The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 7/The Philosophy of Rumpelstiltskin

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N the last annual Report of the Council to the Members of this Society, the opinion is expressed that the end of its first decade marks a convenient point at which to pause and consider whether the work of collection of materials is, without being arrested, sufficiently advanced to justify the subjecting of those materials to scientific treatment. Science, it is scarcely needful to say, is but another name for knowledge into which orderly arrangement is imported. It is concerned with the deducing of general principles from observation and, where practicable, examination of things; and its method, at least in that branch which is known as applied science, is uniform, namely, to examine, compare, and classify or systematize, with the object of getting at the significance of things.

For the interest of these lies not in what they are, but in what they denote. Analysis is good, but it is of value only in the degree that it makes synthesis possible. It is the meaning at the heart of things which excites our quest, unless we be content to remain mere makers of catalogues, dull pigeon-holers of facts, with never a thought or care about their import or relation. The value of the materials with which our Society deals is becoming more and more obvious. That there is nothing "common or unclean," that the folktale crystallizes some thought or speculation of a remote past, and the folkwont some obscure custom, is our main task to show. Whether the story embodies man's serious reflections, or is the outcome of his idle, playful mood, it is this trivial or earnest purpose which we seek to reach. Fortunately for the credit of a study which is by many regarded as frivolous, our research brings us more often than not, and sometimes when least suspected, near some deposit of early thought, some strivings after a philosophy which embraces all life in one common origin and destiny; and in sympathy with instinctive feelings of the barbaric nature which are ultimately verified by reason and experience.

Such, then, is the justification for the work of our Society, such the answer to the question Dic cur hie—"Why are you here?"

Following on the lines of a paper which I had the honour of reading before you some time ago, and in which, under the title of "The Philosophy of Punchkin," I sought to show what was the common idea at the root of the widespread tales grouped thereunder, namely, the belief in the separateness of the soul, or strength, or heart, or whatever else is regarded as the seat of life, from the body, the fate of the soul involving the fate of the body, I propose, in the present paper, to deal with another group of stories likewise embodying a primitive philosophy, to which the generic title of "Rumpelstiltskin" may be conveniently given, being borrowed from the well-known story of that name in Grimm's Kinder und Haus-märchen, of which the following is an outline:—

A poor miller who had a beautiful daughter, thought to make himself of more importance before his king by telling him that she could spin straw into gold. When the king heard this, he bade the man bring his daughter to the palace that her skill might be tested. She was then locked up in a room filled with straw, given a spinning-wheel, and ordered to spin all the straw into gold during the night, or lose her life. The lonely girl sat bewailing her fate, when the door suddenly opened, and a little man stood before her. Learning why she wept, he agreed to fulfil the task for her on her giving him her necklace; and in the morning, when the king came, he found the straw spun into gold. The sight of this increased his greed, and he shut the girl in a larger room, the straw in which she was to spin under the same threat. Again the little man came to her aid, this time receiving her ring in payment. But when the task was laid upon her a third time, the mannikin would help her only on her agreeing to give him the first child whom she should bear the king after her marriage. One year after this the child was born, and when the little man came to claim it, the weeping mother offered him all the wealth of her kingdom to set her free from the bargain. At last, touched by her grief, he agreed to let her keep the child if within three days she found out his name. Then the queen thought of all the names that she had ever heard, and sent far and wide to learn other names. But on the first day that the mannikin came, she said all the names that she knew, but never the right one. And it was the same on the second day. Then on the third day a messenger came to her, saying that he could find no new name, but that he had seen a funny little man dancing round a fire in the forest, and shouting—

"To-day I bake, to-morrow brew,
The next I'll have the young Queen's child,
Ha I glad am I that no one knew
That Rumpelstiltskin I am styled."

Soon after this the mannikin appeared before the queen, who asked him if his name was Conrad or Harry? When he said "No," she said, "Perhaps your name is Rumpelstiltskin?" "The devil has told you that," cried the little man; and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth, that his whole leg went in; then, in rage, he pulled out his left leg so hard with both hands, that he tore himself in two.

My interest in the variants of this story was awakened some years ago when, looking over a bundle of old numbers of the Ipswich Journal, in which some odds and ends of "Suffolk Notes and Queries" were collected, I came upon a folktale entitled "Tom Tit Tot." Through inquiry recently made of Mr. F. H. Groome, author of Under Gypsy Tents, and editor of those "Notes and Queries," I learned that this tale, as also another tale, entitled "Cap o' Rushes," which our President has printed in the current number of Longman's Magazine, were told by an old West Suffolk nurse to the lady from whom Mr. Groome received them. Their value lies in their being almost certainly derived from oral transmission through uncultured peasants.

The story of "Tom Tit Tot" is as follows:—

Well, once upon a time there were a woman and she baked five pies. And when they come out of the oven, they was that overbaked the crust were too hard to eat. So she says to her darter:

"Maw'r,"[2] says she, "put you them there pies on the shelf, an' leave 'em there a little, an' they'll come again."— She meant, you know, the crust 'ud get soft.

But the gal, she says to herself, "Well, if they'll come agin, I'll ate 'em now." And she set to work and ate 'em all, first and last.

Well, come supper time the woman she said, "Goo you, and git one o' them there pies. I dare say they've come agin now."

The gal she went an' she looked, and there warn't nothin' but the dishes. So back she come and says she, "Noo, they ain't come agin."

"Not none on 'em?" says the mother.

"Not none on 'em," says she.

"Well, come agin, or not come agin," says the woman, "I'll ha' one for supper."

"But you can't, if they ain't come," says the gal.

"But I can," says she, "Goo, you, and bring the best of 'em."

"Best or worst," says the gal, "I've ate 'em all, and you can't ha' one till that's come agin."

Well, the woman she were wholly bate, and she took her spinnin' to the door to spin, and as she span she sang:

"My darter ha' ate five, five pies to-day.
My darter ha' ate five, five pies to-day."

The king he were a' comin' down the street, an' he hard her sing, but what she sang he couldn't hare, so he stopped and said:

"What were that you was a singun of, maw'r?"

The woman, she were ashamed to let him hare what her darter had been a doin', so she sang, 'stids o' that:

"My darter ha' spun five, five skeins to-day.
My darter ha' spun five, five skeins to-day."

"S'ars o' mine!" said the king, "I never heerd tell of anyone as could do that."

