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meant to be his last journey, his aged father. Wishing to make that journey as comfortable as possible for the time-stricken traveller, he stretched a large piece of birch-tree bark in his cart, seated the intended victim upon it, and drove off to the forest. Along with him went his own young son, a boy of tender years. Having reached the appointed spot, he thereon deposited the aged man, having first, with filial attention, stretched on the possibly damp ground the sheet of bark for him to sit upon. Just as he was about to drive away home with his boy, that innocent child asked him if it would not be better to take back the bark. "Why so?" he replied. "Because," said
the boy, "it will do for you to sit upon when the time comes for me to leave you in the forest." Touched by his child's simple words, the father hastened to where the grandfather was sitting, put him back into the cart, and drove him quickly home. From that time he carefully tended the old man till he died. And his example produced such an effect that all the other people in that land gave up the practice of exposing their parents to death when they grew old.*
Now, it would be quite beside the mark to suggest a mythological explanation of this pathetic tale. It evidently refers to an actual custom once observed by real men, not to some supposed action attributed to imaginary gods. The evidence for the former existence of the custom is copious and undeniable. Even the familiar expression “a sardonic grin" has been supposed by some philologists to contain a reference to it. For the ancient Sardones were in the habit, when they grew old, of being killed and eaten by their friends and relatives. Before their death they used to invite their kith and kin to come and eat them on a certain day. And they were expected to smile while uttering the words of invitation. But their smiles on such occasions were apt to be somewhat constrained and even at times ghastly. Wherefore, that particular kind of contraction of the risible muscles acquired the name of the "sardonic grin." On so clear a point it is unnecessary to dwell longer. But it will be as well to point out that there is sometimes risk in attributing legends and traditions to an historical rather than a mythical origin. Many customs are mentioned in popular tales which can scarcely have prevailed among mankind at even the most prehistoric period. There are a number of stories, for instance, about girls who are so fond of their relatives that they eat them up. In the Russian "Witch and Sun's Sister," and in the Avar "Brother and Sister," a maiden of this kind is described as first devouring the whole of her family, and then attempting to eat the hero of the tale, her last surviving brother. Now, a belief in such hungry damsels, perpetually seeking what they may devour, is prevalent at the present day in Ceylon, the existence of such " poison girls," as they are called, being generally accounted for by demoniacal possession. From such a wild belief tales of the kind just mentioned might
* Afanasief, Skazki, vol. vii., No. 51.
naturally spring without their being founded upon any real custom. It is improbable that at any period of the world's history it was customary for sisters to eat their brothers. Nor is it likely that human fathers were ever in the habit of eating their children, as might be supposed, if we thought it necessary to see in the tale of how Kronos devoured his offspring an allusion to a custom or even an isolated fact. What seems to be really demanded from every interpreter of old tradition, every explorer of the dark field of popular fiction, is a wariness that will not allow itself to be hoodwinked by any prejudice in favour of this or that particular theory. Every piece of evidence ought to be carefully tested and fairly weighed, whether it confirms the examiner's own opinion or not. If this be done he will probably find that different classes of legends must be explained in divers manners. The more he becomes acquainted with popular tales, the less he will be inclined to seek for any single method of solving all their manifold problems. Not over often will he be able to satisfy himself that he has arrived at even a fairy-tale's ultimate reason for existence. The greater pleasure will he have when he is enabled to trace the growth of a narrative, to watch its increase from its original germ to its final development. By way of a close to the present attempt to pry into the secret meaning of Cinderella's history may be given a sketch of a traceable growth of this kind. It occurs in the case of the legend of Trajan, an excellent account of which has been lately given by M. Gaston Paris.*
Tradition asserts that there once existed at Rome a bas-relief representing Trajan on horseback in all his glory, and in front of him a woman sadly kneeling. Nothing can be more probable, and if such was really the case, the suppliant female would, no doubt, represent a conquered province, just as Dacia is represented on one of Trajan's medals as a woman on her knees. However this may be, out of the tradition sprang a story illustrative of Trajan's justice. On the point of starting on a campaign, it is said, the emperor was suddenly stopped by a poor widow, who flung herself on her knees before him, and besought him to right her wrongs. He expostulated, but finally yielded, and did her justice before he resumed his march. the first half of the story's growth. The second seems to have followed at a later period. According to the completed legend, as Pope Gregory the Great passed through the Forum of Trajan one day, he bethought himself of that emperor's many merits, and especially of his admirable conduct in righting the widow's wrongs. And a great sorrow came over him at the thought that so excellent a pagan should be lost eternally. Whereupon he prayed earnestly and constantly for Trajan's salvation, until at last a voice from on high informed him that his prayer was granted, but that in future he was to pray only for Christian souls. A later addition to the legend told how Gregory
"La Légende de Trajan Paris, 1878.
