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The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 2/Folk-Lore Terminology (pp. 340-8)

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[See ante, pp. 285, 311.]

HE thanks of all members of the Society, and of all students of folk-lore, are due to Mr. Gomme for raising this question. It has probably occupied the thoughts of many of us at different times; and an opportunity of public discussion, with a view to defining the scope of our investigations and settling our terms, is one that should be eagerly welcomed.

The definition proposed by Mr. Nutt in the October number of this Journal for the science of folk-lore is, with some slight qualification, excellent. Anthropology undoubtedly deals with the physical as well as the mental characteristics of mankind. We have, therefore, no right, in using the term Anthropology, to limit its meaning to psychological phenomena; and if we do so we shall run the risk of being misunderstood. Accordingly, it is better, even at the sacrifice of neatness, to express what we really mean, and say “Folk-lore is Anthropology dealing with the psychological phenomena of uncivilised man.” Mr. Nutt uses the term “primitive man” in his definition. The objections to “primitive” have perhaps no great weight, but I prefer the word “uncivilised”: it conveys no notion of time-relation; and its reach is a little more extensive than “primitive.” Uncivilized man is ruled by his imagination and emotions rather than by his very limited stock of knowledge, “at once empirical and traditional”; and it is man so dominated, whether South Sea Islander, Negro, or Primitive Aryan, whether Hindu ascetic, mediæval monk, or even the English rustic of to-day, who forms the subject of our study. In proportion as peoples escape from the dominion of imagination and emotion, and become guided by knowledge and the trained reason, they cease to be the subjects of folk-lore. This distinction is, I think, better expressed by "uncivilised" than "primitive."

It is most convenient next to define our terms: we shall then be in a position to classify the subjects of our study. It is perfectly true that we have not equivalents for all the German expressions cited by Mr. Nutt. But, let me ask, are all these technical words necessary? Doubtless they are highly convenient; but, unhappily, our tongue has lost the power of combination retained by the purer Teutonic spoken by the fellow-countrymen of Kuhn and Benfey; and unless these terms be absolutely necessary we must be content to do without them, as luxuries beyond our reach. If they are not luxuries we shall have to invent compound words of a more or less clumsy character to express them, or import foreign words. But let us see.

The word sage is ordinarily used as the correlative of märchen. The latter is a story the scene of which is laid at some undefined place and time; it is not believed as a fact by the teller, nor perhaps by the hearers, and it agrees in other respects with the definition of Von Hahn, quoted by Mr. Nutt. The former, on the other hand, is generally localised in the neighbourhood where it is told; and frequently consists of an adventure, or series of adventures, attributed to some well-known personage. One or the other condition it always fulfils; and, moreover, it is believed in as a fact by the teller, or related by him as something which he has heard from his elders who did believe it. May I add that a märchen is clearly mythical, a sage not invariably so? Now it is perfectly true that we have no native words to express these two distinct classes of folk-tales. Nursery-tale is the nearest approach we can make to Märchen, and we can only indicate a Sage under the general term Tradition. The word Saga, the Norse equivalent of Sage, has, however, been made so familiar to us by Longfellow, and other writers, that it has practically been adopted into the language, and there really seems no reason why it should not be used in the sense above indicated of Sage. Its previous literary use in a somewhat looser way need not prevent our adopting it, and giving it a more strictly defined scientific meaning.

Turning to the German compounds of Sage we must not expect to be able to manufacture phrases out of a foreign word like Saga quite 80 easily. Nor is it required that we should. We have an exact equivalent of sag-kreis; and when we speak of the Trojan cycle or the Arthurian cycle, or the cycle of Charlemagne, we use a term which is perfectly intelligible and accurate. There is an ambiguity in the German kreis which compels definition by the prefix sag, but there is no such ambiguity in the English word; and every body knows that we mean the Trojan, or the Arthurian legendary cycle, or the legendary cycle of Charles the Great. Then, as to sag-zug, we have the word incident, which expresses one-half of the idea comprised in this compound; and, if we only had a word to indicate the pictorial features of a story, I am not at all sure that it would not be an advantage to us to express the incident and the pictorial feature by distinct terms. On the other hand, such compounds as god-saga, hero-saga, elf-saga, ghost-saga, and even world-saga (unless theurgy, or theogony were preferred), would present no difficulty.

With regard to märchen, however, I am somewhat at a loss. We must have a word to express this, and at present I can think of no better translation than nursery-tale. The chief objection to this is that as a descriptive title it applies equally to a cumulative tale like "The Wifie and her Kidie," and perhaps to some other varieties of folk-tale. But with the exception of the cumulative tale these varieties are of little importance, and their existence ought not to hinder our deciding on the term suggested. The term cumulative tale itself, though open to some objection, may stand, in the absence of a better, to designate the class to which it relates. We shall not have to go very far for an equivalent for schwank, as droll expresses it exactly; while beast-tale may render thiermärchen. Thus we should, with a little ingenuity, and without much loss of elegance, find or make all the technical terms we want: some of those used by the Germans and given by Mr. Nutt I am inclined to think we should speedily discover to be unnecessary.

