Folklore as an Historical Science
125 Pages
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Folklore as an Historical Science


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125 Pages


The Project Gutenberg EBook of Folklore as an Historical Science, by George Laurence GommeThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.orgTitle: Folklore as an Historical ScienceAuthor: George Laurence GommeRelease Date: June 18, 2007 [EBook #21852]Language: English*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK FOLKLORE AS AN HISTORICAL SCIENCE ***Produced by Clare Boothby, Sam W. and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.netFOLKLORE AS ANHISTORICAL SCIENCEBYGEORGE LAURENCE GOMME WITH TWENTY-EIGHT ILLUSTRATIONSMETHUEN & CO.36 ESSEX STREET W.C.LONDONFirst Published in 1908Pedlar''s Seat, Swaffham Church,Norfolk. "PEDLAR'S SEAT,"SWAFFHAM CHURCHCONTENTSchapter I. History and Folklore pages 1-122 Introductory pages 1 13 History and Local and Personal Traditions 13-46 History and Folk-tales 46-84 Traditional Law 84-100 Mythology and Tradition 100-110 Historians and Tradition 110-120 II. Materials and Methods 123-179 Traditional Material 123-129 Myth, Folk-tale, and Legend 129-153 Custom, Belief, and Rite 154-179 III. Psychological Conditions 180-207 IV. Anthropological Conditions 208-302 Primitive Influences 211-238 Earliest Types of Social Existence 238-261 Australian Totem Society tested by the Evidence 262-274 ...



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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Folklore as an Historical Science, by George Laurence Gomme
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at
Title: Folklore as an Historical Science
Author: George Laurence Gomme
Release Date: June 18, 2007 [EBook #21852]
Language: English
Produced by Clare Boothby, Sam W. and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
First Published in 1908
Pedlar''s Seat, Swaffham Church, Norfolk."PEDLAR'S SEAT," SWAFFHAM CHURCH
chapter I. History and Folklore  Introductory  History and Local and Personal Traditions  History and Folk-tales  Traditional Law  Mythology and Tradition  Historians and Tradition II. Materials and Methods  Traditional Material  Myth, Folk-tale, and Legend  Custom, Belief, and Rite III. Psychological Conditions IV. Anthropological Conditions  Primitive Influences  Earliest Types of Social Existence  Australian Totem Society tested by the Evidence  Totem Survivals in Britain  Synopsis of Culture-structure of Semangs of Malay Peninsula V. Sociological Conditions VI. European Conditions VII. Ethnological Conditions  Index
pages1-122 pages113 13-46 46-84 84-100 100-110 110-120 123-179 123-129 129-153 154-179 180-207 208-302 211-238 238-261 262-274 274-296 297-302 303-319 320-337 338-366 367-371
1. Pedlar's Seat, Swaffham Church, Norfolk 2. Carved Wooden Figure of the Pedlar in Swaffham Church 3. Carved Wooden Figure of the Pedlar's Dog in Swaffham Church
page Frontispiece 8 8
Nos. 1-3 are taken from photographs, and show how the story of the Pedlar of Swaffham has been interpreted in carving. The costume of the Pedlar is noticeable.
4. The Pedlar of Lambeth and his Dog, figured in the window (now destroyed) of Lambeth Church (from Allen'sHistory of Lambeth) 5. The Pedlar of Lambeth and his Dog as drawn in 1786 for Ducarel's History of Lambeth
Nos. 4 and 5 illustrate the traces of the Pedlar legend in Lambeth, and the costume of the Pedlar, though later than that shown in the Swaffham carving, exhibits analogous features which are of interest to the argument.