Then he said, "Look you here, I want a wife and I'll marry your darter. But look you here," says he, "'leven months out o' the year she shall have all the vittles she likes to eat, and all the gownds she likes to git, and all the cumpny she likes to hev; but the last month o' the year she'll ha' to spin five skeins iv'ry day, an, if she doon't, I shall kill her."

"All right," says the woman; for she thowt what a grand marriage that was. And as for them five skeins, when te come tew, there'd be plenty o' ways of gettin' out of it, and likeliest, he'd ha' forgot about it.

Well, so they was married. An' for 'leven months the gal had all the vittles she liked to ate and all the gownds she liked to git, an' all the cumpny she liked to hev.

But when the time was gettin' oover, she began to think about them there skeins an' to wonder if he had 'em in mind. But not one word did he say about 'em, an' she whoolly thowt he'd forgot 'em.

Howsivir, the last day o' the last month he takes her to a room she'd niver set eyes on afore. There worn't nothin in it but a spinnin wheel and a stool. An' says he, "Now, me dear, hare yow'll be shut in to-morrow with some vittles and some flax, and if you hain't spun five skeins by the night, yar hid 'll goo off."

An' awa' he went about his business.

Well, she were that frightened, she'd alius been such a gatless mawther, that she didn't so much as know how to spin, an' what were she to dew to-morrer, with no one to come nigh her to help her. She sat down on a stool in the kitchen, and lork! how she did cry! Howsivir, all on a sudden she hard a sort of a knockin' low down on the door. She upped and oped it, an' what should she see but a small little black thing with a long tail. That looked up at her right kewrious, an' that said:

"What are yew a cryin' for?"

"Wha's that to yew?" says she.

"Niver yew mind," that said, "but tell me what you're a cryin' for."

"That oont dew me noo good if I dew," says she.

"Yew doon't know that," that said, an' twirled that's tail round.

"Well," says she, "that oon't dew no harm, if that doon't dew no good," and she upped and told about the pies, an' the skeins an' everything.

"This is what I'll dew," says the little black thing, "I'll come to yar winder iv'ry mornin' an' take the flax an' bring it spun at night." "What's your pay?" says she.

That looked out o' the corners o' that's eyes, an' that said, "I'll give you three guesses every night to guess my name, an' if you hain't guessed it afore the month's up, yew shall be mine."

Well, she thowt she'd be sure to guess that's name afore the month was up. "All right," says she, "I agree."

"All right," that says, an' lork I how that twirled that's tail.

Well, the next day, bar husband he took her inter the room, an' there was the flax an' the day's vittles.

"Now there's the flax," says he, "an' if that ain't spun up this night, off" goo yar hid." An' then he went out an' locked the door.

He'd hardly goon, when there was a knockin' agin the winder.

She upped and she oped it, and there sure enough was the little oo'd thing a settin' on the ledge.

"Where's the flax?" says he.

"Here te be," says she. And she gonned it to him.

Well, come the evenin' a knockin' come agin to the winder. She upped an' she oped it, and there were the little oo'd thing with five skeins of flax on his arm.

"Here te be," says he, an' he gonned it to her.

"Now, what's my name?" says he.

"What, is that Bill?" says she.

"Noo, that ain't," says he, an' he twirled his tail.

"Is that Ned?" says she.

"Noo, that ain't," says he, an' he twirled his tail.

"Well, is that Mark?" says she.

"Noo, that ain't says he," an' he twirled his tail harder, an' awa' he flew.

Well, when har husban' he come in, there was the five skeins riddy for him. "I see I shorn't hev for to kill you tonight, me dare," says he, "yew'll hev yar vittles and yar flax in the mornin', says he, an' away he goes.

Well, ivery day the flax an' the vittles, they was browt, an' ivery day that there little black impet used for to come mornins an' evenins. An' all the day the mawther she set a tryin' fur to think of names to say to it when te come at night. But she niver hot on the right one. An' as that got to-warts the ind o' the month, the impet that began for to look soo maliceful, an' that twirled that's tail faster an' faster each time she gave a guess.

At last te came to the last day but one. The impet that come at night along o' the five skeins, and that said:

"What, hain't yew got my name yet?"

"Is that Nicodemus?" says she.

"Noo, t'ain't," that says.

"Is that Sammle?" says she.

"Noo, t'ain't," that savs.

"A-well, is that Methusalem?" says she.

"Noo, t'ain't that norther," he says.

Then that looks at her with that's eyes like a cool o' fire, an' that says, "Woman, there's only tomorrer night, an' then yar'll be mine!" An' away te flew.

Well, she felt that horrud. Howsomcdiver, she hard the king a comin' along the passage. In he came, an' when he see the five skeins, he says, says he:

"Well, me dare," says he. "I don't see but what yew'll ha' your skeins ready tomorrer night as well, an' as I reckon I shorn't ha' to kill you, I'll ha' supper in here to night." So they brought supper, an' another stool for him, and down the tew they sat.

Well, he hadn't eat but a mouthful or so, when he stops an' begins to laugh.

"What is it?" says she.

"A-why," says he, "I was out a huntin' to*day, an' I got away to a place in the wood I'd never seen afore. An' there was an old chalk pit. An' I heerd a sort of a hummin, kind o'. So 1 got off my hobby, an' I went right quiet to the pit, an' I looked doWn. Well, what should there be but the funniest little black thing yew iver set eyes on. An' what was that a dewin' on, but that had a little spinnin' wheel, an' that were a spinnin' wonnerfiil fast, an' a twirlin' that's tail. An' as that span, that sang:

"Nimmy nimmy not
My name's Tom Tit Tot."

Well, when ihe mawther heerd this, she fared as if she could ha' jumped outer her skin for joy, but she di'n't say a word.

Next day, that there little thing looked soo maliceful when he come for the flax. An' when night came, she heerd that a knockin' agin the winder panes. She oped the winder, an' that come right in on the ledge. That were grinnin' from are to are, an' Oo! tha's tail were twirlin' round so fast.

"What's my name?" that says, as that gonned her the skeins.

"Is that Solomon?" she says, pretendin' to be afeard.

"Noo, t'ain't," that says, an' that come fudder inter the room.

"Well, is that Zebedee?" says she, agin.

"Noo, t'ain't," says the impet. An' then that laughed an' twirled that's tail till yew cou'n't hardly see it.