learnt from an angel that, by way of punishment for his indiscreet though successful intervention, he would have to suffer from certain maladies for the rest of his life. The question as to whether Gregory was justified in his procedure greatly exercised the minds of many mediæval casuists, one of whom solved the problem, and escaped from the doctrinal difficulties which it presented, by the following ingenious explanation: No one, he said, can be saved unless he be baptised. But Baptism is precisely what Gregory obtained for Trajan. At the Pope's prayer the emperor's soul returned to his body, Gregory baptised it, "and the soul, again quitting its earthly case, went straight up into heaven."*
W R. S. RALSTON, in Nineteenth Century.
HISTORY AND POLITICS.
I NOTED two hindrances by which our historical studies in England are cramped. The one was the party-spirit which lays waste the whole field of English history since the Reformation, closing the mouths of teachers, and perverting the minds of historians. In what way it might be possible to remove this hindrance, or at least diminish its obstructive power, I inquired in my last paper. I pass now to the second hindrance, the nature of which I have but slightly indicated. This is the indifference of the English public, and even of the cultivated class, to the more modern part of Continental history. This is a subject of study which seems to have been unaccountably overlooked. Scarcely any provision has been made either by endow
*Since this article was written, an excellent work on savage life has been published by Mr. J. A. Farrer, entitled Primitive Manners and Customs. It contains two chapters on "The Fairy-lore of Savages" and "Comparative Folk-lore," to which ther ader may be referred for the arguments in favour of preferring an ethnographical to a mythological solution of popular tales. And some interesting articles have appeared in Notes and Queries on the subject of vair. In No. 2.6, D. P.," referring to the letters signed "X." and "E. de B." in the Times for December 23 and 24, 1878, quotes from La Colombière's Science Héroïque (Paris, 1699) a description of how vair was composed of patches "faites en forme de petits pots de verre." No. 299 contains three contributions to the vair controversy, especially as regards the old English word "miniver." As it is often supposed that the idea is a very new one that Cinderella's slipper was really of vair, not of verre, it may be as well to quote what Balzac said on the subject more than forty years ago. In his Etudes philosophiques sur Catherine de Médicis, published in 1826, he wrote as follows : "On distinguait le grand et le menu vair. Ce mot, depuis cent ans, est si bien tombé en désuétude que, dans un nombre infini d'éditions des contes de Perrault, la célèbre pantoufle de Cendrillon, sans doute de menu vair [or miniver], est présentée comme étant de verre,"
ment or otherwise for a class of specialists who should devote them. selves to it. To be at home in it is nobody's business. And no attempt having been made in this instance to counteract the natural tendency by which studies which have no immediate practical bearing fall into neglect, that tendency has been assisted by our English insularity and contempt for foreigners. For when the period in question is recent, feelings and prejudices of all kinds wake up, which are not aroused by remoter history. Modern France and modern Germany present themselves as rivals to ourselves. We have a reluctance to acknowledge their claim to be studied, which we never feel with respect to medieval France or mediæval Germany. "What can Englishmen learn," we unconsciously reason, "from the despotic
or revolutionary politics of the Continent? Thank Heaven? we have left despotism and revolution alike behind us." The assumption here implied, that no history is to be studied except what refers to states superior to ourselves, is only made in respect to recent history. It is not urged as a reason for neglecting medieval history, though assuredly the ascendency of the Popes and the policy of the Crusades belong to a system of politics from which Englishmen of the present day cannot well draw any direct political lessons.
