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Book No. 11

To first story in the book press: 334

To last story in the book press: 377

More English Fairy Tales

Jacobs Joseph

More English Fairy Tales, Joseph Jacobs, 1894


THIS volume will come, I fancy, as a surprise both to my brother folklorists and to the public in general. It might naturally have been thought that my former volume (English Fairy Tales) had almost exhausted the scanty remains of the traditional folk-tales of England. Yet I shall be much disappointed if the present collection is not found to surpass the former in interest and vivacity, while for the most part it goes over hitherto untrodden ground, the majority of the tales in this book have either never appeared before, or have never been brought between the same boards.

In putting these tales together, I have acted on the same principles as in the preceding volume, which has already, I am happy to say, established itself as a kind of English Grimm. I have taken English tales wherever I could find them, one from the United States, some from the Lowland Scotch, and a few have been adapted from ballads, while I have left a couple in their original metrical form. I have re-written most of them, and in doing so have adopted the traditional English style of folk-telling, with its 'Wells' and 'Lawkamercy' and archaic touches, which are known nowadays as vulgarisms. From former experience, I find that each of these principles has met with some dissent from critics who have written from the high and lofty standpoint of folk-lore, or from the lowlier vantage of 'mere literature'. I take this occasion to soften their ire, or perhaps give them further cause for reviling.

My folk-lore friends look on with sadness while they view me laying profane hands on the sacred text of my originals. I have actually at times introduced or deleted whole incidents, have given another turn to a tale, or finished off one that was incomplete, while I have had no scruple in prosing a ballad or softening down over-abundant dialect. This is rank sacrilege in the eyes of the rigid orthodox in matters folk-lorical. My defence might be that I bad a cause at heart as sacred as our science of folk-lore - the filling of our children's imaginations with bright trains of images. But even on the lofty heights of folk-lore science I am not entirely defenceless. Do my friendly critics believe that even Campbell's materials had not been modified by the various narrators before they reached the great J. F.? Why may I not have the same privilege as any other storyteller, especially when I know the ways of story-telling as she is told in English, at least as well as a Devonshire or Lancashire peasant? And -- conclusive argument -- wilt thou, o orthodox brother folk-lorist, still continue to use Grimm and Asbjörnsen? Well, they did the same as I. Then as to using tales in Lowland Scotch, whereat a Saturday Reviewer, whose identity and fatherland were not difficult to guess, was so shocked. Scots a dialect of English! Scots tales the same as English! Horror and Philistinism! was the Reviewer's outcry. Matter of fact is my reply, which will only confirm him, I fear, in his convictions. Yet I appeal to him, why make a difference between tales told on different sides of the Border? A tale told in Durham or Cumberland in a dialect which only Dr Murray could distinguish from Lowland Scotch, would on all hands be allowed to be 'English'. The same tale told a few miles farther North, why should we refuse it the same qualification? A tale in Henderson is English: why not a tale in Chambers, the majority of whose tales are to be found also south of the Tweed?

The truth is, my folk-lore friends and my Saturday Reviewer differ with me on the important problem of the origin of folk-tales. They think that a tale probably originated where it was found. They therefore attribute more importance than I to the exact form in which it is found and restrict it to the locality of birth. I consider the probability to lie in an origin elsewhere : I think it more likely than not that any tale found in a place was rather brought there than born there. I have discussed this matter elsewhere [See 'The Science of Folk Tales and the Problem of Diffusion' in Transactions of the International Folk-Lore Congress, 1891. Mr Lang has honoured me with a rejoinder, which I regard as a palinode, in his Preface to Miss Roalfe Cox's volume of variants of Cinderella (Folk-Lore Society, 1892).] with all the solemnity its importance deserves, and cannot attempt further to defend my position here. But even the reader innocent of folklore can see that, holding these views, I do not attribute much anthropological value to tales whose origin is probably foreign, and am certainly not likely to make a hard-and-fast division between tales of the North Countrie and those told across the Border.

As to how English folk-tales should be told authorities also differ. I am inclined to follow the tradition of my old nurse, who was not bred at Girton and who scorned at times the rules of Lindley Murray and the diction of smart society. I have been recommended to adopt a diction not too remote from that of the Authorised Version. Well, quite apart from memories of my old nurse, we have a certain number of tales actually taken down from the mouths of the people, and these are by no means in Authorised form; they even trench on the 'vulgar' -- i.e., the archaic. Now there is just a touch of snobbery in objecting to these archaisms and calling them 'vulgar'. These tales have been told, if not from time immemorial, at least for several generations, in a special form which includes dialect and 'vulgar' words. Why desert that form for one which the children cannot so easily follow with 'thous' and 'werts' and all the artificialities of pseudo-Elizabethan? Children are not likely to say 'darter' for 'daughter', or to ejaculate 'Lawkamercyme' because they come across these forms in their folk-tales. They recognise the unusual forms while enjoying the fun of them. I have accordingly retained the archaisms and the old-world formulae which go so well with the folk-tale.

In compiling the present collection I have drawn on the store of 140 tales with which I originally started; some of the best of these I reserved for this when making up the former one. That had necessarily to contain the old favourites Jack the Giant Killer, Dick Whittington, and the rest, which are often not so interesting or so well told as the less familiar ones buried in periodicals or folk-lore collections. But since the publication of English Fairy Tales, I have been specially fortunate in obtaining access to tales entirely new and exceptionally well told, which have been either published during the past three years or have been kindly placed at my disposal by folk-lore friends. Among these, the tales reported by Mrs Balfour, with a thorough knowledge of the peasants' mind and mode of speech, are a veritable acquisition. I only regret that I have had to tone down so much of dialect in her versions. She has added to my indebtedness to her by sending me several tales which are entirely new and inedited. Mrs Gomme comes only second in rank among my creditors for thanks which I can scarcely pay without becoming bankrupt in gratitude. Other friends have been equally kind, especially Mr Alfred Nutt, who has helped by adapting some of the book versions, and by reading the proofs, while to the Councils of the American and English Folk-lore Societies I have again to repeat my thanks for permission to use materials which first appeared in their publications. Finally, I have had Mr Batten with me once again -- what should I or other English children do without him?


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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