"Take time, woman," that says; "next guess, an' you're mine.' An' that stretched out that's black hands at her.

Well, she backed a step or two, an' she looked at it, and then she laughed out, an' says she, a pointin' of her finger at it,

"Nimmy Nimmy not
Yar name's Tom Tit Tot."

Well, when that hard her, that shruck awful an' awa' that flew into the dark, an' she niver saw it noo more.

A. W. T.

In the Cornish variant, "Duffy and the Devil," which Robert Hunt says he remembers seeing acted as a Christmas play[3] when he was a boy, a squire hears Jenny Chygwin beating her stepdaughter Duffy for romping with the boys instead of knitting stockings or spinning yarn. The squire, taken with Duffy's good looks, carries her off; and the old woman who keeps his house sets her to spin wool. The helpless girl, left to herself, cries out "Curse the spinning and knitting 1 The devil may spin and knit for the squire, for what I care."

Forthwith an odd mannikin appears, who offers to do her work and give her the power to fulfil any wish she may have, on condition that at the end of three years she becomes his if she cannot find out his name. Such fame does this bring her that the squire, finding how the youths seelv her hand, marries her himself. And a merry time she had till the three years neared their end, when sadness fell upon her. On the last day but one the squire came to her full of excitement, and told her that she would laugh could she have seen what he had seen. He then relates how he had heard the devil, surrounded by a pack of witches, singing this couplet;—

"Duffy, my lady, you'll never know—what?
That my name is Terrytop, Terrytop—top."

As the squire's tale ends, the last hour of the three years arrives, and with it the mannikin, leering and bowing. Duffy, curtseying to him, makes the first guess. "Maybe your name is Lucifer?" The devil denies this, grins horribly, and reminds her that she has but two guesses left. "Perhaps my lord's name is Beelzebub?" Again the devil grins, and says that Beelzebub is only a sort of cousin of his. Then, as he was about to seize Duffy, she said, "Perhaps you'll admit that your name is Terrytop?" Whereupon the devil departed in fire and smoke, all his knitting suddenly turned to ashes, and the socks and suit spun by him fell from the squire, leaving him nothing but his shirt and his shoes.

Henderson, in his Folklore of the Northern Counties,[4] quotes from Wilkie's MS. collection of Border Customs, "in the old days, when spinning was the constant employment of women, and the spinning-wheel had its presiding genius or fairy." A woman had one fair daughter who loved play better than work, and for punishment was given seven heads of lint to spin into yarn in three days. Her unskilled hands delayed the task, and after a night of weeping she wandered into the fields, where she espied a long-lipped woman "drawing out the thread" as she sat in the sun. When the old woman heard what troubled the girl she offered to spin the lint, and, taking it with her, vanished. The girl fell asleep, and was startled by the sound of an uncouth voice near her, when laying her ear to a stone she heard these words, "Little kens the wee lassie on the brae-head that ma name's Habetrot." Then looking down a hole[5] she saw an unsightly company busy with distaff and spindle, and heard Habetrot tell a hook-nosed sister, Scanthe Mab, to "bundle up" the lassie's yarn. The girl turned homewards, but was overtaken by Habetrot, who bade her not tell how the yarn was spun. Reaching home she found that her mother had gone to bed, but had left some black puddings hanging to dry. These the girl ate, and when the mother came down next morning she was vexed to find the puddings gone, but delighted to see the hanks of yarn. She ran from the house, crying:

"My daughter's spun sein, sein, sein,
My daughter's eaten sein, sein, sein.
And all before daylight!"

A laird who chanced to be riding by was puzzled at what he heard, and then, learning what had happened, he had the girl brought before him, and vowed that he would wed so good a spinner. After the marriage Habetrot still helped her, till one day she bade the bride bring her husband to the cell where the fairies spun that he might see how their faces were twisted by "drawing out the thread," and so it came to pass that he commanded his wife never to spin. The like sequel is found in a variant given in Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland, entitled "A Various Whuppity Stoorie,"[6] but a preceding tale, "Whuppity Stoorie,"[7] supplies closer parallels to Rumpelstiltskin. It tells of a man who "gaed to a fair ae day," and was never more heard of. His widow was left with a "sookin' lad bairn," and a sow that "was soon to farra." Going to the sty one day, she saw, to her distress, the sow ready "to gie up the ghost," and as she sat down with her bairn and "grat sairer than ever she did for the loss o' her ain goodman," there came an old woman dressed in green who asked what she would give her for curing the sow. Then they "watted thooms" on the bargain, by which the woman promised to give the green fairy anything she liked, and the sow was made well. To the mother's dismay the fairy then said that she would have the bairn. "But," said she, "this I'll let ye to wut, I canna by the law we leeve on take your bairn till the third day after this day; and no then if ye can tell me my right name." For two days the poor woman wandered "cuddlin' her bairn," when, as she came near an old quarry hole, she heard the "burring of a lint-wheel, and a voice lilting a song," and then saw the green fairy at her wheel, "singing like ony precentor,"

"Little kens our guid dame at hame
That Whuppity Stoorie is my name!"

Speeding home glad-hearted, she awaited the fairy's coming; and being "a jokus woman," pulled a long face, begging that the bairn be spared and the sow taken, and when this was spurned, offering herself. "The deil's in the daft jad," quo' the fairy; "wha in a' the earthly warld .... wad ever meddle wi' the likes o' thee?" Then the woman threw off her mask of grief, and, making "a curchie down to the ground," quo' she, "I might hae had the wit to ken that the likes o' me is na fit to tie the warst shoe-strings o' the heich and mighty princess, Whuppity Stoorie." "Gin a fluff o' gunpowder had come out o' the grund, it couldna hae gart the fairy loup heicher nor she did; syne doun she came again, dump on her shoe-heels, and whurlin' round, she ran down the brae, scraichin' for rage, like a houlet chased wi' the witches."

