Academic journal article Folklore

Update: Folklorists and Anthropologists

Academic journal article Folklore

Update: Folklorists and Anthropologists

Article excerpt

In the course of a review essay of George Stocking's After Tylor (Bennett 1997; Stocking 1995), Gillian Bennett told the story of a failed attempt to amalgamate the FLS with the Anthropological Institute. To recap briefly, the FLS Annual Report for 1893 says that the Society had been approached by "members of the Anthropological Institute" about a merger. The FLS Council Minutes for Wednesday 15 February 1893 had reported that: "The President on behalf of Mr Brabrook gave notice of a motion with the following terms viz: `that it would be desirable to unite this Society and the Anthropological Institute in one and that a committee of three members with the President and the Treasurer be appointed to consider the practicality of such Union and report'." A bitter battle ensued between "anthropological folklorists" such as George Laurence Gomme and Andrew Lang (who were obviously keen on the scheme) and diffusionists such as Moses Gaster and Joseph Jacobs (who were vehemently opposed to it). The anthropologicals won, though only barely, and the talks began. A scheme was hammered out by representatives of the two organisations, and the FLS seemed prepared to accept it, but the Anthropological Institute (AI) rejected the proposals--as Gomme reports--"on financial grounds." Though the exact wording of the rejection was not noted, it appears that the problem was that the FLS was not prepared to raise subscription fees or lose its independent publications programme; and the AI was not prepared--as they saw it--to subsidise the FLS. The AI suggested that the FLS might come back with another proposal. This suggestion was met with indignation at the next Council meeting and a letter was sent to the effect that "the Council of the FLS was not prepared to vary the terms already suggested." Alfred Nutt, whom one thinks of as naturally sympathetic to the anthropologicals, was specially annoyed. Sending his apologies for not being able to attend the Council meeting, he stressed that he: "should be strongly against any sinking of our corporate individuality, against anything that might tend to make the public believe the Folklore Society has ceased to exist and has greatly modified its aims and character ... I am perfectly convinced [illegible] tar too high a price to' pay for any advantages which union ... could bring with it."

Imagine my surprise, then, when looking through FLS Council minutes for 1898, to find an entry relating to the setting up of a committee to discuss another approach from the Anthropological Institute. It is worth reporting these further discussions, not only for their intrinsic interest, but also for the light they throw on the on-off relationship between folklore and anthropology and the insight they provide into the character of the people running the FLS at a crucial time in its history, especially the then-President Alfred Nutt, whose work was the subject of the 1998 Presidential Address (see Wood in this volume).

The minutes record that Mssrs Gomme, Crooke, Clodd, Wright and Gaster with the President (Alfred Nutt) and the Treasurer (Edward Brabrook) were appointed to be the FLS's representatives on a joint committee to discuss a possible merger between the FLS and the AI. It appears that these seven held a pre-meeting to sketch out the FLS's position, for at the Council meeting of 21 June 1898 George Laurence Gomme presented a report on their deliberations. It seems, however, that there were people on the Council who were determined to sabotage any talk of amalgamation, and that Nutt was chief among them. Although he had not been at the meeting, he put in a minority report "stating his reasons for dissenting from certain of their conclusions."

Neither of these reports is to be found with the minutes, but we may guess the contents of the majority report from the Council minutes. The committee recommended accepting the AI's invitation to talk, proposed that the basis for amalgamation should be "similar to" that put forward by the FLS in 1893, and advised that the report (together with the committee's reasons for making the proposal) should be circulated to everybody on the Council so that it could be discussed at a special meeting. …

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