction, and the whole is a rather fine bit of engineering work by Telford. It is a picturesque spot with an eerie and uncanny reputation. Well, the man returned late at night with his empty cart and tired horse, when just as he reached the bridge a black Thing with white eyes sprang out of the trees and alighted on the horse's back. (A cat, did ye say? No, it wunna no cat.) The weary horse broke into a canter; the terrified man lashed at the intruder; but to his horror the whip went through the Thing, and fell from his hand to the ground. How he got rid of the invader he never knew, but at length, his horse "all of a lather," he reached the village of Woodseaves, and there told his tale, alarming one of his hearers, (whom I know well to this day), so much that he stayed at Woodseaves all night rather than cross the Big Bridge to reach his home.
Well, the ghost-seer got home safely at last with his horse and cart, perfectly sober, as I was assured a few days later by his master, who was watching for his return; and the whip was picked up next day just where he reported having dropped it. A couple of days or so afterwards, the village policeman called on Mr. Bailey, the man's master, and desired him to give information of his having been stopped and robbed on the Big Bridge a few nights before, (for such was the form in which the story had reached the ears of the representative of the Law). Mr. Bailey, amused, gave him the correct version. The policeman was much disappointed. He was a local man, (which Mr. Bailey was not), and well up in the local traditions. "Oh, was that all, sir?" he said. "Oh, I know what that was. That was the Man-Monkey, sir, as always does come again at the Big Bridge, ever since the man was drowned in the Cut."
Now this cannot be called a case of mere "survival" in the ordinary technical sense. It is no mere dead relic of the past; it is a living and influential belief of the present, just as much as the Burmese belief (Folk-Lore, vol. xxi., p. 371), that "a man may turn into a tiger in the evening without any fuss," is living and influential.
So, too, with other beliefs about the lower animals. "They're coorus craiturs, bees," said an old Shropshire woman to me, years ago. "There's a luck about 'em, for sartain." Every beekeeper can give you instances of the death of bees caused by omitting to inform them of human deaths. A farmer's wife whom I knew in Staffordshire forgot this precaution at the time of her husband's death in the summer of 1892, and found in the course of the next winter that only one hive was living. This she managed to save, not by feeding it, as might be supposed, but by changing the ownership. She formally gave it to her little boy, the dead's man natural heir. The bees were contented, and remained. Another woman, in Shropshire, more prudent, was heard telling the bees of her husband's death thus,—"Bees, bees, the poor Maister's dead, so now yo mun work for me." A member of the Folk-Lore Society, staying at West Malvern the summer before last, noticed a fine row of beehives in a cottage garden, and stopped to remark on them to the owner. After a little preliminary conversation she said,—"In some places I know they always tell the bees when there is a death in the family. Do they ever do so in this part of the country?" "Well 'm," replied the woman, "we didn't tell them when my aunt died, but when my husband's father died we did, because, you see, he was in the house." "A-ah!" ejaculated the lady, sympathetically, in the tone of one who had received new light on an important subject, "Yes, ma'"am," continued the good woman, pleased with the other's ready comprehension, "and it is surprising how they seem to understand you. They set up a loud sort of humming directly, quite a different noise to what they make at other times."
Again, when an ague-stricken girl in the Lincolnshire Fens pinned a lock of her hair to an aspen, with the petition, "Aspen-tree, aspen-tree, I prithee to shak' an' shiver i'stead o' me;" when an old woodman in the same county humbly asked leave of the elder before he ventured to cut it; when a boy in Needwood Forest shrieked with fright when someone burnt elder boughs, (which, there, are forbidden fuel), lest "the Devil should be down the chimney in a minute," (here we have a real "taboo" with its magico-religious sanction); when in the same district orders were given to refrain from burning fern, lest it should cause inconvenient rain; when hawthorn boughs are brought into the house on Ascension Day to preserve it from lightning, because “under a thorn our Saviour was born”; when your gardener, as in some counties, will only sow parsley on Good Friday to ensure the growth of the seed, or, as in others, declines to transplant it, lest it should cause a death in the family;—these and countless other such cases are not “survivals.” They are matters of genuine honest belief in what the people think to be actually true. Whether it be a belief in occult properties and powers, in a mysterious association with higher beings, in the historic truth of myths, or in imaginary natural laws of cause and effect, makes little difference. The point is that the belief is living and influential, prompting to action; and, alien though it may be to the culture of the more advanced classes of the nation, it is part of the native home-grown culture of the people who held it.
