THE PROBLEM OF DIFFUSION:
BY MR. JOSEPH JACOBS, B.A.
Members of the Folk-lore Society will probably be surprised at finding me still alive—as a folk-lorist. The last number of Folk-Lore which appeared while I had the honour of editing it, contained two assaults upon me by such eminent authorities as Mr. Andrew Lang and Mr. Alfred Nutt; while, unless I am much mistaken, there was a somewhat petulant passage in the President’s annual speech relating to fairy tales that was directed to my address. With regard to the two former gentlemen, I might perhaps manage by a little adroit dodging to cause their blows to fall reciprocally on one another; for while Mr. Lang was explaining how he had really always agreed with me on the transmission of fairy tales, Mr. Nutt was violently assaulting the conclusions I drew from such transmission. Still, as I should by that means lose the fun of the fight myself, I prefer to continue the contest, and in the course of it cannot perhaps do better than pursue the good old English plan, “One down—if I can get him down—the other come on.”
This is the fifth round—I mean act—in my discussion with Mr. Lang. At the International Folk-lore Congress I ventured to oppose as strenuously as I could what I termed the “Casual Theory” of explanation for the remarkable similarities of plot and incident in many, though by no means all, European folk-tales. I pointed out the immense improbability of the casual coincidence of elaborate plots and the same sequence of incidents occurring in widely scattered localities by chance. At the same time I suggested that the research after survivals in folk-tales, which seemed to be the sole point of interest in their study for Mr. Lang and for Mr. Hartland, whom I coupled with him, was misleading and beside the mark in the study of folk-tales, since until you knew where a folk-tale had originated you could draw no conclusion from the survivals found in it with regard to the place where it was collected. The last count of my indictment was that folk-tales were folk-literature, and required to be studied by literary and not by anthropological methods.
Mr. Lang did me the honour of replying to these contentions in his preface to Miss Roalfe Cox’s admirable volume of variants of Cinderella. He pointed out that he had not unreservedly denied the possibility of transmission as the cause of similarity in folk-tales, and he was fully aware of their charm and literary attraction. To this I replied in the September number of Folk-Lore of last year: that if I had been mistaken in dubbing him Casualist I had erred in company with almost all folk-lorists who had discussed his views, and I mentioned the names of MM. Cosquin, Bédier, Sudre, Krohn. As regards the literary aspects of the folk-tale, I pointed out that it was not a question of appreciation of their literary charm, but of their recognition as products of artistic imagination subject to the laws of imaginative production; it was these laws that had to be investigated rather than the survivals of savage culture which could here and there be discerned in the unnatural incidents in folk-tales.
The curtain rises on the fourth act, and discovers Mr. Lang, not in the most placid of his moods, in the December number of Folk-Lore. He gives us an interesting account of the rise and progress of his interest in folk-tales, he reiterates his contention that he has always been burning with secret love for the Transmission Theory, and he points to passages in which he had let drop hints of his deep-seated affection. He suggested that I had made a blunder in including M. Bédier in the list of those who had mistaken him for a casualist; he pointed out his priority over Mr. J. H. Farrer, whom I had associated with him as having recognised the savage element in folk-tales. He then proceeded to discuss certain views I had enunciated with regard to Cinderella: these I propose considering in connection with the criticisms of Mr. Nutt on the same subject.
I do not think that my part in the fifth act, at which we have now arrived, need be a long one, since the issues have gradually narrowed themselves to personal ones, which are always difficult and dangerous to handle. Let me at once dismiss a couple of these about which I myself was at least partly in the wrong. In referring to M. Bédier, I called him a Casualist, and spoke of him as referring to Mr. Lang as his master. Both these statements taken by themselves are, I still contend, strictly accurate. The whole tendency of M. Bédier’s book is casualistic, and as in his account of the Anthropological School, so ably headed by Dr. Tylor and Mr. Lang, M. Bédier writes in full sympathy, it is not stretching a point to speak of Mr. Lang as his master in this regard. But it was misleading to couple the two statements so closely as to leave the impression that M. Bédier was adopting Mr. Lang’s views as to transmission, for, inconsistently enough, the French savant, while contending that the similarities between the Fabliaux and certain Indian folk-tales were entirely casual, rebukes Mr. Lang, as Mr. Lang himself points out, for being a casualist. I would, however, point out that this error of mine had no misleading effect; for I was simply quoting M. Bédier as one of those who regarded Mr. Lang as a casualist. That point was merely strengthened when it is shown that he even rebukes his master for his casualism.
