Transactions of the Second International Folk-Congress/Chairman's Address (Folk-Tale section)


Chairman E. SIDNEY HARTLAND, Esq., F S.A.

OCTOBER 5th, 1891.


The study of folk-tales and folk-songs, with which we have in this section more particularly to do, is, perhaps, the most generally popular of all the departments of folk-lore. The cause of this popularity is not far to seek. It arises less from the scientific interest of the problems to be solved, or of the results of the investigation, than from the beauty, the wildness, the weird enchantment of many of the tales themselves, and from the tender recollections awakened by them in almost every mind of the hours and feelings of childhood, of faces, of voices, and of scenes long since passed away. Of course we have arrived at that pitch of scientific training that we despise all this sentiment, and we should probably be unwilling to admit how far we have been at one time or another influenced by it. But it may be put as a general proposition—quite inapplicable to ourselves—that many persons are influenced by it, and that some of those who are drawn first of all to the study in this way end by becoming serious investigators of the phenomena. The effect of such an advantage in obtaining recruits ought to be a large body of students, and much consequent' progress in the solution of the questions wherewith we have to deal. But, although some progress has been made, it would be difficult to show that it exceeds the progress made in several other branches of folk-lore,—if, indeed, it will compare with it at all. Do we ask why? The answer will, I think, be found in the fact that hitherto most of the energy devoted to this fascinating subject has been spent in accumulating material rather than in examining and digesting it. Not a word is to be said against the accumulation of material. We have, indeed, a wealth of stories from almost all parts of the world. The books which contain them would already of themselves fill a library, and that not a small one. But there is much yet to be done, much most urgently required, in the way of collection before what we, with self-satisfied emphasis, call civilisation stamps out some races of mankind altogether—as, for instance, it has stamped out the Tasmanians, leaving only one poor fragment of a native tale on record—or wipes from the memories of the others the rapidly-vanishing lines of their genuine traditions. Yet, as the number of stories increases, ever will the difficulty of dealing with them grow. This is a difficulty we in England, as you know, have proposed partly to overcome by careful analysis and tabulation. Our method was much discussed at the Paris Congress two years ago; and it is not entirely free from objection. We are hoping before long to issue a tabulation of all the accessible variants of the tale of Cinderella; and then, with a connected series of results before us, it will be possible to pronounce a definitive judgment on the merits and defects of the scheme.

But we may reasonably demand whether the time has not yet arrived when we may take stock of our museum of tales, and proceed to determine, provisionally, at all events, the questions that arise upon them. It is not enough to sort and classify: we must enquire what mean the stories thus laboriously gathered, whence did they spring, and what relation do they bear to one another and to the history of our race. I confess, for my part, that my interest in the science of folk-lore would come to naught unless I believed that the traditions alike of our fathers and of the other nations of the world contained, and might be made to yield up to the diligent enquirer, information of the utmost value concerning the primitive beliefs and practices of mankind, and, behind these, the very structure and development of the human mind. In the process of extracting this information the study of folk-tales must always bear an important part; for it is chiefly in tales that the speculative portions of a savage creed take shape. Something, and not a little, has been done in this direction since Grimm first showed the remains of ancient heathendom in the stories of his own land. His method has been more widely applied in recent years, by distinguished writers whom I need not name, to stories found in every region of the world; and conclusions in regard to the beliefs fundamental to all savage religions have been based in part upon them.

These applications have not been allowed to pass unchallenged. Literary men have contended that the true origin of folk-tales was to be found in India, that they were Buddhist parables, and that the Buddhist propaganda sowed them broadcast. This, at least, as I understand it, is the old orthodox opinion of scholars who dispute the anthropological hypothesis. We shall all regret to think that we are not (as we hoped) to have among us to-day, in the person of M. Cosquin, the most illustrious of these scholars. Whether we agree with him or not, we all recognise in his writings a most valuable contribution to the science of folk-lore; and though we cannot hear from his lips, we shall at least have the advantage of hearing in his own words presently, a fresh exposition of his opinions. This will be the more interesting since many of us have been accustomed to think that the pressure of controversy of late years has broken up the Buddhist faith. Heretics have been found who mingle its purity with the streams of Egyptian, and even of Jewish, tradition. For as the area of research widens, we doubt more and more that folk-tales found in the remotest corners of the earth have all sprung from one centre within a measurable historical period. It has, therefore, been practically abandoned by most of its defenders in this country. But the anthropological hypothesis is not left in possession of the field. That hypothesis attributes the origin of folk-tales, as of every other species of tradition, to the constitution of the human mind. A similar environment acting upon the mind will everywhere produce similar results. And it is the variations of the environment, both physical and social, as well the moral and material products of civilisation as the natural features of the earth, its fauna and flora, which give rise to the variety of stories all presenting perpetual coincidences, and all evolved from a few leading ideas common to the race. The birthplace of any story is, therefore, impossible to determine; for no story has any one birthplace. There is no story but has been evolved in one form or other wherever in the whole world the environment has been favourable.

I am putting a broad statement of the theory, purposely putting it without qualification or reserve; and I do not now pause to ask whether any student of folk-lore would accept it stated thus baldly. For the moment I am only concerned to contrast it as far as possible with the counter-theory I am going to state. This counter-theory accepts the results of the controversies over the theories of the Aryan philologists and the Buddhist scholars. It admits that the foundation of the absurd and impossible tales current all round the globe must be sought in the beliefs of savage tribes about themselves and their surroundings, and in their magical and other superstitious practices. But it denies that the mere fact that a given story is found domesticated among any people is of itself evidence of the beliefs or practices of that people, present or past. Stories, we are told, especially some stories, must have been invented once, and once only. It would be too great a draught on our credulity to ask us to believe that a complicated plot, or a long series of incidents, or even a single incident of a very remarkable character, was invented in a dozen different places, however similar may be the working of men's minds. But it may have been handed on from man to man, from tribe to tribe, until it had made the circuit of the world. And we are bidden to note that contiguous countries have a larger number of stories in common than distant ones. Dr. Boas has drawn up quite a formidable list of tales current on the North American continent, which he declares have been disseminated from one tribe to another dwelling in adjacent regions; nor would there be any difficulty in compiling a parallel, or indeed a far longer, list, for the Eastern hemisphere. It is accordingly to the problem of dissemination, rather than to that of meaning, that our attention is called by the advocates of what I may, perhaps, venture to dub the dissemination theory. Having first tracked a story to its birthplace, it will be easy afterwards to say what it means and how it came to be told.