While we cannot, then, say that there is no living belief in European folklore, neither can we say that there is no survival in savagery. Take, for example, the ceremonial reluctance that must be shown by the bride in the marriage rites of almost every country, no matter how free an agent she may have been in her choice of a husband. Whether this actually originated in marriage by capture, or whether it be only the formal expression of natural feminine timidity, it is surely a survival nowadays, wherever women are permitted to exercise their freewill in the matter. The couvade, when it is kept up with no active belief to motive it, the taboo on speaking to a mother-in-law for which no raison d’être in existing custom has ever been discovered, are survivals from a forgotten state of things. We constantly hear of “traces” of mother-right among patrilineal peoples, and “traces” of totemism among non-totemic peoples. What are these but survivals, relics of a forgotten and unrecorded past? The most we can say is, I think, that survivals occur in the customs of savagery and predominate in those of Europe.
I need not further labour the point of the essential solidarity of folklore, whether of its component elements,—belief, custom, and story,—or of its two great phases, savage and civilized. But I think you will feel with me that it is an important point, because the way we regard the subject must affect our method of studying it. If we regard folklore not as a miscellaneous collection of items to be put together like a jig-saw puzzle, but as a whole to be examined and analysed, we shall approach it differently. We shall try to distinguish the normal and essential features of a rite or custom from variations and accretions, we shall note which of the constituent elements of folklore enter into it, and which are wanting. We shall take environment into consideration, and, if survival be present, we shall try, (as I have urged before), to discover what it is a survival from? Some time or other that survival must have fitted into its environment. What was that environment? What period, what state of society does the survival survive from? We must, (I repeat once more), discriminate between survivals from mediaeval times and survivals from totemic times, survivals of barbarism and survivals of outworn cultures.
I know that not every one is willing to admit that the latter form of survival exists, but I cannot for my own part see how it can be denied that cases of it do occur, as well as the converse, but more familiar, case of archaic survivals embedded in modern practice. How else, but as a survival from ancient or imported culture, can we account for the common use of the pentacle as a protective charm in Wales, for finding an old Indian squaw reckoning with archaic Celtic numerals used in Cumberland for counting sheep, and for hearing Jamaican negroes singing fragments of an old Enijlish ballad embedded in an African folk-tale? Take folk-medicine for example. Old-fashioned village doctresses all over England will tell you that you should never touch a hurt or sore with the forefinger, because that finger is poisonous. The middle finger must always be used. "Any doctor will tell you so," one informant assured me; and once upon a time this was true enough. The use of the digitus veneficus was prohibited in all early medical treatises. Now it only survives among the folk.
Again,—in 1902 a man was tried at Blackburn for stealing a valuable dog, with intent to kill it, boil its body, and use the fat as an ointment for rheumatism. More recently, an Irish friend volunteered the information to me that in Connaught the fat of young puppies (known as dog-grease) was esteemed a valuable remedy for rheumatism; and only last October I saw, (and unfortunately omitted to take note of), a newspaper article on dogs in Germany, in which it was incidentally mentioned that dogs there are liable to be killed for the sake of their fat, which is used for the cure of consumption. In another English case, which occurred in 1885, a woman was found to have killed a newly-born puppy, boiled it, and given the broth to her weakly infant to strengthen it. Signor Busutil gives a recipe for the use of puppy broth in Malta as a popular remedy for the ill-effect of fright, which seems to be a common malady there.
