Folk-Lore/Volume 5/Presidential Address

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750484Folk-Lore, Volume 5 — Presidential AddressGeorge Laurence Gomme



The President (Mr. G. Laurence Gomme, F.S.A.), in the chair.

The minutes of the last Annual Meeting were read and confirmed.

On the motion of the Chairman, seconded by Dr. Gaster. it was resolved that the Annual Report (printed infra) be received and adopted.

On the motion of Mr. Nutt, seconded by Mr. Jacobs, it was resolved that the Balance-Sheet appended to the Report be also adopted.

The President, Vice-President, Members of Council, and Officers of the Society for the ensuing year, were duly elected.

The President delivered his Annual Address (infra, pp. 43-69), and a short discussion ensued, in which Dr. Gaster and Mr. Nutt took part.


"There is nothing new under the sun." The Council has not even recommended for your selection a new President, and as it thus falls to my lot to once more address you from this chair, I must perforce discuss some old problems, perhaps with an iteration which you may not quite appreciate, but, at all events, with a purpose that is all-important to our science.

It is one of the fundamental laws of that science that man, until he has reached the academic stage of culture, never invents a new thing: new things develop gradually from old things, but new things are not created by man—not new arts, new customs, new legends, new beliefs, nor new fairy tales. As an old Bechuana chief said to a French missionary, "One event is always the son of another, and we must never forget the parentage."

I, myself, do not believe that even the imaginative faculty of the human brain is capable of absolutely "inventing" anything. It may alter the conception of things already in existence, add together incongruous elements, and produce results which are marvellous or supernatural, according to the frame of mind in which we look at them. It may produce many incongruous equations—such, for instance, as human body + bird's wings = angels; it may create a hell out of its own gloomy and dismal fears, and a heaven out of the delights of life. But it is one of the satisfactions of scientific inquiry into human thought that the mind is not capable of absolutely freeing itself from the region of fact. It reaches back into the past by the effort of memory, tradition, and record; it reaches forward into the future by the sublime function of hope. But as what it sees in the past cannot be its own creation, independent of fact, so what it foresees in the future cannot be independent of fact; that is, the function of hope being granted, it must take its rise from some fact with which it is correlated—a fact of which we may know little or next to nothing, but which does not cease to be a fact because of our ignorance. Always, therefore, as it seems to me, there is a reality at the bottom of all fancy and all tradition. It is difficult always to find this reality. For instance, there is the story of "A man who once had a melon, and as he was cutting it, he let his knife fall into it, whereupon he took his garden ladder and went down into the melon to look for his knife. And in the melon he met a man, who asked him what he was seeking. 'What!' said he, 'are you only looking for a knife? Why, I have lost sixteen spoons in this horrid place, and have been trying high and low to find them for a month past!'" (Ossete Tale, Haxthausen, Transcaucasia, 421). What fact this can have come from I confess I am not prepared to suggest; all I say is that it is not the result of an invention of facts outside all human experience. It is a transposition of one set of facts to another locale; or a general mix-up of several sets of originally independent facts; or simply an exaggerated way of saying that melons grow very large in Eastern Europe; but it is not invention.

I do not think that the reference from myth to fact is quite acknowledged as a doctrine of the science of folk-lore. It is too often the practice to characterise a particular belief as "mere superstition", a particular action as "mere custom", a particular tradition as a mere fragment of literature borrowed somehow from somewhere at some time or other; and then to think that the whole inquiry about the superstition, custom, or tradition is settled once for all. Our late distinguished President is, I hold, a sinner in this respect. In his last address from this chair he criticised a study of mine on Totemism in Britain, upon the basis that particular items of belief, which I classified as totemistic, were, after all, only popular superstitions. But I went behind this stage. I inquired as to the origin of the superstitions, and because they classified under a plan which was drawn up from the facts of savage totemism, I drew conclusions from the similarity of classification as to the similarity of origin, and my subsequent studies on the same subject have not altered my opinion.

Well, then, if every fragment of belief, custom, or tradition that is not academic in origin has an origin in man's observation of fact, we have before us the doctrine that the primitive thought of man does not change radically, but slowly develops from one stage to another. And it is this doctrine that alone justifies the comparison of beliefs and customs in widely separated areas. In any given society, all that is in the process of development is culture; all that has ceased to develop, and remains crystallized, is folk-lore. We may compare, therefore, the culture of one people with the folk-lore of another, because both are upon the same level of development; or we may pare the different elements of folk-lore or of culture together.

Thus there are two elements in the comparative study of custom and belief—namely, the comparison of like elements in two distinct areas, and the comparison of unlike elements in the same area. The first of these two elements of comparison has been studied very thoroughly, and to some purpose, by the most distinguished philosophers, anthropologists, and folk-lorists, and we are beginning to see some results. The second of these two elements has scarcely been studied at all. In my little book on Ethnology in Folk-lore, I touched the fringe of this subject, and for a long time I flattered myself that I was the first student who had noted the importance of unlike classes of belief existing side by side. But I must now confess that I fall a victim to the inexorable dictum of the Hebrew king, which forms the opening words of this address. So long ago as 1886, the phenomenon of unlike classes of belief was noted in a paper read before the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. I did not know of this when I wrote my book, and, in fact, it has remained a dead-letter in folk-lore studies until now. But the words of Professor Duns add a weight to the idea, that anything I have said cannot pretend to give, and I therefore gladly record them as a contribution to our study of first principles. Hitherto, he says, the argument in favour of the doctrine of the unity of the human race has had chiefly in view the existence of similar habits and observances in nations widely different and remote. But the same argument, from the diversities of customs, domestic, social, or superstitious, among families closely connected, both as tribes and geographically, yet remains to be worked out.