Then with regard to Mr. Farrer, whom I had mentioned as having pointed to the savage element in folk-tales, as I thought, previously to Mr. Lang, though I was far from suggesting that Mr. Lang owed anything to Mr. Farrer in this regard. In his reply, our late President referred me to an article he had written so long ago as May 1873 in The Fortnightly Review in which he had laid stress upon this side of folk-lore research. It is doubtless a grievous sin to confess that I had never read this article of Mr. Lang’s, which he has never reprinted; but having now seen it I willingly concede the claims of priority on Mr. Lang’s part with regard to this matter. I trust he will manage to make that article, which I venture to regard as an epoch-making one, in some form more accessible to students of folk-lore. We really cannot be expected to follow Mr. Lang through all the periodicals of the English-speaking world. At the same time, from the cordial tone in which Mr. Lang refers to Mr. Farrer’s independent researches, I am glad to observe he agrees with me in regretting the undeserved oblivion into which they have fallen.
For the rest there is little to add on my part to Mr. Lang’s interesting autobiography of his gradual conversion to the Transmission Theory of the resemblance in folk-tales. I am too delighted with the adherence of such a great authority to the position which I have for some time contended, to quarrel with the terms in which that adherence is expressed. I venture to think he has wasted a certain amount of indignation upon those of us who have been careless enough not to notice this gradual conversion. No doubt he was right to dissemble his love for the Transmission Theory, but why does he kick us downstairs? When Mr. Lang, e.g., writes in Custom and Myth (p. 24), “The slow filtration of tales is not absolutely out of the question”, we who hold that filtration of tales is almost the sole source of their resemblance, can surely be excused for regarding him rather as an opponent than an adherent of our views. Again, Mr. Lang writes in his admirable and remarkable Introduction to Mrs. Hunt’s translation of Grimm (p. xiv): “Allied to the theory of borrowing, but not manifestly absurd, is the theory of slow transmission.” I think MM. Bédier, Cosquin, Gaidoz, and Krohn were a little to be forgiven if, reading such a sentence as that, they did not hold Mr. Lang to be an advocate of the theory of slow transmission. But, as I pointed out before, it is not so much his obiter dicta on the subject which caused us to think of Mr. Lang as a casualist pure and simple. We judged him, I imagine, by his acts. Finding him, in his specific treatment of definite tales, paralleling each incident of the tale with a hodge-podge of more or less similar incidents torn from their context in other tales, we could not but regard him as explaining these incidents as he had in so many cases admirably explained isolated customs and myths. Even when, in the case of Puss in Boots, Mr. Lang, as he now informs us, suggested a definite origin for the tale in Arabia, we considered this as only his fun. I, for one, thought he was merely attempting to reduce the theory of transmission to an absurdity. Such are the rewards of writing wittily.
Nor am I sure that Mr. Lang is yet disabused as to the portée of his procedure. He says: “I do believe that many details of story have been, or may have been, independently invented.” Plots, he now allows, if similar, must have been transmitted, but details he still thinks may have been independently invented. Does he mean that similar details in similar plots have been independently invented? I cannot imagine Mr. Lang would hold such a curious position; for it is just the similarity of details which renders it almost impossible that Cinderella, e.g., can have been independently invented in two different places with the mutilated foot incident.
Such a remark, however, as that of Mr. Lang’s, shows clearly to my mind that he has not thought out the details of the problem of diffusion; he has not, as the Germans say, “made earnest with it”, and it was there that my opportunity came in. Non omnes omnia possumus. And Mr. Lang must be contented with having solved only two out of the three main problems of folk-lore research. And here, if the time had arrived when I could, like Mr. Lang, give an autobiography of my interest in the folk-tale, I should have to express my gratitude to Mr. Lang for having attracted me, as he has attracted almost all the readers of the English-speaking world, to an interest in this subject by his brilliant, erudite, and suggestive disquisitions upon it.
