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It is a work of the utmost difficulty to trace, with any certainty, the origin of those traditions, often as positive as they are fanciful, which assign general properties to the inhabitants of certain localities, and which often last for ages, continually deriving additional strength from increasing antiquity. Such traditions are sometimes the result of near observation and experience, obtained after the lapse of a long period, and generally elicited by foes ; and they are frequently merely the offspring of chance and uncertain fancy.
The general characters which nations have obtained in various ages are examples of the former. *
The attribute of folly and stupidity to the men of Gotham, a humble village in Nottinghamshire, is one of the most remarkable instances of the other. The following well-known nursery rhyme has rendered the subject familiar to every one :
« Three wise men of Gotham
Went to sea in a bowl;
* For instance, see Reliquiæ Antiquæ, p. 5. and 127, and Wright's Essay on Anglo-Saxon Literature, p. 43.