The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 1/Notes, Queries, Notices, and News (pp. 121-8)
NOTES, QUERIES, NOTICES, AND NEWS.
Death-warning.—Not long since, a few months ago, a gentleman of my acquaintance, living in an isolated country-house, distant from any railway, was very ill. He was not more than forty years old, and his friends and family had no reason to anticipate an early death. One night the cook came upstairs in a state of considerable agitation and said to her mistress, "Oh, ma'am, I am sure master is going to die soon, for there is a chattering jug on one of the shelves in the kitchen!" The lady said, "Nonsense, Mary!" but she went down and found that it was quite true that one of the jugs on a shelf kept chattering or vibrating without any visible cause. She said. "There must be a mouse in it;" but the jug was empty, and when replaced on the shelf it continued to vibrate as before. The gentleman died in three days, and the omen is now believed in as a fact. I do not remember to have heard of this form of the death-watch superstition before.
Easter-Eggs and the Hare.—Some time ago the question was raised how it came that, according to South German still prevailing folk-lore, the Hare is believed by children to lay the Easter-eggs. I venture now to offer a probable answer to it. Originally the hare seems to have been a bird which the ancient Teutonic goddess Ostara (the Anglo-Saxon Eàstre or Eostre, as Bede calls her) transformed into a quadruped. For this reason the Hare, in grateful recollection of its former quality as bird and swift messenger of the Spring-Goddess, is able to lay eggs on her festival at Easter-time (r. Oberle's Ueberreste germanischen Heidentums im Christentum, 8vo, Baden-Baden, 1883, p. 104.)
Morris Dance (ante, p. 32.)—I believe that the derivation of Morris from Moorish may now be safely accepted as correct. Mr. Skeat (Ety. Dic.) suggests that the Morris Dance was so called because it was performed to the accompaniment of the tabor; but from what I have read it occurs to me that bells, rather than tabors, gave ths sound specially indicative of the Morris; pipers and tabors lending themselves to the promotion of sundry other forms of Terpsichorean exercises. One or more of the figures in the notable painted window at Betley in Staffordshire is represented with a garnishment of bells; and two of the grotesque designs in the glass of York Minster are Morris dancers " in the dress of the time of Edward IV., whereof one plays on a pipe and tabor, and has a belt of bells round his waist." In Kemp's Nine Daies Wonder they are mentioned as though they were strictly essential to a Morris Dancer's gear. "At Chelmsford a mayde not passing fourteen years of age . . . made a request to her master and dame, that she might daunce the Morrice with me in a great large roome. They being intreated I was soone wonne to fit her with bels; besides she would have the olde fashion with napking on her armes, and to our jumps we fell." "Nay," said another country lass, "if the dauncer will lend me a leash of his belles, I'll venter to treade one myle with him myselfe." I quote this from an article in Chambers's Book of Days (Vol. i. p. 630-3) which your correspondent would do well to consult. Within the last few weeks I have seen a very clear engraving of the glass at Betley to which I would fain refer him; but my memory proves traitor.
I was once much affrighted as a child by the apparition of some "Morrish" dancers at our kitchen door. I suspected then that they took their name from some people called Morris who lived hard by. This surname is said to signify Moorish, and curiously enough our Morris neighbours—one family of them at least—were a wild, dark folk with gipsy instincts.
Irish parallel to Branwen—Mr. Whitley Stokes has kindly sent me the following parallel to an incident in the Mabinogi of Branwen. (v. Folk- Lore Record, vol. v. p. 5), extracted from a MS. in the Bodleian (Rawlinson, B 502, f. 72), which is as follows: The king of Leinster, Labraid, determines to avenge himself on Cobtbach, so he and his Leinstermen build at Dina Kig a house of twice-melted iron, the building whereof takes full a year, father concealing from son, son from mother, mother from daughter, husband from wife, and wife from husband, the purpose of the erection. Then Cobtbach and thirty other kings are invited to a banquet in the house. Cobtbach refuses to enter it unless Labraid's mother or Labraid's fool (druth) precedes him. The mother, though foreknowing her fate, goes into it for her [Jon's honour, the fool "for the blessing of the Leinstermen and for freedom to his children for ever." Cobtbach and the rest enter the house. "Fire for you," says Labraid, "and ale and food." The door is then chained by nine men, and thrice fifty smith's bellows are blown round the house—four warriors to each bellows—till the host within was hot (té). "Thy mother is there, Labraid," say the warriors. "Not so, my son," saith she, "exact they atonement (erech) through me, for I shall die likewise." Thus Cobthach is destroyed with thirty overkings and seven hundred of the host on Christmas Eve.