Now, if this contention be well founded, it is enough to take us aback. For all the labours of interpretation have so far been in vain, and the cosmos we had hoped was beginning to be evolved out of the mass of traditions which have been collected is reduced once more to chaos. Nay, we can hardly tell whether the destructive criticism on the theories of Professor Max Müller, or that older romancer Euemeros, was right after all: whether the sun myth or The Wisdom of the Ancients may not rise again from the dead, or whether Bryant and his Noachian Deluge may not come and sweep us all away. We may, perhaps, tranquilly go on sorting and pigeon-holing; but as to making the traditions we have collected instruments to guide our researches into the development of civilisation—it would seem out of the question.

In the further observations I propose to make upon the dissemination theory, I shall try to trench as little as possible on the papers we hope to listen to, but perhaps it will be unavoidable to anticipate in some degree the course of the discussion. My apology must be that this address was written in fact before I saw the programme of the session, and my engagements, unfortunately, did not permit of my recasting it afterwards.

The first observation to be made upon the dissemination theory is obviously that, even supposing the contention that a story is only invented once be true, to track any story to its place of origin must be a matter of extreme difficulty, because in a very large number of cases, if not in the vast majority, the diffusion must have taken place in times so remote, or in circumstances of such barbarism, that no trustworthy record of the transmission was possible. Of course, I do not forget that, on the one hand, modern criticism has resources which have been the means of achieving splendid and unexpected results in dealing with internal evidence, and, on the other hand, external evidence of transmission is sometimes available, as in the case of many of the stories of The Seven Wise Masters, whose genealogy we can trace from book to book and from land to land.

But stories transmitted from book to book are no longer traditional, and therefore they are out of our range. True, they may descend again from literature into tradition; and when it is shown that this has happened, the literary links in the pedigree become once more of interest to us. Such descent, however, like oral transmission, is only possible where a story finds in the culture of the "folk" an environment favourable to its preservation and propagation. The well-known Maori story of The Children of Heaven and Earth could never become a folk-tale among our English peasantry. There is nothing in their state of civilisation which responds to the ideas it contains; and, consequently, there is no soil in which it could take root. If, then, a wandering story, thus finding an appropriate soil and climate, settle down and flourish, it follows that the ideas it expresses correspond to those current among the "folk" of its new home. Does it speak of magic? The thought must be already familiar, or it will find no acceptance by a fresh audience. If, though the thought be familiar, the details of the processes are strange, these will be changed into such as are previously intelligible. Does it assume the possibility of a change of form from human to brute, or to vegetable or mineral, and back again, while retaining consciousness and individual identity? Such a possibility must first of all have its place in the conventions of story-telling accepted by the newfolk into whose midstit is launched. And so I might go through every savage idea formulated by anthropologists. Details might differ: they would be modifiable. But the principal ideas would remain steadfast, because they would be already a part of the mental organisation of the recipients. Where such ideas had been forgotten, or where they were absolutely unknown, it would be impossible to transplant the story. A fortiori, where details and all are adopted, the stage of culture of the transmitting folk and that of the receiving folk must be identical.

If this reasoning be true, it deprives of much of its force an objection to the results arrived at by applying the anthropological method of enquiry to any given tale, on the ground that we do not know that the tale in question is indigenous in the country in which it is found, and therefore cannot assume that the ideas or customs it presents ever were current there. If it be admitted, as I understand it is admitted, by the Disseminationists, that we are right in believing that folk-tales, like all other species of traditions, enshrine relics of archaic thought and archaic practice; if those relics be, as we know they are, usually of the very structure and essence of the tale; and if, further, the tales enshrining those relics would be unintelligible to peoples who were strangers to the modes of thought which had produced them; we may be reasonably sure that all such tales must, even if borrowed, have embodied ideas and contained allusions to practices familiar to the borrowing peoples, or they would not have been received into their traditions. Tales may thus in general be safely used as evidence of archaic thought and custom once, if not still, rife among the folk who relate them.

Take, for example, the stories mentioned by Dr. Boas as current among contiguous tribes of North America. The Dog-rib Indians of the Great Slave Lake relate that the primitive ancestress of their race was a woman who was mated with a dog and bore six pups. She was deserted by her tribe, and went out daily to procure food for her family. On returning she found tracks of children about the lodge, but saw not the children themselves. At length she hid herself, and discovered that her puppies threw off their skins as soon as they thought themselves alone, and played together in human shape. She surprised them and took away the skins, so that the children could no more return to canine form. This tale is also recorded in Vancouver Island, and all along the Pacific Coast from southern Alaska to southern Oregon; and similar tales are told among the Hare Indians of Great Bear Lake, and the Eskimo of Greenland and Hudson's Bay.

Now, let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that this story originated not in a remote age among the common ancestors of the various tribes who relate it to-day, but at some period since the dispersion and differentiation of the American race. Let us suppose that it was invented in some one place, by some one tribe, and carried from one to another within comparatively recent times. Let us, in fact, concede the whole hypothesis of the Disseminationists. The story still remains a witness of the state of civilisation of the tribes among which it is now found. Its foundation is probably totemistic; and the ideas it conveys—the brute-ancestor, the marriage of a woman with a dog or a hare, and the birth of her children disguised as puppies or leverets—are common to all the tribes who have given it shelter, We are not dependent upon this tale for evidence that each of them believes in the possibility of these things. The Deluge legends, the stories of the women taken up to heaven, the Magic Flight, and the other tales in Dr. Boas' list, in this respect stand upon the same footing.