6. Plan of the Site of the "Heaven's Walls" at Litlington, near Royston, Cambridgeshire (reprinted fromArchæologia) 7. Sketch of Litlington Field (reprinted fromArchæologia) Nos. 6 and 7 show the site and general appearance of this interesting relic of the Roman occupation of Britain. 8. Stone Monuments Erected as Memorials in a Kasya Village (reprinted fromAsiatic Researches) 9. Stone Seats at a Kasya Village (reprinted fromAsiatic Researches) 10. View in the Kasya Hills, showing Stone Memorials (reprinted from Asiatic Researches)
No. 8 shows the practice among the primitive hill-tribes of India of erecting memorials in stone to tribal heroes, and No. 9 is a curious illustration of the stones used as seats by tribesmen at their tribal assemblies. No. 10 is a general view of the site occupied by these stone monuments.
11. The Auld Ca-knowe: Calling the Burgess Roll at Hawick (reprinted from Craig and Laing'sHawick Tradition) 12. The Hawick Moat at Sunrise (reprinted from Craig and Laing)
The tribal gathering is well illustrated by No. 11, and the moat hill is shown in No. 12.
13. One of Five Stone Circles in the Fields Opposite the Glebe of Nymphsfield (reprinted from Sir William Wilde'sLough Corrib) 14. Carn-an-Chluithe To Commemorate the Defeat and Death of the Youths of the Dananns (reprinted from Wilde) 15. The Cairn of Ballymagibbon, near the road passing from Cong To Cross (reprinted from Wilde)
Nos. 13-15 are selected from Sir William Wilde's admirable account of the great conflict on the field of Moytura. They serve to show that the fight was an historical event.
16. Altar dedicated to the Field Deities of Britain, found at Castle Hill on the wall of Antoninus Pius
It is important to remember that the Romans recognised the gods of the conquered people, and this is one of the most important archæological proofs of the fact.
17. Roman Sculptured Stone found at Arniebog, Cumbernauld, Dumbartonshire, showing a naked Briton as a captive
55 56
To the evidence derived from classical writers as to the nakedness of some of the inhabitants of early Britain, it is possible to add the evidence of the memorial stone. This example is reproduced from Sir Arthur Mitchell'sPast in the Present, and there is at least one other example.
18. Representation of an Irish Chieftain seated at Dinner (from Derrick's The Image of Ireland, by kind permission of Messrs. A. & E. Black)
This is reproduced from the very excellent reprint (1883) of this remarkable book, published originally in 1581. The whole book is historically valuable as showing the undeveloped nature of Irish culture. The flesh was boiled in the hide, the fire is lighted in the open camp, and the entire rudeness of the scene depicts the people "whose usages I behelde after the fashion there sette downe."
19. Long Meg and her Daughters (from a photograph by Messrs. Frith) 20. Stone Circles on Stanton Moor (fromArchæologia)
Nos. 19 and 20 are illustrations of two of the lesser-known circles about which the people hold such curious beliefs.
21. Chinese representation of Pygmies going about arm-in-arm for mutual protection (from Moseley'sNotes by a Naturalist on H.M.S. Challenger, by permission of Mr. John Murray) 22. Semang of Kuala Kenering, Ulu Perak (from Skeat and Blagden's Pagan Races of the Malay Peninsula, by permission of Messrs. Macmillan) 23. Negrito Type: Semang of Perak (from the same) 24. Semang of Kedah having a meal (from the same) 25. Tree Hut, Ulu Batu, about twelve miles from Kuala Lumpur, Selangor (from the same)
The old-world traditions and the scientific observation of pygmy people are illustrated in No. 21 and Nos. 22-25 respectively. Though much has been written about the Pygmies, Messrs. Skeat and Blagden's account of the Semang people is by far the most thorough and important.
26. Rite of Baptism on the Font at Darenth, Kent (from Romilly Allen's Early Christian Symbolism)
The crude paganism on the sculptured stone is confirmatory of the pagan elements preserved in custom, and this illustration from Kent, one of the earliest centres of Christianity in Britain, is singularly interesting from this point of view.
27 and 28. Two Scenes from the Anglo-Saxon Life of St. Guthlac by Felix of Crowland, depicting the attack of the Demons
These two plates belong to a series of eight which illustrate the life of the saint. They are less primitive in form than the story which they illustrate. By contrast with the remaining six, however, which are purely ecclesiastical in character, they show how this early episode kept its place among the events of the saint's life.
