The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 5/Notices and News (March)
NOTICES AND NEWS.
This is an interesting and valuable book, and is specially remarkable for its form, which is at once less pretentious and more practical than that of the majority of the folk-lore collections of later years. It consists of eighty-four popular tales current in Lorraine, and collected (à la Grimm) by the author and his sisters at the village of Montiers-sur-Saulx, in the department of the Meuse. M. Cosquin, who in his prefatory note disclaims any literary pretensions, has been careful, in the first place, to give the original tales in their unvarnished form, as taken down from popular recitation; then, in a chapter of "Remarques," immediately following each story and conveniently distinguished from it by the use of a smaller type, he examines each tale from the point of view of the folk-lore student, noting the parallel versions and variants that exist in various languages, and establishing (where possible) its affinities with the typical member of the Indian or radical group of folk-tales, to which most, if not all, current European popular stories may with more or less certainty be traced. Monsieur Cosquin has accomplished his self-imposed task with great ability and completeness and has made an important addition to the practical literature of European folk-lore. The reader has especial cause to be grateful to him for the unpretentious and thoroughgoing spirit in which he has treated the various questiones vexatæ incidental to his subject, without suffering himself to be led astray by the fantastic ignes fatui that have of our days misled so many able writers on popular mythology and left them too often marish-logged in the howling wildernesses of unconditioned conjecture.
A specially valuable feature of the book is the preliminary essay, in which the author discusses the question of the origin and propagation of the European Popular Tales. It is refreshing, in these days of hysterico-cosmological hypothesis run wild, to see the common-sense and practical fashion in which M. Cosquin disposes of the pseudo-scientific litter of mythical and mythico-meteorological theories with which modern folk-lore is so sadly encumbered and of which M. Max Müller and Signer A. de Gubernatis are the coryphæi tripudiantes, nor is he less justly severe upon the extravagances of the English appassionati "who profess to find in the ideas and customs of modern savages the key to the origin of our tales." He has the courage to reject all these fashionable forms of Windbeutelei and to advocate a simple Positivist treatment of the subject, confining himself avowedly to the abstract endeavour to trace the European tale, through its variants and parallel versions current among the different natives of the world, as definitively as possible back to its Indian prototype, without wandering aside into sterile attempts to fasten upon the simple lineaments of the popular legend any precise cosmological significance, mythical or mystical,—sterile because founded upon necessarily incomplete data. It seems to us that, in taking this course, M. Cosquin has rendered a great service to the science of folk-lore and has pointed out the path of practical utility to be followed by future writers who occupy themselves with the examination of other sections of European popular fiction.
It should be mentioned that the book under review is composed. of articles contributed to the well-known folk-lore journal The Romania, and considerably augmented and retouched for the purpose of the present reprint. We regret that, in his references to the Thousand and One Nights, M. Cosquin should have had access to no better version of the great Arabian collection of popular fiction than that of Dr. Habicht, an utterly worthless compilation, which has long been supplanted by more scholarly renderings, notably that published by the Villon Society.
This is a translation of one of the versions of perhaps the most widely popular collections of tales which the world has ever seen. The Society's edition of the Book of Sindibad, by Professor Comparetti, will be known to all our Members, and the present volume is a companion to that. It is derived from a printed but undated text procured a few years ago at Constantinople. The author has collated his version with a manuscript in the library of the India Office, with two purchased from Mr. Quaritch, and other authorities.
Besides the stories themselves, Mr. Gibb has accomplished some most acceptable editorial work, particularly the comparative table showing the stories found in the different texts and the order in which they occur. There is also a transcript of the stories occurring in other texts than that from which the translation is made. Such a complete piece of work is most valuable.
