Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 22, 1911.djvu/51

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37
Presidential Address.

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.