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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/158

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English Folk-Drama.

but in other places where they have survived they have become attenuated, and show an altogether feeble existence compared with what they were only a few years ago. The urgency of appeal which lies in these circumstances will, I am sure, be felt by the Folk-lore Society, and I will not harp upon the string of lamentation throughout the short time at my disposal. Indeed, to show the rewards which await the collector even now, I have a few freshly-gathered items to bring before you this evening, along with two dresses worn by English folk-players, and some photographs. What I shall have to urge is that the Society spread its net—which it can now effectively do by means of its local organisation—all over the country, and collect together all the fragments of folk-drama and dramatic custom which remain to us.

It would be taking a very limited view of folk-drama if we were to restrict our attention to what are known as the mumming-plays associated with Christmastide. But they are the most generally known—indeed, I fear that by some they are considered to represent the whole stock of English folk-drama—and I will address myself to this class of folk-play first. Well known as they are, I do not think the traditional import of these plays is always considered. When Mr. Christopher Burne, with our esteemed Secretary, and their friends, gave us a reproduction of the Staffordshire variant of the mumming, called the Guisers' Play, in Mercers' Hall, it was said, in my hearing, by a distinguished folk-lorist, with a somewhat weary air of disappointment, "It's all St. George and the Dragon." This seems to suggest the advisability of taking some account of the traditions which have descended to us through the means of the mumming-plays happily not yet extinct in our land.

Throughout a long period in our history, beginning as far back as the Conquest, we can trace the operation of a process by which traditional observances, at one time marking various stages in the year's passage, gradually