The result is that no large subject lies in such total neglect and obscurity among us. There may be other subjects which are equally beyond the range of popular knowledge; but then they are safe in the care of the learned. They have their specialists, who are constantly storing up the results of their investigations in learned works intended only for the few. In this way, the knowledge which the public does not possess is at least easily accessible; a certain proportion of it is always filtering down into popular literature, while further knowledge is always at hand when it is wanted; and in the meanwhile, false knowledge, fable, and misconception are prevented by the care of the same specialists from springing up. It is the peculiar lot of this subject of recent Continental history to be neither known to the many nor to a class of specialists. Those who know it are not numerous nor organised enough to form a class; they are only a few scattered individuals whose special skill has received no public recog nition. The class of specialists being in default, the learned literature fails too. There is no machinery at work to ensure the produc tion of sound and trustworthy books of reference on this subject. To write such books is no man's business, and it is also no man's interest. The books could not but be large, and as the demand for them is exceedingly small, there is economical impossibility of produc ing them. The public, therefore, when it wants a sudden supply of information in this department, cannot get it. As it is not kept in the house, so it cannot be bought at the shop. Newspaper correspondents come forward with their hasty gleanings; accidental travellers tell all they know; but of authoritative, well-sifted, and precise information, there is in most cases nothing to be found in English; and
those who cannot have recourse to foreign literatures are forced to put up with their ignorance. Meanwhile, there are no critics at hand to chastise the soaring imagination of journalists and literary men theorising in vacuo. On this subject we say and write almost absolutely what pleases us, for on this subject alone we have no fear of contradiction; and, indeed, since we never meet with persons clearly better informed, we do not easily become aware of our own igno
From a practical point of view, it may seem strange that we shoul venture to treat this particular subject with such total contempt. For certainly France, Germany, and Russia are mighty powers with whom we must needs have frequent dealings, and who are capable of doing us infinite good or harm. It might seem our evident interest if not that we should understand them, at least that some of us should do So. If in any case it is advisable to provide for the creation of a learned class, it would seem to be advisable here. As to ancient Greece and Rome, they cannot now hurt us, nor even directly do us good; yet we have so arranged matters that three elaborate Greek histories, and two or three elaborate works on Roman history, all written on the largest scale and with an infinite expense of learning and critical skill, have appeared in England, and have been eagerly read, within this century. Meanwhile, we have produced no histories aiming at any completeness, of France, Germany, Italy, or Russia; what considerable historical works on those states we have produced, we have not had the grave scientific character of the works of Thirlwall and Grote, but, on the contrary, have seemed to angle principally for popular applause; and for the most part we have depended upon mere slovenly complications, which neither the learned nor yet the populace could be expected to applaud.
The truth is that the organisation of the higher literature is seldom looked at from a practical point of view. Other nations are as blind as we are in this respect, and therefore it need not cost us too much pain to confess it. The Englishman does not neglect to study the Continent more than the Frenchman neglects to study all countries but France. Our ignorance is not greater than that which we remarked in the French nine years ago. The French do not write elaborate histories of England and Germany more than we do of France and Germany. Evidently, in both countries alike, it has been simply overlooked that the knowledge of other contemporary states will not spring up of itself, and will not be created by a direct popular demand; that though the need of it is very real, it is one which no large number of people will ever feel, and that in this department, as in others, there will be neither thorough research nor serious criticism, and therefore there will be no trustworthy knowledge, without the machinery which has caused the study of ancient history or of physical science to prosper.
Where a subject has long lain in such total neglect it gets gradually