Open main menu

The International Folk-Lore Congress of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, July, 1893/Address by Lieutenant F. S. Bassett

FLETCHER S. BASSETT.

THE FOLK-LORE CONGRESS.


ADDRESS BY LIEUT. F. S. BASSETT, U. S. N.

It is with feelings of pleasure peculiarly great that, in the name of the local and advisory committees of the World's Fair Auxiliary, I perform my agreeable task of welcoming you to the Third International Folk-Lore Congress. You will pardon me if I insist, with some pertinacity, upon calling attention to some matters concerning it.

I have called it the Third International Congress, and I think that the justice of this name can be fully established. It is a matter of regret that the official International Council, organized for the purpose, should not have fully participated in this Congress, and that the council of the oldest American society should, from local feelings of jealousy, hold aloof from it.

Such disadvantages as these, however, have in no wise discouraged the committee. Imbued with a sense of the greatness of the event and of the fitness of the occasion, it has steadily gone on with its preparations, with the result that must be apparent to you, upon an examination of the programme. That this is truly an International Congress, is shown by the wide geographical range embraced therein. Further than this, it derives its origin from authority higher than a self-appointed, or elected committee.

The World's Columbian Auxiliary regularly constituted as a part of the local corporation, and recognized by formal decree and official prescription, on the part of the Government, is its source of authority. The official participation of three-fourths of the societies forming the International Alliance, as well as of some not of that body, the adherence of individual members of all the societies, and the presence here of officers from all, and their participation in our proceedings, consoles us for the non-adherence of the official bodies. It is, then, the first American International Folk-Lore Congress. Furthermore, we insist that it is the first really broad World's Congress, in an unrestricted sense.

At the first Folk-Lore Congress, in Paris, in 1889, the following countries were not represented: Germany, Norway, Kussia, Austria, Spain, Portugal. At the second, held at London, in 1891, the great German nation was not represented, nor were several other European nations. Now, for the first time, the co-operation of all has been asked, and representatives from all parts of the world have contributed papers, and some have travelled great distances, to be with us. We think these facts fully show that this is the first great International Folk-Lore Congress.

Folk-Lore is one of the youngest of the scientific branches. It has accomplished much within the short time devoted to its study. We all remember the silly guesses at mythological interpretation of sixty years ago, the wild imaginings of our brothers, the philologists, in attempting to unlock mysteries of the mind of man with their skeleton keys, warranted to open any lock, the erroneous dicta of our friends, the anthropologists, who count all men as varieties of the simple savage.

Into this chaos of widely-differing conclusions about the habits of action, thought, and feelings of man, came the new science, Folk-Lore, to correct, by the data of experimental comparison, these erroneous ideas. Nor was it useless to the sciences inaccurately yclept exact. Says President Gomme of the London society: "No science dealing with man is quite perfect without the aid of Folk-Lore." Geological facts are sustained by traditional accounts, historical statements shown to be illusions, botanical knowledge has been forwarded, mythology entirely reconstructed; and literature, always drawing its inspiration from the people, owes much to FolkLore. In short, every study, whose end is that proper study of Mankind to which the great poet alluded, is assisted by this most universal, wide-embracing science.

Folk-Lore is not merely a study of the survival of decay, it is the demonstrator of the possible and probable in history, the repository of historical truths otherwise lost, the preserver of the literature of the people and the touchstone of many of the sciences. History may lie, tradition never does; literature may claim to have found the new thing under the sun, but comparative Folk-Lore detects the analogies to other creations.

After the categories of modern science had been drawn up, and knowledge was parcelled out among them, savants became aware that a certain wide range of facts would not fit into the official pigeon-holes designed for them, and so, a bright precursor of modern Folk-Lorists, Mr. Thoms, suggested the name, Folk-Lore; the study of Folk-wont, Folk-thought, and Folk-speech, the beginnings of history, of laws of religion, of language, and of song. So apt has the term been found, that it has passed bodily into Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, and other languages, the Traditions Populaires and Volkskunde of European nations being national protests against the English name, Folk-Lore. The range of subjects considered is remarkable. The imaginings of man from all time, about the physical world, its history, origin, and destiny, about the animal, mineral, or vegetable kingdom, the air, fog, mist, fire and water, have a place in this study. His views of the supernatural world, the historical legends of places and things, the study of human life, of birth, of death, and of marriage, of customs and ceremonies, of the habits of men of all trades and callings, are appropriately a part of Folk-lore. Folk-medicine, the comparative study of the literature of the people—the tale, the myth, the legend, the ballad, the song, even the nursery-rhyme, the proverb, the riddle, and the nickname, are to be carefully collected, analyzed, and studied. No scrap of information concerning the habits, thoughts, or customs of man, is to be neglected." "It is an extremely dangerous proceeding to suggest that folklore possesses any worthless items," says highest authority.

To these studies, there are devoted many hundreds of people, organized into societies, which have their headquarters in the cities of Chicago, St. Paul, Memphis, Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, New-Orleans, Montreal, London, Paris, Liege, Antwerp, Helsingfors, Berlin, Vienna, Buda-Pesth, Florence, Bombay and Sydney, besides numerous Anthropological societies. Literary, Asiatic, American, Sinico, African, Archæological, Gypsy, and other societies, whose objects are correlative to those enumerated.

Publications, annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly, appear in your own city, in Boston, in London, in Ghent, in Antwerp, in Liege, in Helsingf ors, in Copenhagen, in Berlin, in Leipsig, in Leyden, in Paris, in Palermo, in Vienna, in Warsaw, in Bombay, and in other cities, devoted to this study, besides others whose columns are largely devoted to Folk-Lore.

