The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Notices and News (September)
NOTICES AND NEWS.
The same. 8vo. same pagination.
The value of popular tales must have advanced very much in the opinion of the literary and scientific world for the Clarendon Press to have considered them proper for one of their publications, and, of course, we gladly welcome such evidence of the progress of our study. Mr. Lang's introduction is, he says, "intended partly as an introduction to the study of popular tales in general Each prose story has been made the subject of a special comparative research; its wanderings and changes of form have been observed, and it is hoped that this part of the work may be serviceable to students of folk-lore and mythology." Mr. Lang first traces the bibliographical history of Perrault's tales, how they made their way from the peasant's cottage to the palace at Versailles, how in the transition the peasant heroes and heroines of the tales became princes and princesses, and how above all the genius of Perrault won for them a place in "the land of matters unforgot." How very real the history and fortunes of books seem to "be when the details are once for all set forth by the true bibliographer: they seem to have a life of their own quite apart from the wishes of any reader; they live because, like the gods, they are deathless. It is pleasant to think that long before Mr. Lang and Professor Max Müller began to fight their battles over the interpretation of fairy tales there was a very pretty quarrel between Perrault and Boileau about Peau d'Âne.
The tales which Mr. Lang examines are the following:—"The Three Wishes," "The Sleeping Beauty," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Blue Beard," "Puss in Boots," "Toads and Diamonds," "Cinderella," "Riquet of the Tuft," and "Hop o' my Thumb." Mr. Lang's method is too well-known to need detailing here, but suffice it to say that he applies it successfully to show that the true source of Perrault's tales was tradition. Of all the studies we think that on "Puss in Boots" the least satisfactory. Mr. Lang lays stress upon the arguments that wealth being an element in the tale it could not have originated among people in a savage condition of society; that a moral being found in the majority of instances, particularly the Zanzibar variant, it was originally invented at one place by one author "for a purpose"; that the totemistic evidence which almost accidentally is supplied from Arabia must not argue for the tale being originally "a heroic myth of an Arab tribe with a gazelle for a totem." Against these propositions it may be argued, in the first place, that wealth is a relative, not an absolute term, and there is wealth and success among savage societies as among more civilized, particularly when it is found by the adventurer, not in his own tribe but in a neighbouring one; any one who follows the events in savage politics knows that a little king sometimes rises who promotes his own tribe to a foremost position, amongst its neighbours. Secondly, the evidence as to tales with or without the moral is not complete, as Mr. Hartland has pointed out in the Archæological Review tales overlooked by Mr. Lang which do not contain morals, and on this topic much more evidence is required before accepting even Mr. Lang's cautiously-worded position. Thirdly, there seems much in the animal incidents of the story which may be properly compared with incidents in other tales giving exactly the same class of ideas. But like all Mr. Lang's work in this line this book is a powerful addition to the study of Folk-lore, and its views are not to be lightly rejected or criticised.
The raciest of all the books of Herodotus was Englished by one of the raciest of translators (whoever B. R. of 1584 was), and is now edited by the most finished of modern English writers. The fitness of the thing is attested by the whole book—type, binding, illustrations, and above all the editorial introduction. Mr. Lang defends Herodotus against some charges brought against him by Professor Sayce, and we think the defence is wholly successful and pleasing. Mr. Lang evidently thinks that if Herodotus had lived in this age he would have been a member of the Folk-Lore Society, and Mr. Lang's admirable skill as a literary artist is, we fancy, nowhere better illustrated than in the really noble words by which he speaks out his opinion of the good faith of Herodotus.
This book of Herodotus is of considerable interest to the folk-lorist, and almost everywhere he will come upon passages which bear upon his own studies, particularly in the many details relating to local animal worship. Of course, it is unnecessary to go into this subject here, because it will be thoroughly well-known to our readers. The translation by B. R. is, of course, not exact. But to get one of the most popular of the writings of Herodotus translated by an Elizabethan writer and introduced by his Victorian successor makes us wish for more gems from the same source. There is something in the Elizabethan style that seems particularly pleasing to this age, and once more Chapman's Homer is taking its proper place in the public estimation. There are other translations equally worthy of our attention, and if they could be produced as Herodotus has been they would be almost certain to have an equally warm reception.
Mr. William George Black, who has visited frequently the out-of-the-way string of islands which stretch from Heligoland up the coast of Schleswig-Holstein, has written a book descriptive of his travels which will be published very shortly by Messrs. Blackwood and Sons under the title of Among the Islands of the North Sea. This will be the first work in English treating of the curious customs and legends of the North Frisian Islanders, who are our nearest kin, and will contain much newly-garnered folk-lore.