15 DECEMBER 1866, Page 15



MR. HENDERSON and Mr. Baring-Gould have written a very amusing book, which preserves for us many of the old traditions of England,--chiefly of its Northern counties,—from the oblivion • Notes On the Folk Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders. By William Henderson. With an ap;erel.it on household stories, by S. Baring. Gould, N.A. London: Longman. 1866. into which they are beginning to fall, as they begin to be regarded as fables by the peasantry, and to be narrated only as legends, not as authentic narratives. The whole of the book is very entertain- ing, and the account of the charms, and spells, and witchcrafts of the North is exceedingly good, every local superstition being as much as possible traced home to its proper place of residence and the authority for it given. But to us Mr. Baring-Gould's ap- pendix on household stories, with his examples of their York- shire (or North-country) form, and his comparisons between these and the forms which the same stories have assumed in other lands, has a very special interest. Nothing is more curious than the variations which popular genius and humour give to the same arbitrary marvel ; for here at least you have a variation of species which cannot be said to be due to the advan- tage which such variation gives "in the conflict for existence," but is certainly due to the mere national colouring of generic taste and humour. Mr. Baring-Gould gives us, for instance, two York- shire editions,—a West Riding edition and an East Riding edition, —of a tale found in almost all European countries, in different parts of Germany, in Italy, the Tyrol, in Greece, in Holland, in Norway and Denmark, in Poland, in Hungary, in Wallachia, in Russia, and, saMr. Baring-Gould affirms, in the mythology of ancient India. Besides the countries in which Mr. Baring-Gould traces it, the legend turns up in another form iii Ireland, in the legend of Bottle Hill ; and in Languedoc, in the picturesque form in which it was narrated three months ago by the author of Denise in the pages of Mrs. Alfred Gatty's clever little magazine for children. The four versions of it which seem the widest apart are those of Russia, Greece, Ireland, and Languedoc, of which only the first two are given by Mr. Baring-Gould. The Yorkshire, German and Italian, and Hungarian and Wallachian forms of the story are very near akin. The substance of the Yorkshire story is this. The son of a poor man sent out to seek his fortune takes service with an old lady, who gives him at the year's end, or rather at the end of a year and a day, a gold-braying ass, which when forced to bray, by having its ears pulled, drops sixpences, half-crowns, and guineas from its mouth. A cheating innkeeper, seeing the ass's gift, substitutes a common ass for the gold-braying ass, and sends the lad home as poor as he came out except by an ass. The lad tries again, takes service with a joiner who pays him after the same space of time with a magic table, that has the property of supplying its own victuals when the owner says to it, 'Table, be covered ;' and he loses this second gift to the same innkeeper. The third time he helps a man to throw a tree across a river by climbing into its top branch and weighing it down, so that when cut at the stem it falls across the river ; and the man gives him as a reward a branch of the tree cut into a stick of such curious properties that when you say, 'Up, stick, and fell him,' it will knock down any one and belabour him as long as its owner pleases. With this valuable instrument be belabours the cheating innkeeper, recovers his lost treasures, and, we regret to say, in the impolite West Riding version (the East Riding is more gallant), belabours also a crowd of young women with their laps full of money, who wish to marry him because of his

riches, and portions his own true love with the gold thus won from them. This last ungallant feature of the story is peculiar, we are sorry to say, to the West Riding of Yorkshire, and is unknown elsewhere in Europe. The Russian version is curious, and is not guiltless of wife-beating, though it is not, like the Yorkshire story, guilty of assault and battery against a whole row of young ladies chargeable only with mercenary love-making :—

