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Folk-Lore/Volume 1/A Tale of Campbell and its Foundation in Usage

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To the Editor of Folk-Lore.

Sir,—Mr. Gomme’s interesting paper on a tale of Campbell’s, and its foundation in custom (supra, p. 197 seq.) appears to me to have one main weakness. The incident of finding the mallet in the box which the ill-treated father hides away from his children, pretending that it contained money, is not vital to the story. If the box had contained leaves or bricks or sand, the nemesis on the children would be the same. No doubt the rhyme on the mallet is effective, but against whom? Not against the children; but against a parent who could be fool enough to trust them with all his wealth before his death. I am encouraged in this view of the want of the vital connection of the mallet by observing a variant of the story found as far away as Kashmir (Knowles, Folk-Tales of Kashmir, “How the wicked Sons were duped”), and without the mallet. Here we have the ungrateful children, the friend’s advice, and the hoarded box with nothing in it, which leads to better treatment by the children; but all that is found in the box after the old man’s death is dirt and leaves.

I would add that the presence of the same rhyme in the Gaelic tale, the twelfth century Latin story, and the German inscription, seem to me to tell for the origination of the stone in one single place in historic times, and its diffusion to the remaining spots where it is found. Till that centre of dispersion is settled the story cannot be used as evidence for custom in any place, as it may be merely an unmeaning rhyme borrowed from a place where it had meaning.