Witchcraft in Churning.—In Folk-Lore Record, iii. 1 34, I quoted a letter (dated Aug. 2, 1732) in which it was stated that some people in Suffolk, "not being able to make the butter come, threw a hot iron into the churn, under the notion of witchcraft in the case, upon which a poore labourer cried out 'They have killed me, they have killed me,' and died upon the spot." This story, which I have here somewhat condensed, corresponds in its details with one given by Patrick Kennedy in his Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, p. 152. Here, when the churn was bewitched, the people put "the sock and coulter of the plough" into the fire, and proceeded to churn. "Just as the plough-irons were becoming red-hot," the witch appeared, and soon "roared out, for the burning plough-irons were scorching her inside." She removed her charm from the churn, and was then suffered to depart in peace.
Brood of Ducks (ante, p. 61).—The querist asks for the proper name and whether it is squab. Is he thinking of squab used by some for young unfledged pigeons and by some for all young birds? I believe that a distinct word for such an object as a brood of ducks might be found in every county. I can supply a few. In Wiltshire and Surrey they call it a troop; in Dorsetshire a trip. In Sussex they call young wild ducks just able to fly flappers. In Suffolk they call a flight of ducks a drove. For other birds there are other more or less generally appropriated proper terms. Of rooks, a congregation. Of starlings, a gathering. Of quails, a covey in some places (as of partridges), in other places a bevy. A brood of pheasants, a nide (evidently the same word as nid).
In Yorkshire a brood of either ducks or chickens are called a cletch; probably that is the peculiar word your querist is in search of. The youngest of a litter of pigs is in this and adjoining counties termed a ritling.
Would that I could play the Daniel and recover the word that is gone from Mr. Yatman! I can but assure him that squad, a group or company, would not be at all an inappropriate term to apply to a family of ducklings. When it got afloat, squadron would exactly meet the case.
Curious Superstition in Ross-shire.—A correspondent at Shieldaig writes to a northern newspaper:—"A respectable crofter and fisherman, residing in this neighbourhood, was taken seriously ill, with symptoms of what no doubt was gravel, and, as is usual in such cases, a messenger was at once despatched to a neighbouring gamekeeper for the otter's bladder. The bladder is the property of the keeper, in whose possession it has been for a number of years, and is kept by him specially for the purpose of curing this distressing complaint. Immediately upon the bladder having been brought to the sick man's house, and the appropriate charms and incantations having been solemnly repeated, it was several times filled with cold water taken from a stream running towards the east, and the patient made to swallow the contents each time direct from the mouth of the bladder. The poor patient having not experienced any alleviation or relief from his sufferings, it was discovered that the failure of the charm was owing to the fact that the cure was attempted on a Friday, which is well known to be an unlucky day on which to commence any undertaking or business.—Scotsman, April 2, 1881.
Stallybrass's Grimms "Teutonic Mythology,"—Can anybody say when Vols. ii. and iii. are likely to appear? Many of us must have paid for copies of them well-nigh three years ago.
NOTICES AND NEWS.
The fable-problem is by no means the least interesting or the least vexed among the many questions connected with the origin and transmission of popular literature. Differentiated at once from the Märchen by its early reception into written, as contradistinguished from traditional, literature, and from the novel (using the word in the Italian sense) by greater restriction in the choice of a subject-matter, and by a more rigid adherence to a definite number and class of themes, it seems calculated to throw light upon the history and development of either branch of popular fiction. Up to the present, however, the Greek fable (the source of so much that is best in modern European fabulistic literature) has never been dealt with in its entirety in a truly critical spirit. It has been treated of as a whole composed at the same date and of the same materials, instead of the various stages of its development being carefully distinguished. It is only thus that theories which would make the Greek fable an off-shoot from the Oriental apologue can be excused, or even accounted for. It is the great merit of Mr. Rutherford that in the present work (which forms the first volume of a "Scriptores Fabularum Graeci") he has shown how completely untenable such theories are. In the second of his introductory dissertations, that on the history of the Greek fable, he argues for the existence among the Greeks of a body of traditional fable as far back as our means of investigation reach, and shows how during the fifth century B. C. it took literary form, so that by the beginning of the fourth century there had come into being a distinct fabulistic literature with which the name of Æsop was generally connected. Nothing, however, could be farther from the mind of the Greeks than to look upon the Æsopic fables as products of literature whose form and number had been fixed once and for all. They were, on the contrary, the great storehouse from which the orator, the comic poet, the publicist borrowed, as suited his fancy, illustration or apothegm, and the loan thus contracted in the course of ages was repaid with liberal interest. Fable was cut down into proverb, and proverb expanded into fable; hardly a feature of the life-history of the race but supplied the occasion for adding to the common stock of apologue. But mostly the schoolmaster by his persistent use of the fable as a stylistic exercise contributed to its free literary development and to its emancipation from any rules save those of literary fancy. This stage it had long since reached when Babrius compiled his collection, hence the utter uselessness of expecting anything, to use Mr. Rutherford's words, "that will shed any light upon the origins of fable." But the place of Babrius in literary history is not the less important on that account, and the appearance of a definite (pending the discovery of fresh MSS.) edition will be welcomed by all students.
