TOWARDS the close of the seventies I began to collect Welsh folklore. I did so partly because others had set the example elsewhere, and partly in order to see whether Wales could boast of any story-tellers of the kind that delight the readers of Campbell's Popular Tales of the West Highlands. I soon found what I was not wholly unprepared for, that as a rule I could not get a single story of any length from the mouths of any of my fellow countrymen, but a considerable number of bits of stories. In some instances these were so scrappy that it took me years to discover how to fit them into their proper context; but, speaking generally, I may say, that, as the materials, such as they were, accumulated, my initial difficulties disappeared. I was, however, always a little afraid of refreshing my memory with the legends of other lands lest I should read into those of my own, ideas possibly foreign to them. While one is busy collecting, it is safest probably not to be too much engaged in comparison: when the work of collecting is done that of comparing may begin. But. after all I have not attempted to proceed very far in that direction, only just far enough to find elucidation here and there for the meaning of items of folklore brought under my notice. To have gone further would have involved me in excursions hopelessly beyond the limits of my undertaking, for comparative folklore has lately assumed
such dimensions, that it seems best to leave it to those who make it their special study.
It is a cause of genuine regret to me that I did not commence my inquiries earlier, when I had more opportunities of pursuing them, especially when I was a village schoolmaster in Anglesey and could have done the folklore of that island thoroughly; but my education, such as it was, had been of a nature to discourage all interest in anything that savoured of heathen lore and superstition. Nor is that all, for the schoolmasters of my early days took very little trouble to teach their pupils to keep their eyes open or take notice of what they heard around them; so I grew up without having acquired the habit of observing anything, except the Sabbath. It is to be hoped that the younger generation of schoolmasters trained under more auspicious circumstances, when the baleful influence of Robert Lowe has given way to a more enlightened system of public instruction, will do better, and succeed in fostering in their pupils habits of observation. At all events there is plenty of work still left to be done by careful observers and skilful inquirers, as will be seen from the geographical list showing approximately the provenance of the more important contributions to the Kymric folklore in this collection: the counties will be found to figure very unequally. Thus the anglicizing districts have helped me very little, while the more Welsh county of Carnarvon easily takes the lead; but I am inclined to regard the anomalous features of that list as in a great measure due to accident. In other words, some neighbourhoods have been luckier than others in having produced or attracted men who paid attention to local folklore; and if other counties were to be worked equally with Carnarvonshire, some of them would probably be found
not much less rich in their yield. The anglicizing counties in particular are apt to be disregarded both from the Welsh and the English points of view, in folklore just as in some other things; and in this connexion I cannot help mentioning the premature death of the Rev. Elias Owen as a loss which Welsh folklorists will not soon cease to regret.
My information has been obtained partly viva voce, partly by letter. In the case of the stories written down for me in Welsh, I may mention that in some instances the language is far from good; but it has not been thought expedient to alter it in any way, beyond introducing some consistency into the spelling. In the case of the longest specimen of the written stories, Mr. J. C. Hughes' Curse of Pantannas, it is worthy of notice in passing, that the rendering of it into English was followed by a version in blank verse by Sir Lewis Morris, who published it in his Songs of Britain. With regard to the work generally, my original intention was to publish the materials, obtained in the way described, with such stories already in print as might be deemed necessary by way of setting for them; and to let any theories or deductions in which I might be disposed to indulge follow later. In this way the first six chapters and portions of some of the others appeared from time to time in the publications of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion and in those of the Folk-Lore Society. This would have allowed me to divide the present work into the two well marked sections of materials and deductions. But, when the earlier part came to be edited, I found that I had a good deal of fresh material at my disposal, so that the chapters in question had in some instances to be considerably lengthened and in some others modified in other ways. Then as to the deductive half of the work, it may be mentioned that
certain portions of the folklore, though ever apt to repeat themselves, were found when closely scrutinized to show serious lacunae, which had to be filled in the course of the reasoning suggested by the materials in hand. Thus the idea of the whole consisting of two distinctly defined sections had to be given up or else allowed to wait till I should find time to recast it. But I could no more look forward to any such time than to the eventual possibility of escaping minor inconsistencies by quietly stepping through the looking-glass and beginning my work with the index instead of resting content to make it in the old-fashioned way at the end. There was, however, a third course, which is only mentioned to be rejected, and that was to abstain from all further publication; but what reader of books has ever known any of his authors to adopt that!
