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Introductory Notes

Notes and References for


For some general remarks on the English folk-tale and previous collectors, I must refer to the introductory observations added to the Notes and References of English Fairy Tales, in the third edition. With the present instalment the tale of English fairy stories that are likely to obtain currency among the young folk is complete. I do not know of more than half a dozen 'outsiders' that deserve to rank with those included in my two volumes which, for the present, at any rate, must serve as the best substitute that can be offered for an English Grimm. I do not despair of the future. After what Miss Fison (who, as I have recently learned, was the collector of Tom Tit Tot and Cap o' Rushes), Mrs Balfour, and Mrs Gomme have done in the way of collecting among the folk, we may still hope for substantial additions to our stock to be garnered by ladies from the less-frequented portions of English soil. And from the United States we have every reason to expect a rich harvest to be gathered by Mr W. W. Newell, who is collecting the English folk-tales that still remain current in New England. If his forthcoming book equals in charm, scholarship, and thoroughness his delightful Games and Songs of American Children, the Anglo-American folk-tale will be enriched indeed. A further examination of English nursery rhymes may result in some additions to our stock. I reserve these for separate treatment in which I am especially interested, owing to the relations which I surmise between the folk-tale and the cante-fable.

Meanwhile the eighty-seven tales (representing some hundred and twenty variants) in my two volumes must represent the English folk-tale as far as my diligence has been able to preserve it at this end of the nineteenth century. There is every indication that they form but a scanty survival of the whole corpus of such tales which must have existed in this country. Of the seventy European story-radicles which I have enumerated in the Folk-Lore Society's Handbook, pp. 117-35, only forty are represented in our collection: I have little doubt that the majority of the remaining thirty or so also existed in these isles, and especially in England. If I had reckoned in the tales current in the English Pale of Ireland, as well as those in Lowland Scots, there would have been even less missing. The result of my investigations confirms me in my impression that the scope of the English folk-tale should include all those current among the folk in English, no matter where spoken, in Ireland, the Lowlands, New England, or Australia. Wherever there is community of language, tales can spread, and it is more likely that tales should be preserved in those parts where English is spoken with most of dialect. Just as the Anglo-Irish Pale preserves more of the pronunciation of Shakespeare's time, so it is probable that Anglo-Irish stories preserve best those current in Shakespeare's time in English. On the other hand, it is possible that some, nay many, of the Anglo-Irish stories have been imported from the Celtic districts, and are positively folk-translations from the Gaelic. Further research is required to determine which is English and which Celtic among Anglo-Irish folk-tales. Meanwhile my collection must stand for the nucleus of the English folk-tale, and we can at any rate judge of its general spirit and tendencies from the eighty-seven tales now before the reader.

Of these, thirty-eight are märchen proper, i.e. tales with definite plot and evolution; ten are sagas or legends locating romantic stories in definite localities; no less than nineteen are drolls or comic anecdotes; four are cumulative stories; six beast tales; while ten are merely ingenious nonsense tales put together in such a form as to amuse children. The preponderance of the comic element is marked, and it is clear that humour is a characteristic of the English folk. The legends are not of a very romantic kind, and the märchen are often humorous in character. So that a certain air of un-romance is given by such a collection as that we are here considering. The English folk-muse wears homespun and plods afoot, albeit with a cheerful smile and a steady gaze.

Some of this effect is produced by the manner in which the tales are told. The colloquial manner rarely rises to the dignified, and the essence of the folk-tale manner in English is colloquial. The opening formulae are varied enough, but none of them has much play of fancy. 'Once upon a time and a very good time it was, though it wasn't in my time nor in your time nor in any one else's time' is effective enough for a fairy epoch, and is common, according to Mayhew (London Labour, iii), among tramps. We have the rhyming formula:

Once upon a time when pigs spoke rhyme,
And monkeys chewed tobacco,
And hens took snuff to make them tough,
And ducks went quack, quack, quack Oh !

on which I have variants not so refined. Some stories start off without any preliminary formula, or with a simple 'Well, there was once a --' A Scotch formula reported by Mrs Balfour runs, 'Once on a time when a' muckle folk were wee and a' lees were true', while Mr Lang gives us 'There was a king and a queen as mony ane's been, few have we seen and as few may we see'. Endings of stories are even less varied. 'So they married and lived happy ever afterwards' comes from folk-tales, not from novels. 'All went well that didn't go ill' is a somewhat cynical formula given by Mrs Balfour, while the Scotch have 'They lived happy and died happy, and never drank out of a dry cappie'.

In the course of the tale, the chief thing to be noticed is the occurrence of rhymes in the prose narrative, tending to give the appearance of a cante-fable. I have enumerated those occurring in English Fairy Tales in the notes to Childe Rowland (No. 21). In the present volume, rhyme occurs in Nos. 46, 48, 49, 58, 60, 63 (see Note), 64, 74, 81, 85, while 55, 69, 73, 76, 83, 84, are either in verse themselves or derived from verse versions. Altogether one-third of our collection gives evidence in favour of the cante-fable theory which I adduced in my notes to Childe Rowland. Another point of interest in English folk-narrative is the repetition of verbs of motion, 'So he went along and went along and went along'. Still more curious is a frequent change of tense from the English present to the past. 'So he gets up and went along.' All this helps to give the colloquial and familiar air to the English fairy-tale, not to mention the dialectal and archaic words and phrases which occur in them.

But their very familiarity and colloquialism make them remarkably effective with English-speaking little ones. The rhythmical phrases stick in their memories; they can remember the exact phraseology of the English tales much better, I find, than that of the Grimms' tales, or even of the Celtic stories. They certainly have the quality of coming home to English children. Perhaps this may be partly due to the fact that a larger proportion of the tales are of native manufacture. If the researches contained in my Notes are to be trusted, only 1 - 9, 11, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 44, 50, 54, 55, 58, 61, 62, 65, 67, 78, 84, 87, were imported; nearly all the remaining sixty are home produce, and have their roots in the hearts of the English people which naturally respond to them.

In the following Notes, I have continued my practice of giving: (i) Source where I obtained the various tales. (2) Parallels, so far as possible, in full for the British Isles, with bibliographical references when they can be found; for occurrences abroad I generally refer to the list of incidents contained in my paper read before the International Folk-Lore Congress of 1891 and republished in the Transactions, 1892, pp. 87 - 98. (3) Remarks where the tale seems to need them. I have mainly been on the search for signs of diffusion rather than of 'survivals' of antiquarian interest, though I trust it will be found I have not neglected these.

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