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The Anglo-Scottish Ballad and its Imaginary Contexts

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David Atkinson

1. Where Is the Ballad?

Note de l’éditeur

An earlier version of this chapter was published as ‘Where is the ballad, and why do we want so many of them? An Essay in Ontology’, Lied und populäre Kultur/Song and Popular Culture, 54 (2009), 11–32, and the material is reused with permission.

Texte intégral

  • 1 It is perhaps as well to state that ontology is not at all a mere synonym for a genre definition, a (...)

1Empirically, the English-language ballad comprises a genre of narrative verse and melody, of largely (or effectively) anonymous origin, examples of which have been in existence in one form or another since at least the fifteenth century. The combination of perceived anonymity with multiplicity, with the concomitant possibility (frequently enhanced by considerable depth in time) of variation during the course of transmission, has then allowed conflicting principles of organization to attach to discussion of the ballad. Some of those that come to mind are: (i) the individual rendition, and the various ways in which it might be reproduced; (ii) the psychology and personality of the contributor from whom the ballad was collected; (iii) any ideological agenda brought to the exchange by the collector; (iv) the synchronic context, with reference to political, social, cultural, literary, and musical history; (v) the diachronic complex of different ‘versions’ that constitute the ‘same’ thing, and the dual but separable nature of the ballad as literature and as music; (vi) the quality of being ‘traditional’, as opposed to ‘literary’ or even ‘fabricated’. Whilst the seeming contradictions that arise from this situation often reflect first and foremost the particular orientations of the researcher – towards ethnography, historicism, or comparative textual and musicological analysis, for example – they can also encourage the conviction that the ontology of ballads is somehow distinct from that of more canonical works of literature and music. ‘Ontology’, as the term and the idea are being used here, refers to the whole range of conditions that are considered (or have been considered) as either necessary or sufficient to identify the ballad – either the individual item or the genre at large – as a distinct literary and musical phenomenon, and to the consequences that might appear to flow from those conditions.1

  • 2 BBC RPL 21857 [archival CD copy in London, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, BBC CDA 12].
  • 3 Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 9.2 (1961), 72–73; Bob Copper, Songs and Southe (...)
  • 4 The Child Ballads 1, The Folk Songs of Britain, vol. 4, 12-inch LP (Caedmon TC1145, 1961; Topic 12T (...)
  • 5 Songs and Southern Breezes: Country Singers from Hampshire and Sussex, recorded by Bob Copper, 12-i (...)
  • 6 The Folktrax archive lists Enos White’s ‘George Collins’ on two CDs: Three Maidens a-Milking: Songs (...)
  • 7 When the May Is All in Bloom: Traditional Singing from the South East of England, CD (Veteran VT131 (...)

2In July 1955, Bob Copper, working for the BBC Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme, recorded the ballad ‘George Collins’ from the singing of Enos White, of Axford, Hampshire, a seventy-year-old carter, who could recall Ralph Vaughan Williams collecting songs in the area some fifty years before.2 Later, Bob Copper published the words and music notation, together with a short appreciation of Enos White, in the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and again in his book Songs and Southern Breezes.3 Enos White’s ‘George Collins’ was included, in abbreviated form, on one of the Child ballad volumes of the Folk Songs of Britain series of LPs issued in the 1960s by Caedmon in the USA and Topic in Britain, and much later, still abbreviated, on the Child ballad CDs issued by Rounder based on those LPs.4 The ballad was presented in its entirety on the Topic LP Songs and Southern Breezes, and later in Topic’s CD anthology The Voice of the People.5 The now-defunct Folktrax label (audio cassettes and then CDs issued by Peter Kennedy) also listed Enos White’s ‘George Collins’.6 Bob Copper himself sang ‘George Collins’ as he had learned it from Enos White and recorded it on CD, and the ballad is still sung in the Copper family.7

Fig. 1.1 Enos White and his wife, outside Crown Cottage, Axford, Hampshire. Provenance unknown.

  • 8 R. Vaughan Williams and A. L. Lloyd, eds, The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (Harmondsworth: Pe (...)
  • 9 London, EFDSS Archives, George Gardiner Collection, GG/1/6/327 [George Blake, Southampton, Hampshir (...)

3Where, then, is Enos White’s ‘George Collins’? The Hampshire carter is no longer living, and his social environment and way of life are likewise long gone. Bob Copper, to whom he passed on the song and who was himself instrumental in passing it on again, died in 2004. Yet the music and words are still in print and the recording exists in various forms and formats. It is still possible for people to say that they know and admire the ballad sung by Enos White. And there is a further reason for choosing this particular example – though any favourite ballad might have done – for we can pose another question: where is ‘George Collins’? Is it, for instance, in the influential Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, which includes a tune and words, attributed to Henry Stansbridge, of Lyndhurst, Hampshire, in 1906, but in fact conflated from at least three different copies collected in Hampshire in 1906?8 In fact, some half-dozen copies of ‘George Collins’ collected by George B. Gardiner in Hampshire in the first decade of the twentieth century are similar to that sung half a century later by Enos White (the words follow a similar pattern and most, though perhaps not all, of the tunes are related in some degree).9 Together, these Hampshire copies are sufficiently distinctive to be considered as comprising a localized form of the ballad, or oikotype.

  • 10 Barbara M. Cra’ster, ‘George Collins’, Journal of the Folk-Song Society, 4.2 (no. 15) (1910), 106–0 (...)
  • 11 The Universal Songster; or, Museum of Mirth, 3 vols (London: John Fairburn; Simpkin and Marshall; S (...)
  • 12 F. J. Child, ‘Ballad Poetry’, in Johnson’s New Universal Cyclopædia, eds-in-chief Frederick A. P. B (...)
  • 13 D. K. Wilgus, Anglo-American Folksong Scholarship since 1898 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University (...)
  • 14 David Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972).
  • 15 Barre Toelken, Morning Dew and Roses: Nuance, Metaphor, and Meaning in Folksongs (Urbana and Chicag (...)