Whether or not folk-etymology, as we suppose it must now be called, has produced any really important myths in the domain of folk-lore, certain it is that, as Mr. Palmer has abundantly shown, it has produced mythical superstitions; for this reason Mr. Palmer's most entertaining book will be welcomed by folk-lorists. The origin of many popular expressions lies in a tendency of the human mind to create myths out of what they do not quite understand; and this extremely important fact would, if properly examined and brought into the domain of scientific observation, do a great deal towards establishing some kind of rule by which fo test the genesis of myth. We all know that Professor Max Müller has popularised the suggestion that language passes through a mythic period from which has sprung the great bulk of Aryan mythology. It takes a vast and exceedingly intricate research to bring this to the test of absolute proof; but, if we narrow down our limits to that encompassed by Mr. Palmer's book, it would appear that folk-etymology has yet an important part to play in folk-lore which has not yet been touched upon. Leaving now the consideration of the place this book will occupy on our shelves, let us add that it is an extremely interesting book quite apart from its folk-lore value. Mr. Palmer has hunted far and near for his information, and he affords us many a reference to well-known sayings which go far to explain their origin and to entirely cut away existing notions. "Honeymoon" is popularly supposed to be connected with "honey," and it seems hard indeed to have to give this idea up for the far more prosaical derivation from Icelandic hjón, a wedded pair. There are numerous entries on the popular names of plants, of birds and of animals, there are children's games, superstitious ideas and practices, and indeed on every page Mr. Palmer's book abounds in interest; and revised as it has been by Mr. Skeat we cordially recommend it to our readers whether for amusement or study.
At Lisbon will be published Materiaes para a Historia da Litteratura Brazileira, por Sylvio Romero. The following are the titles of, the volumes:—"Estudos sobre a Poesia popular Brazileira," one volume; "Cantos Populares do Brazil, acompanhados de um estudo e notas comparativas," por Theophilo Braga, one volume; "Contos Populares do Brazil, acompanhados de um prologo critico e notas comparativas" por Theophilo Braga, one volume.
The President received the Members of the Society at his residence. Belgrave Square, on Wednesday, March 14th. Mr. Andrew Lang read a paper on the "Mythology of the Aryans of India." Mr. Lang first pointed out the sources of evidence for Aryan mythology in the Vedas and Brahmanas. Describing these early Hindu books Mr. Lang pointed out how necessary it was that some standard of evidence should be arrived at to distinguish in the Vedas which hymns are modern and which old. He then proceeded to discuss the myths about the origin of the world and of man, and shewed how inconsistent and fanciful savages were in their theories on this subject. Mr. Lang then dealt with the subject of Aryan myths derived from the savage, and gave evidence that one hymn in the Vedas proved the existence of human sacrifices among the Aryans of Lidia, that the gods of the Vedic hymns have power over earth and heaven as well as over the moral world, that the Vedic mythology touches savage mythology in the scurrilous stories told of the gods, wherein every sort of folly is attributed to Aryan deities. The Vedas do not contain the oldest ideas—they contain ideas very old and very new, very mythological and very philosophical; and in the course of his lecture Mr. Lang set forth many examples where savage myths touched upon Hindu myths. In the discussion which followed the President, Mr. Gomme, Mr. Nutt and Mr. Blind took part. Mr. H. S. Milman at the conclusion of the meeting moved a vote of thanks to Lord and Lady Beauchamp for their courtesy and kindness in thus bringing the Members together, and for having taken so much trouble in producing a most enjoyable evening. Lord Beauchamp had very kindly, after the paper was read, arranged for some very excellent glee singing.
It is to be hoped that members will at once take up the important work of Folk-Tale Analysis. Forms are now ready and every information will be supplied. The following members have engaged upon the work: Mr. A. Lang, Savage Folk-Tales; Mr. H. B. Wheatley, Croker's Fairy Legends of Ireland; Mr. Nutt, Campbell's Tales of the West Highlands; Mr. Gomme, Maspero's Contes Egyptiens; Mr. G. L. Apperson, Hitopadesa, Tuscan Fairy Tales, Sébillot's Littérature de la Haute Bretagne, Dasent's Tales from the Fjeld, South African Folk-Lore Journal; Mr. J. William Crombie, Spanish Folk-Tales. It is important that the Folk-Tale Committee should be receiving the analyses as soon as they arc finished, as the work of classification is one of great labour.
- Something like "save her" is omitted here.