There is an African tale in which the presumption of borrowing is at first sight strong. It tells us of a fisherman who caught a large fish. The fish gave him millet and some of its own flesh, and spoke to him, directing him to cause his wife to eat the flesh alone, while he ate the millet. Compliance with these directions was followed by the birth of two sons, who were called Rombao and Antonyo, with their two dogs, two spears, and two guns. The boys became hunters, and did not hesitate to kill whoever opposed them and take possession of his land and other property. There was a whale which owned a certain water, and the chief of the country gave his daughter to buy water from the whale. But Rombao slew the whale, thus saving the maiden, and cut out its tongue, which he thoughtfully salted and preserved. The credit of the exploit was claimed by the captain of a band of soldiers sent by the chief to ascertain why the whale had not sent the usual wind as a token that the girl had been eaten. The chief accordingly gives the captain his daughter in marriage. When, however, the marriage feast is ready, and the people assembled, the lady is unwilling. Rombao, who has made it his business to be present, interferes at the critical moment with the inquiry why she was to wed the captain, and is told it is because he has killed the whale. "But where", he asks, "is the whale's tongue?" The tongue, of course, cannot be found, until Rombao himself triumphantly produces it and proves that he, not the captain, is entitled to the victor's honours. He marries the maiden, while the captain and his men, who aided and abetted his falsehood, are put to death.[1]

This we shall at once recognise as a variant of the Breton story of The King of the Fishes, and somewhat more distantly akin to the classic legend of Perseus and Andromeda. It was told, presumably at Blantyre, on Lake Nyassa, to the Rev. Duff Macdonald, of the Church of Scotland Mission, by a native of Quilimane; and the children's names betray the Portuguese influence paramount on the Quilimane coast. The tale, however, differs considerably from any Portuguese version with which I am acquainted. Most of its details are purely native. The husband and wife eating apart, the hunting and filibustering proceedings of the twins, the scarcity of water, the salting of the monster's tongue, the wedding customs, are among the indications of its complete assimilation by the native mind. The only details distinctly traceable to Portuguese influence are the names Rombao and Antonyo, the guns, and perhaps the millet—none of them essential to the story. Something appears to be wanting, as we know by comparing other variants, to account for the two dogs, the two spears, and the two guns; and another point on which explanation is required is the word translated "whale". There is little of the supernatural in the tale; what little there is is entirely in harmony with native beliefs. Upon the whole, then, this tale, which comes from a place where the Portuguese are dominant, bears traces of foreign influence only in a few inessential details. So far as regards the other details, as well as the general plot, it might have been— perhaps it is— an aboriginal growth, so completely is it at one with the native beliefs and customs.

Let us take another märchen even more widely spread. The Karens of Burmah tell of a tree-lizard who was born of a woman, and who succeeded in marrying the youngest of three sisters, a king's daughters. At night he cast his lizard-skin and became a handsome youth, but resumed it in the morning. His bride is questioned by her mother, and reveals her husband's nightly transformation. "Then the mother said: 'If that be the case, when he pulls off his skin to-night, throw it over to me.' When night came and the lizard stripped off his skin to sleep, his wife took it and threw it over to her mother, and her mother put it into the fire and burnt it up. In the morning, when he woke up he said to his wife: 'The fire has burnt up my clothes.' So his wife furnished him with suitable clothing, and he ceased to be a lizard."[2]

This story, like the last, has certain affinities with a familiar classic tale, though here the affinities are not very close: more exact resemblances may be found in modern European folk-lore. What I want you to notice, however, is the extraordinary manner, if it be an imported story, in which it has adapted itself to the Karen ideas and practices. The Karens are a wild race of endogamous savages, mixing little with the surrounding peoples. They live in villages, each of which, we are told, is an independent state. The chief, or king, of this tiny realm is hardly raised a step above his subjects; his rule is founded on the consent of his people, whose elders he must consult on all occasions. A marriage between the king's daughter and one of his subjects would be an ordinary occurrence. The whole community dwells in a long house, in which every family has a separate hearth, probably screened off from the rest. There would thus be no difficulty in the bride's throwing her husband's skin over to her mother, who could easily pop it into the family fire. The author who reports this tale gives us only a very scrappy and imperfect account of Karen beliefs. But he makes it clear that among them is a belief that some beings, at all events, can undergo transformation without loss of identity, and that the transformation is sometimes effected by a change of skins. If, therefore, the story be a foreign immigrant, it has contrived to masquerade uncommonly well in Karen dress. Perhaps we may venture to think it is indigenous among the Karens. But I am not arguing that here.

The Tjames, a people living on the borders of the French possessions in Annam, and descended from aborigines who intermarried with Malay invaders, relate a variant too lengthy now to examine minutely.[3] I will only ask you to note that, among a number of widely varying details, the hero is in the form not of a tree-lizard, nor of any animal, but of a cocoa-nut, and that his bride burns his husk and persuades him to live with her in ordinary human shape.