Now if we go back to the sixteenth century and to the autobiography of Ambroise Paré, the great French surgeon, the most advanced and innovating practitioner of his day, we find him obtaining from a brother surgeon at Turin an invaluable recipe for a "balm" for dressing gunshot wounds, which previously, be it remembered, had been treated with boiling oil. This "balm" was made with "young whelps just born" and earthworms preserved in Venice turpentine, boiled together in oil of lilies. Here, then, we find the newest and most approved leechcraft of that day surviving in the folk-medicine of this,—and notice that the original recipe came from Piedmont and was carried to Paris. In the same way, no doubt, it travelled to Germany, England, and Ireland, and probably whereever else soldiers fought in the making of modern Europe and surgeons dressed their wounds.
Another medical example. Here, there, and everywhere in the British Isles, first one folklorist and then another stumbles on a variant of the old toothache charm, to be written and carried about the patient, which runs somewhat as follows,—'Peter sat on a marble stone. Jesus Christ said,—'What aileth thee, Peter?' Peter saith,—'Lord, my teeth acheth so that I can neither go, lie, nor stand.' Jesus saith unto him,—'Follow me, and whosoever weareth these lines for my sake, he shall never have the toothache.' "Latin versions of this popular charm occur in Anglo-Saxon and mediaeval medical treatises as formulæ prescribed by approved authority. Here, again, the folklore remedy of the present day was the property of the learned in times past, and the medium by which it was disseminated was obviously an intrusive culture, namely the ecclesiastical culture of the Middle Ages.
Turn now to folk-literature, (if I may so call it). The same "intrusive culture" must be responsible for the currency of the myth related in the Bitter Withy ballad already referred to. The story of the Child Christ making a bridge of sunbeams and his playfellows failing to follow Him over it, is a variant of a far less poetical one related in the Apocryphal Gospels, in which He sits, or hangs a jug, on a sunbeam, and His companions fail to do so. The part taken by the mothers of both is wanting. A French prose version of this story was rendered into Southern English rhymed verse about the year 1300. Thus we can actually trace the steps by which the story from being locked up in books and in a dead language came within the ken of the English folk. Put into ballad-form, furnished, ballad-fashion, with a dramatic plot and climax, and adapted to their own belief and practice by the quaint suggestion of the maternal anger and the whipping with willow, it has been incorporated, as we have seen, into the native traditional lore.
Nothing, in fact, illustrates the story of survival better than the history of the European ballad, as told in three recent essays by Professor W. P. Ker. Before giving you the results of his investigations, however, let me make an attempt,—a very rash attempt, I am afraid!—to state exactly what a ballad is. I should define it as a lyrical narrative poem preserved by oral tradition, of which the characteristic features are that it is composed in rhyming stanzas and has a definite plot,—just a few incidents leading up to a climax, simply narrated, with conventional epithets,—green grass, red gold, fair maids, and the like,—with the same idea repeated several times in varying phrases, like the variations of a melody, and, lastly, in the most perfect and typical examples of the ballads, with a recurring-refrain or burden to guide the movements of the dancers. For the ballad, as the etymology of the word shows, was originally a vocal accompaniment of dancing.
Early in the twelfth century,—that great century of new impulses, new movements, new studies, and reformed institutions, when society was knitting Itself together again after the chaos of the Dark Ages,—early in that century, so Professor Ker tells us, preachers in different parts of Northern Europe began to denounce a new fashion of dancing and singing in churches and churchyards which had lately spread from France. The words of some of the caroles which they held up to reprobation have been preserved and prove to be neither more nor less than refrains, such as ballad-lovers know so well. The earliest French caroles seem to have been purely lyrical songs, without any narrative plot, and the French rondes preserve this early form to the present day; but narrative soon followed, and it was in this shape that the ballad spread to other countries.
The traditional ballad is common to France, the Peninsula (with the single exception of Castile), Piedmont, Germany, Scandinavia, and the English-speaking parts of the British Isles. It does not appear ever to have penetrated into the region of Celtic culture, and in Southern Europe it stops short at Tuscany, where the popular songs are purely lyrical. The limited and well-defined area which it covers thus makes the task of investigation fairly possible.