How important these words are, let me illustrate by the force of contrast. It is, of course, well known to us all here that parallel customs of a remarkable nature do occur in places very distant from each other. In my collection of parallels to British custom, I know none quite so close as the Kourdish practice of bread-making as it occurs at Sinjate. "One woman makes the dough into balls, the size of her fist: this she beats with her hand into flat cakes, about a quarter of an inch thick and ten inches across. This she hands to the chief bakeress, who presides over the tanure [or oven], and who, by some mysterious legerdemain, merely by throwing the cake from hand to hand, expands it to a thin oval sheet, the thickness of paper; this she deposits on a very dirty pillow, one end of which is open to let in her hand, and thus poised, she dashes it against the heated side of the tanure, and, when baked to her satisfaction, she removes it with two sticks" (British Assoc. Report, 1889, p. 184). The British parallel to this belongs to a subject which my wife has taken up, and which my friend, Professor Haddon—rather irreverently, as I think, but still expressively—styled folk-grub:—

"An ancient custom, for the observance of which Rutherglen has long been famous, is the baking of sour cakes. Some peculiar circumstances attending the operation render an account of the manner in which it is done not altogether unnecessary. About eight or ten days before St. Luke's Fair (for they are baked at no other time of the year), a certain quantity of oatmeal is made into dough, with warm water, and laid up in a vessel to ferment. Being brought to a proper degree of fermentation and consistency, it is rolled up into balls, proportionable to the intended largeness of the cakes. With the dough is commonly mixed a small quantity of sugar, and a little aniseed or cinnamon. The baking is executed by women only, and they seldom begin their work till after sunset, and a night or two before the Fair. A large space of the house, chosen for the purpose, is marked out by a line drawn upon it. The area within is considered as consecrated ground, and is not, by any of the bystanders, to be touched with impunity. A transgression incurs a small fine, which is always laid out on drinks for the use of the company. This hallowed spot is occupied by six or eight women, all of whom, except the toaster, seat themselves on the ground in a circular figure, having their feet turned towards the fire. Each of them is provided with a bake-board about two feet square, which they hold on their knees. The woman who toasts the cakes, which is done on a girdle suspended over the fire, is called the queen or bride, and the rest are called her maidens. These are distinguished from one another by names given them for the occasion. She who sits next the fire towards the east is called the Todler; her companion on the left hand is called the Hodler, and the rest have arbitrary names given them by the bride—as Mrs. Baker, best and worst maids, etc. The operation is begun by the Todler, who takes a ball of the dough, forms it into a small cake, and then casts it on the bake-board of the Hodler, who beats it out a little thinner. This being done, she in her turn throws it on the board of her neighbour, and thus it goes round from east to west in the direction of the course of the sun, until it comes to the toaster, by which time it is as thin and smooth as a sheet of paper. The first cake that is cast on the girdle is usually named as a gift to some well-known cuckold, from a superstitious opinion that thereby the rest will be preserved from mischance. Sometimes the cake is so thin as to be carried by the current of air up into the chimney. As the baking is wholly performed by the hand a great deal of noise is the consequence. The beats, however, are not irregular, nor destitute of an agreeable harmony, especially when they are accompanied with vocal music, which is frequently the case. Great dexterity is necessary, not only to beat out the cakes with no other instrument than the hand, so that no part of them shall be thicker than another, but especially to cast them from one board on another without ruffling or breaking them. The toasting requires considerable skill, for which reason the most experienced person in the company is chosen for that part of the work. One cake is sent round in quick succession to another, so that none of the company is suffered to be idle. The whole is a scene of activity, mirth, and diversion, and might afford an excellent subject for a picture. As there is no account, even by tradition itself, concerning the origin of this custom, it must be very ancient. The bread thus baked was, doubtless, never intended for common use. It is not easy to conceive why mankind, especially in a rude age, would strictly observe so many ceremonies, and be at so great pains in making a cake which, when folded together, makes but a scanty mouthful. Besides, it is always given away in presents to strangers who frequent the Fair. The custom seems to have been originally derived from paganism, and to contain not a few of the sacred rites peculiar to that impure religion—as the leavened dough, and the mixing it with sugar and spices, the consecrated ground, etc., etc. But the particular deity for whose honour these cakes were at first made is not, perhaps, easy to determine."

Apart from the very significant details of this Scottish practice, which I cannot now discuss, here is a parallel in custom which we all recognise as among those things worth studying. But is it more worth studying than its converse? Is it more remarkable that the barbarous unculture of the Kourds should have produced the self-same practice as the peasant unculture of the British, than that the peasant unculture should have produced two entirely different customs or beliefs about the same central subject? And yet this is what has happened. Take, for example, the cult of the dead. Among the superstitions of our own country there are two distinct groups, one pointing to a reverence and love of the dead, the other to a detestation and fear of the dead. Both are survivals, but the question is, Are they survivals of the same original?