I pass now from Mr. Lang to Mr. Nutt, from my friendly opponent to my opposing friend. Here the discussion deals with some remarks of mine about Cinderella, but it gradually extended to much wider issues. Mr. Nutt couples me with Mr. Newell, somewhat in the same fashion as I had coupled Mr. Lang and Mr. Hartland, and I am fitly punished for having set the example, for I have not hitherto laid down any general theory as to the origin and diffusion of folk-tales, whereas Mr. Newell has committed himself to a somewhat peculiar position on this point. In dealing with us together Mr. Nutt could not well avoid confusing the persons and confounding the issues. It so happens that in one of the results of our discussion on Miss Cox’s volume, Mr. Newell and myself arrived at the same conclusion, but I fancy that it is by far different ways. Let me say at once that with regard to the origin of the unnatural incidents in folk-tales I am of the Anthropological School, a disciple of Dr. Tylor and Mr. Lang. That by itself differentiates me, I fancy, from the erudite Secretary of the American Folk-lore Society; but while I grant that when these unnatural incidents were first used they reflected the savage culture and beliefs of the narrator, I cannot allow that they imply the same culture and beliefs whenever they are adopted as a convention of folk-telling, or are transmitted to fresh fields.
Mr. Nutt draws absolutely opposite conclusions from the existence of conventions of the folk-tale. “What is a convention?” he asks, and answers that it is a custom, mode of speech, or a turn of narration that is in full accord with the beliefs of author and audience. Au contraire, I would hold that convention was a dead mechanical form, the meaning of which is entirely absent in the minds of those using it. I may perhaps make my meaning clearer if I refer shortly to the special convention to which I was referring in my article on “Cinderella in Britain”. Analysing the ten various versions of Cinderella which have been discovered in these Isles, I found that they could be divided up into three different sections of incidents. The first set contained the archaic incidents of the animal aid, in one case of the animal mother; but this series of incidents is almost a tale by itself, a tale resembling that known in the collection of the brothers Grimm as “One eye, two eyes, and three eyes.” Then come another series of incidents, the real Cinderella story with the menial heroine and the shoe recognition. Finally, in some of the Celtic variants, the tale was expanded by a number of incidents obviously derived from the Celtic story of the “Sea Maiden”; this, we could all agree, is a late and inartistic accretion.
Now I am of opinion that the first set of incidents was not originally a part of the tale of Cinderella, but was somewhat inartistically tacked on to it as a convention of the folk-tale; for it will be observed that in one of Chambers’s variants this set of incidents is altogether omitted, and that in the other it is replaced by an entirely different set taken from the Catskin type of story. Now, if these incidents can be so easily removed or replaced, it shows, I think, that they are not a necessary and integral part of the story. This statement does not disagree, as Mr. Nutt seems to think it does, with my view that the folk-tale is a definite combination of incidents. The definite combination in the case of Cinderella consists of the following sequel of incidents:—Menial Heroine; Fairy Aid; Magic Dresses; Meeting-Place; Flight; Lost Shoe; Shoe Marriage Test; Mutilated Foot; False Bride; Bird Witness; Happy Marriage.
These are the essence of Cinderella; and when I speak of Cinderella I mean that particular sequel of incidents. I contend that that sequel must have at one time been hit upon by one definite folk-artist, and from him has spread throughout the Indo-European world, wherever that sequel of incidents is found. But early in the history of its diffusion it must have been “contaminated” by the introduction of the series of incidents derived from the tale now represented by the Grimms’ “One eye, two eyes, and three eyes”; in other words, at the time this happened, “One eye, two eyes, and three eyes” had become a convention of the folk-tale.