Let us hasten on to another analogue found at the extremity of Africa. Unthlamvu-yetusi is the heroine of a Zulu tale. She wedded Umamba, who is said to have been wrapped by his mother at his birth in a snake's skin, and compelled always to appear as a snake. He requests his bride to anoint him with a certain pot of fat; but the first night she is afraid to touch him. The second night, however, she consents to anoint him; and then by his directions she is able to pull the snake-skin from off him, and finds him in human form. He afterwards discloses himself to every one at the marriage dance, and remains a man.[4] I need not trouble you with the details of the Zulu customs referred to throughout the story; you will probably be willing to take them on trust. But as to the snake form assumed by the hero, it is interesting to know that the kind of snake referred to is one into which the Zulus hold that their chiefs turn after death. When these chiefs thus transformed enter a hut, they are believed not to enter by the doorway, but in some other mysterious manner; and a variant of the legend describes the hero (who, however, is there called Unthlatu, or boa constrictor) as entering and leaving the hut after the door had been closed by his bride, and without opening it.[5] There seems some little doubt as to the meaning, and even the authenticity, of the incident of the wrapping of the hero, when a babe, in the snake-skin. Most likely it is only a bit of modern native rationalism, patched into the story when it began to be felt as verging on the incredible that a man should be born as a serpent, though other supernatural occurrences were still readily accepted. But, in any case, the Zulus are firmly attached to the doctrine of transformation. They consider that baboons, wasps, lizards, and other animals, besides snakes, are really men living in another shape.

A narrative to a similar effect is told by the Yurucares, a tribe inhabiting the tropical forests on the eastern slopes of the Andes. AVith them it is part of a saga which accounts for the origin of their race and the present condition of their country. It is thus a link in their philosophy of the universe. We learn that a solitary maiden fell in love with a beautiful tree called Ule, laden with purple flowers. "She steadily looked at it with a feeling of tenderness, thinking to herself how she would love it if it were only a man. She painted herself with the juice of the arnotto fruit to heighten her charms and render herself attractive; she wept and sighed, waited and hoped. Her hope did not disappoint her; her love was powerful, and it produced a miraculous transformation; the tree was changed into a man, and the young maiden was happy. During the night Ulé was at her side .....; but at morning dawn she perceived that she had been caressed by a shadow, for Ulé had disappeared, and the young girl was again disconsolate, fearing that her happiness was only a passing dream. Making her mother her confidant, she communicated the thought that oppressed her heart, and, taking counsel together, they devised means to retain the young lover and prevent his escape. When the following night Ulé came to make his betrothed bride happy, he found himself loaded with fetters that confined him to the spot. After four days had thus passed Ulé promised to remain, and pledged himself by a formal marriage never to abandon his wife; and upon this promise his liberty was restored to him.'[6]

In all these examples we have the same series of incidents. A maiden is wedded to a mysterious youth who visits her by night, but suffers a strange metamorphosis and disappears by day. With her mother's help, or by the simple stress of her own affection for him, she compels him to retain human form and abide with her. The details vary as the circumstances and habits of the peoples who tell the story; but the central ideas remain always the same. And alike the central ideas and the details are found to be as much m harmony with the creed, the habits, and the environment of the narrators, whether Karen, Tjame, Zulu, or Yurucare, as were the central idea and the details of the kindred tale of Cupid and Psyche with the creed, the habits, and the environment of the Thessalian crone into whose mouth Apuleius put it in the second century of the Christian era. On the dissemination theory it may not be surprising if the same story, carried from one tribe to another of North American Indians, all in nearly the same stage of civilisation, be found to agree with the customs and beliefs of them all, seeing that their societies are all organised on the same general plan, and the external conditions do not greatly differ. But I have ventured to bring before you two instances in which the family likeness of the variants is quite as great as in Dr. Boas, examples. In the one case, where there had been contact with a foreign nation known to possess the tale, the foreign influence was indeed traceable, but only in details not essential. In other respects the story contained nothing alien to the native mind; on the contrary, it reflected aboriginal ideas and habits. In the other case, the story is found in remote continents divided by many thousand miles of land and ocean. Whether it was really transported over these vast spaces, or, if so, from what centre, we have at present no means of knowing. What we do know is that the several versions of the story reflect the culture of the Zulu kraal, the Karen long-house, the open shed of the Yurucares (is the kinship of Cupid and Psyche close enough for me to add — and the classic city?), with the accuracy of entirely indigenous growths. I have not chosen these instances because I deemed them favourable illustrations of my argument. I think I could have alighted easily on many at least as favourable. But, having come across them in my recent reading undertaken for another purpose, they were really the most readily at hand. And I would claim that if widely diffused stories, thus taken as it were at random, yield upon examination just those traits of civilisation which mark the peoples among whom they are known, the probability is that a similar examination of other stories would give us parallel results. If so, then we may hereafter safely use a tradition as evidence of the ideas and the circumstances of those who tell it, caring nothing at all whether it originated among them or not. Some distinction may perhaps be needful in the use of tales believed to be true, and of tales told merely for pleasure. But even the latter, told among an ignorant folk, though not actually credited as statements of fact, must be exponents of ideas and of manners which have had currency, if not among themselves, at least among their forefathers in a not very remote past,[7] the remembrance of which has not yet faded from the general memory, or the stories would have become unintelligible and been forgotten.

Having thus tried to show that the problem of dissemination is of quite subordinate importance, it remains for me, if I do not weary you, to add a few remarks of a more or less desultory character on the theory itself as presented in the light of what I have already said.