In both these classes of comparative folk-lore—that which takes us to close parallels in widely separated areas, and that which takes us to divergencies in the same or closely contiguous' areas—we fully recognise that we are in the presence of uncivilisation. In the Western world, at all events, this carries with it one other conclusion, namely, that the uncivilisation belongs not to the products of our own age, but to those of an age which we must be content to call prehistoric—prehistoric, that is, because nothing in history accounts for one tithe of the customs and beliefs of the people. And the question remains to be solved. What is the age thus indicated as prehistoric? Who are the people or peoples whom we can satisfactorily say were prehistoric, but to whom at present we dare not give a name? If we call them Aryans, we are told there were no such people, that Aryan is a language-term only, and indicates that one language has conquered other languages, and that the people who differentiated this all-powerful speech perhaps lived somewhere in Asia, but most probably in northern Europe, and, at all events, do not live now. If we say they were non-Aryans, then we are intruding into realms that belong to the people who measure skulls, and who believe that skulls when measured will tell us everything. If we say simply that they differ in the original race ancestry from the modern population, we are told that folk-lore cannot settle such important problems, but that it must confine itself to the eternal work of comparison, and never step aside to sum up results.

Now all this is very unsatisfactory, and it leads me to a very important subject, upon which I consider that our Society, as the prime mover in the most important step which has been taken for years with reference to the prehistoric races of this country, is much to be congratulated. It was at our instance that the Society of Antiquaries and the Anthropological Institute were invited to co-operate with us in bringing about an ethnological survey of Britain. It was at a meeting held in our rooms, under my presidency, that the good work was begun. It was a member of our Council, Mr. E. W. Brabrook, who brought the matter before the British Association, gained the adherence of that body, and afterwards acted, first as Secretary, and now as Chairman, of the Committee which has the conduct of the work. All this indicates the activity and the practical usefulness attained by our science under the guidance of the Society in the past few years, during which we have lifted the veil a little and seen, amidst much confusion of ideas, much unclassified material, many blank spaces in the accumulation, howsoever large they may be—seen that all this chaos has a bearing, and an important one, upon our own race history, if we will but tackle the investigation. If, therefore, I proceed to ask a few questions, and to put together a few thoughts on the relation of folk-lore to anthropology, I hope it will not be considered too much of a personal matter of my own, but a matter that the Society has now put its hand to.

Of course there are difficulties; but in a subject of this kind who can imagine that there would not be—indeed, who would wish there should not be—for if all were clear sailing where would be the merit of our own research and work? But I am yet to understand that our difficulties are any greater than our fellow-workers' in other studies. Anthropology has chosen to look askance—I will not say jealously—at us, and the Society organised for its advancement has during the last year, as you have heard from the Annual Report, neglected an opportunity which may never occur again for distinctly advancing the cause of scientific research by amalgamating its forces with our own in the grand cause of the science of man. Well, I do not think anthropologists are at all aware of cases where important stages in their published researches are laid open to serious comment because of the neglect shown to the minuter results of folk-lore research, and it may be well to point out an example or two of this.

Let me first, then, draw attention to one of the fundamental stages of social evolution—the tribal organisation. The tribe has a relationship, first, to a body of people living in close contiguity, and sometimes in actual economical and religious contact with it; and, secondly, to the social organisation of the village community. Both these relationships are vital to the proper determination of the evolution of the tribe itself, and yet nowhere have anthropologists fully discussed them, but, on the contrary, have assumed certain ill-ascertained conditions and have then argued therefrom.

What relationship does the tribe really bear to the non-tribal people which so frequently surround it?

"When one passes", says Sir Alfred Lyall, "from those parts of India which have long been under great centralising governments down into the midland countries which have never been fairly conquered by Moghals, Marathas, or Englishmen, the transition is probably very much the same as the change would have been from a well-ordered province of Imperial Rome into lands still under the occupation and dominion of powerful barbarian tribes."[1] Noting that we have here a very near description of the condition of what we might call "outer Britain" in its relation to Rome, it will be well to pursue Sir Alfred Lyall's observations on this state of things. "The tribal period", he says, "has here survived, and has preserved some of its very earliest social characteristics .... for a parallel in the history of Western Europe [the observer] must go back as far as the Merovingian period, when chiefs of barbaric tribes or lands were converting themselves into kings or counts, or perhaps he should carry his retrospect much further, and conceive himself to be looking at some country of Asia Minor, lying within the influence of Rome at its zenith, but just outside its jurisdiction. He gradually discerns the population of Central India to be distributed into various and manifold denominations of tribes, clans, septs, castes and out-castes, religious orders, and devotional brotherhoods. And the peculiarity is that these distinctions are still maintained as the first and most important facts which unite and isolate the people. We have here a good opportunity of investigating what is obviously the survival of a very rudimentary stage of society, which has existed more or less throughout the world, and which may possibly be turned to account for illustrations of the obscurest and most remote parts of the history of nations." Taking, as an example, the petty Rajput chiefs who live down in the Far Western States, Sir Alfred Lyall proceeds to point out his descent from an eponymous ancestor, as if he were a Dorian Herakleid, and then adds to his native picture from tribal India the following significant parallel: "Here, in the head of the main stock of a pure-blooded clan, we have the primaeval aristocratic family, representing, perhaps, the earliest ancestors of long-haired Merovingian kings; or even the remote forefathers of Highland chiefs now become Scottish dukes, of ancient Armorican nobles in Brittany, and Spanish grandees with Gothic blood in their veins; the founders of that peculiar institution, the noblesse of blood, inheriting rank and formal privileges by a title as good as their sovereign's hereditary right to reign."[2] But the parallel does not end here, as we shall presently see. This aristocracy is of too pure a kinship to be otherwise than at the top of the social system, and we can make out roughly from the other tribal phenomena of India "a graduated social scale starting from the simple aboriginal horde at the bottom and culminating with the pure Aryan clan at the top; nor would it be difficult to show that all these classes are really connected, and have something of a common origin."