The place where above all others the ballad took root and flourished was Scandinavia, The French lyrical dancing game came north just when what Professor Ker calls the "Viking industry" was passing away and the Scandinavian kingdoms were aspiring to enter into the comity of European nations. It carried all before it. The old native alliterative unrhymed verse, the old native literary culture, came to an end. The foreign culture planted in its place grew and flourished, and took on new and finer forms in its adopted home. The themes of the Danish ballads were not confined to the wandering tales,—the Singing Bone, the Elfin Lover, the hero poisoned by his sweetheart,—which the ballad has carried with it wherever it has penetrated. Political events, gallant feats of arms, and tragedies of the countryside, in Denmark and the sister-countries, were celebrated in ballads, which there "became the form and vehicle of original heroic poetry," and the Danish ballads, so say those who are conversant with the Northern tongues, surpass all others in fire and beauty.
How is such a complete and extraordinary revolution to be accounted for,—the native form of poetry discarded and the foreign style adopted in its place? Professor Kcr attributed it partly to the psychological moment at which the novel fashion was introduced, but mainly to the social conditions of the environment in which it was planted. The old Northern system of land tenure favoured the growth of a class of freeholders neither nobles nor peasants, but, as we should say, untitled gentry. Early Danish society was thus largely made up of small landowners, and was accordingly possessed of more solidarity and therewith more unity of culture than that of highly feudalized lands. "It is possible," says Professor Ker, "for a nation to be gentle all through, 'the Quality' not a distinct class from the Quantity." However this may be, Danish historians are agreed that the ballads were originally, and for long, the pastime of the gentry. The Faroe Islanders, in their ballad-dances, have preserved what was the favourite amusement in the mediæval Danish country houses. Certain it is that when, in the sixteenth century, the current traditional ballads were at length committed to writing, it was by Danish ladies, and in the most important case at the instigation of the queen. Moreover, mediæval Denmark had scarcely any poetry besides the ballads. She had no literary poets, no Dante, no Chaucer. So the best poetic feeling of the country found expression in the shape of the ballad, which was the oral literature of a nation, not of a class.
When the old social order of Denmark passed away, the living original ballad passed away with it, and ballad-poetry is now but a survival,—the survival of what once was culture, the remains of which are gathered up by the folklore collector from the mouths of fishermen and peasants in lonely huts and obscure corners,—beautiful relics, but relics only.
But, long ere this stage was reached, the ballad-poetry of Scandinavia crossed the North Sea,—(thanks no doubt to the seafaring and commercial habits of the Northmen),—and found a congenial home in the Lowlands of Scotland. Something in the rough, simple unlettered life of the Borders, resembling that of its earlier home, formed a suitable nidus for its growth. It became part of the life of the country; it was used to record local events and tragedies as it had been on the other side of the sea. As it travelled southwards into England it lost much of its original grace and fragrance. Presently it was no longer accompanied by dancing; it dropped its characteristic refrain. It degenerated in the hands of professional balladwriters; it got printed on broadsheets; it travelled in pedlars' packs. Like the Last Minstrel it
"tuned to please a peasant's ear
The harp a King had loved to hear."
Divorced from the Customs to which it belonged, it became a dead relic, "a mere survival."
Incidentally, the history of the genesis and decay of the ballad-poetry of the North bears on another important point,—the place of the racial element in folklore. Though the geographical area covered by the ballads is not racial, but cultural, the racial element is not absent. We have the French setting the fashion to their neighbour-nations in styles of song and dance, as they did in architecture, in arms, and in chivalry, and as they do now in cookery and costume. In matters of method, France has always been the leader of Europe. Then we have the Northern nations exhibiting the special trait predicated of them by Professor Gwatkin, lecturing at Cambridge some ten or twelve years ago, (I quote from memory),—"They were not a people of marked original genius, but they were the best of learners, and soon bettered their masters." The occasion of his observation was the rapid transformation of the rude Northmen who settled on the French coast in the ninth and tenth centuries into the polished Norman chivalry of the eleventh. The "Norman" architecture which they brought with them into England speaks to this day of the mutual relations of France and Scandinavia, and Professor Ker's story of the connection between the French and Danish ballads is unintentional evidence to the same effect. It is evident that race gives the ballads their colour, though culture gave them form and social environment vitality.