I will grant at once that it is possible that when “One eye, two eyes, and three eyes” was composed there was still surviving a belief in animal ancestry, but I see no reason for holding, as Mr. Nutt seems to hold, that this belief survived along with the story so long as it was told, which would imply that it survives in Germany in the present century; and still less do I believe that the belief survives in those countries where the story was introduced, because it might well be thought the story became popular, not because of the familiarity of the ideas contained in it, but rather because of their strangeness. Mr. Nutt thinks that he has made a point against me by stating my position in the following terms: “Fairy tales are not really old, but are stuffed full of imitations of old fairy tales which have disappeared,” and he repeats the well-worn witticism about Shakespeare being written by another fellow of the same name, whereas a truer statement of my case would be that Shakespeare’s words existed before his time, but not his works. If, however, he would only kindly add to his statement, “or have been imported from other countries,” it would be a not infelicitous statement of part of my position; it does more, it leads up to another part of my views to which I would draw attention, I believe for the first time, and that is the theory of the “survival of the fittest” in folk-tales.
The rigid Anthropological School of folk-tale research have had the merit of drawing our attention to savage custom, as explaining the unnatural incidents of folk-tales. Mr. Farrer went somewhat further, and drew attention to savage fairy tales themselves. Since his time several sets of savage tales have been published, especially in Folk-Lore, by Professor Haddon, Mr. Abercromby, and Dr. Codrington. Those who have read these tales will agree with me, I think, that they are formless and void, and bear the same relation to good European fairy tales as the invertebrata do to the vertebrate kingdom in the animal world. Judging by them, at any rate, we should not be disposed to think that the majority of European folk-tales have descended unchanged from the time when the European world was savage. Yet when Europeans were savages they probably told fairy tales, and these were probably as amorphous as the fairy tales of Samoa or the Torres Straits.
One can therefore quite understand their disappearing when brought into competition with tales having a more definite backbone of plot. The human mind, and especially the uncultured mind, has limit to its capacity for remembering folk-tales. I am of opinion, from my own researches in folk-tale fauna of various districts of the British Isles, that one hundred tales is about as much as a peasant can remember. If, therefore, at a stage subsequent to the primitive one, a number of tales having a definite plot are introduced into the country, a struggle for existence among the folk-tales would occur which would result in the almost total disappearance of the primitive stock. As a matter of history, we can actually watch a similar process going on in these Isles, where the superior artistry of Perrault’s or Grimm’s tales have caused almost the total disappearance of the original stock of English folk-tales, as I have found by sad experience.
This is what I believe has occurred in Europe, and I am supported in my belief by the remarkable similarity between the story-store of the various European countries. From the theory of transmission which I hold, this similarity can only be due to the migration of these tales from one country to another. Where these common stories of Europe have widely-spread analogies in the Indian Peninsula, I am inclined to agree with M. Cosquin that they were introduced from India within historic times, and ousted the native stories by superior narrative force. By this means I am enabled to explain, on the anthropological method, the existence of unnatural incidents in these common stories; for almost all the savage ideas postulated by Mr. Lang to explain these incidents had existed in India throughout all time, up to and including the present day. At the same time, I should not deny that there may still be in existence a few primitive European stories which have escaped the struggle for existence with the Indian ones; nor should I deny the possibility that some of the common European stories have had their origin in Europe itself since primitive times. Cinderella appears to be one of these.
The series of incidents to which I have previously referred, as forming the true Cinderella, seem to me to have arisen in Europe during the feudal times, for the essence of the story involves monogamy, both in the choice of the hero and in the conception of the heroine as a step-daughter. The fact of the test implies this also, and the shoe involves a state of culture in which there was nothing like leather. The choice of a menial heroine by the high-placed prince involves also the conception of a social status quite alien to savage ideas. And here I must protest against the curious procedure on the part of Mr. Lang, who, in discussing this part of my argument, ventured not only to traverse my position, but also to correct my English. I had said that I doubted whether there was much “variation” of social position amongst savages, meaning, of course, that there was rarely, if ever, exogamy between the various sections or castes into which savage tribes are almost invariably divided. Mr. Lang calmly suggests that I had meant to say “variety” instead of “variation”, and assumes me to deny the existence of sections or castes at all. I venture to think that this is a method of controversy which should not be generally adopted, and I hasten at once to add that I feel sure that Mr. Lang would not have adopted it if he had understood my expression.