193 193
243 244 298
PREFACE f I have essayed to do in this book what should have been done by one of the masters of the science of folklore—Mr. IFrazer, Mr. Lang, Mr. Hartland, Mr. Clodd, Sir John Rhys, and others—I hope it will not be put down to any feelings of self-sufficiency on my part. I have greatly dared because no one of them has accomplished, and I have so acted because I feel the necessity of some guidance in these matters, and more particularly at the present stage of inquiry into the early history of man.
I have thought I could give somewhat of that guidance because of my comprehension of its need, for the comprehension of a need is sometimes half-way towards supplying the need. My profound belief in the value of folklore as perhaps the only means of discovering the earliest stages of the psychological, religious, social, and political history of modern man has also entered into my reason for the attempt.
Many years ago I suggested the necessity for guidance, and I sketched out a few of the points involved (Folklore Journal, ii. 285, 347; iii. 1-16) in what was afterwards called by a friendly critic a sort of grammar of folklore. The science of folklore has advanced far since 1885 however, and not only new problems but new ranges of thought have gathered round it. Still, the claims of folklore as a definite section of historical material remain not only unrecognised but unstated, and as long as this is so the lesser writers on folklore will go on working in wrong directions and producing much mischief, and the historian will judge of folklore by the criteria presented by these writers—will judge wrongly and will neglect folklore accordingly.
I hope this book may tend to correct this state of things to some extent. It is not easy to write on such a subject in a limited space, and it is difficult to avoid being somewhat severely technical at points. These demerits will, I am sure, be forgiven when considered by the light of the human interest involved.
All studies of this kind must begin from the standpoint of a definite culture area, and I have chosen our own country for the purpose of this inquiry. This will make the illustrations more interesting to the English reader; but it must be borne in mind that the same process could be repeated for other areas if my estimate of the position is even tolerably accurate. For the purpose of this estimate it was necessary, in the first place, to show how pure history was intimately related to folklore at many stages, and yet how this relationship had been ignored by both historian and folklorist. The research for this purpose had necessarily to deal with much detail, and to introduce fresh elements of research. There is thus produced a somewhat unequal treatment; for when illustrations have to be worked out at length, because they appear for the first time, the mind is apt to wander from the main point at issue and to become lost in the subordinate issue arising from the working out of the chosen illustration. This, I fear, is inevitable in folklore research, and I can only hope I have overcome some of the difficulties caused thereby in a fairly satisfactory manner. The next stage takes us to a consideration of materials and methods, in order to show the means and definitions which are necessary if folklore research is to be conducted on scientific lines. Not only is it necessary to ascertain the proper position of each item of folklore in the culture area in which it is found, but it is also necessary to ascertain its scientific relationship to other items found in the same area; and I have protested against the too easy attempt to proceed upon the comparative method. Before we can compare we must be certain that we are comparing like quantities. These chapters are preliminary. After this stage we proceed to the principal issues, and the first of these deals with the psychological conditions. It was only necessary to treat of this subject shortly, because the illustrations of it do not need analysis. They are self-contained, and supply their own evidence as to the place they occupy. The anthropological conditions involve very different treatment. The great fact necessary to bear in mind is that the people of a modern culture area have an anthropological as well as a national or political history, and that it is only the anthropological history which can explain the meaning and existence of folklore. This subject found me compelled to go rather more deeply than I had thought would be necessary into first principles, but I hope I have not altogether failed to prove that to properly understand the province of folklore it is necessary to know something of anthropological research and its results. In point of fact, without this consideration of folklore, there is not much value to be obtained from it. It is not because it consists of traditions, superstitions, customs, beliefs, observances, and what not, that folklore is of value to science. It is because the various constituents are survivals of something much more essential to mankind than fragments of life which for all practical purposes of progress might well disappear from the world. As survivals, folklore belongs to anthropological data, and if, as I contend, we can go so far back into survivals as totemism, we must understand generally what position totemism occupies among human institutions, and to understand this we must fall back to human origins. The next divisions