One more group of survivals must be mentioned before I close. It is one which has so far received little notice from collectors, and I am the more anxious to draw attention to it because it is one into which any resident in England can enquire for himself in his own locality, and because the details which would assuredly come to light in the course of such an enquiry would be of the utmost service in compiling the projected great edition of Brand. I refer to the Annual Wakes as they are called in the northern counties, known as Feasts in the southern counties, and Revels in the extreme south and west, still held in the majority of country villages on the anniversary of the patron saint of the village church. Few perhaps realize how many interesting features are connected with these local festivals,—the special viands prepared for them, the special sports celebrated at them, the dates (often reckoned by Old Style) on which they are held, and the agricultural seasons with which they coincide. One such wake was brought to my notice for the first time last autumn, that, namely, at West Witton in Wensleydale (Yorkshire), which begins on St. Bartholomew's Day (August 24th) and lasts several days. On the last day of the wake the children drag an effigy, supposed to represent the saint, up and down the village, and finally throw it on to a bonfire, shouting the following rhyme:
"At Burskill Beck he broke his neck.
At Wadham's End he couldn't fend.
At Birskill End he made his end.
At Penhill Crags he tore his rags.
At Hunter's Thorn he blew his horn.
At Capplebank Stee he broke his knee."
These names seem to be parish boundaries. The rite is called "burning owd Barle." Obviously it cannot be accounted for by any post-Christian form of cult. It is a survival of something earlier, which has outlasted more than one set of beliefs, so that we have here in the Church-Wake an archaic survival and a survival from culture, meeting and coalescing in a single rite.
So great is the difference between Then and Now that I need hardly, I think, enter into any defence of the use of the word "survival" with reference to these old church dedications. What significance have the names of St. Pancras and St. Vedast to the ordinary Londoner of the present day } Even the best-known and best-authenticated saints are now, for the most part, regarded from a point of view widely different from that of the men who placed our ancient churches under their protecting care. I should like to say a great deal as to these subsidiary cults of mediæval Christendom, but I must not detain you too long. I will only point out that the dedication of a church usually reveals the approximate date of the establishment of a site of Christian worship on the spot, together with the special form and bias of the newly introduced cult. There were fashions in saints in the Middle Ages, as there were in the architecture and in armour. The Roman and Celtic missions, the British and the Anglo-Saxon Church, all had their special saints. The Norman Conquest introduced others, and the Crusades others again. Even the reasons which determined the choice of a particular saintly guardian may sometimes be discovered by local investigation.
On the other side, the barbaric or archaic side of the survival, I will remind you that we have historical evidence that the feasts of Pagandom were of set policy taken over and adopted by the Church. As a matter of fact, local annual feasts which we cannot but call pre-Christian still linger, independently of churches or parishes, in the well-dressings of the north of England and the hill-wakes of my own special county, Shropshire. There was usually some special rite to be performed at these hill-wakes, and even sometimes a mythic pretext for the ascent of the hill. At Pontesford Hill wakes, which were kept up on Palm Sunday within living memory, and perhaps linger still, the excuse was the search for a golden arrow, dropped by a nameless king in battle, and only to be found by the predestined person, upon which event some curse was to be removed, or some great estate was to change hands. The story varies. A "haunted yew-tree" grew,—no doubt still grows,—upon the hill, and the first spray gathered from it on this day was held to be a talisman against all misfortune for the year, and, if any one could run down the steep side of the hill and dip a finger into a pool at the foot, reputed to be bottomless, he or she would inevitably marry the first person of the opposite sex encountered after the feat. I must not omit to add the historical fact that a battle was really fought on or beneath Pontesford Hill in the year 661, between the West Saxons and the Welsh. There is a Saxon or British camp on the hill, and there is some earthwork or other early monument on the site of, I think, every hill-wake I have heard of.