No one can doubt that dissemination has taken place. The hypothesis I stated so broadly just now as the anthropological theory of folk-tales cannot be held without qualification. Happily it is not requisite to hold it without qualification. The anthropological theory of folk-tales no more excludes the possibility of multitudes of instances of dissemination than the anthropological theory of civilisation—the theory that the history of man is, on the whole, a history of progress—excludes the possibility of many a temporary and partial retrogression. The business of a theory is to explain facts, not to distort them. In Europe, for many hundred years, tales have passed from books into tradition, and back again from tradition into books, so that their transmission is to a large extent capable of being traced. This has been the case especially with some kinds of tales, like the apologue and the anecdote. Drolls, or comic tales, have obtained a wide circulation; and there seems reason to believe that many of them are to be accounted for by direct verbal transmission. But märchen also, and even sagas, have sometimes been transmitted. Nobody, for example, can read La Lanterna Magica, obtained for Dr. Pitré by Professor Letterio Lizio-Bruno, at Rocca Valdina, near Messina, or La Lanterna, a variant taken down by Dr. Pitré himself at Palermo, without being strongly impressed with the probability that this story has been derived directly from the Eastern story of Aladdin. Grimm's tale of Simeliberg, given also by Pröhle, has a suspicious resemblance, too, to that of All Baba and the Forty Robbers. Now, the Arabs conquered Sicily, and may very well have brought their stories and left them behind with their blood. But they never conquered Germany; and, what is still more perplexing, the name of the mountain, Semsi or Semeli (Sesam, Simson, or Simsimseliger, as it is in other variants), which presents the most suspicious point of all, is, so Grimm informs us, a very ancient {uralt) name for a mountain in Germany, where, in fact, it is found more than once; and it appears also in a Swiss traditional song having nothing to do with The Forty Robbers. If, therefore, there has been any borrowing, the East has borrowed from the West, and not vice-versâ. The story is very widespread; and the incident of the opening of the magical door, or rock, is found all over the world. But in most cases the invocation is directly addressed to the door or the rock, as in the German stories. "Rock of Two Holes, open for me, that I may enter", is the formula in the Zulu tale. The genius in the Chinese tale says: "Stone door, open; Mr. Kwei Ku is coming." In the Samoan saga of The Origin of Fire the formula is: "Rock, divide! I am Talanga; I have come to work." In a Tartar story from southern Siberia it is required to pronounce the name of God, the All-merciful, the All-compassionate.[8] In all these it is the name of the rock, or of its lord, which is the powerful word. So far as I know, there is only one instance, besides that of the Arabian Nights, where the name of any unconnected object is pronounced; and the preservation in the tale of Ali Baba of the sound of the word in the German variants, while the sense is obviously lost, points to derivation of the former from the latter or from some allied tale, ^'e do not know whence Galland obtained the tale of Ali Baba. It is not found in the MSS. of The Thousand Nights and a Night. But it is thoroughly Eastern in colouring; and its derivation from one of the German variants, or any congener, must have been remote enough to admit of this colouring, as well as of the addition of the robbers' subsequent attempts against Ali Baba; for these do not appear in the German versions. The other instance where the name of an object other than the rock or its lord is pronounced occurs in Sicily. In a tale from Termini-Imerese, told by a fisherman to Signor Giuseppe Patiri, the hero, Mastru Juseppi, is captured and enslaved by a band of twelve robbers, and he thus learns their magical formula, which is "Open, pepper!" He escapes, and enriches himself at the robbers' expense. The story follows that of Ali Baba, with adaptations, until, after his brother's funeral, the hero, who is a shoemaker, opens a new and larger shop than he had hitherto had. One day the leader of the band, disguised as a cavalier, comes and orders a pair of boots, and thenceforth gradually worming himself into the hero's confidence, he at length makes an offer of marriage with his daughter. The offer is accepted; and on a subsequent visit the robber introduces his followers into the house, with instructions to rush out of their hiding-place at a signal from him. But the hero's daughter, going into the pantry to get supper, is mistaken by one of the robbers for their leader, and asked: "Is it time, corporal?" This blunder, of course, issues in their discovery. Mastru Juseppi calls in the police; and the robbers are captured and punished for their crimes with death.[9] Here the magical word has diverged yet further from the German type. All similarity of sound has been abandoned. To the Sicilian peasant both sesame and pepper would be foreign plants vaguely known by name only. The reason which in the mind of an Oriental might have caused the German name for the mountain to be mistaken for that of a familiar grain, and which would have perpetuated the mistake once made, would have no application in Sicily; and only remembering that the word was the name of a plant he knew little about, the Sicilian peasant would adopt whichever of such names came easiest to him. The termination of the story has been adapted too; but it is a somewhat odd ending when the honest Mastru Juseppi runs for the police and gives the robbers up to justice.

Variants differing more widely than this from the tale of Ali Baba are found elsewhere on the northern and eastern shores of the island. "Open, pepper!" "Open, magpie!" (cicca, possibly a corruption of cece, chick-pease), "Open, tétima!" (perhaps a corruption of sesame), and "Open, door!" are the formulæ in these.[10] Professor Rhys also records the incident of the opening of the magical door as occurring in a fairy tale the scene of which is laid at Ynys Geinon rock, in the Swansea valley. There the fairies have a golden ladder to reach a stone of three tons' weight lying upon the mouth of the pit that gives them access from their cave to the upper air. "They have a little word; and it suffices if the foremost on the ladder merely utters that word, for the stone to rise of itself, while there is another word which it suffices the hindmost in going down to utter so that the stone shuts behind them." But what those words are is a secret known only to the fairies.[11]

Upon the whole, I think it probable that the Oriental and Sicilian versions have been derived (the latter through the former) from the German, but how or when I cannot pretend to say; though I am by no means sure that, underlying a version introduced from the East, there may not be in Sicily a native tale having an analogous plot. On the other hand, the Chinese, the Samoan, the Welsh, and the Zulu stories do not stand in any such relation to the German story, or to one another. They all equally point back to an archaic superstition found yet in full force in China, Polynesia, and South Africa, and of which traces, and more than traces, linger in Germany, Sicily, Wales, and other European countries. To seek their origin, therefore, in a single centre is a problem of well-nigh the same character and conditions as when we search for the cradle of the human race.