In the Swedish variant, given in Thorpe's Yule-Tide Stories, entitled, "The Girl who could spin Gold from Clay and Long Straw,"[8] the mother sets her on the roof of their cot that she might be shamed by folks seeing her sloth. The king's son, as he rides by, sees the fair spinner, and, asking why she is there, is told by the mother ironically that she is so clever as to be able to spin gold out of clay and long straw. He then said that she should be his wife if this Were true, and forthwith carried her to the palace to make proof of her skill, Left in her maiden-bower with straw and clay, she wept sore, when a deformed little old man appeared, and, asking why she sorrowed, gave her a pair of gloves wherewith she could spin gold, saying that he would return the next night and claim her as his wife if she could not tell his name. Despair made her consent, and forthwith she began to spin the stuff into gold. But although there was joy throughout the palace at this, there was grief in the maiden's heart, and this the prince sought to drive away when he came back from the chase in the evening, telling her how he had seen a little old man dancing round a bush, and singing this song:

"To-day I the malt shall grind,
To-morrow my wedding shall be.
And the maiden sits in her bower and weeps;
She knows not what I am called.
I am called Titteli Ture.
I am called Titteli Ture!"

The maiden's gloom was now turned to gladness; and at night, when the hunchback came, she sprang up, saying, "Titteli Ture! Titteli Ture! here are your gloves." Upon this the dwarf, furiously angry, leapt through the air, taking with him the roof of the house.

In the variant from German Hungary, a woodcutter is in such dire straits for food that he takes his daughter to the forest, promising, like the uncle in our classical "Babes in the Wood," to return to her soon. The child wandered flower-gathering, till, wearied, she fell asleep; and on waking, finding herself alone, she wept bitterly, and ran hither and thither in search of her father. Then there appeared a dwarf, clad in grey, at sight of whom she was affrighted, but he so coaxed away her fears that she agreed to live with him as his daughter in the hollow of a great tree. One day the mannikin told her that he had recommended her to the queen as a waiting-maid; and soon after this the queen's son came home from the wars and fell in love with her. When the dwarf heard this, he said that the king must find out his name before he would consent to the wedding; and, returning to his tree-dwelling, lit his fire, and skipping round it, sang:

"Boil, pot, boil!
The king knows not—all the same—
"VVinterkolble is my name."

The king in his trouble had sent one of his servants in quest of the name; and, as luck would have it, the servant heard the song, and ran back to the castle with the good news. When the dwarf came, the king greeted him with the words, "Welcome, Father Winterkolble," and thereupon the outwitted one gave his consent.

In a Lower Austrian variant a king proclaims his wish to marry a girl, no matter how low-born, provided that she has eves and hair jet black. Amongst the crowd that thronged before the king's palace not one could be found who had these charms. But a charcoalburner's daughter, who was possessed of the coveted features, made her way to the castle, where a dwarf met her, and asked what she would give him if she became queen, "I have nothing," she replied. "Then," said he, "thou wilt be queen, but thou must know, at the end of three years, that my name is Kruzimügeli; if not, thou art mine." The maiden found favour in the king's eyes, and happy were the days till, as the three years drew to an end, she found that she had forgotten the dwarf's name, and sadness fell upon her, the cause whereof she hid from the king. On the last day but one of the third year the king's forester went hunting, and saw a dwarf dancing in malicious glee before a fire, and singing:

"She knows not—oh, what jollity!—
My name is Kruzimiigeli."

This he told to the queen, who was well-nigh beside herself for joy; and when the next day the dwarf came, he would give her but three guesses; "and," said he, "if thou dost not guess right, thou art mine." The queen said: "It seems to me it is Steffel." The dwarf leaped for joy, and cried, "Missed!" Then the queen said: "It is Beitle." Again he made a bound, and cried again, "Missed!" Then the queen said, quite carelessly: "Then it is Kruzimügeli." When he heard this, he burst without a word through the wall into the open air, and since then all effort to fill up the hole has been vain.

In another Lower Austrian variant from Modling a witch gives a girl fine dresses for the court ball, bargaining for her first child in payment, or the alternative of finding out the witch's name within a year. The girl becomes a queen and a mother, and as the dreaded time for fulfilment of the contract draws near, she is relieved by a courtier telling her that he heard a witch in the forest singing over a cauldron a song of exultation that the queen does not know she is called Siperdintl.

A number of closely-corresponding stories from neighbouring districts could be cited, but it suffices to say that abstracts of them are given in the notes to Vernaleken's collection of folktales from Austria and Bohemia, from which the foregoing are quoted.[9] In some of these stories the devil in disguise, as in the variant from Cornwall, takes the place of witch or fairy, granting certain favours on the condition that his name is found out within a given time, usually seven years. In the majority of cases he is outwitted. Probably some of the stories are echoes of the many medieval legends of the "stupid beast," as Pope Gregory the Great called him, the gullibility of the devil being the main feature in the popular conceptions of him in the Middle Ages. In connexion with this, the Austrian tale just cited, in which Kruzimügeli bursts through a hole in the wall, which could never be blocked up again, reminds us of one of the legends of a church-building devil given by Grimm. The fiend had bargained for the soul of the first who should enter, so a wolf was driven through the door, when the devil in a rage flies up through the roof, and leaves a gap that no mason can fill up.[10]

The Magyar variant of Rumpelstiltskin bears the title of "The Lazy Spinning Girl, who became a Queen."[11] A woman, angry with her daughter for disliking spinning, chased her from home. As they ran, a prince passed by in his carriage, and, hearing what was the matter, offered to take the girl to his mother. This done, he put her into a large shed filled with flax, and told her that he would marry her if she spun all of it within a month. For three weeks she sat idle, fretting over the task, until one night a mannikin, but half an ell in height, slipped in and offered to spin the flax for her in a week if she would promise to go with him should she not find out his name within that time. She agreed, and one day in the last week a manservant who brought her food told her that he had seen a little man in the forest who was leaping from bough to bough, spinning a thread and humming to himself, "my name is Dancing Vargaluska. My wife will be good spinster Sue." The dwarf came that evening with part of his work done, and asked the girl if she had learned what his name was, but she said nothing. On the last night he brought the remainder of the work in a three-wheeled barrow, and on asking her to guess his name she answered, "If I mistake not, it is Dancing Vargaluska," whereupon he rushed off as if somebody had pulled his nose.

