Folk-Lore/Volume 3/Miscellanea (December)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
821756Folk-Lore/Volume 3 — Number 4 (December)
Miscellanea (December)


The Three Precepts: a Norse Variant.—The notes appended to Mr. MacBain’s translation of the Gaelic tale of “The Baker of Beauly”, pp. 190-192, were written several years ago, and I had forgotten all about them until I saw the June number of Folk-Lore, and I may now add another version, which is of considerable interest. Mr. Jacobs, in the note on his Cornish version of the story of the “Three Precepts”, in his charming book, Celtic Fairy Tales, remarks that “a similar story is found in some versions of ‘The Forty Vazírs’ and in the ‘Turkish Tales’,” as if these were the names of different works: as I have already stated (pp. 191, 192), the Contes Turcs of Petis de la Croix are a partial French rendering of the Turkish Qirq Vazir.

The “Tale of Ivan”, which Mr. Jacobs gives in his book, is also given, in Cornish, Welsh, and English, by Price, in his Archæologia Cornu-Brittania, 1790, p. 55; and an abstract of it was contributed to Notes and Queries, April 28th, 1852 (First Series, vol. vi), the third “precept” and the incident connected with it being similar to those in Mr. MacBain’s version, with this important difference, that the hero’s son is not a grown man, as he is absurdly represented to be, after the hero’s absence of three years, in the Gaelic version, but a child asleep beside his mother. The same correspondent of N. and Q. also gives an abstract of a Norse variant, which, he says, “will be found in one of the tracts published by the University of Copenhagen, the printing of which forms part of the ‘Solemnia Academica’ of the King’s birthday.” As this version differs materially from those referred to by Mr. Jacobs, it may as well be transferred to the pages of Folk-lore, as follows:

Haco, having spent his own substance in Norway, takes service with the King of Denmark, who instructed him in the arts of the silversmith and the goldsmith, and finally in that of the “stonesmith”, or architect. He becomes the most skilful workman in the North, and, at the end of each year, asks from the king some piece of “wholesome rede”. The king gives him three good counsels:

(1) Never trust a little man, or one with a red beard.

(2) In whatever haste you may be, never leave a church before Mass is said fairly out.

(3) If thou art angry with thine enemy, and wouldst kill him, first say the Lord’s Prayer three times, and then kill him if thou wilt.

After this the king gives him a ship laden with merchandise, and sends him to England, where he trades to great advantage. The King of England, hearing of his skill in "stonework", desires him to assist in building a new hall; but there was an English master also skilled in the craft, and, to see which was the abler, the king orders that each should build one side of the hall.

Haco's side progresses most skilfully and rapidly, and the jealous Englishman accuses him of using "such help as no good man should have". The king is persuaded, and a plot is laid for his destruction. The king sends him his glove as a token, bidding him take the whole charge of the work, and visit it every morning before sunrise. Meanwhile, the workmen are ordered to seize him when he comes, whatever form he may put on by aid of magic arts, and to burn him " to coals" in a bale of fire. But the messenger who brings the king's glove to Haco is a little man, and red-bearded, and he calls to mind the Danish king's first counsel. So he rides off during the night, and, toward daybreak, enters a solitary chapel, where an old priest is about to sing Mass. The second counsel occurs to him, and he stays to the end, after which he returns to the unfinished hall. In the meantime the English master has visited it, hoping to find his rival already burnt; but the workmen, thinking him to be Haco under an assumed form, seize and fling him into the flames.

Haco then appears, and finds that his remaining to the end of the Mass has saved him. He rises high in the English king's favour, who gives him four noble ships, well laden, with which he returns to Norway. There he enters his house during the night, and sees two heads on a pillow. He is about to kill both, but recollects the third "wise rede", and repeats the prayer, during which his wife awakes, and, recognising him, shows him his son, who had been born during his absence.

This story, according to the writer in N. and Q., "in its present form, is not probably older than the fourteenth century", and he adds that the escape of Haco recalls that of Fridolin in Schiller's "Gang nach dem Eisenhammer"—a tale of which many versions, Eastern as well as Western, are cited in the second volume of my Popular Tales and Fictions^ under the heading of "The Favourite who was Envied". Monkish tales often turn upon escapes from death in consequence of the intended victims of foul play stopping on the road to say their prayers.

It is interesting to find the hero of the Norse story being warned against a red-haired man. Mr. Nutt, in his excellent notes to Maclnnes' Folk and Hero Tales., gives references to the old popular notion that led-haired men were treacherous, if not actually in league with the arch-fiend. The existence of red-haired Jews is thus accounted for in Mr. Baring-Gould's Legends of Old Testament Characters, vol. ii, p. 106: "The Egyptian enchanters also turned the water in Goshen into blood; and it is a common tradition among the Jews that the red hair which is by no means unfrequently met with in the Hebrew race is derived from this period: all those who had sinned and drank of the water lost their black hair, and it became red, and they transmitted it to their posterity." On the stained windows of cathedrals and churches in the Middle Ages, Cain and Judas Iscariot were always pictured with red- or orange-coloured beards, to which reference is made by Shakspeare and other Elizabethan dramatists. Is it not highly probable that the notion regarding red-haired men, which is common to the popular fictions of all European countries, was derived, mediately or immediately, from Hebrew sources?

Folk-lore from South-East Suffolk.

