Folk-Lore/Volume 3/Correspondence (September)

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CORRESPONDENCE.




THE BUCK'S LEAP.

To the Editor of Folk-lore.

Sir,—Certain farms in the west of Shropshire stand on the site of an old deer-park, and are bounded in part by the old park fence. The ditch is inside the fence, yet the obligation of keeping the fence in repair rests with the owner of the land within it, that is to say, of the former deer-park; not, as usual, with the owner of the land next to which the fence is placed. It is locally believed that the ownership of the deer-park carries with it the right to cut timber for the repair of the fence for a space of five yards from the outside of the boundary, which is called the right of the buck's leap, and has, it is said, been exercised within the memory of man.

Further. Between Wrottesley Park in Staffordshire and the adjacent Manor of Pattingham lies a belt of grassy land, a sort of green lane, leading to nowhere in particular, and called the Deerleap. The park, in which red deer were kept till the reign of Charles II, was emparked by royal licence granted to Sir Hugh de Wrottesley during the siege of Calais by Edward III. But the name of the Deerleap is far older than this, as it occurs twice in a record of the boundaries of Wrottesley in the first year of William Rufus (1088), first as "Deerspring", then as "Deer length", thus: "Hæc terra Wroteslea habet duas hidas. Hiis terminis circumcincta est. Sprynewall in Smeleheth, of Smeleheth in Dersprynge, of dersprynth in Caldewell," etc. "Et notra ubi ista prepositio 'of' dicitur, nichill aliud significatur nisi 'fro',' as, fro' Spryne-wall to smeleheth, fro Smelehethe to derslenthe—to Caldewell, et sic de aliis."[1]

But General Wrottesley, from whom I have these particulars, is not aware of any supposed right of cutting timber in the Deerleap.

My brother informs me, on the authority of Mr. L. C. Cholmely, who formerly resided near Richmond Park, that round the park the Crown claims the land for 16 feet (about 5 yards) outside the fence, and that the adjoining owners recognise the claim, and pay rent for the strip as yearly tenants.

These three instances of boundary privileges, as I may call them, seem to take us back to a very early stage in the history of village settlements, and of private property in land. I shall be glad to hear if anyone else can furnish similar instances, or corroborative details. The name "the Buck's Leap" evidently signifies the width of land a deer could leap over, and may be compared, as a measurement, with such phrases as "a bowshot-length", and "a stone's cast." It must not be confounded with the saltatorium, or chartered deer-leap, such as may still be seen in Wolseley Park, Staffordshire, which was a low part of the fence so constructed that the deer from the forest could leap into the park but not back again.

THE FLAT-FOOT QUESTION.

To the Editor of Folk-Lore.

Sir,—Allow me to say, in regard to the concluding remarks of Professor John Rhys in the June number, that some of my words had not been correctly reported — especially those on the Flat-foot Question. On receiving the March number, I at once wrote, as you remember, to express regret at this fact.

I will not take up space by setting right three or four errors of reporting, which do not concern the present subject. What I said on December 9th, before the Society, was this:—

"As to the instep, I can speak from personal experience. Almost every German in this country—that is what I have often heard—finds that an English shoemaker makes his boots not high enough in the instep. It is a usual complaint of Germans in England. I don't know but it may be that some northern Germanic tribe had perhaps slightly flatter feet than Germans in general."

This, it will be seen, is very different from what I was made to say in the report. I did not assert that there was a difference, in this respect, between northern and southern Germans. In using the words, "may be that some northern Germanic tribe had perhaps slightly flatter feet than Germans in general," and guarding even this by, " I don't know," I carefully avoided any such general statement as has been attributed to me.

I had in my mind the idea that possibly some northern Teutonic tribe (either German or Scandinavian), which was mainly a seafaring one, had developed slightly flatter feet, though I would not say for a certainty that such must be the result of that exclusive occupation. Still, that is a point which might be investigated.

Historically, it is well known that the Germans, from the time of the Teutonic and Kimbrian invasion into Gaul and Italy, had no lack of athletic springiness and nimbleness of foot. Their performances were the wonder of the Romans, who were astounded to see Teutoboch, or Teutobod, jump over six horses. The dangerous sword- and spear-dances of the Germans, performed by their youth in a state of nakedness; the extraordinary swiftness of their foot warriors {velocitas peditum), which Tacitus also mentions; and their manifold gymnastic exercises during the Middle Ages—not to speak of our present Turn-Vereine in North and South—forbid the notion of flat-footedness being a Teutonic characteristic at all.