In considering the question of the dissemination of folk-tales, a folk-tale ought not to be treated as if it were something apart from all other species of folk-lore. Divide the subject-matter of our science how we will, to study it profitably we must study its various sections side by side, remembering that they are all bound by the same general laws, their existence is dependent on similar conditions, and their relations with one another are often as closely interwoven as any of those which unite order to order of organised beings in the physical world. All kinds of traditions are transmissible from one person, or one set of persons, to another: a truism, this, asserted by the very name of Tradition. Tradition is a delivering, and a tradition is that which is delivered. But some kinds of traditions are more easily delivered than others. A custom which requires the co-operation of a number of persons is less easily transmitted than one which requires only the co-operation of two, or which can be performed by one person alone. A long and complicated ceremony is less easily transmitted than a short and simple one. A nickname passes from mouth to mouth more rapidly than a proverb, a proverb more rapidly than a story, a story than a song. In short, the more complex the tradition the greater the difificulty of transmission, and the more it depends on frequent repetition and other circumstances calculated to impress it on the memories of the recipients. Thus, a story or a song is repeated over and over by mother to child. The words, hardly comprehended at first, become clear as the child's understanding grows, and are not only involved in his earliest reminiscences, but probably rendered indelible by reiteration by others in his hearing, or by himself to younger children, from time to time throughout his life. Few traditions, and as a rule those only of the simplest kinds, are transmitted by a single communication. It follows that traditions are not often transmitted by casual intercourse. Some kinds of traditions, indeed, are not communicated even during years, and perhaps a whole lifetime, of intercourse of an intimate character. In some cases a formal initiation ceremony, which is itself a tradition, and which confers upon the initiated certain rights, carrying with them, of course, corresponding liabilities, has to be undergone. And in many more cases the custodians of the tradition, if I may call them so, cannot be persuaded to communicate it until they are assured of sympathy in the recipient. Apart from modern scientific inquirers, this sympathy can, in general, only be shown by one who is at no great distance of culture, and who therefore is familiar with ideas and practices not very widely different. Such an one can best receive and assimilate, and in his turn transmit, the tradition.

These considerations exhibit the difficulties of transmission from a foreign source. It cannot be denied that there is another side to the picture. The conditions for transmission, even of recondite and carefully guarded traditions, must have been fulfilled again and again in the world's history. Conquest followed by permanent settlement among the conquered people, the intercourse of adjacent tribes not always hostile though alien in stock, the custom of exogamy, the enslavement or adoption of prisoners of war, are among the means by which even the most conservative and isolated of communities have been penetrated with foreign traditions. In all these cases we have the conditions fulfilled whereby alone transmission is possible.

But if the difificulties of transmission from a foreign source be great, the difificulty of testing such transmission is equally great. I have already noticed this difificulty in passing; and I recur to it simply to instance one or two tests which have been found insufficient—by no means to discuss them fully. It is not in every case that evidence can be found so distinctly pointing towards an alien origin as in that of Ali Baba. In the story of Cinderella as given by Perrault the heroine wears slippers of glass (pantoufles de verre). Glass is a material so inconvenient for shoes that rationalistic mythologists have suggested, and M. Littré in his dictionary positively asserts, that verre (glass) is a mistake for vair (fur). An examination of the variants, however, shows that M. Littré and the rationalists are quite wrong. The material was intended to be brilliant and hard. Why it should have been brilliant we need not now consider. That hardness was a quality in the original story is certain, because (though Perrault's polite version does not include the episode) we find from many of the other versions that the elder sisters actually cut their feet to fit them into the shoe, and in the end were convicted of the imposture by their blood. Nor would a hard or a heavy material be objectionable in the eyes of peasants accustomed to the clumsiness and "the clang of the wooden shoon". But although the slippers are nearly everywhere of a substance brilliant and hard, they are very rarely formed of glass; and the glass slipper has been proposed as a test of Perrault's influence over traditional versions of the story.[12] Miss Marian Roalfe Cox, who has examined and tabulated more than a hundred and fifty variants of Cinderella, informs me that only in three instances besides Perrault's does the glass slipper appear. Of these instances two are Scottish, one from the island of South Uist, the other from the neighbourhood of Glasgow, and the third is an Irish tale from Tralee. If we examine these tales, we find that the first is a version intermediate between the English tale of Catskin and the Norse tale of Katie Woodencloak. It has affinities for certain Italian variants, but the only point of contact with Cendrillon is the shoe of glass. In the second the deus ex machinâ is no fairy godmother, but a pet lamb who is killed by the stepmother, and who appears after death to dress, and bestow fairy gifts upon, the heroine. The prince falls in love with the heroine not at a ball but at church, and one of her stepsisters mutilates her own foot that she may get the slipper on; but she is betrayed, and its true owner discovered, by the help of a raven. In short, except the stepmother—a very common character in European fairy tales—and the glass slipper, this version differs as widely from Perrault's as two variants of the same story can differ. The Irish tale diverges more remarkably still. The shoe—in this instance of blue glass—is worn not by a lady but by a hero, who, like Perseus, kills a dragon and rescues a king's daughter. He then rides off in the ill-mannered way he heroes of fairy tales sometimes affect, and is afterwards identified by means of the shoe, which the princess had caught from his foot in the vain effort to detain him.[13] Thus neither structure nor incident of any of these stories confirms the suspicion of French influence raised by the glass slipper common to them all. On the other hand, glass would seem to peasants in out-of-the-way places a material almost as precious as, and probably stranger and therefore more magical, more fairy-like than, gold, while it fully satisfied the requirements of splendour and hardness.