I return, however, to the introductory portion, which is now so frequently tacked on to the pure Cinderella. This, as I have said before, not only traces back its origin to primitive times, or, at least, primitive conceptions, but it must have been tacked on, I contend, when those conceptions had become conventional; nor does it at all follow that this part was tacked on to Cinderella in the place where that convention had originally grown up. For conventions may be transmitted as well as handed down, and therefore I say, that, where we find these conventions, we have no surety that the conceptions once existed out of which the convention has grown. Hence I still remain of my heresy, at which Mr. Nutt was so surprised, the archæological value of such traits is much reduced—and not enhanced—by such conventions.
Permit me to develop this position a little further, for it points to a fatal flaw in the anthropological method of folklore; it applies not alone to fairy tales, but to almost all branches of the subject. In saying this I do not speak as an opponent of that method, for, as a matter of fact, I have approached the whole subject from the anthropological side. I contributed to the Journal of the Anthropological Institute before ever I joined the Folk-lore Society. My contributions to the Journal were much more solid and elaborate in character than any I can ever hope to make to the pages of Folk-Lore. But when I came to the study of folk-lore, under the guidance of our past and present Presidents, I found, underlying all their work, an assumption which did not seem to be justified by the evidence they adduced or at our disposal. The doctrine of “survivals” implies that they survive from a period of culture akin to that of the savage of to-day; but it seems to be implied that what has survived is not alone the survival, but the state of culture. Thus the distaste for horseflesh in England is said to be a survival of the worship of Odin, to whom the horse was sacred, or even of an earlier stage when the horse was a totem. Hence there is a tendency to use such a survival as a proof of former existence in this country, either of the worship of Odin, or of the existence of a totemistic stage of society. But this leaves out of account the possibility—nay, the probability—that this and other survivals have been introduced into this country when they had already arrived at the stage of survivals. For surely it is of the essence of folk-lore custom that it is handed on without a consciousness of the original belief which gave rise to the custom. Thus, I throw salt over my left-shoulder if I am unlucky enough to spill it, without being in the slightest degree able to give a reason for my so doing; indeed, it is because I cannot give a reason that I do it, in so far as I am superstitious. Now that custom I have taken from my mother and my nurse, or my uncle, or my aunt, or from some foreigner with whom I have become intimate. What criterion have we to distinguish between what I would call vertical, in contradistinction to lateral, tradition? An Englishman of the Middle Ages sees his father and relatives performing this salt-throwing because they have seen their fathers do it: that is vertical tradition. But as we find this salt-throwing a custom throughout Europe, it must also at one time or another have been passed from one country to another, or from one district to another, by one or more persons in each case. When this was first adopted in any one district, not from parents or relatives, but from strangers who may have become relatives, that will be a case of lateral tradition. Now what criterion has been discovered to distinguish between vertical and lateral tradition? I can see none: and until some such criterion has been discovered I cannot see how we can use tradition for ethnological purposes. Thus I correlate my heresy with regard to the anthropological evidence to be derived from folk-tales, with the same heresy applied to folk-custom, and I cannot therefore agree with Mr. Nutt, that either the survivals found in folk-tales or those found in custom can be used as evidence of the former existence of the beliefs on which those survivals are founded in the actual place where either tale or custom is now to be met with. Man has struggled upward from savagery, but by the struggle for existence among the survivals of savagery many of them have disappeared, to be replaced by others from alien sources: who shall say at this time of day which are native, which alien?