I cannot altogether accept Mr. Nutt's division of the subjects of folk-lore, though some of the terms he proposes for the classes are an addition to oar technical vocabulary. I would rather divide the science first into two departments, calling the one folk-thought and the other folk-practice, or, still better, folk-wont. Under the former head I reckon:—

1. Tales of all kinds, sagas (such as world- sagas, god-sagas, hero-sagas, elf-sagas, ghost-sagas, &c.), nursery-tales, drolls, cumulative-tales, and apologues.

2. Folk-songs, under their various heads.

3. Weather-lore.

4. Proverbs.

5. Local and personal saws, and prophecies.

6. Riddles.

The term folk-wit, suggested by Mr. Nutt to comprise the last three classes, is excellent.

7. Folk-speech. I think the inclusion of this study, as suggested by Mr. Nutt, may very well be defended, and at all events it would be wise to adopt it provisionally.

Under the head of Folk-wont I reckon:—

1. Worship, corresponding very nearly to the class of sagas in folk -thought, and including not only god-worship but luck-worship, and every practice the object of which is to propitiate the powers which are believed to influence man's fortunes or destiny.

2. Folk-law. Although the customs of savage and barbarous peoples do not generally come within the juridical definition of law, I prefer this term to that of Folk-wont, because the latter covers a larger ground, and will be more usefully as well as accurately employed to denote the whole range of folk-practice.

3. Folk-leechcraft, including so much of magic as is not included under the head of worship. Leechcraft is an established word, expressing exactly the thought, and is therefore better than leechdom.

4. Games, including dramatic representations, so far as they may not be found under any of the classes of folk-thought.

5. Folk-craft, including, in art and industry, the art and industry of warfare, hunting, and every other means by which uncivilized man supports himself.

Other classes will doubtless occur to students of folk-lore; but the above list, though imperfect, will afford sufficient indications of the lines of the scheme. As in the physical sciences, the different classes frequently show a tendency to run into one another; and it is sometimes difficult to say to which class a given specimen may properly belong. This will be found particularly the case with the classes of Worship, Folk-law, and Folk-leechcraft; and even Folk-thought and Folk-wont will not always be distinguishable. This is, however, a difficulty inseparable from any mode of classification.

There is one other question of minor importance; yet one on which it is still desirable there should be an understanding for the avoidance of confusion in our metaphors, if not in the minds of our readers. How shall we distinguish the divisions corresponding to those in zoology and botany, known as genera, species, and varieties? The word variant has been used for some years by writers on folk-tales; and it has now obtained too firm a footing to be dislodged. But there is no need to dislodge it, as it is the very word we want. Type is, of course, its proper correlative, and may be used to express a species, of which the individual members are variants. In that case it would be convenient to call the species by the name of some well-known example, and to take that example as the type or standard to which the other specimens more or less nearly conform. Thus, applying this mode of classification to folk-tales, we may speak of the Peau d'Âne type, or the King Lear type. A number of types may be included together in a group; and the group may be named from the central idea which links the types together. Thus, we may have a group of stories known, say, as the Rejected Child group. This would include at least four types, viz., the King Lear type, in which the conduct of the elder children is strongly contrasted with that of the youngest; the Joseph type, in which the conduct of the elder children is contrasted, but the glory of the younger chiefly dwelt on; the King of France type, in which the story of the elder children is dropped; and the Pope Innocent type, the adventures of an only child who has fallen under his father's unjust anger.

I have spoken only of the application of this mode of classification to folk-tales. I am not qualified to speak definitely as to its applicability to other departments of the science. At present, however, I know of no reason why it should not apply equally well; but on this point I. hope we shall have the opinions of other members of the Society who are better able to judge.

As discussion is invited, I propose to make a few critical remarks on the earlier part of Mr. Nutt's letter. Mr. Nutt gives good reasons why folk-lore should have a wider scope than is given to it bysome Folk-lorists. His suggestion that it should be split up into different branches, each corresponding to a section of Anthropology dealing with civilized man, is a valuable one. At the same time, the definition of folk-lore as "Anthropology dealing with primitive man" is not perfect. It leaves out of view the fact that Anthropology has physical as well as psychological phenomena to deal with. A more correct definition would be " that portion of Anthropology which deals with the psychological phenomena of primitive man." Folk-lore would thus be equivalent to primitive culture, which Mr. Cutter, in his letter to the Library Journal, quoted by Mr. Gomme, suggests the propriety of classing as a division of Anthropology. Mr. Nutt's use of the term "primitive" is unobjectionable. It is now generally employed as denoting early as distinguished from first, to denote which the term primeval is more generally used.

Whether folk-lore should, however, have so wide a definition as proposed, or whether, as Mr. Nutt remarks, the study of man in his primitive stage is folk-lore, is another question. What that would require may be seen by reference to Mr. E. B. Tyler's Anthropology, where thirteen out of sixteen chapters are devoted to the consideration of the psychological phenomena of man. It appears to me to be very undesirable that the scope of the Folk- Lore Society should be so extended as to take in so large a portion of the subjects embraced by Anthropology, especially as the Anthropological Institute is doing such good work in the same direction. I much doubt, moreover, whether Mr. Nutt's division (7, Folk-craft) belongs legitimately to folk-lore. Although art and industry may, as distinguished from physical phenomena, be described as psychological, yet as visible expressions of thought they should rather be classed as quasi-physical. I would substitute folk-science for folk-craft, which would considerably reduce the range of subject, while providing a place for weather-lore and other subjects not included in other divisions.