I have been careful to dwell upon these conclusions of Sir Alfred Lyall because, more nearly than anything else, they represent what I think can be shown to be much the state of things which must have gone on in early Britain. Sir Alfred Lyall sees in India: (1) The aboriginal horde; (2) The broken clans receiving all the outcasts or useless spirits from the progressing tribes; (3) The pure clans, relieved of all who did not work-in with the theory of blood-kinship. In Britain, the conflicts of race have brought about results not yet clearly seen by the historian; but with this parallel before us, it may be possible to pick out of surviving archaic custom such items as will compose a very clearly-defined mosaic which might nearly represent the picture of British history. Again, in Southern India there exist some castes, the peculiar characteristics of which illustrate strongly the tendency of race-distinctions to create new forms of social phenomena. One of these castes occupies a small fort enclosed by a wall about 150 yards square and ten feet high, containing the houses of about thirty families, who have absolutely no contact with the families of the tribe outside the fort. They live in seclusion and proud isolation, and have thereby generated a code of social law quite different from their surrounding neighbours. It is difficult, says Mr. Boyle, in describing these singular castes, to form any other theory of the foundation of such a colony than that the proud patriarch of an illustrious family, which from high position and influence had fallen on evil days and had been exiled from its ancestral home, must have established himself and his kinsmen in a new settlement and shut them in by these restrictions and these ramparts from contact with the outer world.[3]

The distinction which the tribal organisation seems to give to different race-elements in a population living together in one country, is indicated by these facts very clearly.

I have, however, made these quotations and references for another purpose than that of suggesting the analogy between the facts of the Aryan tribal settlement in India and the Aryan tribal settlements in Britain. Institutions, as I have before pointed out, are so intimately connected with beliefs and ritual that the true interpretation of the latter very often depends upon the true understanding of the former. Indeed, it may be put somewhat stronger than this, if we accept the testimony of Lumholtz, a very careful inquirer, who lived among the Australian aborigines. He says the superstitious fear of witchcraft causes and maintains hatred between the tribes, and is the chief reason why the Australian blacks continue to live in small communities, and are unable to rise to a higher plane of social development.[4]

If we note the results of tribal society in India, pointed out by Sir Alfred Lyall, we are struck by the fact that little, if any, attention has been drawn to the broken clans or outcasts in reference to the evolution of human society and religious beliefs. I myself have to some small extent drawn attention to their possible influence in keeping alive older phases of savage beliefs and customs amidst the growing influences of a higher faith—of Indian fetish worship by the side of Buddhism, of European superstitions of a cruel and revolting kind by the side of Christianity. But I confess I had no testimony, though testimony lay ready to my hand. For instance, in Greenland, members of the community who have fallen out with their fellows become outcasts (kivihit, sing, kivitot) and flee to the mountains or into the interior. "There is great resemblance between these kivitut and the outliers so common in Icelandic popular legends. The great part which these outliers play in the popular fantasy, and the mystic fear with which they are regarded, has caused them from a very early period to be in great measure confounded in common belief with trolls, huldre-folk, and other legendary creatures in whose supernatural faculties they partake. Like the kivitot, they seek the abodes of men in order to pick up something to eat; they steal sheep, food, and clothes from the people of the settlements. The most characteristic feature of both the Greenland and the Iceland legends is that men by being cut off from society obtain supernatural power. The coincidence becomes still more striking when we observe that both in Greenland and in Iceland these legends form an essential part of living popular tradition and belief"[5] If this be compared with what is recorded of the condition of things in Guernsey not long since, its significance can hardly be missed. There was a small hamlet exclusively inhabited by the descendants of a family which from time immemorial has been kept entirely distinct from the surrounding peasantry, and was regarded by them as a race of hereditary witches and wizards, and supposed to have been the first settlers in the island.

This is an important point, and one of great use both to folk-lorists and anthropologists, but the latter will not be able to sift the evidence it supplies without our aid, and I much doubt if they would have noted the significance of the part played by broken men at all if it had not been pointed out by folk-lorists.

Let me turn next to the relationship between the tribe and the village community.

Before the village community came under scientific observation, the chief factor in human organisation, as it appeared to the student, was the tribe; now that attention has centred upon the village community, the tribe has been lost sight of, and the family has taken its place.

Sir Henry Maine has stated the case for both sides of the question with his usual vigour, his bias being in favour of the theory of the growth of tribes from families, and he claims both Plato and Aristotle among ancient writers, and Darwin among later writers, as advocates of this theory. Personally I do not agree with Sir Henry Maine's interpretation of the evidence afforded by these great authorities. I only state the fact now to remind the meeting of Sir Henry Maine's view. He writes in opposition to McLennan and Morgan, who held the reverse view, namely, that the tribal organisation preceded the family, and also the village community. Recently, my own researches have compelled me to argue on the side of McLennan and Morgan.

The interest of this subject to the folk-lorist is of twofold importance: (1) As an element in the early history of institutions; (2) As an element in the early history of belief and ritual.