When Mr. Wentworth Webster in 1877 first introduced to the English reading public his collection of Basque stories the science of folk-lore was unknown. His preface reads now, as one looks back, like an old treatise instead of being the production of only ten years ago. He had then to plead the cause of folk-tales, and give some examples of their usefulness to science, and of their value to comparative study; and, though he pleaded on behalf of the then triumphant school of comparative mythologists, the illustrations and phenomena he points out are all of value. Miss Monteiro is, however, on different ground altogether. The infant study of folk-lore has now grown into the dimensions of a science; no pleading is necessary, yet she pleads; theories are advanced which should be supported by sound evidence or left alone; and altogether an artificial tone is given to the construction of a book which should breathe the spirit of the people from whom it emanates. Now these faults of the introductory matter are really of importance from our point of view, though they in nowise deteriorate from the other interest of the book; and we state them candidly, because the work of the Society has been from the beginning to put these matters on a different footing, and one which will lead on to some practical good in the study of folk-lore. We feel quite sure that we have here a genuine collection of popular stories, and this fact makes us all the more regret that it does not appear free from the prejudicial surroundings which accompany it.
In considering the tales themselves we are on quite different ground, for they are unquestionably valuable. Comparing them with Mr. Webster's collection, they appear more the offspring of a cultured class, or, at all events, of a class influenced strongly by the rule of a priesthood, who might be the means of infusing more or less of their own literary legends into them. Such a collection is by no means of small value, especially if we possessed the key to their origin. They are perhaps parallel to Webster's section vii., "Religious Tales." Miss Monteiro tells them beautifully. All of them are graceful and picturesque, with an almost Eastern colouring to some of the descriptive passages of mountain heights and weird scenery. Added to the charm of the language are the useful topographical details and glossarial notes with which Miss Monteiro has enriched her book. Undoubtedly the tales, aided by these valuable editorial additions, are worth a close and systematic study, for they contain, enshrined in their literary garb, many incidents belonging to the folk-tale proper; and so interesting are the Basque people that the smallest contribution from their folk-lore must always be welcome.
As a handsome piece of book manufacture nothing could be desired. Wide margins, beautiful printing, and well executed illustrations, do credit to all concerned; and, as a gift-book for the new year, we can safely and warmly recommend it. All we regret is that Miss Monteiro should have missed the opportunity, which she assuredly possessed, of adding to our collection of folk-tales a book which would have charmed the student as well as the reader. This might yet be accomplished if a second edition is called for. In the meantime, may we suggest that Miss Monteiro might be in a position to tell us something of the popular superstitions and customs of the districts she evidently knows and loves so well.
Capt. Temple has changed the title of Panjáb Notes and Queries, after the completion of the volume in September last, to Indian Notes and Queries. Under the new title the periodical will include the whole of India, Burma, and the Far East within its scope; and, in order to render its pages as accurate as possible, Capt. Temple has secured the assistance in the editorial department of several prominent Orientalists, among whom may be mentioned: Messrs. W. Crooke, of the North-West Provinces; M. L. Danes, of the Panjáb; R. K. Douglas, of the British Museum; D. W. Ferguson, of Ceylon; J. F. Fleet, the epigraphist; G. A. Grierson, of Bengal; D. J. A. Hervey, of Malacca; E. H. Man, of the Andaman Islands; R. Sewell, of Madras; and G. Watt, of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition. The periodical will be conducted on the same lines as hitherto, and the first number under the new title will contain notes from Aden, Afghanistan, Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Bombay, Burma, Central Provinces, Ceylon, Chamba, China, Gujarat, Java, Korea, Kumaun, Madras, Manipur, Nepal, North-West Provinces, Oudh, Panjáb, Rajputana, Shansi, Sikkim, Sindh, Singapore.
Besides several Foreign Members who have joined the Society during the past year are nine residing in India, including their Highnesses the Maharajahs of Travancore and Cooch Behar.
It is hoped to place before the Members very shortly a scheme for completing the long-projected Handbook of Folk-Lore.
The Rev. J. Hinton Knowles is collecting material for a work on the Religious Systems of the Kashmirs.