At this stage of the argument Mr. Nutt would “fain for the moment glance at universal history from the sole standpoint of our studies”. However interesting this may be, I fear I cannot follow him in his excursus. Mr. Nutt has a passion for tracing things back to what the Germans call the “Cosmic Gas”, the primeval chaos out of which the Universe has sprung. I admire his courage, but will not attempt to imitate it. I know that “Cosmic Gas” well: he comes from Berlin, and somewhat bores me. I prefer to keep with my foot on the solid ground of facts which I can control. Mr. Nutt illustrates this fundamental difference between our methods by a very pertinent example. In dealing with the existence of the legend of the “Pied Piper” in the Isle of Wight, as found in the work of Abraham Elder, written in 1870, Mr. Nutt complains that I do not go back further than Abraham Elder himself, or Verstigan, the source which he quotes. I do not go back further, because I have nothing further to go back upon. Mr. Nutt desires to see a little further through the brick wall, and he indulges in a number of hypotheses of why Abraham Elder quoted Verstegan, and whether he would have done so if he had not some germ of legend actually before him in oral tradition in the Isle of Wight. I prefer to stick to my Verstegan until we know something more about some traces of the tradition in the Isle of Wight itself. The proper scientific course would be to make investigations in loco, and I remember asking Mr. Nutt to do so when he was in the Isle of Wight a couple of years ago, “instead of which”, as the judge said, he prefers to give “a glance at universal history from the standpoint of our studies.”
I am not concerned even with the universal history of the folk-tale in general. I desire to ascertain the history of certain specific folk-tales, especially of those which are common to several European countries, and I am glad to see that Mr. Abercromby, in the recently issued number of Folk-Lore, recognises that this is the real issue; and in studying it I am willing to receive light from all sides. I am an eclectic, and so, it seems, manage to displease all sides. But the facts are complex, and are not likely to be explained by any one theory. Thus, when M. Cosquin proves that certain European tales, folk-tales, have come from India, I am ready to accept his position for those particular folk-tales, and for this, I see, I am called an Indiamaniac by Mr. Hartland, with more force than elegance. At any rate, I am not an India monomaniac, and I only believe in an Indian original for that third or half of a country’s story-store which is common to the rest of Europe, and only when a story out of that fraction can be shown to be widely spread or to be very ancient in India. So my withers are quite unwrung when Mr. Hartland or Mr. Nutt paint to any particular story, and ask for my proof that this comes from India. Hitherto we have been confining our attention too much to the similar stories of Europe; it is the dissimilar and unique stories that have no parallels as stories which should attract our attention, especially if we are on the search for survivals. I have myself treated of one such unique story in the case of Childe Rowland and showed there, I hope, that I was no foe to the method of Survivals on appropriate occasions.
And now I think I have answered in principle most of the points in dispute between my opponents and myself, and may perhaps prevent further dispute as to my meaning if I sum up in the form of theses the conclusions I have arrived at as the result of some five years’ study of the folk-tale.
(1) The “unnatural incidents” in folk-tales often represent survivals of savage culture (Lang, Farrer).
(2) But unnatural incidents can become conventional, and used and imported without reference to their savage origin.
(3) Resemblance between folk-tales, extending beyond three or four linkages of incident, is due to transmission, not casual coincidence, however far distant the places of collection.
(4) When such resemblances exist between European folk-tales and those found widely spread, or anciently collected, in the Indian Peninsula, the probability of origin rests with India (Benfey, Cosquin). Such tales are rarely more than a third of the story-store of any one country, probably not a tenth of the whole of European folk-tales.
(5) Tales having foreign parallels to all or most of their incidents in the same plot, cannot be used as anthropological evidence, except for the country of their origin.
(6) Tales with definite plot, of complicated yet artistic form, are not primitive in origin.
(7) Tales of complicated plot, and more than three or four incidents, must have been thought out in the first instance by a definite folk-artist.
(8) Tales struggle for existence in the folk-mind, and the more artistic oust the less and survive.
These seem to be the inductions to which we are led by a survey of the actual contents of the folk-tales of the Indo-European world, without prejudice to any theories as to what lies behind those facts derived from any universal history of mankind.
