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"An ordinary SONG or BALLAD, that is the delight of the common people, cannot fail to please all such "readers as are not unqualified for the entertainment by their affectation or ignorance; and the reason is "plain, because the same paintings of nature, which "recommend it to the most ordinary reader, will appear beautiful to the most refined.
"I took a particular delight in hearing the SONGS "and FABLES that are come from father to son, and
are most in vogue among the common people: for "it is impossible that any thing should be universally "tasted and approved of by a multitude, which hath "not in it some peculiar aptness to please and gratify "the mind of man.” SPECTATOR, NO. 70.
UR County Readers are here presented with some select specimens of their native Bards, and provincial Rhymers.
While the spacious pages of the County Historian, says the ingenious Editor of the "Northern "Garlands," are too exclusively engrossed by topographical surveys, genealogical tables, statistical numbers, or agricultural refinements; the humble and amusing village strains, founded upon the squabbles of a wake; tales of untrue love; superstitious rumors; or miraculous traditions of the
hamlet; are very slightly regarded, if not glanced over unnoted. A COUNTY GARLAND is one of those minor publications scarcely considered worthy the attention of a county editor; and from the motley basket of an itinerary mendicant, the reader is alone supplied with such an entertainment. To glean for EACH COUNTY its appropriate Ballads might, therefore, be an acceptable task. If they neither vied for adventures with the deeds of chivalry, nor eclipsed the gallant knight and courtly dame in marvellous amours yet their characteristics would be a just and faithful representation of domestic manners and provincial customs; they would exhibit nature without the foil of art; and "the short "and simple annals" of the rustic would often be found preserved in the ditty, which "at her wheel "the village-maiden sings." It may be easy to jumble together a parcel of Songs, of all dates, and upon all subjects, indiscriminately, and from their historical allusions, or novelty of romantic incident, excite and partly gratify curiosity; but this medley must fail to convey an equal interest with the record of some domestic tale, founded upon the attractive scenes of youth; when, however rude the combination of language and numbers, our partiality may be said to " grow with our growth." To the mind that has once imbibed an hereditary love of rural haunts, fancy, amid the vicissitudes of life, the toil of worldly pursuits, or the visitation of foreign climes, can mock the lapse of time, and, like the wandering Swiss, still fondly picture home, and dwell with enthusiastic delight on native strains.
The English have always been a great Balladnation, and once abounded with various Songs of Trades, and numerous Songs for the People. The Ballad, says Aikin in his " Essay on Ballads and "Pastoral Songs," may be considered as the native species of poetry in this country. It very exactly answers the idea formerly given of original poetry, being the rude, uncultivated verse in which the
popular tale of the times was recorded. As our ancestors partook of the fierce, warlike character of the northern nations, the subjects of their poetry would chiefly consist of the martial exploits of their heroes, and the military events of national history, deeply tinctured with that passion for the marvellous, and that superstitious credulity, which always attends a state of ignorance and barbarism. Many of the ancient Ballads have been transmitted to the present times, and in them the character of the nation displays itself in striking colors. The boastful history of her victories, the prowess of her favorite kings and captains, and the wonderful adventures of the legendary saint and knight-errant, are the topics of the rough rhyme and unadorned narration, which was ever the delight of the vulgar, and is now an object of curiosity to the antiquary, and man of taste. In later times, these pieces consisted of the village tale, the dialogue of rustic courtship, the description of natural objects, and the incidents of rural life. Their language is the language of nature, simple and unadorned; their story is not the wild offspring of fancy, but the probable adventure of the cottage, and their sentiments are the unstudied expressions of passions and emotions, common to all mankind. The old Song of " Chevy Chase" was long the favorite Ballad of the common people; and Ben Jonson used to say, that he had rather have been the author of it than of all his works. Sir Philip Sidney, in his " Dis"course of Poetry," speaks of it in the following words: I never heard the old Song of Piercy and Douglas, that I found not my heart more moved than with a trumpet; and yet it is sung by some blind crowder with no rougher voice than rude stile; which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cobweb of that uncivil age, what would it work trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar? The celebrated Author of the "Task" was strongly attached to this stile of composition, and in one of his "Letters" says, that it is a species of poetry
peculiar to this country, equally adapted to the drollest or the most tragical subjects. Simplicity and ease are its peculiar characteristics. Our forefathers excelled in it, but we moderns have lost the art. It is observed, that we have few good English Odes: but to make amends we have many excellent Ballads, not inferior, perhaps, in true poetical merit to some of the very best Odes that the Greek or Latin languages have to boast of.
"These venerable, ancient soNG-ENDITERS
Ballads are described by Puttenham, a Critic in the reign of Elizabeth, as small and popular Songs, sung by those Cantabanqui upon benches and barrels heads, where they have no other audience than boys or country fellows that pass by them in the streets; or else by blind harpers, or suchlike tavernminstrels, that give a fit of mirth for a groat. Such were these "Reliques of ancient English Poetry,” says D'Israeli, in his "Curiosities of Literature,” which are more precious to us than they were to our ancestors; strangers as we have become to their pure pastoral feelings, and more eccentric habits of life. They form the Collections of Percy and Rit
But the latter poetical antiquary tells us that few are older than the reign of James the 1st. The more ancient Songs of the People perished by having been printed in single sheets, and their humble purchasers had no other library to preserve them than the walls on which they pasted them. Those we have consist of a succeeding race of Ballads, chiefly revived or written by Richard Johnson, the author of the well-known Romance of the "Seven "Champions," and Deloney, the writer of" Jack of "Newbury's Life," and the " Gentle Craft," who lived in the time of James and Charles.
The practice of collecting them into books did not take place, says Ritson, till after the reign of Eli