Professor John Rhys, on his part, says:—"Nobody now regards the bulk of the South Germans as of the same race as the tall, light-haired people of North Germany, or the Teutonic element of a somewhat similar type in this country." This sweeping assertion wants a great deal of modification. Compared with the North, the South of Germany shows, no doubt, a greater percentage of men of middle height, with brown hair and dark eyes. The explanation is to be found partly in some remnants of Rhaetian, Keltic, and Roman population, which became blended with their German conquerors; partly in later invasions and wars, which also left their mark.

Yet, take even a country like Bavaria—the largest, next to German Austria, in the southof our Fatherland. There, the statistics drawn up in all the schools, in accordance with Professor Virchow's suggestion, show that in Bavaria there are 66 per cent, of grey or blue eyes, and only 34 of brown ones; 54 per cent, of fair hair, 41 of brown, and only 5 per cent, of black, hair; 85 per cent, of white-skinned and only 15 per cent, of somewhat brownish-skinned, people. In these statistics, I need not say, the Jews are also included, who in Germany are more numerous than in any other European country, Russia excepted.

Again, in the coloured maps I have before me—and the communication of which, when they came out some years ago, I owed to Professor Virchow's kindness—it is seen that whole northern, but also some parts of southern Bavaria contain an overwhelming proportion of clear-eyed and fair-haired people; some parts up to seventy-five per cent, of grey and blue eyes. Even the Bavarian Palatinate, which lies next to the French frontier, is blue and grey-eyed, in its various districts, to the extent of 59 to 66 per cent.; fair-haired from 53 to 64 per cent.; whiteskinned from 80 to 91 per cent.

In other parts of Southern Germany there are large patches of territory in which the mass of the people are clear-eyed and fair-haired, alternating with patches of different characteristics. Sometimes the plain and the mountain form the line of division; the darker aboriginal natives having been driven on to the hills. This is a subject on which it is difficult to say all that might be desirable in the space of a letter.

I am afraid there is here and there a curious tendency, among some learned men, of crowding out the Teuton in a manner scarcely consistent with careful research. I will not treat here on the Fenian or Fianna Question in Ireland, on which a mass of evidence could be given on the Germanic side, which cannot be lightly dismissed. I was rather startled when finding in Professor Rhys's Celtic Britain a note, headed "Belgae", with this curt sentence:—"Nor is there any reason to suppose that the Belgae were Teutons."

Yet Cæsar, who fought the Belgians; who knew them; who had them interviewed; who heard their own statements through interpreters, declares plainly that "most of the Belgians had sprung from the Germans, having crossed the Rhine in olden times, settled in the country on account of its fertility, and driven out the Gauls" ("Sic reperiebat: plerosque Belgas esse ortos a Germanis, Rhenumque antiquitus transductos, propter loci fertilitatis ibi consedisse; Gallosque, qui ea loca incolerent, expulisse").

The result of this German conquest may be seen to the present day. Nearly two-thirds of the Belgians belong to the Low-German stem, and speak the Flemish language, which they themselves call Neder-duitsch (Low-German) — a tongue closely kindred to, and well-nigh identical with, Dutch.

Now, is it right, in speaking of the origin of the Belgians of old, simply to pass by the striking and decisive passage in Cæsar? Or did Professor Rhys not know it? The omission seems to me all the more strange as he acknowledges " the truth of the tradition reported by Cæsar, that Belgic tribes had made themselves a home in the south of the island"—that is, of Britain—long before Jutes, Frisians, Angles, and Saxons conquered this country. In Ireland, again, as early as the first part of the second century, Ptolemaios mentions a Belgian and an undoubtedly German tribe in the neighbourhood of Dublin.

I mention this with all due respect to a distinguished Keltic scholar, whose papers on "Manx Folk-lore and Superstitions" I have heard and read with much interest. But being accustomed—I may say without fear of contradiction—to investigate all such matters without undue bias, I avow I cannot understand why, in this case, the things which are Cæsar's were not rendered unto Cæsar.

June 19.

  1. Printed in the William Salt Archaological Collections, vol. ii, p. 183. The MS. is a 14th century copy of the original of the ist year of William II, hence the repetition, and the explanation that "of" means "from".