Lastly I come, for a particular reason, to our President’s reference to my fairy-tale books in his Annual Address He first brings against me the charge of having “maimed, altered, and distorted” my originals, a charge which, I observe, is reiterated by Mr. Hartland in the not overkindly review of my latest book in the number of Folk-Lore just issued. I am glad to find that my critics read my prefaces with such reverent attention, for they cannot have derived their impression from any direct comparison of the tales which appear in my book with their originals. I have gone into the matter with my two volumes of English tales, and find that one-third of them are absolutely unchanged, verbatim et literatim with my originals, and this applies in nearly every case to the few I have collected from friends or correspondents, whose MSS. have gone untouched to the printers. Half of the stories have merely been altered in language, mostly by turning the Latinisms of the collectors into the simpler Saxon of the folk. Only in the case of some sixth of the stories have there been any considerable alterations, all of which are mentioned in the notes. So that there has been not so much “maiming and distorting” after all, and for what there is I can quote the great authority of the Grimms. Mr. Hartland challenges me, I see, to quote my authority for this, which shows that, however diligently he may read my prefaces, he does not remember them, for I gave the passage to which I refer in the original German in a note to the preface of my first volume. I may repeat it here in an English version. “It will of course be understood”, say the brothers Grimm in the preface to their tales, “that the language and the details have been for the most part supplied by us.” Why does not Mr. Gomme protest against the distortion and maiming as practised by the Grimms?
But I am more concerned with the reason our President gives for his protest; it is because these wicked practices of the Grimms and myself will prevent the folk-tale from receiving “all the credit it really deserves as an element of the anthropology of civilised races”. Ay, there’s the rub. Our President is interested in the folk-tale because of the information he can extract from it as to man’s primitive customs, institutions, and beliefs. Similarly, Mr. Hartland, in his Chairman’s Address at the Congress, confessed that his chief interest in folk-lore in general, and folk-tales in particular, was on account of the information they contained as to the beliefs of our ancestors. Exactly so. These gentlemen, as I have put it previously, are fortune-hunters, who seek to get as much anthropological wealth out of the folk-tale as they can; I and a few others love her for herself alone. And out of this love springs my protest against their use as corpora vilia for the anthropologist, and generally I protest against the practice of regarding folk-lore as solely so much material for anthropology, so much contribution to the study of institutions and their evolution.
What has attracted some of us to the study of folk-lore has been of a two-fold character. In the first place, it is the last corner of knowledge which still remains comparatively unexplored, and so offers most promise of prizes to the successful investigator. There has been the hope that by going back to our nurse’s or our mother’s knee we may find the secret of human destinies. But above and beyond this folk-lore appeals to all that which goes to make romance: the myth, the saga, the legend, combine with the mysterious lore of the unseen which lies at the root of what we term superstition. This is the part of folk-lore which attracts me, and, I fancy, the majority of the members of the Folk-lore Society. The institutional side of the study leaves us cold, and we cannot get up much enthusiasm for those primitive county councils known as folk-moots.
I claim to be an anthropologist also. But my anthropology includes likewise the study of the evolution of man’s artistic nature. I would study Man the poet and the dreamer, as well as the man of the flint chip or the folk-moot. The corroboree and the mumming-play have grown into the dramas of Æschylus and of Shakespeare; the nursery-rhyme and the folk-song have developed into the lyrics of Sappho and of Shelley; the folk-tale and the droll have given rise to Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. The early stages of these processes in the evolution of man are no less part of anthropology, they are more part of folk-lore, than the study of the evolution of the folk-moot into the County Council, or of the totem-clan into the State.
[Apart from secondary questions, there are but two main points of difference between Mr. Jacobs and myself, one general and one special. The general one involves the question of, to use Mr. Jacobs’ very happy phrase, lateral versus vertical influence in the transmission and diffusion of folk-lore. I do not think the difference is very great, but difference there is. I am inclined to lay more stress upon vertical influence, although I do not in the slightest degree deny the fact of lateral influence. It is upon the latter that Mr. Jacobs lays most stress, indeed, one might gather from his words that he minimises vertical influence more than I believe he really does—it is the misfortune of polemical exposition that it commonly leads to over-accentuation of particular aspects of truth. But I try and justify my belief in the importance of vertical influence by an appeal to the only available evidence, that of history, a proceeding which, to my wonder, excites the merriment of the philosophic student of history Mr. Jacobs’ friends know him to be. Where can a criterion be found? he despairingly cries; and when I humbly try to furnish one he would fain laugh it out of court.