" There was once a peasant who had a terrible shrew for his wife, and they were both miserably poor. One day the peasant went to the mill to get some corn ground, and he put the flour into an open vessel which he carried on his head as he returned ; the wind was high, and it blew the flour away. When the peasant reached homo, his wife beat him and scolded him for having lost the flour, and sent him to the wind to demand payment for the flour it had carried off. He meets the mother of the winds, who brings him to her cave, and hides him in her oven, having first ascertained from him that the south wind was the thief. The winds come blustering into the cave, and the old woman demands of the south wind payment for the stolen flour. The guilty zephyr pays the peasant a basket, which becomes full of all good things as soon as the owner says to it, 'Basket, be filled !' Having received this gift, the poor man goes home well satisfied. The wife, elated at having become possessed of such a treasure, invites a noble- man to supper ; and this gentleman, discovering the properties of the basket, makes away with it. The peasant is sent by his wife once more to the winds, and obtains from the south wind a jar, to which he says, 'Five out of the jar, thrash her well!' and then, Five into the jar ! ' The peasant goes home, and is well scolded by his wife for having brought a jar; she takes tip a pitchfork to beat him, when he exclaims, Five out of the jar, thrash her well!' and five men with flails leap forth, and give the shrew a good dressing. By the same means he recovers from the nobleman his miraculous basket. From that time forward be lives happily, his wife keeps a civil tongue in her head, and he eats and drinks what he desires (Dietrich, No 8)." The modern Greek version introduces the feature of personal chastisement to the wife in a still more serious form, as the stick "knocks her on the head and kills her," and the story goes on to draw the inference, "so the man lives in happiness ever after." But in the Russian version there is another curious feature, that the magical gifts are presented by the wind,—the south wind,—which both gives the blessing of fullness of bread (the Russian corn-fields are chiefly in the south), and wields the force by which the wife is silenced and the thief (a nobleman, by the way) compelled to give up his treasure. This clear indication that the tale is in its origin a sort of parable of the bounty of nature, and of those more terrible gifts of nature which sometimes control her bounty though they seem at first ungenial enough, lends some colour to Mr. Baring-Gould's explanation of the original Hindoo fable which he regards as the root of the story :— " That these stories rest upon a common mythological foundation there is strong evidence to prove. The gold-dropping animal, the magic table or napkin, the self-acting cudgel, appear in some of the tales of ancient India, and their original signification is made apparent. The Master, who gives the three precious gifts, is the All Father, the Supreme Spirit. The gold and jewel-dropping ass is the spring-cloud hanging in the sky and shedding the bright productive vernal showers. The table which covers itself is the earth becoming covered with flower and fruit at the bidding of the New Year. But there is a check ; rain is withheld, the process of vegetation is stayed by some evil influence. Then comes the thunder-cloud, out of which leaps the bolt ; the rains pour down, the earth receives them, and is covered with abundance— all that was lost is restored."

Nor does the Languedoc version fail to suggest the same ultimate meaning. In it the magical instrument is a lovely bird called "Azure Blue," which, during a time of famine, sings an exquisite song, during which the table is spread with all sorts of luxuries for the starving peasantry. When the wicked feudal lord insists on becoming master of the magic cage, there comes to his in- vocation not Azure Blue, but a great grey bird with yellow eyes, and sharp beak and claws, which shrieks loudly three times instead of singing, and is evidently meant to be a symbol of death, for the covetous tyrant dies the same night. "Azure Blue" is, we suppose, a Languedoc symbol of the love of Heaven, which fills the earth with the music of spring while it is preparing the bounty of autumn ; and the grey bird with yellow eyes a symbol of the deadly wintry blight and famine which falls on ungrateful and covetous souls.

In the Irish version of "Bottle Hill," as in the German, Tyrolese, and West Riding versions, all the natural symbolism has dis- appeared. The bottle, which, on the incantation, 'Bottle, do your duty,' suddenly yields two little men, who spread the table with all delicacies in the most beautiful dishes, is scarcely, we think, a hint caught from Job's phrase about "the bottles of heaven ,"—hardly contains any allusion to the fertilizing showers of spring. The whole tale, in its Irish, as in its German shape, is a pure fairy story, full of humour, -with every trace of mythology lost. The second bottle, by the aid of which the Irish peasant recovers the first, containing two men with cudgels, who beat the landlord—in Irish tales the evil agency is always a landlord— till he gives up the beneficent bottle, is hardly meant, we suppose, to symbolize the thunder-claps which sometimes pre- cede the fertilizing rain ? It is easy enough, however, to in terpret the self-covering table, and the sharp strokes of ad- versity by which the self-covering table when lost is regained. But how about the "Gold-Braying Ass ?" Mr. Baring-Gould's interpretation of it as "the spring-cloud hanging in the sky, and shedding the brightest productive vernal showers," seems to us very improbable. The gold-braying ass is evidently a symbol of stupid, honest industry. The West Riding of Yorkshire has (character- istically) seen this better than any country. For it alone makes the ass bray gold through the painful process of having its ears pulled. The German version (also characteristically) makes the ass spit gold at a word, without preliminary anguish. The Yorkshireman cannot but recognize the power productive of wealth as at once stupid and painful, and attrbutes the bray- ing of the ass which gives rise to the gold to the want or pain which drives it into productiveness. The peasant is robbed first of the produce of his painful industry—the gold- braying ass, —next of what nature in her bounty gave,— (the magic table),—and then recovers both by the judicious application of force, which typifies, we take it, political pres- sure,—not the thunder-cloud of nature. In the Oriental version, which we see best in the Russian form,—both the bounty and the power which recovers the bounty are elemental influences. But as we get further West, tame dull industry is separately typified as a distinct productive power, standing beside the bounty of nature, and both are appropriated by their rightful owner through a

castigating influence, which must, we take it, be meant to stand for a punitive political force.

We have illustrated the value of Mr. Baring-Gould's compara- tive fairy mythology only in one instance. But the appendix is full of instances, some of which are almost as entertaining, though it is not often that a story so complicated is so very widely diffused. When we remember that this appendix, admirable as it is, is only about one-seventh of the whole book, and that the bulk of the vol- ume consists of a most valuable and amusing collection of Northern superstitions, omens, charms, portents, witcheries, ghost stories, Ike., we need not add that Mr. Henderson and Mr. Baring-Gould have given us a delightful book, full of matter that is both enter- taining and instructive.