are more subordinate. Sociological conditions must be studied apart from their anthropological aspect, because in the higher races the social group is knit together far more strongly and with far greater purpose than among the lower races. The social force takes the foremost place among the influences towards the higher development, and it is necessary not only to study this but to be sure of the terms we use. Tribe, clan, family, and other terms have been loosely used in anthropology, just as state, city, village, and now village-community, are loosely used in history. The great fact to understand is that the social group of the higher races was based on blood kinship at the time when they set out to take their place in modern civilisation, and that we cannot understand survivals in folklore unless we test them by their position as part of a tribal organisation. The point has never been taken before, and yet I do not see how it can be dismissed. The consideration of European conditions is chiefly concerned with the all-important fact of an intrusive religion, that of Christianity, from without, destroying the native religions with which it came into contact, conditions which would of course
apply only to the folklore of European countries. Finally, I have discussed ethnological conditions in order to show that certain fundamental differences in folklore can be and ought to be explained as the results of different race origins. We are now getting rid of the notion that all Europe is peopled by the descendants of the so-called Aryans. There is too much evidence to show that the still older races lived on after they were conquered by Celt, Teuton, Scandinavian, or Slav, and there is no reason why folklore should not share with language, archæology, and physical type the inheritance from this earliest race. In this manner I have surveyed the several conditions attachable to the study of folklore and the various departments of science with which it is inseparably associated. Folklore cannot be studied alone. Alone it is of little worth. As part of the inheritance from bygone ages it cannot separate itself from the conditions of bygone ages. Those who would study it carefully, and with purpose, must consider it in the light which is shed by it and upon it from all that is contributory to the history of man. During my exposition I have ventured upon many criticisms of masters in the various departments of knowledge into which I have penetrated; but in all cases with great respect. Criticism, such as I have indulged in, is nothing more than a respectful difference of opinion on the particular points under discussion, and which need every light which can be thrown upon them, even by the humblest student. I am particularly obliged to Mr. Lang, Mr. Hartland, Dr. Haddon, and Dr. Rivers, for kindly reading my chapter on Anthropological Conditions, and for much valuable and kind help therein; and especially I owe Mr. Lang most grateful thanks, for he took an immense deal of trouble and gave me the advantage of his searching criticism, always in the direction of an endeavour to perfect my faulty evidence. I shall not readily part with his letters and MS. on this subject, for they show alike his generosity and his brilliance. To my old friend Mr. Fairman Ordish I am once more indebted for help in reading my sheets, and I am also glad to acknowledge the fact that two of my sons, Allan Gomme and Wycombe Gomme, have read my proofs and helped me much, not only by their criticism, but by their knowledge. 24 Dorset Square, N.W.
CHAPTER I HISTORY AND FOLKLORE t may be stated as a general rule that history and folklore are not considered as complementary studies. Historians I deny the validity of folklore as evidence of history, and folklorists ignore the essence of history which exists in folklore. Of late years it is true that Dr. Frazer, Prof. Ridgeway, Mr. Warde Fowler, Miss Harrison, Mr. Lang, and others have broken through this antagonism and shown that the two studies stand together; but this is only in certain special directions, and no movement is apparent that the brilliant results of special inquiries are to bring about a general consideration of the mutual help which the two studies afford, if in their respective spheres the evidence is treated with caution and knowledge, and if the evidence from each is brought to bear upon the necessities of each. The necessities of history are obvious. There are considerable gaps in historical knowledge, and the further back we desire to penetrate the scantier must be the material at the historian's disposal. In any case there can be only two considerable sources of historical knowledge, namely, foreign and native. Looking at the subject from the points presented by the early history of our own country, there are the Greek and Latin writers to whom Britain was a source of interest as the most distant part of the then known world, and the native historians, who, witnessing the terribly changing events which followed the break-up of the Roman dominion over Britain, recorded their views of the changes and their causes, and in course of time recorded also some of the events of Celtic history and of Anglo-Saxon history. Then for later periods, no country of the Western world possesses such magnificent materials for history as our own. In the vast quantity of public and private documents which are gradually being made accessible to the student there