In this latter part of the subject some facts have recently appeared which are worth attention. In such a carefully written book as Col. Ellis's Ewe-Speaking People (p. xiv), we have the following passage: "It will hardly be disputed that as the village community is necessarily antecedent to the tribe, the village god must be an earlier conception than the tribe god." The premiss in this argument is one that, as I have briefly shown, is by no means generally admitted. The conclusion, therefore, by Col. Ellis cannot rest on this. But the conclusion itself is disputed by Professor Robertson Smith's well-known theory of the origin of religion in the tribe, and its gradual localisation.

I think I can see that a part of the difference between Col. Ellis and those who have argued for opposite views is perhaps due to a want of harmony in matters of terminology, so fruitful a source of error in our science; but it is clear that this does not account for all the difference. On p. 209, Col. Ellis, in discussing the law of debt, says it "seems to show that the community preceded the family, which one would certainly expect to be the case, when it is remembered that men must have dwelt together in groups long before any such notion as that of kinship had been formed." And in pages previous to this passage Col. Ellis has discussed the beliefs and examined the customs and ritual of the Ewe-speaking people, on the fundamental principle that the oldest cult consists of the worship of local deities, that these disappear, the tribes changing from place to place, and the local deities gradually developing into a tribal worship, and ceasing as local worship. Col. Ellis's theory seems well supported by his evidence, and I should hesitate to oppose it by the result of any researches of my own. But it is diametrically opposite to the central theory of Professor Robertson Smith's researches into Semitic belief, and the importance of the question to folk-lorists is of great magnitude. Local cults seem to me to be a very large element in folk-lore. If their decay commences in primitive times, as the result of their development into primitive tribal belief, how is it that we have them surviving in the latest times as an important element in folk-lore? If it is right to compare the folk-lore of modern civilisation with the beliefs and customs of savages—and, of course, our Society especially has strenuously advanced this right—we must be quite sure of the grounds of our comparison. If Col. Ellis's theory is correct, the local cults in folk-lore are being compared with the local cults of savages, which become obliterated before the savage state of society has ceased to exist, and therefore must have been obliterated long before civilisation could have dawned upon the prehistoric savages of Europe.

The questions, then, which folk-lorists have to ask Col. Ellis are: (1) Is his theory so absolutely true of the Slave Coast savages of Africa as to admit of no modification by the light of folk-lore research? (2) If his theory cannot be disturbed, does it apply to these African savages specially, and must not be taken to be of general import?

These questions, it will be seen, indicate a proposition which I feel sure this Society will think necessary to put forward, namely, that investigators into savage custom and belief, when they are discussing origins and development, should take into consideration the problems suggested by the science of folk-lore.

Another fruitful source of error in those anthropologists who do not take count of the detailed methods and ascertained results of folk-lore is the idea that the hunting and pastoral stage of life is necessarily earlier in development than and generally precedes the agricultural. This idea has become so prevalent that it is stated as the basis of important arguments by scholars of the first importance. But it is not in accord with the evidence of folk-lore. I do not follow quite closely the extremely interesting study which Mr. Grant Allen has given us in his discourse on the Attis of Catullus; but, at all events, I recognise that he has gone a long way to prove the primitive origin of agriculture. And for this proof he has appealed only to folk-lore. I note this as a triumph for our study, and one which we should be careful to register, because it touches upon one of the most important stages in the social history of man.

Now Mr. Grant Allen suggests, if I follow him rightly, that cultivation began through the offerings of fruits and seeds at the graves or barrows of departed ancestors. This, of course, presupposes a previous state of things when fruits and seeds were the ordinary food of the people. There is evidence of this from the rudest types of man.

Immediately in the neighbourhood of the Turees are a savage set of beings termed Nahals, who exist perfectly wild among the mountains, subsisting chiefly on roots, fruits, and berries; marriage contracts, as well as all other religious ceremonies, are entirely dispensed with, and the assorted pair are free to live together whilst they choose, or separate at pleasure and convenience; the infant accompanies its mother to her next abode, but the grown-up children remain with the father. The Nahals are dark and diminutive in stature,and their features are exceedingly ill-favoured. A few of this tribe cultivate a little grain among the ashes of the burnt boughs of the forest.[6]

Wild rice, or Folle avoinie of the voyagers and traders, grows abundantly in the district between Lakes Superior and Winnipeg. In favourable seasons it affords sustenance to a populous tribe of Indians. In harvest-time the natives row their canoes among the grass, and bending its ears over the gunwale, thresh out the grain, which separates readily.[7]

The Australian aborigines derived their subsistence from the spontaneous produce of the country. The soil was not cultivated, but a kind of grain was collected and prepared for food by pounding with stones.[8]

I will not multiply evidence, but I draw attention to the fact that this evidence of the means of subsistence of man being derived from agricultural produce comes from the most backward races of the world. So that, from this stage up to the stage when ancestor-worship, and therefore tribal society, had become fully developed, we have the suggestion of a continued succession of agricultural people without the intervention of a hunting or pastoral stage.

I am not quite sure whether the evidence is yet complete enough to write "proven" against it; but I am sure that it is sufficient to disturb the equanimity of those who, on the strength of the theory that the agricultural stage of society is necessarily an advance upon the hunting and pastoral stage, draw important conclusions as to the relative barbarism or culture of people who are found in either of these conditions of life. I leave this part of my subject in the hands of the Ethnological Committee, and I shall be greatly surprised if, before its work is done, we do not discover that folk-lore has yet some revelations to make not dreamt of by those who shrink from admitting that there can be any science in the testimony of tradition.