The glass slipper is a feature of the tale of Cinderella quite as striking as the powerful words "Open, Sesame!" are of the tale of Ali Baba. And a little enquiry has thus made it apparent that even a striking feature occurring in two or more versions of the same story cannot be made evidence of the derivation of one -ersion from the other, or any of the others—or even of both, or all, from a common source including the special feature—unless some other portions of the story coincide, and unless the special feature cannot be explained as a natural outgrowth of the story. But it may be comparatively easy to dispose of a single feature, or a single incident; but not so easy to waive aside a series of incidents following in the same or a slightly varied order in two versions of the same story. It is difficult to deal with hypothetical cases. Every concrete instance offered must be considered on its own merits, and in accordance with the principles I have endeavoured already to suggest to you. Many cases of dissemination are probably to be accounted for by the supposition that the tale was already known to the common ancestors of two or more tribes before they split off from the original stock. Dr. Boas, in the article I have already cited, uses the words "Dissemination from a common centre" vaguely enough to include such a process of diffusion as this, and some at least of the stories he refers to may thus be accounted for. Traditions found in remote corners of the world and among peoples of widely different culture, it must be admitted, cannot be dealt with in this way. If cases of dissemination at all, they are cases of transmission from a foreign nation. I mentioned some instances of this kind just now. In one case the same string of incidents was found in Europe at the south-eastern extremity of Asia, at the extremity of Africa, and in the heart of South America. I pointed out then that if transmission from a foreign nation had taken place, the story had been as completely absorbed into the mind of the Karen, of the Zulu, or of the Brazilian savage, and was as thoroughly incorporated with his civilisation and with his environment, as if it had originated where it was found in Burmah, in Zululand, or in the tropical forests of the Andes. I argued then that it mattered not to the anthropological student whether such a story owned a foreign parentage or not; it was equally evidence of the ideas and customs of the people who related it. Let me now invert the argument, and ask whether, when a story is as thoroughly incorporated as this with the civilisation and environment of any people, it is possible to trace its transmission from abroad without direct and definite evidence of such a transmission. In the case of Ali Baba there was an imperfect adaptation to the environment, and hence we had ground for suspecting such a transmission. We have definite external and internal evidence of the transmission of Perrault's tales into England. "We know that the reason of their adoption here was that they were products of practically the same stage of civilisation as ours. In them ideas familiar to us had been developed under influences only slightly differing from those affecting ourselves. And they came among us at a time and in a manner peculiarly favourable for their adoption and propagation here. Had they come among us two centuries, or even one century, earlier than they did, it is very doubtful whether they would have found a home here. We have positive literary evidence of the transmission from one country to another of the stories embodied in Æsop's Fables and The Seven Wise Masters. But, in the absence of such direct and unmistakeable evidence, is it more reasonable to think that a story has been transmitted from abroad than that it has been evolved from within with the evolution of the culture of which, in the case supposed, it forms an intimate and indistinguishable part? Most of the stories in this category will be found to be developments of a single theme, where the incidents follow naturally in their order. If such a story can be evolved once, why may it not be independently evolved twice, thrice, fifty times? Which is more likely—that an analogous series of incidents should have been invented separately by more tribes than one, all in stages of civilisation in which the ideas expressed in the story are commonly known and accepted, or that all the tribes among which it is current, save one, should have taken it over from a foreign people? In judging of this we must set the conservative and exclusive instincts of savages over against their imitative instincts.

But there is a further consideration we must not overlook, namely, that with few exceptions all plots are nothing but changes rung upon the universalcharacteristicsof human life—birth, death, the passions, the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, master and slave, and so forth. These universal characteristics are limited in number; and though their combinations may be manifold, yet certain sequences are much more readily suggested than others. Moreover, in the same plane of civilisation the same sequences in tales are frequently worked out independently, even to minute details. We deal with traditional fiction only; and indeed the science of literary fiction has yet to be invented. When it is invented we may expect some remarkable results. It might be thought that civilised life, with its greater complexity, would offer a greater variety of plots to the story-teller than savage life can offer. Where two geniuses, however, of the highest order come to relate a story of unfounded conjugal jealousy and of wife-murder, the substance and even many of the accidents of Othello are reproduced in Kenilworth, down to the last damning proof of Amy's guilt afforded by her embroidered glove, which Varney brings to Leicester as lago brought Desdemona's handkerchief to the Moor of Venice. True: Sir 'alter Scott may have been influenced by unconscious reminiscences of Othello; but I think this is less Hkely than that, given the central idea, the sequences were such as were naturally suggested. An examination of the plots of more recent novels by writers who cannot be suspected of plagiarism would, I have little doubt, confirm this opinion, by showing to how large an extent those plots are but variations of a few themes, and how frequently the situations are indeed identical. Curious illustrations occur from time to time of what I may call parallel invention. One such illustration within the last few months will probably be remembered by those of you who read the English literary periodicals. A fictitious sketch, narrating the last vision and death of an unsuccessful author, appeared in July 1890 in the Newbery House Magazine. A story practically the same was published in February 1891, in Macmillan's Magazine, written by a different hand. The coincidences of plot, of incident, and occasionally of expression, were so extraordinary that the writer of the story which had first appeared called attention to it in The Academy. But it turned out that plagiarism was out of the question, for the second story had been in possession of the editor of Macmillan's Magazine before the first appeared in Newbery House Magazine. Mr. Walter Besant, himself a novelist of eminence and a student of tradition, commenting in The Author on the matter, mentioned that a story from a distant country had a few weeks before gone "the round of .some of the papers"-—by which I understand him to mean that it was circulated as a fiction. It was then discovered (1) "that the leading incident had been invented and used by a novelist quite recently; (2) that the leading incident was used in an American magazine ten years ago; (3) that the leading incident was used by Charles Reade fifteen years ago. Now, I have not the least doubt", adds Mr. Besant, "that in each of these cases the invention was entirely original."

Cases of parallel invention like these, where the authentication is complete, may well give us pause before we assert that such and such an incident—ay, or such and such a plot—could not have been invented twice. With these in our mind we shall at least avoid fixing our eyes only on the savage's imitative faculties. We shall be prepared to admit something more than a possibility that the same story may have sprung into existence in more than one place, despite resemblances which hardly seem—and which in truth are not—accidental. They are the necessary result of the working of the same laws of mental association in similar circumstances. Given an analogous state of culture, then, with the limited number of universal characteristics of human life, and the sequences which they naturally suggest in that state of culture, the probable modifications of plot and incident must be comparatively few.