Doubtless some imperfection in the presentment of my argument obscured its real import for him. Let me briefly restate it. The folk-culture of modern Europe is, so far as I can read the facts of history, uninterruptedly connected with the folk-culture and the higher culture of ancient Europe; the general culture of the former differs from that of the latter, chiefly owing to the intrusion of an alien, non-European element, Christianity, which was from the outset and has, persistently, been hostile to the beliefs and conceptions of that culture, but which, as manifestly exhibited by unimpeachable evidence, was compelled to compromise with it in many and far-reaching ways. The ancient European, whether priest or peasant, had certain beliefs manifested in certain rites; the modern European priest has entirely different beliefs and rites, but the modern European peasant has beliefs and rites which are patently affiliated to those of antiquity. Vertical influence I would urge. Again, the ancient European poet and peasant had a common store of mythic and heroic fancies upon which they drew for recreation and edification; the modern European culture-poet seeks, for the most part, other sources of inspiration, or, if he apply to antique legend, he does so in an entirely different spirit from that of antiquity, but the peasant poet still deals in material much of which is manifestly affiliated to that of pre-Christian Europe. Vertical influence I would urge. I assert nothing, the subject does not lend itself to dogmatic assertion, but I hold it at once more consonant with scientific method and with common-sense to look in the first place to development for an explanation of the phenomena of European folk-lore. In this connection I gladly hail Mr. Jacobs’ doctrine of the survival of the fittest in the domain of folkfancy, but it leads me to other conclusions than those to which, apparently, it leads him. Marking the fact that, with the single exception of some of the Jewish chroniclers, all the greatest story-tellers of the world have been men of European birth, I think it as likely that the many tales found chiefly in Europe, and the origin of which is in dispute, should have been evolved in situ, as that they should be imported from the outside. I admit fully that each case (and this applies to the items of custom as well as those of folk-fancy) requires separate investigation, but I do not start with a prejudice against European origin. I will not assert that Mr. Jacobs really has any such prejudice, but he sometimes writes as if he had—a matter of loyalty, I fancy, to allies who, in this respect, are more dogmatic and less scientific than he is.
The bearing of recent speculation respecting the original home of the Aryans upon this question seems hardly to have been duly appreciated. When M. Cosquin, arguing against the Aryan mythology detritus theory of folk-tales, asked if the Aryans had brought sets of the Bibliothèque bleue with them from the slopes of the Hindoo Koosh, the gibe was a shrewd one, and it told; but it loses point if the Aryans have always been in Europe. The burden of proof is now thrown upon the advocates of external influence.
I will now turn from the general to the special ground of difference between Mr. Jacobs and myself, from the origin and development of European folk-lore at large to the origin and development of the Cinderella story group in particular. To come at once to close quarters, I will, for argument’s sake, accept Mr. Jacobs’s summary of the ur-Cinderella, contenting myself with italicising the incident—fairy aid. To my mind the inclusion of this incident gives away his entire case. Two theories are in presence: the one, let us call it the upward-evolution theory, urges that the rude archaic form of the supernatural aid given to the heroine—dead mother reincarnated in an animal—put off its primitive rudeness and assumed the, comparatively, more civilised form of the fairy godmother; the other, the downward-evolution theory, claims that within the last two centuries the fairy godmother has been turned into an animal mother, owing to the intrusion of another story type according to Mr. Jacobs, or to the archaicising instinct of the folk according to Prof Newell. The probability of the first theory is, I should have said, as one hundred to one. Out of deference to Mr. Jacobs and Professor Newell I will put the ratio as fifty to one, but I fear that in so doing I am allowing private considerations to unwarrantably influence my scientific judgment.
In the Journal of American Folk-lore for January-March Professor Newell has sketched the development of the story group in accordance with the theory previously adumbrated by him. For him Cinderella starts with Basile in the middle of the seventeenth century. It is well to have the theory stated so definitely and so boldly. I can only repeat that although it undoubtedly solves some of the perplexing elements in the Cinderella problem (supra, IV, p. 140, note), the theory is, as a whole, utterly incredible to me.—A. N.]
- A good Irish bard, however, was supposed to know one tale for each day of the year; but he would be a specialist.
- I made this estimate so long ago as 1888 in my edition of The Fables of Bidpai, p. xxxiv.