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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/244

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236
The Folk.

name for our ignorance: we do not know to whom a proverb, a tale, a custom, a myth owes its origin, so we say it originated among the Folk. The author of the myth of Cronus, of the tale of Medea and Jason, was a Great Unknown; "the world knows nothing of its greatest men." The Folk is a publishing syndicate that exploits the productions of that voluminous author, Anon. We have under our very noses a pertinent example of what is always going on. During the last fifteen years or so, the Folk-lore Society has been doing much for the science, and great has been the fame of the Council thereof. But I think we could all of us point out the one or two men who have initiated, and in large measure carried out that work. Yes, I repeat it, the Folk is a fraud, a delusion, a myth.

"Yes," you will say, "all that is very pretty, and tolerably obvious, especially now that you have pointed it out. But what of it? What is the practical application of the consideration?" Well, in the first place, it would be well to realise the individual initiative in discussing origins, and we are chiefly interested in origins nowadays. When we find similar customs in far-distant lands, we shall find it more difficult to suppose them to have originated independently, if we have to recognise that they arose with individuals. The probabilities of borrowing are much greater if this fact is recognised. Even assuming that the same story or custom could have originated independently, if we had all time to deal with, it becomes more difficult to do so when prehistoric time is, comparatively speaking, limited. The custom of junior right, say, could have independently arisen in England, if England had been isolated for all time. But if England is in culture-contact, mediate or immediate, with countries where junior right exists, it becomes a race between independent origin and borrowing; and to assume independent origin is to bet against the bank of Time with its unlimited means.