The sequel to this story in which three women-beggars, deformed in various ways through spinning, come to the wedding feast for alms, when the sight of them causes the king to command that every distaff, spinning-wheel, and spindle be broken and burnt, resembles the sequel to the variant from Henderson, and also to "A Various Whuppity Storie" in Chambers's collection, in. which, after the laird has seen six wee wrymouthed spinning ladies, he orders that all the spinning wheels be burnt, lest his bride becomes disfigured by their use. The three spinners have their correspondences in Grimm's Household Tales, No. 14, in Dasent's "Three Aunts,"[12] in "The Aunts" in Portuguese Folk Tales,[13] in "La Bella Impronta." or "The Beautiful Glutton," in Tuscan Fairy Tales,[14] "The Three Little Crows each with something Big" in Thorpe,[15]Busk,[16] and other collections.[17]

In Wentworth Webster's collection of Basque Folktales,[18] a mother is beating her lazy girl, when the lord of a castle hard by, who is passing at the time, asks why the girl cries, and was told that her prettiness made her indolent. The usual incidents of the girl being offered marriage if she can do a certain amount of work within a given time, and of a witch who comes to her aid and bargains to complete the task if the girl can remember her name, Marie Kirikitoun, in a year and a day, follow. The wedding takes place, but sadness falls upon the bride as the year end draws near, despite grand festivals held to gladden her spirits. At one of these an old woman knocks at the door, when the servant tells her why so many feasts are given, and the woman says that if the lady had seen what she had seen she would laugh free enough. So the old woman is brought before the company and tells how she had seen an old woman leaping and bounding from one ditch to another, and singing all the time, "Houpa, houpa, Marie Kirikitoun, nobody will remember my name." Whereupon the bride became merry-hearted, rewarded the old woman, and told the witch her name when she came for fulfilment of the bargain.

Tracking certain common elements eastward, we have in Sagas from the Far East[19], a tale entitled "The Use of Magic Language," in which a king sends his son on travel that he may gain all kinds of knowledge. The prince is accompanied by the son of his father's chief minister, who, on their return, envious at the superior wisdom of the prince, entices him into a forest and kills him, the dying prince uttering one word Abaraschika. When the murderer reaches the palace he tells the king how the prince fell sick and died, and that he had but time to utter the above word. Thereupon the king summons his seers and magicians and threatens them with death if they do not within seven days interpret the meaning of Abaraschika. The time granted them had wellnigh expired when a student came beckoning to them, bidding them to weep not, for he had, while sleeping beneath a tree, heard a bird telling his young ones not to cry for food, since the Khan would slay a thousand men on the morrow, because they could not tell him the meaning of Abaraschika, which was this: "My bosom friend hath enticed me into a thick grove and hath taken away my life." When this was made known to the king, he dismissed the condemned men with presents, and pnt the chief minister and his son to death.

In the Icelandic variant from Symington's Pen and Pencil Sketches of Faroe and Iceland,[20] a peasant who has many sheep gives the wool to his wife to spin during the winter, but she is lazy, and neglects her work. An old witch comes begging, and in return for alms bargains to make the wool into cloth by the first day of summer, the wife agreeing to tell the witch's name in three guesses in lieu of any payment. As the summer nears, the wife becomes ill with anxiety about fulfilling her contract, and confesses the cause to her husband. Soon after this he loses his way in the mountains, and, overhearing a voice in the hollow of a cliff, peeps in, sees an old woman spinning, and hears her introduce her name, Gilitrutt, into her snatches of song. When he goes home he says nothing to his wife till the day that the witch is to bring back the cloth. On her arrival the wife gives two wrong guesses, but at the third guess suggests Gilitrutt, whereupon the witch falls down thunderstruck, and presently disappears to be nevermore seen.

The intimate correspondences, both in outline and detail, between certain of the foregoing variants which are found widely apart, as e. g., the Magyar and the Scotch, tempt us to speculation concerning the origin and transmission of the tale. But one can only repeat the alternative theories which have been framed to explain the general question of folktale origin and diffusion, and it is pretty well agreed that this, with the profoundly interesting question of race movements, contacts, and mixtures, which lies at the back of it, cannot be dealt with until our materials are more complete, and subjected to the scientific treatment to which reference was made at the outset. This, however, does not hinder brief allusion to some possible germs of the "Rumpelstiltskin" story which may be detected in archaic legend.

In Northern Saga king Olaf desired to build a church greater than any yet seen, but lacked the treasure withal. As he walked 'twixt hill and dale he met a troll, who, when he heard the king's wish, offered to build the church for him within a given time; stipulating that he was to have the sun and moon, or Olaf himself, in payment. The king agreed; the church was to be large enough to allow seven priests to preach in it at the same time without disturbing one another; and erelong the structure was finished, except the roof and spire. Perplexed at the terms he had acceded to, Olaf once more wandered over hill and dale, when suddenly he heard a child cry from within a mountain, while a giant-woman quieted it with these words, "Hush, hush, to-morrow comes thy father, Wind and Weather, home, bringing both sun and moon or saintly Olaf's self." Overjoyed at this discovery, Olaf turned home. Seeing that the spire was just fixed, he cried, "Wind and Weather, thou hast set the spire askew," when instantly the giant fell off the ridge of the roof with a fearful crash and burst into a thousand pieces, which were nothing but flintstones,[21] In Swedish legend a giant promises to build a church for the White Christ if Laurentius can find out his name, otherwise he must forfeit his eyes. As in the Olaf legend, the giantess is overheard hushing her crying child and uttering the giant's name.[22]

Then there are the questions, partaking more or less of the nature of riddles, with penalties attaching to failure, which are a prominent feature of old northern poetry. Of these we may cite examples from the "Alviss-mal" and the "Wafthrudnis-mal," adopting the versions given in Vigfusson and Powell's Corpus Foeticum Boreale, the one and unsurpassable authority upon Icelandic Sagas.

AUwise the Dwarf, having entrapped the gods into a promise of giving him Freya to wife, comes to claim her, but one of the Anses (probably Wingi, i. e., Woden, for the frank, blunt, character of Thor would by no means suit the part, though Wingthor is found in the MS.) contrives, by playing on his philological vanity, to keep him answering questions till the sun rises, and its rays, falling on him, turn him to stone.[23]

In the "Wafthrudnis-mal," Woden, disguised as a mortal under the name of Ganger, visits the giant Wafthrudni (Web-strong) to find out what he knows of sacred lore. The disputants agreed that the one who failed to answer any question put to him by the other should forfeit his life. After a time, the pretended Ganger asks the giant, "What did Woden whisper into Balder's ear ere he was borne on the pyre?" when Wafthrudni has to confess himself vanquished.[24] One is reminded of the song-duel between the defeated Joukahainen and the storm-begotten Wäinämöinen in the third rune of the Kalevala.

