Folk-Lore/Volume 5/Review/Legends of the Micmacs


Legends of the Micmacs. By the Rev. Silas Tertius Rand, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D. Wellesley Philological Publications. New York and London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1894.

This work is published from the manuscripts of the late Dr. Rand. Some of the legends had been previously published by Dr. Rand in his lifetime; and Mr. Leland used his manuscripts in preparing The Algonquin Legends of New England, where students first made the acquaintance of the Micmac hero Glooscap. The entire collection now appears, edited by Miss Helen L. Webster, and published under the direction of the Department of Comparative Philology, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, in whose library Dr. Rand's manuscripts have been placed by Professor E. N. Horsford, who purchased them after the writer's death.

Of the genuineness of the traditions here gathered together there is no doubt, but for scientific purposes their presentation leaves something to be desired. Dr. Rand, of whose interesting life a sketch is presented in the Introduction, had his own ideas on the subject of translation. The idiom of the American aboriginal tongues is so utterly different from ours, that any approach to a literal version would have been impossible. But Dr. Rand paraphrases and interpolates comments—in a word, tells the stories, as he says, in his own way; and it is a way that cannot be commended for imitation. Take, for instance, the following passage in a variant of a well-known story —

"Night overtook them, and they lay down in the forest under the open sky to sleep. The atmosphere was clear. the sky cloudless. The bright stars were shining, and it was long before they fell asleep. Gazing at the stars, they were animated by the natural curiosity so beautifully expressed by the poetess,—

'Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are,
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky,'—

and they began to imagine them the eyes of lovers looking down on them; they began speculating at the choice they would make."

What aggravates the offence in this particular instance is that the translator has thought it necessary to repeat two of these magnificent verses in the same connection in another variant of the same story, and to retail the accompanying text in very similar words. Now, setting aside the verses, it is apparent that the narrative is not given in anything like the way the native Indian must have given it. And this fault runs through the whole book, though it is not always so glaring in its bad taste or so divergent from what the Micmac original may be presumed to have been.

But when we turn from the form to the matter of the book, we can only speak of its high value. It comprises a series of eighty-seven stories, taken down from the mouths of native Indians, in whose midst a great part of Dr. Rand's long life was passed, and of whose good faith he had ample means of judging. The collection may be divided into: (1) Stories which appear to be purely aboriginal; (2) Stories which appear to be derived from European sources; (3) Stories which are in their foundation aboriginal, but which have been more or less influenced by contact with Europeans and their civilisation. And in the two latter classes it is most instructive to observe, on the one hand, how the European stories have been adapted to aboriginal culture, moral and material, and, on the other hand, how the aboriginal stories have been warped and changed by contact with European civilisation. Want of space compels us to forego illustrations; but there need be no hesitation in saying that to the student of the migration of folk-tales Dr. Rand's collection offers some remarkable evidence.

The historical traditions are less important than they would be if we were furnished with the means of checking the statements they contain with testimony of a more trustworthy character. But they are worth examination, even if regarded as no more than native hypotheses of such events, for example, as the origin of the feud between the Micmacs and the Mohawks, based upon native knowledge of manners and customs. Indeed, all the tales are valuable for the study of native custom and belief In a European märchen we feel at once that we are in a different world from that which we inhabit day by day. But here there is no such feeling. The line between stories told for the pleasure of the telling, and the stories told because they are believed to be true, or at all events possible, is hardly drawn. We are in the same atmosphere in both cases, and there seems no reason why the story of the Magical Dancing Doll—that of Aladdin—should not be to the Indian mind as real as the historical traditions in another part of the volume.

E. S. Hartland.