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I have been enabled to collect have far exceeded my expectations, I am fully aware how much more can yet be accomplished. An additional number of foreign synonymes could also no doubt be collected; though perhaps more easily by foreigners, for Continental works which contain notices of traditional literature are procured with difficulty in England. The following pages, however, contain sufficient of these to exhibit the striking similarities between rhymes prevalent over England, and others which exist in the North of Europe.
The collection of Nursery Tales is not as extensive as could have been wished, but the difficulty of procuring the brief traditional stories which were current some century since, now for the most part only recollected in obscure districts, is so great, that no apology is necessary for the apparent deficiency of that section. The few which have been obtained are of considerable curiosity and interest; and I would venture to suggest to all readers of these pages the great obligation they would confer by the communication of any additions. Stories of this kind are undoubtedly to be obtained from oral tradition, and perhaps some of literary importance may yet be recovered.
The compiler's best thanks are due to Captain Henry Smith for the very interesting communication of rhymes current in the Isle of Wight; to Mr. George Stephens for several curious fragments, and valuable references to Swedish songs; and to many kind correspondents who have furnished me with rhymes current in the various districts in which they reside. It is only by a large provincial correspondence that a collection of this kind can be rendered complete, and the minutest information on any of our popular tales or rhymes, forwarded to the address given below, would be most thankfully and carefully acknowledged.
POPUL.A. R. R. HYMES
ALTHOUGH the names of Scott and Grimm may be enumerated amongst the writers who have acknowledged the ethnological and philosophic value of traditional nursery literature, it is difficult to impress on the public mind the importance of a subject apparently in the last degree trifling and insignificant, or to induce an opinion that the jingles and simple narratives of a garrulous nurse can possess a worth beyond the circle of their own immediate influence.
But they who despise the humbler sources of literary illustration must be content to be told, and hereafter to learn, that traces of the simplest stories and most absurd superstitions are often more effectual in proving the affinity of different races, and determining other literary questions, than a host of grander and more imposing monuments. The history of fiction is continually efficacious in discussions of this kind, and the identities of puerile sayings frequently answer a similar purpose. Both, indeed, are of high value. The humble chap-book is found to be descended not only from medieval romance, but also not unfrequently from the more ancient mythology, whilst some of our simplest nursery-rhymes are chanted to this day by the children of Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, a fact strikingly exhibiting their great antiquity and remote origin.