To crown these indiscretions I have to confess that even when most of what I may call the raw material had been brought together, I had no clear idea what I was going to do with it; but I had a hazy notion, that, as in the case of an inveterate talker whose stream of words is only made the more boisterous by obstruction, once I sat down to write I should find reasons and arguments flowing in. It may seem as though I had been secretly conjuring with Vergil's words viresque adquirit eundo. Nothing so deliberate: the world in which I live swarms with busybodies dying to organize everybody and everything, and my instinctive opposition to all that order of tyranny makes me inclined to cherish a somewhat wild sort of free will. Still the cursory reader would be wrong to take for granted that there is no method in my madness: should he take the trouble to look for it, he would find that it has a certain unity of purpose, which has been worked out in the later chapters; but to spare him that trouble
[paragraph continues] I venture to become my own expositor and to append the following summary:--
The materials crowded into the earlier chapters mark out the stories connected with the fairies, whether of the lakes or of the dry land, as the richest lode to be exploited in the mine of Celtic folklore. That work is attempted in the later chapters; and the analysis of what may briefly be described as the fairy lore given in the earlier ones carries with it the means of forcing the conviction, that the complex group of ideas identified with the little people is of more origins than one; in other words, that it is drawn partly from history and fact, and partly from the world of imagination and myth. The latter element proves on examination to be inseparably connected with certain ancient beliefs in divinities and demons associated, for instance, with lakes, rivers, and floods. Accordingly, this aspect of fairy lore has been dealt with in chapters vi and vii: the former is devoted largely to the materials themselves, while the latter brings the argument to a conclusion as to the intimate connexion of the fairies with the water-world. Then comes the turn of the other kind of origin to be discussed, namely, that which postulates the historical existence of the fairies as a real race on which have been lavishly superinduced various impossible attributes. This opens up a considerable vista into the early ethnology of these islands, and it involves a variety of questions bearing on the fortunes here of other races. In the series which suggests itself the fairies come first as the oldest and lowest people: then comes that which I venture to call Pictish, possessed of a higher civilization and of warlike instincts. Next come the earlier Celts of the Goidelic branch, the traces, linguistic and other, of whose presence in Wales have demanded repeated notice; and last of all come the other Celts, the linguistic
ancestors of the Welsh and all the other speakers of Brythonic. The development of these theses, as far as folklore supplies materials, occupies practically the remaining five chapters. Among the subsidiary questions raised may be instanced those of magic and the origin of druidism; not to mention a neglected aspect of the Arthurian legend, the intimate association of the Arthur of Welsh folklore and tradition with Snowdon, and Arthur's attitude towards the Goidelic population in his time.
Lastly, I have the pleasant duty of thanking all those who have helped me, whether by word of mouth or by letter, whether by reference to already printed materials or by assistance in any other way: the names of many of them will be found recorded in their proper places. As a rule my inquiries met with prompt replies, and I am not aware that any difficulties were purposely thrown in my way. Nevertheless I have had difficulties in abundance to encounter, such as the natural shyness of some of those whom I wished to examine on the subject of their recollections, and above all the unavoidable difficulty of cross-questioning those whose information reached me by post. For the precise value of any evidence bearing on Celtic folklore is almost impossible to ascertain, unless it can be made the subject of cross-examination. This arises from the fact that we Celts have a knack of thinking ourselves in complete accord with what we fancy to be in the inquirer's mind, so that we are quite capable of misleading him in perfect good faith. A most apposite instance, deserving of being placed on record, came under my notice many years ago. In the summer of 1868 I spent several months in Paris, where I met the historian Henri Martin more than once. On being introduced to him he reminded me that he had
visited South Wales not long before, and that he had been delighted to find the peasantry there still believing in the transmigration of souls. I expressed my surprise, and remarked that he must be joking. Nothing of the kind, he assured me, as he had questioned them himself: the fact admitted of no doubt. I expressed further surprise, but as I perceived that he was proud of the result of his friendly encounters with my countrymen I never ventured to return to the subject, though I always wondered what in the world it could mean. A few years ago, however, I happened to converse with one of the most charming and accomplished of Welsh ladies, when she chanced to mention Henri Martin's advent: it turned out that he had visited Dr. Charles Williams, then the Principal of Jesus College, and that Dr. Williams introduced him to his friends in South Wales. So M. Martin arrived among the hospitable friends of the lady talking to me, who had in fact to act as his interpreter: I never understood that he could talk much English or any Welsh. Now I have no doubt that M. Martin, with his fixed ideas about the druids and their teaching, propounded palpably leading questions for the Welsh people whom he wished to examine. His fascinating interpreter put them into terse Welsh, and the whole thing was done. I could almost venture to write out the dialogue, which gave back to the great Frenchman his own exact notions from the lips of simple peasants in that subtle non-Aryan syntax, which no Welsh barrister has ever been able to explain to the satisfaction of a bewildered English judge trying to administer justice among a people whom he cannot wholly comprehend.
This will serve to illustrate one of the difficulties with which the collector of folklore in Wales has
to cope. I have done my best to reduce the possible extent of the error to which it might give rise; and it is only fair to say that those whom I plagued with my questionings bore the tedium of it with patience, and that to them my thanks are due in a special degree. Neither they, however, nor I, could reasonably complain, if we found other folklorists examining other witnesses on points which had already occupied us; for in such matters one may say with confidence, that in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.
JESUS COLLEGE, OXFORD,
We are too hasty when we set down our ancestors in the gross for fools, for the monstrous inconsistencies (as they seem to us) involved in their creed of witchcraft. In the relations of this visible world we find them to have been as rational, and shrewd to detect an historic anomaly, as ourselves. But when once the invisible world was supposed to be opened, and the lawless agency of bad spirits assumed, what measures of probability, of decency, or fitness, or proportion--of that which distinguishes the likely from the palpable absurd--could they have to guide them in the rejection or admission of any particular testimony? That maidens pined away, wasting inwardly as their waxen images consumed before a fire--that corn was lodged, and cattle lamed--that whirlwinds uptore in diabolic revelry the oaks of the forest--or that spits and kettles only danced a fearful-innocent Vagary about some rustic's kitchen when no wind was stirring--were all equally probable where no law of agency was understood ... There is no law to judge of the lawless, or canon by which a dream may be criticised.
CHARLES LAMB'S Essays of Elia