combinations, almost never alone. Indeed, it is so widespread a tale, and its combinations are so various, that there is the utmost difficulty in determining just what may properly he regarded the original kernel of it, the simple theme to which other motives were joined. Various opinions, as we shall see, have been held with reference to this matter, most of them justified perhaps by the materials in the hands of the scholars holding them, but none quite adequate in view of later evidence. The true way to solve the riddle appears to be this: we must ask the question,—what is the residuum when the tale is stripped of elements not common to a very great majority of the versions belonging to the cycle? What is left amounts to the following,—the story reduced to its lowest terms, I take it.
A man finds a corpse lying unburied, and out of pure philanthropy procures interment for it at great personal inconvenience. Later he is met by the ghost of the dead man, who in many cases promises him help on condition of receiving, in return, half of whatever he gets. The hero obtains a wife (or some other reward), and, when called upon, is ready to fulfil his bargain as to sharing his possessions.
Nowhere does a version appear in quite this form; but from what follows it will be seen that the simple story must have proceeded along some such lines. The compounds in which it occurs show much variety. It will be necessary to study these in detail, not merely one or two of them but as many as can be found. Despite the bewildering complexities that may arise, I hope that this method of approach may throw some new light on the wanderings of the tale.
Of my debt to various friends and to many books, though indicated in the body of the work, I wish to make general and grateful acknowledgment here. My thanks, furthermore, are due to the librarians of Harvard University for their courteous hospitality; to Professor G. L. Kittredge for his generous encouragement to proceed with this study, though he himself, as I found after most of my material was collected, had undertaken it several years before I began; and to Professor R. K. Root for his help in reading the proofs.