Folk-Lore/Volume 1/Discussion


Mr. Nutt drew the attention of the meeting to Jeanroy’s theory of the origins of the ballad literature of modern Western Europe as derived from mediæval French lyric poetry, which has now disappeared, but the existence of which was postulated by the author in order to account for folk-poesy.

Mr. Gomme thought it was a good thing once a year, in taking stock of our progress, to hear objections to our methods, instead of being content with compliments. But objections raised, even by the great authority of our President, need not off-hand be considered as objections proved. He (Mr. Gomme) was concerned chiefly with two subjects, one a personal one, the other a general one. The President had done him the honour of specially criticising his paper on “Totemism in Britain.” The President objected to some of his evidence, because certain superstitions and customs might be referred to some other origin than that of totemism. Mr. Gomme’s argument throughout the paper was that totemism, having been suggested by the evidence of place-names and some other evidence—if it existed among the tribes of Britain like it existed elsewhere, it must have imprinted itself on folk-lore. Then, with this hypothesis he had classified the superstitions of animals and plants current in Britain under heads derived from savage totemism, and he had found that they fitted the classification so completely, each section overlapping to such an extent as to justify such a classification being established as a working hypothesis only for future labourers. With reference to the more general question of criticism by the President, the Society’s method of tabulation, Mr. Gomme wished to enter a strong protest against any plea for change of action. Of course, no one would use for scientific purposes the abstract of tales only, but they would use the abstracts as a guide to the tales themselves. Mr. Gomme thought the President’s suggestion to compare whole collections of one savage or barbaric people with whole collections such as Grimm’s a most valuable one, but still the tabulations would assist in such work as this. The tabulation of folk-tales was not a process like Mr. Spencer’s tabulation of sociological phenomena, because no choice was left to the tabulator of folk-tales; he had simply to set down all and everything. We might possibly improve the form, and certainly the index of incidents was one branch of the tabulation which needed close attention, great care, and considerable improvement of method by the tabulators. But this could be accomplished, and still the present method might stand. The present method had been decided upon by a committee of eminent specialists in folk-tales, and he thought, until some considerable progress had been made, it was too early to speak of the scantiness of results. There were many workers, and they were working hard. He hoped that when some of this work was garnered, the President would admit that the Society’s plan was valuable. It would be enhanced ten-fold if other countries could be got to adopt the same or a slightly modified plan, and he thought some of M. Ploix’s suggestions in a recent issue of Revue des Traditions might be acted upon.

Prof. Rhys brought forward some examples of anecdotes about animals from Celtic saga which, he thought, might plausibly be traced to totemism.

Rev. A. Löwy remarked that a knowledge of a person’s name played a great part in many Oriental legends.