The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Notes and Queries (March)


An Old-Frisian Funereal-rite.—The following ancient custom, being hallowed by tradition, and strictly observed still at present by the people of Friesland, may deserve a corner among the Notes of the Folk-Lore Journal:— As long as a corpse is still in a house, the looking-glass is turned round, or covered, and the clock remains stopped.

H. K.

Man-in-the-Moon.—The idea conveyed to a Chinese mind by "the man in the moon" may be gathered from the following account, given by The Chinese Times, of one of the great festivals observed in the Middle Kingdom: "The common people soon lose whatever knowledge they may have possessed at one time of the origin of a festival, but the account which was given me by a young Chinese scholar bears a strong resemblance to some of the Buddhist tales of India. It was in the olden times, he said, that an aged man, while trudging along a country road, was accosted by a fairy, who, perceiving him to be a worthy fellow, desired to translate him to the heavenly land. 'Take,' he said, 'these two pills; keep them until the fifteenth day of the eighth month; at a certain hour, if you look towards the southern heavens, you will see a door appear. As soon as the door opens swallow the two pills, and you will be changed into a genie.' And in a moment he had disappeared. The old man in simple faith pocketed the pills and returned to his home, where—alas I for the frailty of man—he was not long able to keep the secret from his wife. When the appointed day arrived, the husband having left the house, the wife bethought herself of the pills and determined to try their virtue. Looking towards the southern heavens, there surely was the door as her husband had told her. As it slowly opened she swallowed one of the pills, considerately leaving the second for her husband. Forthwith the heavens opened and a stool descended to the earth, and no sooner had the good lady seated herself than she was wafted away into space. Shortly afterwards the husband returned much distressed to find himself minus a wife and a pill too. There was no help for it, so he did the best he could under the circumstances. The heavens indeed had not opened and no door had appeared. But he hastily swallowed the remaining pill and another stool descended from the sky, and soon he was flying after his wife. But ere he reached the gate of heaven the bolt had been drawn, and he was left like a peri weeping at the confines of paradise. Touched at his distress the guardian angel turned him into a genie, and gave him the Kuang Han Kung, or 'Palace of Chilly Vastness,' in the moon for a residence, where he still lives in dreary solitude. Meanwhile his wife had entered the heavenly portal and been changed into a female genie under the name of Chang O. Once a year, on the anniversary of their separation, she opens the door of heaven and gladdens the heart of her wronged and suffering husband with a sight of his spouse. It is to join and support him in his transitory bliss, and to drink to his health, says my scholarly friend, that mortals carouse and become jovial at the mid-autumn festival. The reader will notice that it is not a hare that is worshipped, but a man, or genie, to whose form distance gives the outline of a hare. In spite of the long ears which we see in those images sold in the streets, T'u Erh Ye must not be considered a member of the animal pentalogy which we discussed in these columns some weeks ago. The mid-autumn festival is free both of animal worship and animal superstition."

Fairy Tales.—Children appear, as indeed they naturally should, to be the soundest of all folk-lorists, for they show an instinctive preference for the oldest, and, mythologically speaking, the purest form of the fairy-tale—the tale without a moral. Everybody knows that as soon as the narrator of a nursery-story "stoops to truth," and attempts to "moralize his song," no natural and healthy-minded child, no child who is worth his salt (and that is saying a good deal, for children require very little salt), will have the song at any price. Its infancy, in fact, is in sympathy with the infancy of the race, when morals (of all sorts) were regarded as a strange an unintelligible excrescence upon human life. Nothing, in fact, appears to me to mark the legitimate and uncorrupted descent of a modern fairy-tale from a piece of immemorial folk-lore more unmistakably than the fact of its tacitly concluding, in the words of a lamented humorist, with an "As for the moral, it's what you please." In a recent interesting lecture, Mr. Lang discussed the question whether one of the most famous, and perhaps the most delightful, of our nursery stories was or was not originally told for the moral's sake; and whether, consequently, the modern form beloved of every child, in which there is no moral, is or is not to be regarded as a degenerate version. Now Mr. Lang, a student of folk-lore comme il y en a peu, has doubtless thoroughly studied the genealogy of his "Puss in Boots," and if he is of opinion (though I rather gather from his language that he is not) that the oldest form of this particular story is the form with a moral, I should hesitate, as an inexpert in such matters, to maintain the contrary. But I should venture to maintain, as a general rule, that where any folk-tale exists in two forms—a moralized and an unmoralized one —the presumption of superior antiquity is strongly on the side of the latter. In addition to the general presumption, it is much less easy to comprehend the process by which a moral could drop out of a story in the course of its dispersion over the world than to comprehend how the reverse of that process could take place. The latter phenomenon is a mere incident of ethical growth: the former would have to be accounted for by what is certainly the difficult hypothesis that some races of lower civilisation have received the tradition of the particular myth from a more ethically advanced people. Meanwhile, let us all try and forgive Cruikshank for having re-written "Puss in Boots," because he considered that "it represented merely a series of successful falsehoods!" I have never seen this moralized version, but I should like to do so. "No, sir," replied Puss, "these fields are not the property of my master, the Marquis of Carabas—who indeed, to be frank with you, for we should always speak the truth, is not a marquis at all. But he is something much better than a nobleman: he is a most excellent though penniless young man, and you would do well to allow him to marry your daughter." I suppose it must be something in that style. But I know that I should not have liked that style so well as I did the other when I was a child, and I think too well of the children of the present day to believe that their taste would be different from mine.

D. H. Traill.

— In the English Illustrated Magazine for January.