Edward Clodd

(1840—1930) banker and popular anthropologist

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By profession a banker, he was an excellent example of the part-time Victorian folklorist: widely read, articulate, and intelligent, making major contributions to the scholarship of the time while holding down a demanding full-time job in a completely different field. Clodd was a founding member of the Folklore Society (1878), having already published books on cultural evolution (The Childhood of the World, 1873) and religion (The Childhood of Religions, 1875). Following the debate opened by Darwin, Huxley, and Tylor, Clodd steadily became more openly agnostic as he pursued folklore in search of early humans' mental development, and was particularly dismissive of spiritualism and occultism, so fashionable at the time, and of the Society for Psychic Research and Andrew Lang's psycho-folklore. Clodd was elected the Folklore Society's President in 1895 and 1896, and in his second Presidential Address (Folk lore 7 (1896), 35–60) presented a highly contentious paper which caused an immediate furore in the Society and elsewhere, by comparing the ‘savage’ materials with which folklorists were by now abundantly familiar with Christianity and pointing out not just the connections or vague similarities, but ‘the persistence of barbaric ideas and their outward expression throughout the higher culture’ (p. 47). Sacramental bread and wine, miraculous conception and virgin birth, the second coming, exorcism, holy water, saints, were all cited as examples. Unrepentant, he also commented, ‘if in analysing a belief we kill a superstition, this does but show what mortality lay at its core’ (p. 42). It had been, in fact, only a matter of time before these ideas were voiced, as many of the leading folklorists and scientists of the period had been moving in the same direction. They had already been hinted at by Frazer (The Golden Bough) and Hartland (The Legend of Perseus), but Clodd had the courage to say them out loud, on a public platform. As expected, the Christian press roundly denounced him in terms varying from the misguided fool to the Anti-Christ, and he remained a bête noire for many Catholic writers for the rest of his life. A number of Folklore Society members tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent the publication of the address in the journal, and some, including ex-Prime Minister Gladstone, resigned from the Society in protest, but others publicly or privately applauded his courage and agreed with his interpretation. The fuss gradually subsided, and the lengthy obituary in the Society's journal does not even mention the affair. Despite his controversial views, Clodd was a popular and respected member of the folklore fraternity, but outlived most of his generation.

Other books by Clodd include: Myths and Dreams (1885); The Story of Creation: A Plain Account of Evolution (1888);Tom Tit Tot: An Essay in Savage Philosophy in Folk-Tale (1898);Magic in Names and Other Things (1920).Obituary (with bibliography) by A. C. Haddon, Folk-Lore 40 (1929), 183–9;Dorson, 1968: 248–57.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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