Into some such environment as this were the saintly patrons imported. The hill-wakes, whose raison d'être in some vanished social system is now absolutely forgotten, and probably indiscoverable, are now mere survivals, if indeed they still survive at all. The church-wakes, wanting the living religious belief which once animated them, are also only survivals. But the way in which, even in survival, they show remnants of the imported Belief interwoven into the groundwork of native Custom is to my mind an additional testimony to the Essential Unity of Folklore.
This, then, is the view that it seems to me the Society should endeavour to set before the world,—that Folklore is not "a fortuitous concourse of atoms," but an entity, the product of the human mind, made up of three complementary elements,—Belief, Custom, and Story,—and liable to be influenced and varied by external circumstances. Racial idiosyncrasies, geographical isolation, economic changes, migration, warfare, conquest, slavery, and the peaceful importation of foreign culture, all affect and influence the folklore of individual peoples. When any of its component elements are dropped, the remainder constitute what we call a survival. Custom may lose its raison d'être or its animating belief, and survive as a mere fossil. Belief, unsupported by social custom, may still persist as a living principle of action. Both may assimilate new beliefs and new customs so thoroughly that it requires close analysis to distinguish the new from the old. In varying degrees these phenomena are common to the folklore of both civilised and uncivilised peoples.
Students have made some progress in ascertaining what causes folklore to decay, but what causes the surviving elements to survive? What vacuum does the survival fill? What need of human nature, craving to be supplied, keeps it alive through the ages? What human idiosyncrasy preserves it when it has reached a fossil state? These are questions not answered yet, scarcely even approached. They remain as a problem for the future.
Note I. Dancing Ballads.
The following extracts from private letters written by a lady then resident in the Faröe Islands may be interesting. The writer's name is suppressed for obvious reasons.
"I have given my party. Fifty people attended, thirty-eight of them 'grown-ups.' It began at 7.30 and ended at 2.15 a.m., starting with a trifle of 165 verses about a certain 'Earl of Engelland' and his two sons. You could have heard my party half a mile, and it was supposed to be a very fine entertainment. We had coffee, Jul-kage, Scotch biscuits, tobacco, cigars, and sweets, and I doubt if any other church-capital ever gave a dance to all the youth of the city for the sum of fourteen shillings! The gentlemen all wore their hats, and most of them neck-mufflers. ' Kissing games ' followed from i o'clock to 2.15, and there was one very pretty figure-dance, when twenty of the gentlemen's garters were used. Altogether it was a great success."
"Nov. 23rd, 1902.
"I wish you could have attended a large wedding in that I saw last week. It lasted 50 hours, and dancing went on about 46 hours out of the fifty. I saw one great-grandfather, grandfather to the bride, dancing vigorously the old Danish ballad ' There lived two Earls in Engelland,' 165 verses long. He was 86 years old. Most of the dance ballads were old Danish kempeviser, but there were also Far6sk ones,—The Long Serpent, Sigmund's ballad, Jakoba Mon, one of the Charlemagne ballads, and perhaps eight or nine more during the whole time of dancing."
In another letter the writer states that the dances cease during the season of Lent.
Note II. The Dedications of Churches.
The Roman Mission under Augustine introduced the veneration of the Apostles. The names of St. Peter, St. Andrew, etc., with the local Roman saints Gregory and Lawrence, mark their foundations. St. Mary and All Saints are of every date and school. The Celtic Church revered its own holy men, as we see to this day both in the dedications and the place-names of Wales and Cornwall. The Anglo-Saxon Church, later, followed to some extent in its steps, and commemorated,—(to mention only a few),—St. Cuthbert and St. Chad, St. Hilda, St. Edith, and St. Mildred. St. Leonard, protector of captives, and St. Giles, patron of cripples, the woodland hermit saints of France, are among those who came in with the Norman Conquest. St. Nicholas of Myra, St. George of Cappadocia, St. Margaret of Antioch, St. Katharine of Alexandria, and others, bear witness to the influence of the Crusades. Dedications to the Holy Trinity are not older than the twelfth century, when the festival of Trinity Sunday was first instituted. Before that, Whitsunday had governed the Calendar to the end of the ecclesiastical year. Sometimes part of the fabric of a church suggests an older date than the dedication. This is likely to be due to re-consecration after alterations, a ceremony which was held to be necessary if the site of the high altar were changed. When this occurred, the original patron saint was sometimes deserted for one more popular at the time of the rebuilding.