But I do not leave the ethnographical evidence of folklore, for I think in the county collections we have the beginning of most excellent material. Thanks to Mr. Hartland, Lady Camilla Gurdon, and Mr. Clodd, we have now two county collections. They are probably not complete; but, as they stand, they afford a very valuable study in comparative folk-lore. It happens that neither Gloucestershire nor Suffolk has received the attention of a special collector of its folk-lore, and we therefore approach these collections almost in the nature of monographs. The two counties are sufficiently distinct, geographically and philologically, to hope for some results, and I have taken the trouble to draw up some points of comparison, from which I will give one important result.

It is that Suffolk appears to have retained the myth-making stage of thought very strongly, while there is no trace of this in Gloucestershire. Thus the peasant at Martlesham in Suffolk, who believed the pudding-stone conglomerate to be the mother of the pebbles, was either a poet or a myth-maker; and I argue for the latter assumption because of his companions, who believed that land produced the stones; that the primroses left Cockfield village because they caught the plague and died; that the Virgin Mary thistle once supplied the place of a cup when the Virgin drank some milk; and the other agricultural myths collected in the Suffolk volume. To make this comparison good special inquiry must be made in Gloucestershire, and I need scarcely point out how significant such a differentiation in county folk-lore will prove for the prosecution of our inquiries.

Another branch of folk-lore research treats of the relationship of primitive custom and belief to the higher religions of Asia and Europe. That Buddhism, Mahommedanism, and Christianity, have each incorporated into their ritual—ay, and into their beliefs—something from the older aboriginal or native ritual and beliefs of the people whom they have converted, is, of course, generally admitted. The difficulty is to trace out how much is incorporated. In India the quest is not difficult, the scarcely veiled lower cults being readily detected by the practised inquirer. In the Western world the quest is not so easy—indeed, is not easy at all—unless, indeed, we except the remarkable evidence vouched for by Mr. Leland from Italy. We may, by going into the later conquests of Christianity find out how it has fared when combating the beliefs of modern savages, and work back by analogy to the facts presented in European countries. There we should find some startling facts. For instance, every year in September, at Loja in South America, there is a great fair. As a prologue to it there is a religious procession in honour of a female saint, specially created for the occasion. On the 22nd August, "Our Lady" enters the town, when there is great excitement. The streets are strewed with flowers, and a body of Indians, headed by the Alcalde, precede the party. Many of them wear alligator-heads as masks, and all perform hideous grimaces to their own music. This is a part of the old superstitions which the politic Spaniards, in order to reconcile the natives, have allowed to be mixed up with the rites of the Roman Catholic religion.[9] Again, at Mazatlan in Mexico, the funeral of a child is very revolting. The corpse of the child, dressed in great state, is placed erect on a board, by means of a pole, and, thus standing, is carried on men's shoulders through the streets, giving at every step a nod with his head, which is most disgusting to behold. A band of musicians leads the train; then follow the priest, the mourners, and several men, who throw up rockets and crackers. In some parts of Mexico deceased children are actually attired as angels, with a pair of goose or pelican wings, suspended by a rope between two trees, and thus swung in the air, while the friends and relations dance around it like a herd of savages.[10] But this realism in angelic representation is not one whit more gross, in my humble opinion, than that represented in the beautiful paintings of the President of the Royal Academy, who is content to imagine that birds' wings growing out of human shoulder-blades is the best representation of the angelic that art can give us.[11]

I will finally refer to one other curious piece of evidence under this head. In the Caucasus, among the Armenian Christians, in case of necessity—for instance, if a person is at the point of death and there is no human being near — confession may be made to a tree or stone, and in place of the consecrated elements the dying man may take earth into his mouth.[12] Stone worship is a cult of surprising vigour even in our own land, and if any such aid as this was ever given to it in Western Christendom generally, there is no longer any surprise to be felt at its long continuance.

The discussion on the particular problems of folk-lore which is presented by folk-tales has not been allowed to drop back during the last session, and Mr. Nutt's powerful and singularly lucid defence of the anthropological interpretation is a performance of which any society might be proud. I confess the folk-tale loses much of its old charm now that it has become the sport of literature. Maimed, altered, and distorted in one direction; clothed in red, blue, and green in another direction—of course, those who cannot see that these are not the doings of folk-lore will never give the folk-tale all the credit it really deserves as an element of the anthropology of civilised races. They will always remember its literary rough handling, and they will rather scorn its traditional faithfulness. So that personally I am not at all sorry that some attention is now being given to real hero-tales for the purpose of the literary amusement of our children. Folk-tales, when they are reduced to the level of literature, will never really teach children literature, nor morals, nor manners; because all their charm is in the unconscious—the unconscious—beauty and poetry of their incidents and characters. Let the real hero-tale of history then be brought to do its duty in the nursery, and in the meantime let us note how it was in the years gone by the original of the traditional tale itself.