We may leave such references, for whatever they may be worth, as clues to the origin of Rumpelstiltskin; and, reluctantly avoiding digressions on topics suggested by subordinate incidents of the story, as, e.g., the origin of spinning, often ascribed to denizens of the forest and the under- world, deal with its philosophy as indicated by the central idea of all its variants, the nucleus round which the incidents have gathered. This, put into fewest words, is the notion that the name of any being, whether human or superhuman, is an integral part of that being; and that, to know it, puts its owner, whether he be deity, ghost, or man, in the power of another, often involving destruction to the named. It is a part of that general confusion between names and things which is a universal feature of barbaric modes of thought, an ever-present note of uncultured intelligence; a confusion which attributes the qualities of living things to things not living, and which lies at the root of all fetishism, and idolatry; of all witchcraft, shamanism, and other instruments, which were as keys to the invisible kingdom of the feared and dreaded. Such enlarged reference would, however, occupy a volume,[25] and it must suffice for our present purpose to deal, and even that very briefly, with the superstitions clustering around names among barbaric and quasi-civilized peoples.

1. The belief in the interdependence of names and persons is evidenced in the mystical ideas of ancient peoples concerning the names of their deities. To the Mohammedan, "Allah" is but an epithet of the "great name," known only to apostles and prophets, who work miracles through it; deep reverence for the name "Yahweh," or "Jehovah," led the Jews to substitute "Adonai" in its place, in obedience to a supposed command in Leviticus, xxiv. 16. It generally appears simply as "the name" when referred to in Rabbinical writings. A rather doubtful tradition says, that "Jehovah" was uttered but once a year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, when he entered the Holy of Holies, and, according to Maimonides, it was spoken for the last time by Simon the Just. Henceforth, says the Talmud, he who attempts to pronounce it shall have no part in the world to come. Jewish legend tells how Solomon, beginning to utter the sacred name, made heaven and earth quake; and the wonders wrought by Jesus are ascribed by an old Jewish writer, author of Toldoth Jesu, to his having abstracted the Ineffable Name and concealed it in his thigh. Vedic literature shows the important part played by the mystic word "Om" in the development of Brahmanism. The real name of the Chinese sage is so sacred that it is a statutable offence to pronounce it. Commissioner Yeh, in a conversation with Mr. Wingrove Cooke, said, "Tien means properly only the material heaven, but it also means Shang-Te, supreme ruler, God; for as it is not lawful to use his name lightly, we name him by his dwelling-place, which is in Tien."[26] Cognate ideas account for the Roman practice of keeping the name of the tutelary deity of the city secret, the divulging of which is said to have cost Valerius Soranus his life. Pliny,[27] quoting an earlier author, says that it was a practice with the Romans, when besieging a town, to win the support of its tutelary deity by offering him a place in their Pantheon; and, to secure themselves against a like danger of traitorous action on the part of their own guardian god, the name was never divulged. If we find such ideas prevalent among the higher races, we may a fortiori expect to find them among lower races; nor is the difference in such ideas always one of degree. The barbaric belief that the spirits know folk by their names is active among civilized people wherever anthropomorphic conceptions of deity prevail. To such it is not matter of doubt that He knows each one by name, as He is recorded to have known men of olden time, addressing them thereby, and even altering their name.[28] If we incline to accept the testimony of spiritualists we may find like correspondences between barbarian and civilized in the belief that to name the spirits is to invoke their appearance, an idea surviving in the saying, "Talk of the devil and you'll see his horns," and illustrated by the legend of the Norse witches who tied up wind and foul matter in a bag, and then, undoing the knots, shouted "Wind in the devil's name," when the hurricane swept over land and sea; and also by the recipe for stopping a witch's dance and dispersing the dancers by uttering the name of God or Christ. We may not therefore feign surprise when we hear that in Borneo, when a child is ill, its name is changed so as to confuse or deceive the bad spirits, to whom all diseases and death, which last is rarely regarded as a natural event by the savage, are ascribed. Among some South American tribes, when a man dies, his friends and kinsmen change their names so as to elude death if he comes after them, or to prevent the departed spirits being attracted back to earth by hearing the old name.[29]

Intimately connected with this, therefore, is the universal reluctance among barbaric people to speak of the dead; a feeling shared in modified form by ourselves, as expressed in Mrs. Barrett Browning's lines on Cowper:

"Named softly as the household name of one whom God hath taken."

The Fuegians, Darwin tells us, never mentioned the names of the dead; among the Connecticut tribes it a capital offence; among the Northern tribes, when a death occurred, if a relation of the deceased was libsent, his friends loitered along the road by which he was expected, so as to tell him the news and thus prevent him naming the dead on his return. Im Thurn says, that, although the Indians of British Guiana have an intricate system of names, it is of little use, in that owners have a very strong objection to telling or using them, apparently on the ground that the name is part of the man, and that he who knows it has part of the owner of that name in his power.[30] Morgan says that among the Iroquois, upon the death of a man, his name could not be used again in the lifetime of his oldest surviving son without the consent of the latter.[31]

Illustrations of this could be multiplied ad infinitum, but it is obvious, without further evidence, that with a universal belief in spiritual agents, and the identification of name with being, such practices as those cited must arise, practices of which the adage, "De mortuis nil nisi bonum," i.e. lest his ghost harm you, embodies a survival. Hence the adoption of euphemisms, in which complimentary phrases are employed in place of such as might grate or annoy, "goodomen words," as the Cantonese call them,[32] the most familiar example of which is the title of Eumenides or "gracious ones" given to the Furies. The Dyaks of Borneo speak of the small pox as the "chief or "jungle leaves," and the Cantonese call it "heavenly flower" or "good intention"; in Annam the tiger is called "grandfather" or "lord;" in the forty-sixth rune of the Kalevala, which celebrates the slaying of the bear, he is addressed in profuse, flowing metaphor, as "forest-apple," "golden light-foot," "honey-pawed." In Thorpe's Northern Mythology,[33] a list of both dead and living things which are to be called by euphemistic names to arrest evil influences is given, and perchance a survival of this dread exists in the modern housewife's notion that if one comments upon some household god quick destruction follows. "I was only yesterday," she will tell you, *' talking about the years we had had that china service, and now it is smashed to atoms!"

