« AnteriorContinuar »
never remember your trotting up, like a great bull roaring, to any kind of gate—the less I feel inclined to force her. And who is Harry Tanfield, after all?'
'We know all about him,' the farmer answered; and that is something, to begin with. His land is worth fifteen shillings an acre less than ours, and full of kid-bine. But for all that, he can keep a family, and is a good home-dweller. However, like the rest of us, in the way of women, he must bide his bolt, and bode it.' 'Father,' the mistress of the house replied, 'I shall never go one step out of my way to encourage a young man who makes you speak so lightly of those you owe so much to. Harry Tanfield may take his chance for me.'
'So a' may for me, mother; so a' may for me. If a' was to have our Mary, his father George would be coming up between us, out of his peace in churchyard, more than he doth a'ready; and a' comes too much a'ready. Why, poppet, we were talking of you-fie, fie, listening!'
'No, now, father,' Mary Anerley answered, with a smile at such a low idea; 'you never had that to find fault with me, I think. And if you are plotting against me, for my good-as mother loves to put it-it would be the best way to shut me out, before you begin to do it.'
'Why, bless my heart and soul,' exclaimed the farmer, with a most crafty laugh, for he meant to kill two birds with one stone-“ if the lass hathn't got her own dear mother's tongue, and the very same way of turning things! There never hath been such a time as this here. The childer tell us what to do; and their mothers tell us what not to do. Better take the business off my hands, and sell all they turnips as is rotting. Women is cheats, and would warrant 'em sound, with the best to the top of the bury. But mind you one thing-if I retires from business, like brother Popplewell, I shall expect to be supported; cheap, but very substantial.'
'Mary, you are wicked to say such things,' Mistress Anerley began, as he went out; when you know that your dear father is such a substantial silent man!'
(To be continued.)
THE MIGRATION OF POPULAR STORIES.
HE preference for an explanation of facts which calls for little effort of thought to another which makes large demands on it is natural and intelligible. If we find the same custom in many different countries, we infer more readily that it was carried from one of these countries into the rest, than that it has come down from the common ancestors of the inhabitants of these lands in some remote age. When we find popular stories, of a very complicated and remarkable character, in Scotland and Germany, in Scandinavia, Persia, and India, we are at once disposed to adopt the conclusion, that their presence in the West is the result of direct communication with the East in historical and, perhaps, during comparatively modern times. This attitude of mind is to a certain extent justifiable. Much wit and ingenuity may be wasted in attempting to prove the lateral transmission of two or more given stories from times preceding the migration of divided tribes from their common home, when conclusive evidence may be forthcoming to show that we are dealing with instances of direct borrowing. The ground over which such discussions lead us needs wary walking; but it may be well to have our eyes open to the danger of committing ourselves with undue haste to either conclusion. If we say of some Norse or Teutonic tale, that it found its way into Europe through some of those vast Oriental collections which are known to have been brought together in times later by many centuries than the Christian era, our mistake is not a trifling or a harmless one, if it can be shown that European Aryans were well acquainted with it at a time anterior to the date of the mythical founding of Rome, or the era of Nabonassar-in other words, at a time preceding the compilation of the Hitopadesa, and possibly even of the Panchatantra, by fourteen or fifteen hundred years. Our mistake would in this case be mischievous, not merely as committing us to a conclusion not borne out by evidence, but as putting out of sight one of the most astonishing facts in the history of the human race. If stories gathered, by Grimm or others, from the lips of peasants and their wives, almost in our own day, were told. by Greek nurses or mothers to their children two or three thousand years ago, it is absolutely certain that their introduction into Europe is not owing to the activity of medieval Christendom and the contact with the East brought about by the Crusades or any other events of more modern history.
Our first duty, therefore, with regard to any story is to ascertain, so far as it may be possible to do so, the earliest time at which it is found in the written literature of the country to which it is traced, and then to determine, so far as the evidence may warrant our deter
mining, how long it may have been known in that country before it was committed to writing. Of the many misconceptions which have hindered the settlement of such questions or diverted them to a false issue, not a few could never have sprung up if the ancient literature of the Hellenic tribes had been examined without prejudice or partiality. The truth is that Englishmen are still, or have been almost to the present time, brought up under the impression that the epic, lyric, and tragic poems which delighted Athenian hearers or readers. had nothing in common with the poems and stories which have come to us in a distinctively Teutonic or English dress; and no attempt has been made to ascertain whether and how far the prose writings of Greek historians and mythographers bring before us stories which form part of the native popular tradition or folk-lore of northern Europe. On the contrary, if the subject was ever touched upon at all, boys were led to read the Iliad and Odyssey, and to work their way through the dramas of the Greek tragic poets under the firm belief that they contain nothing with which children in our nurseries are familiar in other shapes. Under the influence of this belief, which they never thought of calling in question, some have gone on to suppose that the stories told to English or German children were never told to children in Athens or Rome before the dawn of Christianity; and a few perhaps have tried to find reasons for the marvellous fact, that the Iliad and the Odyssey, the odes of Pindar, and the plays of Eschylus and Sophokles should be made up of materials wholly different from those which have furnished our nursery tales, or even the Saga literature of the Teutonic nations. That these poems and dramas, the works of the highest human genius, should contain any matter such as that which has been moulded into the stories of Cinderella or Blue Beard, or Boots, or Beauty and the Beast, was a thought not to be entertained for a moment. The dignity of the Greek epic or tragic poets would not have stooped to the use of such materials, even if they had known them: but the common impression still is, that they did not know them. In so thinking and speaking we are no wiser than the learned men who set to work to explain why a jar of water weighed no heavier with a fish in it than it weighed without the fish. The danger of neglecting or passing over the evidence which would correct these mistaken impressions, may best be shown by citing one or two examples as to which it may be safely said that no room is left for reasonable doubt.