The following is in outline the story of a real Kaffir heroine: A father who had been unfortunate, and had lost all his wealth, was importuned to give up his two daughters for wives to the master who had befriended him in his necessities. He had no power, even if he had the will, to resist the demand; so in due time the daughters were sent to their intended lord's kraal. They would not go into the hut, until at last they were forcibly carried in. It was night, and one of the girls, worn out with fatigue and weeping, had fallen asleep. But if she slept, her sister was awake, and determined to be fiee. Her eyes turned towards a distant land, for among those of her tribe who had taken refuge there was a certain young man with whom she had been acquainted from childhood, and who had obtained possession of her heart before that evil day which compelled him to run for his life. When she thought the fit moment had come, Uzinto released herself from her bonds, and taking up her mat, crept out of the hut. She determined to make away over or through the fence, and this being done, she ran across the dewy grass and began her journey. Soon after daylight she met a party of men who asked where she was going. She replied without hesitation that she was going to see a relative amongst the Amakoba; but there were marks of tears upon her face, and her questioners insisted to know why she had been weeping. It was easy to say that she had been taking snuff, but they were not satisfied with this explanation, and expressed their conviction that she was a fugitive on the forbidden land. Her denial of this assertion being vehement and vigorous, she was allowed to proceed. When Uzinto reached the country of the Amakoba the sun was setting, and she had no choice but to enter a kraal and solicit permission to remain the night. The events of the last few days were known here, and the people easily divined that she was absconding. They told her plainly that they should send a messenger to her husband in the morning, and detain her until the answer had been received. She was too well secured to escape during the night, and next morning, after the messenger had been sent, she was committed to the custody of the women of the kraal. These had their own business to attend to, and contented themselves with leaving her bound in the hut. After a time she severed her bonds, and again set forth. Before she had gone far, however, a boy in charge of the cattle saw her, and immediately ran to inform the women. These, who were at work in the garden, threw down their picks and commenced a hot pursuit. They had not much difficulty in catching the fugitive, but she wept, begged them to kill her, and behaved so extraordinarily that the women allowed her to escape. She now determined to avoid the kraals, and travel as much as possible in the bush. A terrible fright caused by a leopard was the only incident she met with, and at the end of the fourth day she forded the river Tugela, very tired and very hungry. Uzinto now went to a kraal to obtain food, and to discover where her people lived. The owner saw that she was a fugitive, and thought it a fine opportunity to gain a wife without expense. She declined to become an inmate of his house, and abode with one of his wives for the night. The jealous wife communicated to her the information she wanted, and told her that the man wished to deceive her. When Uzinto departed in the morning the master of the kraal met her, and again endeavoured to persuade her to return. He was rich; she should have plenty of milk and plenty of beef; she had only to become his wife to be happy and honoured. She listened in silence, and went on her way to her own people, where she was received by the chief as one of his wards. Then began her search for her lover. His brother's kraal adjoined her new home, and one morning, meeting her lover's favourite nephew, affecting not to know him, she said that his face was not altogether strange to her, and wondered where she had seen him. The boy did not think he had seen her anywhere, and when she suggested the Folosi river, he told her he had never been there. The truth was, the shrewd urchin knew her, and wanted to make her more explicit, and say whose nephew he was. She found that her lover was many miles away. The boy took a message from her, and her lover's reply was favourable, though no present accompanied it; and when Uzinto thought thereon her heart was sad. Meantime two suitors paid her unremitting attention, but she turned a deaf ear to their prayers. After a while her lover came back, but the offended maiden would not deign to speak to him, and when he became ill she attended to him, but in silence. After his recovery she took a little girl and set off for his kraal, under cover of the night, that she might have an interview without creating suspicion. The entrance was closed, but she threw a stone upon the Kut. Then, after a scene with her lover, she fixed her value at ten cows, told him when he had worked long enough to obtain that number she would come to his kraal and be betrothed. Some time afterwards she appeared unexpectedly at her lover's kraal, and demanded to be betrothed. But the people were afraid to kill the goat without the chief's sanction, and a messenger being sent to their chief, she was obliged to go back. Again, however, she presented herself at her lover's hut, and this time, in spite of the chief's rights, the goat was killed, and she became the wife of her old lover.

This real-life incident is told in Shooter's Kaffirs of Natal and the Zulu Country (pp. 60-71), and I do not think it is difficult to transpose its facts to the domain of the folk-tale. Let the mother relate her adventures to her children, and they in their turn relate it to their children, and it is questionable whether the tradition would represent a very distant parallel to the folk-tale proper. Look at the Kaffir folk-tale, indeed. In Theal's Kaffir Folk-lore the story of Sikulume, so marvellously like many European stories in the trials that beset the lovers, is not so much unlike the narrative given above; the difficulties and trials are, of course, taken to the region of the marvellous, but their true origin might well be found in the actual facts of savage life. And a consideration of such facts ought to help forward the question as to whether the incidents of folk-tales are simply due to a borrowing from literature or to the personified nature-gods being made actors in legends, or whether they do not rather add to "the evidence in favour of myths being ordinarily formed round a nucleus of facts".[13] The Kaffir maiden's story is one that has been acted over and over again in savage society, told over and over again to savage children, not exclusively in any particular part of the world, but during a particular stage of culture, and could therefore have arisen independently anywhere where the same savage conditions attended the marriage of young women. If this is the theory stigmatised as casual by Mr. Jacobs, it will not die under the name.