2. The reluctance to utter names extends to those of the living in descending scale according to rank. For example, in China, the ming or proper name of the reigning emperor is sacred, and must be spelt differently during his lifetime.[34] Although given in the prayer offered at the imperial worship of ancestors, it is not permitted to be written or pronounced by any subject. The Tahitians display like superstitious reverence by a custom termed Te pi. "They cease to employ in common language those words which form a part or the whole of the sovereign's name or that of one of his near relatives, and invent new terms to supply their place."[35] In Siam, Burmah, and other eastern countries, the like substitution of epithet for the royal name prevails, and "in Polynesia the prohibition to mention chiefs' names has even impressed itself deeply in the language of the islands."[36]

In his Tour to the Himalayas[37] Fraser tells how in one of the despatches intercepted during the war in Nepaul, Gouree Sah sent orders to find out the British general's name. It was to be written on a piece of paper, the great incantation said over it three times, and the paper then burnt with plum-tree wood. Coming lower down, we find that the Australian has a strong reluctance to tell his real name to strangers. So has the Kaffir, and among this race no woman may pronounce the names of any of her husband's male relations in the ascending line, nor even any word in which the principal syllable of the name of her father-in-law occurs.[38] The Amazulu woman, when addressing or speaking of her husband, calls him "Father of So-and-so," mentioning one of his children,[39] and in like manner a Hindoo wife speaks of her husband as "He," "Swamy," or "the Master," avoiding mention of his name. Dorman says that the New Mexican tribes never made known their own names or those of friends to a stranger, lest these should be used in sorcery. Among the Ojibways husbands and wives never told each others' names, and the children were warned that if they repeated their own names they would stop growing. Dobrizhoffer records that the Abipones of Paraguay would knock at his door at night, and when asked who was there^ would not answer, lest enemy or sorcerer overheard their name. There must be like origin for the reluctance of which Gregor speaks in his Folklore of the North-East of Scotland,[40] when folk "calling at a house of the better class on business with the master or mistress had a very strong dislike to tell their names to the servant who admitted them." The same author says that "in Buckie there are certain family names that fishermen will not pronounce;" the folk in the village of Coull speaking of "spitting out the bad name." If such a name is mentioned in their hearing, they spit or, in the vernacular, "chiff." One bearing the dreaded name is called a "chifferoot." If there is occasion to speak of anyone with such a name a circumlocution is used, as "The man it diz so in so," or "The laad it lives at such and such a place." If possible the men bearing these names of reprobation are not taken as hired men in the boats during the herring-fishing season; or, when hired before their names were known, have been refused their wages if the season has been a failure. "Ye hinna hid sic a fishin' this year is ye hid the last," said a woman to the daughter of a famous fisher. "Na, na, faht wye cud we? We wiz in a chififeroot's 'oose, we cudnae hae a fushin'." In some of the villages on the east coast of Aberdeenshire it was accounted unlucky to meet any one of the name of Whyte when going to sea. Lives would be lost, or the catch of fish would be poor.[41] In fine, for these illustrations may be cited to weariness, wherever the name is regarded as a part of the person or thing which it represents, there is no limit to the application. Such confusion could not be more perfectly illustrated than in an anecdote which Dr. Tylor quotes from Dr. Lieber. "I was lately looking at a negro who was feeding young mocking-birds by the hand. 'Would they eat worms?' I asked; 'Surely not,' answered the man, 'they are too young, and they would not know what to call them.'"[42] That negro would find a kindred spirit in the old lady who, after hearing a lecture upon astronomy, said that she could understand how the astronomers found out the distances and weights of the stars, but what puzzled her was how they found out their names!

3. The rites and ceremonies which have been practised at birth and infancy from time immemorial have survived long after their primitive meaning was forgotten, and new meanings whereby a quasi-sanctity has been imparted have been attached to them. The ideas which still cluster round name-giving are the disguised or transmuted superstitions akin to those already illustrated. The custom of naming children from some event happening at their birth has frequent reference in the Old Testament, as e.g. in Genesis xxx. 11, where Leah's maid gives birth to a son: "And she said, A troop cometh; and she called his name Gad." So Hachel, dying in childbed, calls the babe Ben-oni, "son of sorrow," but the father changes his name to Ben-jamin, "son of the right hand." Burckhardt speaks of a like custom among the Bedouins, the child's name being derived from some incident, or from some fancy of the mother,[43] while among the Kaffirs the name of the day on which the child is born, or the name of any beast whose roar is then heard, is given to it. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration must be claimed as the lineal descendant of the barbaric notions concerning the lustrations which still accompany the naming of the child. In Abyssinia the baptismal name is concealed throughout life, and in West Sussex it is considered unlucky to divulge a child's intended name before baptism.[44]

Although I have sought, in collecting the scattered materials for illustration of the thesis of this paper, for points of fundamental difference between the higher and lower culture, the search has been vain. One can find variations in details, and in their applications, as these have been affected by the personal equation, as we may call it, of peoples, but not in general principles. As in the physical, so in the intellectual, there is no break in continuity. As in the various states of matter, so in the various phenomena of the mind, there is fundamental unity. As the higher organisms repeat in their embryonic condition the stages through which their ancestral forms passed, so the folktale, in the several changes which it undergoes in the process of transmission, preserves traces of the type to which it belongs. The magic letters "Abracadabra," which were believed to be a remedy for agues and fevers, are equated with that "blessed word Mesopotamia," in which the old lady found such spiritual balm. We have scampered across wide areas in our search after ideas common to those which lie at the heart of "Tom Tit Tot," and we find its variants, and the barbaric notions cognate to those ideas, contributing their evidence to that of the great cloud of witnesses testifying to the like attitude of the mind before like phenomena which frightened and bewildered it, until Science created sympathy between man and the objects of his undisciplined fears.

Note.—Since revising the foregoing for press my friend Mr. H. Courthope Bowen sends me the following apposite story from Mr. J. H. Collens's Guide to Trinidad, published in 1887.—

A doctor in a remote district had one day assembled a number of negro children for vaccination. In the course of his operations he came to a little girl, and the following conversation ensued with the person bringing her:

Doctor. "Are you the child's mother?"

Woman: "Yes, sir—is me darter."