The following cases will suffice to exemplify the manner of the distribution and growth of the devotion to the saints. The church of the immense mother-parish of Stoke-on-Trent (Staffordshire), mentioned in Domesday Book, is dedicated to St. Peter. It is situated on the river-side, where doubtless the ancient stockade from which the place appears to take its name once guarded the passage of the Trent, and which would obviously be a convenient centre for missionary labours. High above it, on the hill-sides, stand the daughter-churches, St. Margaret of Wolstanton and St. Giles of Newcastle-under-Lyme,—(i.e. "under" Lyme Forest). The other churches of the Five Towns are more or less modern. I was lately told" of the parallel case of South Stoke in Oxfordshire on the banks of the Thames, with the little daughter-church, or rather chapelry, of Woodcote, on the uplands of the old Chiltern Forest, four miles away. South Stoke is dedicated to St. Andrew, the fisherman, "the first missionary," brother of St. Peter,—Woodcote, to St. Leonard. A long straight trackway across the common, (unenclosed down to 1853), connects the one with the other. It is called the burying-way, for there is no right of burial at Woodcote, though there is a churchyard. (In this connection was mentioned the common popular belief that the passage of a funeral procession confers a right-of-way for ever after.) Within the memory of the present generation a great fair for sheep and cattle was annually held in what is now the recreation ground near the churchyard, on the Monday after the 16th November. (The 6th November is St. Leonard's Day; the 16th probably represents Old Style.) It was killed by the rinderpest epidemic of 1866, but before that the then rector, (the father of the present), had put a stop to the penning of the sheep in the churchyard, much to the discontent of the farmers, who considered they were being deprived of a right.
It is very common to find that Feasts or Wakes are dated by "Old Style," eleven days later than the present, or "Gregorian," calendar. Great popular resentment was displayed when the new calendar was introduced in 1753. The people fancied they had been somehow robbed of a rightful possession, and "Give us back our eleven days" became an election cry. But it is very curious to find a reminiscence of the discontent at the present day, "lingering on," writes my nephew, the Rev. R. V. H. Burne, curate of Slough, under date April 7th, 1909, "in the brain of a genuine old countryman who can remember sickles, and the parson's tithe-sheaf, and shoeing cattle with leather to drive them to the London market. I was talking to him the other day, and he seemed to have a grievance against "the new calendar." "Oliver Cromwell or someone" took away eleven days, and the seasons never altered to suit, and so you find that you never get April weather until April 11th, because April 1-11 really belongs to March. Old Michaelmas. Day, too, used to be October 11th. They have altered it now to September 29th. He remembered taking a house on Old Michaelmas Day for twelve calendar months, and they wanted him to go out on New Michaelmas Day. But he wouldn't go! They used to begin spring sowing at the same time as the parson began his Lent sermons. Yes, Lent varied a good deal, but if you started when the parson did you weren't far wrong. (His niece explained that they thought it brought a kind of blessing on the crops.)"
The spring wheat, in Shropshire, used to be known as the "Lent tillin'," (G. F. Jackson, Shropshire Wordbook).
This is a divergence from Wakes, but perhaps not an uninteresting example of "survival."
- Copies for distribution can be had from the Secretary on application.
- Cf. Journal of the Folk-Song Society, June, 1910.
- In Somerset, the hazel is used for the purpose, as Mr. Lovett informed us at our last meeting (Dec. 14, 1910), and in South Devon the holly. A stick of holly thrown after a runaway beast will bring it back, according to his informant.
- E. M. Sneyd-Kynnersley, H.M.I., some passages in the life of one of H.M. Inspectors of Schools, p. 220.
