An interesting lecture on "The Study of Folk-Lore" was given last evening in Harvard 1 before the Folk Lore Club by Mr. W. W. Newell, secretary of the American Folk Lore Society.
Folk-lore, he said, is unwritten tradition, and is the opposite of literature. It represents the average opinion and intelligence, orally expressed, of a tribe or nation. One of the most interesting fields of tradition is found in the study of children's games. Some of these have existed for many centuries in every country in Europe, and one of them may be traced as far back as the time of ancient Assyria. Many are undoubtedly survivals of ancient religious rites, such as those which celebrate the sowing of seed and the gathering in of the harvest. In this case, as often happens, children have preserved in their games ceremonies which were practiced by grown persons. Similarly other children's games are plainly survivals of practices which attended the early form of marriage by capture.
Many of the old superstitions are now found only among children. Yet a few exceedingly curious beliefs, survive among us at the present time, notably the superstition still found in some parts of New England, that rats can be got rid of by writing them a letter and leaving it where they can see it. The same belief was current among the Romans.
In respect to the folk-lore of the primitive peoples of America, much remains to be investigated. The Indians of North America comprise sixty different stocks, each having its peculiar language, as different from every other as English is from Chinese. And each of these races has its own stories, myths, and traditions, so that the field for investigation is exceedingly wide. The religion of the American races was esoteric. Secret religious brotherhoods, like those which existed in Greece and Rome, are found today among the Pueblo, Zuni, and Moqui tribes, absolutely controlling all the worship of the people.
The study of folk-lore is important as being the deepest investigation of history. Many scholars scarcely realize that until the history of primitive thought is explored and understood, we cannot understand human thought as a whole.