America is doing a part of her share in this work of arranging, classifying, collecting, and studying this Lore of her people. Much can, and is, done by the intelligent students of the Smithsonian Institution, and of the bureau of ethnology. Mrs. Hemenway's munificent expedition, the important Bandelier expedition, the various United States Exploring Expeditions, Mr. Lorillard's valuable aid in sending a party into Central America, and the work of the officers sent out by the World's Columbian Exposition, have been of the greatest assistance in developing Folk-Lore, as well as Archæology and Ethnology. The labors of the eminent scholars of America in this direction, demonstrate that Folk-Lore study is far advanced in our midst, in spite of the youth of our existence. Our Chicago society, now in its third year, is in a prosperous condition, and new branches of it are coming into existence. Folk-Lore has become a subject of the day, and many of our prominent journals and periodicals contain valuable and attractive materials, contributing to its study.

May we not hope that colleges and universities, which foster other branches of Science and literature, will not neglect this, and that the example of Helsingfors, the solitary instance of the appointment of a professor of Folk-Lore, may be followed by Harvard, Yale, and by Chicago, and that Prof. Krohn may only be one of a learned body of professors of this science, who shall direct the congresses of the future.

Who shall say that the founders and the masters in this new science have not builded well? When Prof. Pitrè may point to the beautiful bibliography of Italian Folk-Lore, the work of twelve years' labor, and show, with becoming pride, his own half-hundred volumes upon the subject, shall we say that there is no place for this work? When Lönnrot, Aspelin, Krohn, and the faithful Finnish societaires rescue hundreds of thousands of the most pregnant popular riddles, songs, charms, etc, from the oblivion into which all traditions, lost in the irresistible march of modern civilization, shall not our highest praise be given to them for their work? And here, in our midst, one race is being ruthlessly swept out of existence, and its lore fast perishing, another has just passed from a condition favorable to the development of legend and popular literature, and another stratum of our population is evanescent, and with Americanization of the emigrant, passes away his rich fund of inherited customs, superstitions, and literature. Folk-Lore societies encourage the collection, publication, and study of this important and beneficent information and serve an important purpose in our civilization.

What, then, shall be said to those zealous scholars who claim that Folk-Lore is but a part of some other science—as only a proper dependency of some other kingdom of thought? Not indeed to any new nomenclature or arrangement of science, but to some branch of it which was in existence when Folk-Lore, less than fifty years old as a science, was imagined. What say some of the masters upon this subject? Monsieur Gaidoz, of the highest authority as a scholar and savant, defines it as "that ensemble of traditions and popular literature, which, to abridge, is called to-day, ordinarily, by the English name of Folk-Lore. True it is, that closely allied to Folk-Lore are other sciences, which in turn assist it, and derive aid from it." "It is true," says Professor Sayce, "that it is often difficult to draw the line between Folk-Lore and Mythology, to define exactly where one begins, and the other ends, and there are many instances in which the two terms overlap each other." "Folk-Lore," says Machado y Alvarez, "has close relations with Sociology." It falls within certain limits, within the limits of Sociology. Again, "It follows, from what has been said, that though Folk-Lore, in my opinion, has something in common with Psychological biology, something in common with Sociology, and, of course, something in common with Anthropology also, it cannot be confounded with any of these sciences, nor even form a mere chapter of them." But if Folk-Lore, in its extent, embraces the matter of the sciences, by the quality and the degree of knowledge which it expresses, it differs from them all. One of the greatest authorities has said in advocating a Folk-lore section of the British Association: "I think the time has come for this. Anthropology has long since been recognized there; Folk-lore should also, now be recognized, and independently."

The records of the survivals that go to make up this new science are, for the most part, to be preserved by the antiquarian scholar, and by the student collector, and published and studied by societies organized for the purpose. They form a part of the literature of the people, and must be separated and kept separate from other written records. The story, the song, the riddle, the rhyme of the nursery, illustrate this class of folk-literature. As literature itself is a science correllated to the others, Folk-Lore is at once a part of literature and of science, but ought to be preserved apart from any other study, and not merged into or made a portion of any other science.

I come now to what we have to offer you. The programme is before you, and its very length forbids my enumerating categorically the constituent essays therein. It will not, however, be out of place to call your attention to the wide range in time, in geography, and in variety of topic embraced by it, from the border lands of the most remote historical times, from Egypt and Greece, from the east of Europe, from the most advanced as well as the most primitive European states, from the oldest kingdom to the newest state, from heathen Africa, from distant India, from progressive Japan and stereotyped China, from placid South Sea isles and turbulent Hawaii, and from Alaska to Paraguay, on our continent, we bring you legends, myths, ceremonies, songs, and even natives. Many distinguished scholars from these lands have sent us papers, and some come to read their contributions. No department of the study of Folk-Lore is left untouched. It is a matter of congratulation that we have upon our programme a representative from every Folk-Lore society, and that officers and members of these societies are with us. Celebrated travellers and distinguished commissioners to the World's fair assist us in the most valuable and agreeable way.

The committee and the Auxiliary owe the heartiest thanks to the scholars who have so kindly consented to assist us in this undertaking. The authors of these papers have all expressed a desire for their publication, and the promise has been made that this shall be done. The Congress should, before adjourning, make sure that the steps necessary to insure this will be taken.

With these few remarks, the chairman has the pleasure of inviting you to the sessions of the Third International FolkLore Congress with the hope that you may be amply benefitted by them, and that Folk-Lore, Literature and Science may be the gainers from the labors of the many workers who have contributed to its successful accomplishment.