D. And what is your name?"

W. "Is me name?"

D. (rather impatiently): "Yes, I asked you what is your name? "

W. (hesitatingly) "Dey does caal me Sal."

D. "Well, Sal what?"

W. (assuringly, but with a suspicious side-glance at a neighbour who is intently taking all in): "Dey does allus caal me Sal."

D. (getting desperate): "Oh, botheration; will you tell me your proper name or not?"

W. (with much reluctance approaching the doctor, whispers in the lowest possible tone of voice): "Delphine Segard."

D. (with intense disgust) : "Then why couldn't you say so!"

Mr. Collens remarks : "My medical friend now bears these little passages with more equanimity, for he has gained experience, and knows that the reason why the woman was so reluctant to utter her name aloud was that she believed she had an enemy in the room who would take advantage of the circumstance if she got hold of her true name, and would work her all manner of harm. It is a fact that these people (the negro population of Trinidad) sometimes actually forgot the names of their near relations from hearing and using them so little."


Britain (Suffolk). Tom Tit Tot. Ipswich Journal, 15 Jan. 1878.
(Cornwall). Duffy and the Devil. Popular Romances of the West of England. R. Hunt, p. 239.
(The Border). Habetrot. Henderson's Folklore of the Northern Counties, p. 258.
" (Annandale). Whuppity Stoorie. Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland, p. 76.
Ireland. The Idle Girl and her Aunts. Kennedy's Fire-side Stories.
Sweden (Upland). The Girl who could spin Gold from Clay and Long Straw. Yule-Tide Stories. B. Thorpe, p. 168 (and see lb. p. xi. for references to Variants).
Iceland. Gilitrutt. Pen and Pencil Sketches of Faroe and Iceland, Symington, p. 240.
Germany. Rumpelstilzchen. Grimm's Kinder- und- Hausmärchen, No. 55.
Spain. What Ana saw in the Sunbeam. Patrañas. R. H. Busk. p. 181*
Basque. The Pretty but Idle Girl. Basque Legends. Wentworth Webster, p. 56.
Tyrol. The Wild Jäger and the Baroness. Household Stories from the Land of Hofer. R. H. Busk. p. 110.
German Hungary. Winterkolble. pp. 22, 343.

Lower Austria. Kruzimügeli. pp. 26, 413. In the Land of Marvels. Vernaleken. The Lazy Spinning Girl who became a Queen. Magyar Folktales. Kropf and Jones,p. 46. Panczimanczi. Lad. Arang's Erediti Népmesék. p. 277.

Mongolia. The Use of Magic Language. Sagas from the Far East. R. H. Busk. p. 157.

I shall be very glad to hear of any other variants which have escaped notice in compiling the foregoing list.

  1. Read before the Folklore Society, 26th February, 1889.
  2. "Mawther," remarks J. G. Nall in his Glossary of the Dialect and Provincialisms of East Anglia (Longman, 1866), "is the most curious word in the East Anglian vocabulary. A woman and her mawther means a woman and her daughter." The word is without doubt derived from the same root as 'maid' and cognate words, upon which cf. Skeat's Entymol. Dictionary, s. v.

    Nall gives examples of the use of mawther by Tusser and other writers. Tusser speaks of "a sling for a mother, a bow for a boy." In Ben Jonson's "Alchymist" Restive says to Dame Pliant (Act iv. 7) "Away, you talk like a foolish mawther!" In the "English Moor" (iii. 1) Richard Brome makes a more felicitous use of the word:

    P. I am a mother that do want a service.
    Qu. O, thou'rt a Norfolk woman (cry thee mercy)
    Where maids are mothers and mothers are maids,

    and in Blomfield's "Suffolk Ballad" we read

    When once a gigling mawther you,
    And I a red-faced chubby boy.

    In the Gothic translation of the Gospels, Luke viii. 54, "Maid, arise," is rendered "Maur, urreis."

  3. Pop. Romances of the West of England, p. 239.
  4. Folkore Soc. Edition 1879, pp. 258—261.
  5. Thorpe's Northern Mythol. i. 156.
  6. P. 76.
  7. Pp. 72-75.
  8. Pp. xi. 169.
  9. In the Land of Marvels. (Swan Sonnenschein and Co. 1884.)
  10. Teut. Mythol. 1621 (Eng. trans.)
  11. Magyar Folktales. Kropf and Jones, p. 46.
  12. P. 198 (3rd Editn.)
  13. P. 79. Folkore Soc. 1882, p. 79.
  14. P. 43.
  15. Yule Tide Stories, p. 170, also 312.
  16. Folklore of Rome, p. 378.
  17. Cf. Henderson, p. 262, n.
  18. Basque Legends, p. 56.
  19. P. 157.
  20. Pp. 240-244.
  21. Grimm, T. M. 547, 548.
  22. Cf. Arnason's Icelandic Legends, p. 49, where the story hinges on the name of the builder in "Who built Reynir Church"?
  23. C. P. B i. 81; Thorpe's Northern Mythol. i. 8, note. Ib. i. 96, note.
  24. C. P. B. i. 69, and cf . "King Heidrek's Riddles," p. 92.
  25. An admirable summary is given by Dr. Tylor in the chapter on "Images and Names," in his Early History of Mankind.
  26. Folklore Record, iv. 76.
  27. xxviii. 4.
  28. Gen. xvii. 5; xxxii. 28; Exod. xxiii. 17.
  29. Cf. Dorman's Primitive Superstitions, p. 154, for several illustrations of this.
  30. Among the Indians of Guiana, p. 220.
  31. Ancient Society, p. 79.
  32. Folklore Record, iv. 80.
  33. Vol. ii. p. 83. And see Callaway's Zulu Tales, p. 3, n.
  34. Folklore Record, iv. 74.
  35. Max Müller, Lect. on Language, ii. 74.
  36. Tylor's Early History of Mankind, p. 142.
  37. P. 530.
  38. Theal's Kaffir Folklore, 201.
  39. Callaway, Religious System of the Amazulus, p. 316.
  40. P. 30.
  41. Pp. 200, 201
  42. Early History of Mankind, p. 151.
  43. Notes on the Bedouins, p. 55, quoted in Capt. (now Sir George) Grey's Travels in N. W. and W. Australia, ii. 373.
  44. And cf. Lang's Custom and Myth: story of "Nicht, Nought, Nothing," p. 89.