Hobby-Lanterns, i.e., Will-o'-the-Wisp.—"I see them myself many times. Some people say they are very desperate things, and, if you go to them with a lantern in your hand, they'll dash it out of your hand on to the ground; but I don't believe that. I think they are a kind of beetle What I'm now telling you is my father's story, not mine. He and my grandfather were going along a road one dark night, when they see a lantern coming along. My grandfather, he think company would be pleasant; but when the lantern get alongside of them, it give a jerk, and away it go over the hedge, in the air, across country like a beetle." (Told me by H., our old gardener.)

Arthur H. (son of the above narrator), described a hobby-lantern he had seen fly over the Park "of the brightness of two candles: and oh, I were afraid!"

Of Queen Mary.—"She was a horrid wicked woman. She commanded that every woman in the country should have their left breast cut off: and the judges of the land say yes, it could be done; they'd begin with hers first. That were how it were put a stop to. ........ They say that when she live at Framlingham (pronounced locally Franagam) Castle she were confined of—some say a serpent, some say a devil. I believe that myself, for we read of things as wonderful in the Scriptures." (Told me by H. the gardener. I have taken this down, as I thought it possible some much older legend may have been fastened on to Mary Tudor, whom he sometimes calls Queen Elizabeth. Mary was for a time at Framlingham Castle.)

A Droll.—"I see the men go by along the road; and one, he have a donkey; and he were beating the poor creature so, I call out to him. He say, 'Ah, you won't get the clock.' That were an old story he were meaning— an old Sufifolk tale. Once upon a time there were a man who promised some beautiful clock he had as a prize to whoever could mind his own business for a year. At the end of the time, a young man come to claim it, and he give such a proof that he had minded his business for a whole year. So the man were just about to give him the clock, and he say, as he go to fetch it: 'You're the second young man as made sure to get the clock.' 'Ah,' say the young man, 'and how did he miss getting it?' 'That's not your business', say the other. 'You won't get the clock.'" (Told me by the gardener and his wife.)

Exorcising Spirits.—"I once lived in a curious old house—the Barley House, out Debenham way—and that were haunted. There were a great horse-shoe nailed into the ceiling on one of the beams, and they say that were to nail in a spirit so as he couldn't get out — a lot of clergymen done it. There were a pond close by, round which a man {i.e., a ghost) always walked at night. So a clergyman he come with a rushlight, and put that into the pond, and he say the spirit were not to come out until the rushhght were burnt out. So he could never come out, for a rushlight could never burn out in a pond." (Mrs. H.)

Apparitions.—"My wife she live at the Weir Farm when she were a young woman. I never come to see her there, for there were n't any followers allowed. One night, when she and a fellow-servant were brewing in that long room they used to call the Cheese-room, they hear someone walking to-and-fro overhead. My wife, who never was afraid of anyone, she say she would go and see what it was, and she go up the stairs. No person met her .... but a noise met and passed her. She heard the rustling of a silk dress, and the sound of little feet in thin shoes, and a breathing passed her, like someone out of breath .... There is a passage underground which come from that door by the pulpit and go to the Weir Farm; it is closed up now, because of foul air; but they say there are rooms underground all ready furnished, and that in Roman Catholic days they went down there when they durst not go abroad." (Told me by our gardener. There is a place in the Weir Farm which I was told was once the opening of the secret passage. In the village there is the tradition that the Farm was once a religious house; but everything else points to its having been built and inhabited by a merchant, and there are merchants' marks on the house.)

"A girl who was in service at Mr. Manby's (the Weir Farm), she go upstairs one day to the landing, and the door of the best bedroom open, and an old lady in a full-bodied cap, such as they used to wear in the olden time, looked out; and the girl she scream, and fal backwards in a fainting-fit." (Mrs. H.)

The Rev. Arthur Maude, Rector of Burgh, tells me that a particular place underneath the Burgh Road, where a stream has made a deep hole, is supposed to be haunted. In or after wet weather, when there is much noise caused by the gurgling of the water in this spot, children are afraid to pass the place; an old woman below is washing her skellets, and it is called the Skellet Hole. Our gardener says his mother had a skellet—a brass tripod pot—the "bale" or handle of which had a crook or twist in it, by which it could be hung upon the iron bar that always, in those days, went across the cottage chimneys. Skellets are never seen now, and the name has died out; but the place is still said to be haunted, and a young man told me it was called "Skeleton Hole"—a curious corruption. Colonel Barlow can remember being afraid, as a child, of passing the Skellet Hole when the old woman was busy washing her skellets. Mr. Maude also tells me that a lane in Burgh is called White-foot Lane because a ghost with white feet walks up it. A man (spademan) told me he knew many young fellows who would not go by the lane at night.

Miscellaneous.—Mrs. L. (mother of the baker) said to Miss Crisp (of Playford Hall): "My deafness is a great affliction; but if the Lord Almighty choose, He can take my deafness off me, and put it on someone else. My brother David, he were a soldier, and he went to those places the Bible tell of. He went to Solomon-Gomorrah (you know all about that if you read your Bible), and there he see Lot's wife—her that was turned into salt; and he broke off a karnel from her: and, as fast as he break one karnel off, another come. He and the soldiers were making a road from Tyrèe to Sidon. I often heard brother David tell it." (Told me by Mrs. F., a labourer's widow.)