exists material for the illustration and elucidation of almost every side and every period of national life, and no branch of historical research is more fruitful of results than the comparison of the records of the professed historian with the documents which have not come from the historian's hands. All this, however, does not give us the complete story. Necessarily there are great and important gaps. Contemporary writers make themselves the judges of what is important to record; documents preserved in public or private archives relate only to such events as need or command the written record or instrument, or to those which have interested some of the actors and their families. Hence in both departments of history, the historical narrative and the original record, it will be found on careful examination that much is needed to make the picture of life complete. It is the detail of everyday thought and action that is missing—all that is so well known, the obvious as it passes before every chronicler, the ceremony, the faith, and the action which do not apparently affect the movements of civilisation, but which make up the personal, religious and political life of the people. It is always well to bear in mind that the historical records preserved from the past must necessarily be incomplete. An accident preserves one, and an accident destroys another. An incident strikes one historian, and is of no interest to another. And it may well be that the lost document, the unrecorded incident, is of far more value to later ages than what has been preserved. This condition of historical research is always present to [1] the scientific student, though it is not always brought to bear upon the results of historical scholarship. But the scope of the historian is gradually but surely widening. It is no longer possible to shut the door to geography, ethnography, [2] economics, sociology, archæology, and the attendant studies if the historian desires to work his subject out to the full. It is even getting to be admitted that an appeal must be made to folklore, though the extent and the method are not understood. After all that can be obtained from other realms of knowledge, it is seen that there is a large gap left still—a gap in the heart of things, a gap waiting to be filled by all that can be learned about the thought, ideas, beliefs, conceptions, and aspirations of the people which have been translated for them, but not by them, in the laws, institutions, and religion which find their way so easily into history. The necessities of folklore are far greater than and of a different kind from those of history. Edmund Spenser wrote three centuries ago "by these old customs the descent of nations can only be proved where other monuments of writings are [3] not remayning," and yet the descent of nations is still being proved without the aid of folklore. It is certain that the appeal will not be made to its fullest extent unless the folklorist makes it clear that it will be answered in a fashion which commands attention. It appears to me that the preliminary conditions for such an appeal must be ascertained from the folklore side. History has not only justified its existence, but during the long period of years during which it has been a specific branch of learning it has shown its capacity for proceeding on strictly scientific and ever-widening lines. Folklore has neither had a long period for its study nor a completely satisfactory record of scientific work. It is, therefore, essential that folklore should establish its right to a place among the historical sciences. At present that right is not admitted. It is objected to by scholars who will not admit that history can proceed from anything but a dated and certified document, and by a few who do not admit that history has anything to do with affairs that do not emanate from the prominent political or military personages of each period. It is silently, if not contemptuously ignored by almost every historical inquirer whose attention has not been specially directed to the evidence contained in traditional material. Thus between the difficulties arising from the interpretation of texts which, originating in oral tradition, have by reason of their early record become literature, and the difficulties arising from the objections of historians to accept any evidence that is not strictly historical in the form they assume to be historical, traditional material has not been extensively used as history. It has also been wrongly defined by historians. Thus, to give a pertinent example, so good a scholar as Mr. W. H. Stevenson, in his admirable edition of Asser'sLife of King Alfred, lays to the crimes of tradition an error which is due to other causes. Indeed, he states the cause of the error correctly, but does not see that he is contradicting himself in so doing. It is worth quoting this case. It has to do with the identification of "Cynuit," a place where the Danes obtained a victory over the English forces, and Kenwith Castle in Devonshire has been claimed as the site of the struggle and "a place known as Bloody Corner in Northam is traditionally regarded as the scene of a duel between two of the chieftains in 877, and a [4] monument recording the battle has been erected." Mr. Stevenson's comment upon this is: "We have in this an instructive example of the worthlessness of 'tradition' which is here, as so frequently happens elsewhere, the outcome of