Of the popular tales of northern Europe, one of the most familiar is that of the Master Thief. The question is whether this story was known in Germany or Scandinavia, or in any other part of Europe, before the middle ages of our era, or whether it was not. In Professor Max Müller's belief it was first brought from Asia by means of the Arabic translation of the Hitopadesa, known as the Kalila and Dimna. This conclusion, he admits, could not be maintained if the tale were found in Herodotus, in whose time the translations of the Hitopadesa had, of course, not yet reached Europe, and the compiNo. 607 (xo. CXXVII. N. s.)
lation of the Panchatantra, which furnished the materials of the Hitopadesa, was still a thing of the distant future. If it were' so found, we should, he allows, be obliged to include the Master Thief within the most primitive stock of Aryan lore. But speaking of the story of the Brahman and the Goat, told in the Hitopadesa, he adds:
There is nothing in the story of the two sons of the architect who robbed the treasury of Rhampsinitos, which turns on the trick of the Master Thief. There were thieves more or less clever in Egypt as well as in India, and some of their stratagems were possibly the same at all times. But there is a keen and well-defined humour in the story of the Brahman and his deference to public opinion. Of this there is no trace in the anecdote told by Herodotus. That anecdote deals with mere matter of fact, whether imaginary or historical. The story of Rhampsinitos did enter into the popular literature of Europe, but through a different channel. We find it in the Gesta Romanorum, where Octavianus has taken the place of Rhampsinitos, and we can hardly doubt that it came originally from Herodotus.
So far as this tale is concerned, the question must be set at rest if it can be shown that not merely the adventures, but the title of the Master Thief, were well known in Europe for ages before the Gesta Romanorum came into existence. If this can be shown, there will be no need, and no temptation, to trace the Norse, Teutonic, and Irish versions of the legend to the Gesta. To do so would be only to multiply difficulties unnecessarily. Of the Hitopadesa story, then, we may note, first, that it says nothing of a regular fraternity of thieves, nothing of a rivalry among them, nothing of the pre-eminence of one who was never known to fail, and therefore, of course, that it does not mention his distinctive title. Of the several versions of the Master Thief, on the other hand, we must remember that not one ascribes the losses of his victims to any deference to public opinion; and thus, without going further, we may be justified in doubting whether the story of the Brahman and the Goat has more than a very distant connection with one or two of the incidents embodied in the story of the Master Thief, while it certainly has nothing to do with its leading idea. The Hitopadesa tale is, indeed, very simple, if not very meagre. It merely tells us of a Brahman who, on being assured by three thieves in succession that the goat which he carried on his back was a dog, cast off the animal, and so left it as a prize for the knaves, who had adopted this mode of cheating him. But it does not say that these three rogues were striving for the mastery among themselves; and if they had been so striving they could not thus have worked in concert.
The gist of this story, Professor Max Müller remarks, is that a man will believe almost anything, if he is told the same by three different people.' But in truth it is not easy to discern any real affinity between the Hitopadesa tale and the European traditions of the Master Thief; and the moral of the latter, if they have any
moral at all, seems to be very different. Instead of showing that the seemingly independent testimony of two or three witnesses will pass at once for truth with the credulous, they seem rather to point out that there are some who cannot be taught by experience. The tales themselves give their keynote with singular plainness. When, in the German story, he returns to his father's hovel with all the pomp of wealth, the youth replies to the question how his riches have been gained by saying, "I have been a thief; but do not be frightened, I am a Master Thief. Neither locks nor bolts avail against me; whatever I wish for is mine.' He is one in whom the power of thieving is inborn. He needs no teaching, and his first exploits are as mighty and as successful as his last. The increasing difficulty of the tasks imposed upon him excites not the least feeling of fear or hesitation; and in the craft which invariably employs the means best fitted to obtain the desired ends there is no malignity and no spite, but always a genial humour, which delights in the absurdity of the positions in which his victims place themselves. These characteristics mark the three versions of the story, which may be found in Grimm's 'Household Tales,' in Dasent's Tales from the Norse,' and in Campbell's 'Popular Tales of the West Highlands.' The question is, when did the myth of which we have these three closely allied forms find its way into Europe?
In the pages of Herodotus we have a singular story, which he ascribes to the reign and the capital of the Egyptian king Rhampsinitos. In this legend the wealth of the king is filched from his treasury by the sons of the architect, who on his death-bed reveals to them the method by which he had retained the power of entering it without the owner's knowledge. Finding his stores dwindling away, the king places a trap within the house. Being caught in this trap, the younger brother prevails on the elder to cut off his head; and Rhampsinitos on entering the chamber is not only astounded at finding a headless body, but terrified by the knowledge that at least one of his spoilers was still at large. It is at this point of the story that a series of incidents begins, which show the unfailing wit and success of the thief who had no peer. Inviolable custom demanded that the bodies of the dead should be duly mourned; and the king fully counts on speedy discovery, when he orders his guards to impale the body on a wall, and bring before him anyone whom they might find mourning for him. Resolved that the body should have the due rites of burial, the mother tells her surviving son that unless he forthwith brings it to her she will reveal everything; and the thief, loading some asses with wine-skins, drives them under the wall where the guards are keeping watch, and then loosening the strings of two or three of them, allows the liquor to escape. Roused by his frantic cries of distress and calls for help, the soldiers hasten to the rescue; but they are more intent upon catching the wine in their cups and drinking it, than on fastening the skins. At length their entreaties overcome the reluctance of the thief, and receiving more and more