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Introductory Notes

Notes and References for


THE Fairy Tales of England have been treated in rather a step-motherly fashion. That they once existed in tolerable numbers there are still traces in the library list of Captain Cox, published by the New Shakespeare Society, among others, and in odd references in literature and in chap-books. But in the middle of last century the genius of Charles Perrault captivated English and Scotch children with as much force as or, probably, with even more force than he had entranced French ones. Cinderella and Puss in Boots and their companions ousted Childe Rowland and Mr Fox and Catskin. The superior elegance and clearness of the French tales replaced the rude vigour of the English ones. What Perrault began, the Grimms completed. Tom Tit Tot gave way to Rumpelstiltschen, the three Sillies to Hansel and Grethel, and the English Fairy Tale became a mélange confus of Perrault and the Grimms.

This would not have been so serious if English provincial life had been as conservative and tenacious as the provincial life of France, Italy, or Germany. But railways and the telegraph have disintegrated our provincial life much more than continental. And for various reasons the English peasant has never had so vivid a social life as the Bauer or Jacques Bonhomme. Consequently there is less hope of recovering the lost fairy tales of England to such a degree as has been accomplished with such brilliant success in almost every European country during the past thirty years, or still more conspicuously among the Gaels of Scotland by the late J. F. Campbell.

Yet something has been done even for England. Halliwell collected a considerable number of folk-tales in two volumes he edited for the Percy Society and reprinted in his Nursery Rhymes and Tales. Mr Baring-Gould appended to the first edition of Henderson's Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties (1866) several tales derived from the peasantry of Yorkshire and Devon. More recently Mrs Balfour collected among the peasants of the Cars in Lincolnshire the remarkable legends and tales she published in Folk-Lore, vol. ii, while scattered among the local newspapers and Notes and Queries there have been several drolls reproduced in dialect, among them Tom Tit Tot and Cap o' Rushes of this volume, originally published in the 'Suffolk Notes and Queries'. Mr Hartland has collected some of these in his English Folk and Fairy Tales, edited for the Camelot Series.

Since the first publication of this book in 1890, Mr S. O. Addy has published a number of traditional tales collected in the counties of York, Lincoln, Derby, and Nottingham (Household Tales and other Traditional Romances, Nutt, 1895). Mr Baring-Gould, who was himself one of the earliest modern collectors of English folk-tales, has brought together a number of legends and tales in his English Fairy Tales, 1895, and I have myself published a sequel entitled More English Fairy Tales, containing forty-four additional stories (Nutt, 1894). This includes a number of previously unpublished English folk-tales collected by Mrs Balfour and Mrs Gomme. In the introduction to the notes to this sequel volume, I have made some general remarks on the English folk-tale in particular, and on its relations to the general body of European tales. Of the eighty-seven tales contained in my two volumes, thirty-eight are Märchen proper, ten sagas or legends, nineteen drolls, four cumulative stories, six beast tales, and ten nonsense stories. With regard to their provenance, eight are derived from ballads, while twenty-nine others show traces of having rhyming portions and thus partaking of the nature of the cante-fable. Of the seventy story-radicles common to the European area, about forty are represented in my two volumes, and of these about twenty-seven are shown in the notes to have been imported. It is probable that of the remaining thirty radicles many once existed in England, and some of them can be traced in the English-speaking Pale in Ireland. These statistics show a rather larger proportion of imported tales than other parts of Europe, where tradition has not so completely died out. But, properly speaking, we may say that from a quarter to a third of the story store of any European country has been derived from abroad, and is in most cases shared by all Europe. Hitherto the attention of folk-lorists has been concentrated on these common elements of European folk-lore, but in reality the chief interest is afforded by the native tales in each country, which are the only ones to which we can legitimately apply the method of 'survivals'.

In a few cases English folk-tales still exist preserved in metrical form among the Ballads. Thus Catskin, which Mr Burchell told the Primrose children in The Vicar of Wakefield, is now only extant as a chap-book ballad. The story of Binnorie is closely allied to the theme of L'os qui chante, which M. Monseur has, with remarkable industry and success, traced in all the folk-literatures of Europe. Yet in England there is scarcely a trace of its being told otherwise than in ballad form, and that in Lowland Scotch or Northern English.

