Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/450

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Some Recent Utterances of

such difficulties as beset Mr. Newell in his attempt to account for the development of the Cinderella group within the last 500 years, simply do not arise at all.

I confess that Mr. Jacobs' polemic against the anthropologists leaves me as cold as does much of Mr. Lang's polemic against the nature mythologists. It is so largely unnecessary. What is the utmost claim of the anthropologist? That a number of tales originate in a social and intellectual stage out of which our own race has emerged, and in which other races have remained. Had we only the evidence of nursery tales as to this stage, I could understand the pother, but their evidence is, at the best, subsidiary. We have so much more evidence, and evidence of such infinitely greater cogency, that I cannot understand why Mr. Jacobs who accepts that evidence, who is, in sociology, an evolutionist, should hesitate to accept evolution in folk-literature, should range himself on the side of the revelationist and "degradationist", if I may coin an ugly word for an irrational thing.[1] Has man struggled upwards from savagery? If so, then most assuredly his tales have struggled upwards with him. If not, let us frankly confess we have all been wrong, and that Bryant and Mr. Casaubon are in the right.

The error, if I may venture to say so, lies in considering folk-literature apart from folk-lore at large, and folk-lore itself apart from the history of all the various phases of man's activity. I would fain for a moment glance at universal history from the sole standpoint of our studies. From the earliest date to which we can penetrate backwards in the story of our race down to the appearance of Christianity, we find man governed by certain religious and social conceptions, manifesting themselves in divers forms according to the varying genius of each race, but all animated by a common spirit. Parallels and similars to

  1. I do not, of course, deny the possibility of degradation, I merely refuse to look upon it as the sole, or even the chief, or even a very influential factor in the formation of folk-literature.