I have spoken only of folk-tales; but our section of the Congress includes also folk-songs, We English must admit that we have done very little for the scientific study of ballads and folk-songs. The monumental work on English and Scottish ballads now m course of publication by Professor Child is to our shame an American undertaking. Count Nigra has issued a great work on the ballads and songs of his native Piedmont. And other writers have illustrated the folk-poetry of various countries, while we have done but little. The names of Ralston, Cover, and the Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco are almost all we can mention among English authors who have rendered service in this department of tradition. This is not creditable to us; and it is all the more to be regretted from the point of view I have ventured to take this morning, because it seems likely that the study of folk-poetry may have something to say on the problem of transmission. A ballad or a song is a more consciously artistic work than a tale. Not only must it develop the plot or the sentiment, but it has to conform to certain rules of metre, and usually to certain rules of rhyme. It thus offers a far greater number of opportunities for comparison than a folk-tale, and must consequently ensure greater certainty in the results arrived at. Can we venture to indulge the hope that the Congress of 1891 may induce some competent student to interest himself in this branch of our work? Professor Child's as well as M. Nigra's collection of analogues deserves and requires the most careful consideration. Nor should the study of folk-poetry be limited to European verse. The songs, ritual and narrative, of races in the lower culture are a mine well-nigh unwrought, and are calculated to yield important contributions to science, not only on the question of transmission, but probably on many other questions.

In pointing out to you, as I have done this morning, what I venture to think is the minor importance of the place of origin of a tradition, and some of the difficulties of testing its transmission from an alien birthplace, I have run the risk of wearying you by saying at greater length than I had intended what is perhaps not particularly new. But I hope I may be absolved from what you may deem the lesser sin of exhibiting too active a partisanship in this chair. A story is told (I offer this to you as a genuine, if modern, tradition) of a judge in the Far West, who when the plaintiff and his witnesses had given evidence, declined to hear the defendant, saying: "Stop, stop! my mind is now made up, and you will only unsettle it." This may, or may not, have happened in a court of law: in the court of opinion it happens daily. Nothing in disputed questions is commoner than to close the mind against one set of arguments; the decision then becomes charmingly easy. If I have tried to place before you some arguments on one side, I trust I have shown myself at the same time not altogether insensible to the weight of arguments on the other side. I hope I have made it clear that I do not undervalue researches which have for their object to trace the migration of traditions. Every inquiry conducted in a truly scientific spirit must advance our knowledge and sometimes in ways none the less valuable because unexpected. It is the pursuit of knowledge, the search for truth, in relation to the past history of our race which draws us together here. It is with this we are concerned, and not, I hope, with any merely dialectic victory. I for one am ready to welcome any new argument, any fresh information, be its effect what it may. Nor do I envy the man who, whatever his opinions, is unwilling to look the contrary opinions full in the face, judge them in the light of reason, and take the consequences.

Mr. A. R. Wright, of Her Majesty's Patent Office, a member of the Congress, has since courteously furnished me with the following note based on his experience in the Patent Office: "As regards the probability of the parallel invention of folk-tales, there may be found in the history of mechanical and chemical invention indications even more suggestive than the unconscious plagiarisms of literature. Unlike the author, the inventor has known that plagiarism on his part, or even the unwitting agreement of his invention with something published (not necessarily patented) in any form at an earlier date, would invalidate any patent of protection which might be granted to him. The Patent Laws, alike in England and abroad, are intended to afford protection to 'the true and first inventor', and to him alone. In Russia, for example, protection was refused to the Bessemer steel process because the English Blue-Book containing the publication of the English patent of the same inventor was held to be an anticipation. In England, actions at law involving the question of the novelty of particular inventions have' been known from the first institution of the Patent Laws, early in the seventeenth century; and, excluding cases of fraud, etc., there would appear to be a proportion of cases of parallel invention. Many modern inventions, also, like certain folk-tales, appear to consist merely of new combinations of old elements, the novelty lying either in their rearrangement or in a different choice of elements from any previously made. Possibly some folk-tales are the result of similar attempts at novelty. From the danger of invalidation from lack of novelty, and from the heavy fees payable (until A.D. 1884), application for a patent would seem at least to imply that the inventor himself usually believed his invention to be novel; and if it can be shown that cases of parallel invention are numerous, the evidence would be of some value as regards the origin of folk-tales. It may, therefore, be well to make some examination of the public records of applications for patents and to report the result in Folk-Lore. For example, I believe it would be found that the attempts to obtain perpetual motion, which for more than two centuries has been the subject-matter of applications for patents, mostly fall into groups of variants of a few hydraulic and mechanical radicles, the variants differing no more than many folk-tale variants." Mr. Wright adds that modern patents are of little use in this connection, on account of the rapid and wide dissemination of germ-ideas, and that when writing he had not had time to search the older records, which are not of easy reference; but that he has no doubt of being able to produce cases in point, if the evidence be thought valuable.

  1. Rev. Duff Maodonald, Africana, ii, 341.
  2. McMabon, The Karens of the Golden Chersonese, 248.
  3. Landes, Contes Tjames, 9; L'Anthropologie, ii, 186.
  4. Callaway, Tales, 322.
  5. Callaway, Rel. System, 196 et seq.; Tales, 60.
  6. Featherman, Soc. Hist. Races of Mankind; Chiapo- and Guarano-Marano-nians, 326.
  7. Cf. Codtington, The Melanesians, 356.
  8. Callaway, Tales, 140, 142; Dennys, Folk-lore of China, 134; Turner, Nineteen Years in Polynesia, 252; Radloff, Proben, iv, 115.
  9. Pitré, Biblioteca, v, 391.
  10. Pitré, v, 389; Gonzenbacb, ii, 122, 197, 200 n., 251.
  11. Y Cymmrodor, vi, 199.
  12. W. R. S. Ralston in Nineteenth Century, vi, 837; and F. L. Record, i, 75.
  13. Campbell, Tales, i, 225; Archæological Rev., iii, 24; F.-L. Journal, i, 54.