The folk-literature of the Northern Englishmen known as Scots is clearly closely allied to that of England. The chief collection that has been made of Scotch folk-tales is that of W. Chambers in that delightful book, The Nursery Rhymes of Scotland (1842). But out of the twenty-one tales included in the volume, sixteen can be traced among Southrons, and till evidence is shown to the contrary, there seems no reason to doubt that the remaining five were also once current on the southern side of the Border. There is no evidence of a distinct story store of Lowland Scots differing from that of Northern or even Southern Englishmen, and I have treated Scots for the purpose of this volume as if they were merely Englishmen, which may Lowland Caledonia forgive !

As some attention has been drawn to this question, I may perhaps explain a little more fully here the principle on which I have acted in making my collection of the folk-tales of the British Isles, which now fill four volumes. My principle of selection has been linguistic rather than ethnographic. I accordingly distinguish two areas in which the folk-tale has passed from mouth to mouth owing to the continuity of language. The first of these includes England and runs up to the Highland line in Scotland. I make no distinction, therefore, between Lowland Scotch folk-tales, when they existed, from other Northern English tales. As we have seen from the enumeration made in the last paragraph, the stories told by Chambers are of exactly the same character, and in most cases of the same plot as those collected in Southern Britain. There is no independent collection of Lowland Scotch tales. I therefore call the stories collected within the English-speaking area English Fairy Tales. Strictly speaking, the tales told, and collected within the English Pale in Ireland ought perhaps logically to be included under the same title. But in many cases there is evidence that the tales now told in English in East Ireland originally existed in Irish, and belong therefore to the Celtic areas of these Isles. I have therefore included them in the two volumes which I have devoted to a selection from the much more luxuriant crop of Celtic fairy tales collected in Scotland and Ireland (Celtic Fairy Tales, 1891; More Celtic Fairy Tales, 1895).

Of the origin of English folk-tales this is not the place to speak at any length. So far as they are common with other European folk-tales, I see no reason for doubting that they all had a common origin. I have given reason in the introduction to the notes of my Indian Fairy Tales in this series for believing that the source of that international nucleus of the European folk-tales is India. But for each country there remains a residuum peculiar to that country--e.g. for England, Jack and the Beanstalk or Childe Rowland, and there is no reason to doubt that these are artistic products of the folk-fancy of some Englishman. Whether we can trust to them to obtain archaeological evidence of former customs in this island is a somewhat doubtful question, which I have dealt with in a concrete shape in the notes to Childe Rowland.

In the introduction to the notes of the companion volume, I have made some remarks on the form taken by the English folk-tale. This is essentially colloquial, and hence rarely if ever rises into romance. This is not peculiar to England. Wherever the stories are collected from the folk they almost always partake of this colloquial and unromantic nature. It would seem as if anything of a romantic type was produced by the folk in the form of ballads rather than of tales. Our idea of fairies is derived from literary versions rather than from those that are really folk-tales. Indeed, we may trace it mainly to the Countess d'Aulnoy and the other French contributors to the Bibliothèque des fées, who followed the example of Perrault in giving graceful form to the tales of the folk. In England we get humour rather than romance from the productions of the folk-fancy. Very few of the extant English folk-tales show any signs of constructive plot ability among the folk.

In the present volume there are but few signs of survival of prehistoric custom and belief, which to many folk-lorists form the only source of interest in the folk-tale. I have discussed the chief of these in the note of No. 21, Childe Rowland. But there are traces of transformation in 3, 9, 11, 13, 29, 33, 41. Animals or inanimates speak in 3, 9, 10, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 28, 33, 34, 36, 41, while there are visitants from another world, 3, 15, 24, 32. Mr Clodd sees in Tom Tit Tot a trace of the curious superstition current among savages that to know a man's name gives you power over him.

In the following notes I give first the source whence I obtained the various tales. Then come parallels in some fullness for the United Kingdom, but only a single example for foreign countries, with a bibliographical reference where further variants can be found. Finally, a few remarks are sometimes added where the tales seem to need it. In two cases (Nos. 16 and 21) I have been more full.

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