- The weeping willow is nowhere specified, any more than the weeping ash.
- The Maids Tragedy, Beaumont and Fletcher, 1619, quoted in Ellis's Brand, vol. ii., p. 264.
- Henderson, Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Countiesetc., p. 150.
- County Folklore, vol. v. (Lincolnshire), p. 20.
- Folk-Lore, vol. vii., pp. 380-1.
- Shropshire Folklore, pp. 248-9.
- Dr. Frazer thinks that the mother-in-law taboo marks a revolt against a former system of group-marriage, in which a man’s mother-in-law was his possible wife (Totemism and Exogamy, vol. ii., p. 323, vol. iii., p. 247).
- Trevelyan, Folklore and Folk-Stories of Wales, p. 234; Lucas, Studies in Nidderdale; Jekyll, Jamaican Song and Story, pp. xxxvi., 26, 286.
- Unfortunately I have lost the reference to this.
- Let me point out in passing that this is not a matter of magic or of religion, but, like the prohibition to use the willow rod for chastisement, a precautionary measure based on a supposed natural property of the finger.
- Mr. Percy Manning in Folk-Lore, vol. xiv., pp. 85-6.
- Miss Eyre, Ibid., p. 85.
- Cited in Confessio Medici, p. 65.
- Cockayne, Leechdoms, etc. of early England; J. F. Payne, English Medicine in Anglo-Saxon Times, p. 129.
- Only one extant Ms. contains this story, so Miss L. Toulmin Smith informs me, namely, that known as the Laurentian Codex of the Pseudo-Matthew, printed among Tischendorfs Vatican Texts of the 11th century; but it occurs also in a Latin History of the Infancy, from which the French prose is taken. See Prof. Gerould in Publications of the Modern Languages Association of America, vol. xxxiii., i., pp. 141-167, and cf. Journal of the Folk-Song Society, vol. iv., pp. 2947, where detailed notes on the ballad will be found. See also Mr. F. Sidgwick in Folk-Lore, vol. xix., p. 190.
- "On the Danish Ballads," Scottish Historical Review, July, 1904, and July, 1908; On the History of the Ballads, 1100-1500, (Proceedings of the British Academy) vol iv., (1910).
- Sur le pont d'Avignon on y danse, tout en ronde, and so forth. Our children's singing games,—"Here we go round the mulberry bush," "London Bridge is broken down," etc.,—are evidently closely related to these rondes. Some of them are still played by adults here and there. 1 have myself joined in "Bobby Bingo" at a "choir-party" of grown-up people in Derbyshire.
- These, one fancies, can never have been sung in chorus, much less accompanied by dancing, but must always have been the property of the solitary skald or gleeman with his harp.
- Professor Ker points out that among other similarities the Scandinavian, Scottish, and English ballads all favour the double refrain, while in France the refrain is only single, and in Germany is usually wanting altogether. So far, I have given the Professor's views,—faithfully, I hope!—but I alone am responsible for what follows.
- Ballad-dancing, however, survived in England down to the reign of Elizabeth, if not later. "Ballets or daunces are songs which being sung to a dittie may likewise be daunced," Morley's Plaine and easie introduction to Practical Musicke, 1597. "The infinite number of Ballads set to sundry pleasant and delightful tunes by amusing and witty composers, with country dances fitted thereto," Butler's Principles of Musicke, 1636. (Quoted, Harold Simpson, A Century of Ballads, pp. 4, 5).
- The authority for these details is only the local guide-book (The Green Dale of Wensley, by Edmund Bogg: Elliot Stock, 1909, p. 156), and it is not stated whether the custom is still observed. Any one who would make a pilgrimage to Wensleydale next August, and investigate the matter on local-historical and economic lines would deserve the thanks of all folklorists.
- I know of but two or three hill-wakes in other counties, but there must surely be others still unrecorded.
- By Mr. E. H. Binney, of Oxford, from information of the Rev. H. G. Nind, Rector of South Stoke with Woodcote and himself a native of the place.