Jamieson, in a note to one of his ballads, relates an event which happened to him in Scotland which almost exactly reproduces some of the events told in Scottish fairy tales, showing that we are too apt to judge of these fragments of the past by the light of modern days:—

"On a very hot day in the beginning of Autumn, the author was travelling afoot over the mountains of Lochaber, from Fort Augustus to Fort Inverness, and when he came to the house where he was to have breakfasted there was no person at home, nor was there any place where refreshment was to be had nearer than Durio, eighteen miles further. With this disagreeable prospect he proceeded about three miles further, and turned aside to the first cottage he saw, where he found a hale-looking, lively, tidy little middle-aged woman spinning wool, with a pot on the fire, and some greens ready to be put into it. She understood no English, and his Gaelic was by no means good. She informed him that she had nothing in the house that could be eaten except cheese, a little sour cream, and some whiskey. On being asked rather sharply how she could dress the greens without meal, she 'good-humouredly told him that there was plenty of meal in the croft, pointing to some unreaped barley that stood dead ripe and dry before the door; and if he could wait half an hour he should have brose and butter, bread and cheese, bread and milk, or anything he chose. To this he most readily consented, as well on account of the singularity of the proposal as of the necessity of the time; and the good dame set with all possible expedition about her arduous undertaking. She first of all brought him some cream in a bottle, telling him, ' He that will not work, neither shall he eat'; if he wished for butter, he must shake that bottle with all his might and sing to it like a mavis all the while; for, unless he sung to it, no butter would come. She then went to the croft, cut down some barley, burnt the straw to dry the grain, rubbed the grain between her hands, and threw it up before the wind to separate it from the ashes; ground it upon a quern or hand-mill, sifted it, made a bannock of the meal, set it up to bake before the fire; went to her cow, singing all the while, varying the strain according to the employment to which it was adapted. In the meanwhile a hen cackled under the eaves of the cottage; two new-laid eggs were immediately plunged into the boiling kail-pot, and in less than half an hour the poor, starving, faint, and way-worn traveller, with wonder and delight, sat down to a repast that under such circumstances would have been a feast for a prince."

In this address, which I think will about complete my work as President, I have been too discursive to be exact; but I wish to add to what I have already had the opportunity of saying from this chair, something to fill up gaps in my previous addresses, something to emphasise important matters of principle previously stated, something too by way of regret and apology for having done so little for the grand subject to which this Society is devoted—a subject nearly identical with the psychical evolution of humanity. I attempted in my first year of office to indicate the work which was needed from the Society by way of collection and by way of classification. When I compare my statement of the requirements with what we have done, I am satisfied with the quality and direction of our labours, but I am disheartened as to the quantity. In my second address I was able to speak about the principles of folk-lore research, and to formulate some for our guidance. Again, comparison of hopes with realisation does not show much in favour of realisation. Still, that what we are doing now is done upon clearly defined lines, with some idea of order and method, is an immense gain, the import of which will probably be more realised in future years.

There is so much that deals with the pathos, the humour, the grandeur of human life in the work which falls to the folk-lorist that he forgets the littlenesses and degradations of human life—nay, he accounts for these unpleasant sides of man's history, and in accounting for them he so frequently finds that brutal and bestial actions are the outcome of far from inhuman or unholy motives, that there is ample room left for a liberal view of human history. Surely there is nothing more solemnly awful than to think, as Lumholtz thinks of the Australians, that "they have no traditions; many of them do not even know their father, and any knowledge of earlier generations is out of the question." Put the black patch of oblivion upon our own national and ancestral traditions, and I venture to think that not even the gospel of universal love would replace the loss. But folk-lore restores the Australian black fellow, low down as he is in the scale of human culture, to his place as an inheritor of traditions, and the restoration removes a blot from mankind in general, and hence broadens the outlook which the study of even the most backward races affords to the inquirer. So it is all along the line. Nothing that is trivial or revolting escapes our notice or inquiry; nothing that man has done or thought in his worst moments, or dreamed of in his most insane, is too unholy for a folklorist to investigate; and because we see that each act or thought has a parent act or thought, we find out that however irrational, cruel, and detestable men or tribes of men can be, their acts and beliefs are but a phase in the giant struggle of man for the life to which we have succeeded as our rightful heritage.

It is said that during the present month a worthy magistrate was shocked by the paganism which lurks behind the sport of snap-dragon; but we could, I venture to think, educate him into understanding that there is sometimes more real humanity in a touch of genuine paganism than in some of the platitudes that at present do duty for higher things.

  1. Asiatic Studies, p. 151.
  2. Asiatic Studies, p. 154.
  3. Indian Antiquary, iii, 288.
  4. Lumholtz, Among Cannibals, p. 280
  5. Nansen, Esquimaux Life, p. 170.
  6. Graham, Historical Sketch of the Bheel Tribes inhabiting the Province of Khandesh, p. 3.
  7. Richardson, Arctic Expedition, i, 68-9.
  8. Earl, Native Races, p. 214.
  9. Seeman's Voyage of H.M.S. "Herald", i, 180; cf. pp. 198, 306.
  10. Seeman, Voyage of H. M.S. "Herald", ii, 151-52.
  11. Popular ideas about angels are well worth noting. The poorer classes, some years ago, considered "that they are children, or children's heads and shoulders, winged. It is notorious and scriptural they think that the body dies, but nothing being said about the head and shoulders, they have a sort of belief that they are preserved to angels, which are no other than dead young children. A medical man told me that he was called upon to visit a woman who had been confined, and all whose children had died. As he reached the door a neighbour came out, saying, 'O she's a blessed 'oman, a blessed 'oman.' 'What do you mean?' said he. 'She's a blessed 'oman, for she breeds angels for the Lord.'"—Essays by the Rev. J. Eagles.
  12. Haxthausen, Transcaucasia, 317.
  13. Lyall's Asiatic Studies, P- 31.