It is a question also whether Mr. Nutt's division (3) should stand. Much of leechdom is magic, which Mr Tylor places with science; and even if magic were removed from science and relegated to belief (1), the result would bo merely that leechdom would come chiefly within this division. It has some science, but still more of it is either magic or faith. Division 8, Folk-speech, should certainly be excluded from folk-lore, the interests of which may be injuriously affected by too great an extension of its scope.

Let me add that the protest made by Mr. Nutt against folk-lore being confounded with comparative mythology cannot be too strongly supported.

The time has certainly arrived when the common vagueness of ideas connected with the place of folk-lore in general classification and the arrangement of its various sections should come to an end. That the time is ripe for a thorough consideration of the subject is shown by the simultaneous discussion raised by Mr. Gomme in the Folk-Lore Journal and by Mr. Cutter in the Library Journal. I am glad to see that my friend Mr. Nutt has helped the matter on considerably by his interesting letter in the last number of the Folk-Lore Journal, but whoever attempts to bring the subject under regulation is sure to lay himself open to criticism; in fact, if a basis is arrived at, it can only be arrived at after a considerable amount of discussion.

It is satisfactory to find that Mr. Nutt considers folk-lore to be a branch of Anthropology, for if we agree to this and set aside the claims of comparative mythology the ground will be considerably cleared. We must first have a definition of the main subject before we can sub-divide, and this Mr. Nutt takes care to give us before proceeding further. Every one who attempts to define knows the difficulty he undertakes, and will not be surprised that others reject his definition. Still, though rejected, it may help us towards arriving at something more likely to be accepted. Mr. Nutt says, "Folk-lore is Anthropology dealing with primitive man," This definition is too comprehensive, in that it takes in all parts of Anthropology; and not comprehensive enough, in that it deals only with primitive man; and moreover it fails to give a reason for the separate existence of folk-lore. Certainly Mr. Nutt gives a special meaning to the vague term "primitive man," but then I think that as folk-lore can actually come into existence in this nineteenth century, so it may be found among the civilized as well as among the "not civilized." Little bits of senseless superstition are not confined to Maori, Aztec, or Dorsetshire hind; and it was to the men of Athens that St. Paul said, "I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious."

Folk-lore must be content with a corner in the vast field of Anthropology, and the study will not be advanced by being made too wide. The cardinal idea which must not be lost sight of is the opposition of folk-lore to literature, or to written and systematized learning. Folklore is the unwritten learning of the people. This is well illustrated in the two familiar cases of ballads and proverbs. A popular ballad, which is sung in the country side in many versions, whose origin cannot be traced and whose author is unknown, belongs to folk-lore; but the poem written by the poet at his study-table, although he may style it a ballad, belongs to literature. In the same way a proverb which is on a thousand lips belongs to folk-lore, while an apophthegm, although almost identical in form, belongs to literature. On these grounds I strongly object to any such term as folk-literature. With regard to the other terms I will not now remark further.

If Mr. Nutt will carry out the idea which he expresses in relation to comparative mythology, he will perhaps be nearer a satisfactory definition. He writes,—"All or nearly all the facts of comparative mythology are to be found in folk-belief in solution; a great many facts of folk-belief are to be found in comparative mythology crystallised." In point of fact, nothing comparative can really be folk-lore, and here I think it necessary to call attention to the title itself. Anthropology is the science which relates to man; biology is the science which relates to life; but folk-lore can scarcely be called a science at all, for it is the thing itself. One of the chief objects of the collection and arrangement of the facts of folk-lore is to generalise and philosophise, but the generalisations which we arrive at will not be folk-lore; and it is a question whether we have not, in addition to defining folk-lore and naming its sub-divisions, to find a name for the science which is being formed by the many enthusiastic workers who are now banded together as folk-lorists.

As my letter in answer to Mr. Nutt must stand over for want of space, I would just observe that I cannot agree with him that folk-lore should be defined as dealing with primitive man without some explanation as to how it so deals. Surely folk-lore deals primarily with the survival of primitive customs and beliefs among civilized races, and is comparable with, not identical with, the living primitive customs and beliefs of savage races. I hope to discuss this view of the case at greater length next month, but take this opportunity of throwing out my suggestion as it is in opposition to that of my friend Mr. Nutt. I strongly urge that Folk-lore is a science by itself, with distinct work of its own to accomplish, but I must protest against its being only another name for anthropology. The sanction at the back of folk-lore is tradition. Thus traditional custom, traditional belief, traditional stories—and no custom or belief originating now, whether in civilized or savage races—can be defined as folk-lore. There can be no modern folk-lore, whereas the psychological phenomena with which anthropology deals exist now, and new facts will present themselves as society progresses.