4Or is ‘George Collins’ rather to be located in the ‘definitive’ ballad source, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads – though there is nothing there under the title ‘George Collins’ and something only vaguely similar under that of ‘Lady Alice’ (Child 85)? A further body of ballad scholarship, drawing initially on the Hampshire ballads like that which Enos White once sang, would conflate Child’s ‘Lady Alice’ with the Scottish ‘Clerk Colvill’ (Child 42).10 Where do folk revival performances, often drawing on sources like the Enos White recording and/or the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, belong? And what about a burlesque parody, ‘Giles Collins and Lady Alis’, printed in The Universal Songster in the early nineteenth century?11 Ballad scholarship has been dominated by the quest for an organizing principle that would lie behind such evident disparity – an urge to identify a single ‘location’ for the ballad. Child, for instance, found it in a ‘condition of society in which a truly national or popular poetry appears [...] a condition in which people are not divided by political organization and book-culture into markedly distinct classes, in which consequently there is such community of ideas and feelings that the whole people form an individual’.12 For Phillips Barry, influenced by Cecil Sharp, the organizing principle was a process – one of ‘individual invention plus communal re-creation’.13 Others have sought to locate the ballad in the moment of re-creation by an orally improvising singer;14 or in the ambience of ‘cultural knowledge’, the ‘common assumptions and associations that singers and their audiences share’.15

  • 16 F. W. Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography and the Literary Artifact’, in English Studies Today, 2nd ser., (...)
  • 17 Leo Treitler, ‘History and the Ontology of the Musical Work’, in With Voice and Pen: Coming to Know (...)
  • 18 G. Thomas Tanselle, A Rationale of Textual Criticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Pres (...)

5F. W. Bateson can be credited with having, indirectly, posed a question that has become iconic in certain kinds of textual discussions: if the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, where are Hamlet and Lycidas?16 Or, as Leo Treitler has rephrased it: if the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, where is the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor?17 Thomas Tanselle asks the same question when he contrasts the physicality of the Grecian urn with the incorporeality of Keats’s poem – do we ever know where a poem is?18 The foregoing brief consideration of ‘George Collins’ has, in a modest way, posed it once more. Bateson’s question, while predicated upon the apparent difference between art works of different kinds, is also predicated upon the assumption of two points of essential similarity:

(i) Both the Mona Lisa and Hamlet exist both within and outside of the various reactions they evoke in visitors to the Louvre or audiences at the theatre.
(
ii) Accordingly, the Mona Lisa and Hamlet both have an ‘objective’ existence, against which the individual reactions of visitors and audiences can be measured, and for this reason it is useful to describe both art works as ‘artefacts’– objects made by human beings.

6The seeming difference in nature between the Mona Lisa and Hamlet as art works, however, stems from the fact the former is visible and the latter is not, in consequence of the different physical dimensions they occupy – spatial in the case of the Mona Lisa, temporal in that of Hamlet. The temporal nature of Hamlet is evinced by the sequential nature of its lines and sentences, reflected in the time the play takes to perform in the theatre.

  • 19 Tanselle, Rationale, p. 17; Wellek and Warren, Theory of Literature, p. 142.

7One might add that there is a more fundamental difference in that art works like the Mona Lisa are essentially unique, inherently non-repeatable, whereas Hamlet, or the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, is inherently repeatable – and repetition necessarily brings with it the possibility of variation, so that repeatable works are in a fundamental way multifarious. It has frequently been pointed out that a literary work would not be lost through the destruction of every known copy, provided a text of it were to remain in someone’s memory.19 One might doubt the accuracy of the memory – but equally one might doubt the accuracy of a particular written, printed, or recited text. Precisely the same can be argued in relation to musical works and their performances, written notations, or sound recordings. It is very much more doubtful that it could be argued in any meaningful way about the Mona Lisa.

  • 20 Tanselle, Rationale, pp. 16–17.
  • 21 Tanselle, Rationale, p. 17.
  • 22 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, p. 74; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, p. 10.
  • 23 An analogy can be, and has often been, drawn between music and language. See Joseph P. Swain, Music (...)

8Nevertheless, the identification of Hamlet as an ‘artefact’ seems to presuppose that it is embedded in a medium of some kind. While drama provides a particularly clear instance, it is the case that any literary artefact can be apprehended either by eye (reading) or by ear (listening), and so the medium for literature cannot be intrinsically either visual or auditory, either writing or sound. Instead, the medium is usually described as being language per se.20 Certainly, on one view, language is not tied to a mode of sensory perception. As Tanselle states, ‘arrangements of words according to the syntax of some language (along with such aids to their interpretation as pauses or punctuation) can exist in the mind, whether or not they are reported by voice or in writing’.21 Bateson, however, rejects this explanation, on the ground that language is itself also an artefact, albeit an exceptionally elaborate one – to the extent that ‘no even approximate parallel to it can be found in the media of the other fine arts’.22 This is worth quoting, because Treitler’s example of the Bach Toccata and Fugue (and the present investigation of the ballad) immediately prompts the observation that, on the contrary, a fairly exact parallel can be found in the medium of music. Music, like literature, can be apprehended by ear (listening) or by eye (reading). Its medium can then be described by analogy as ‘musical language’ or, in view of the cumbersome nature of the phrase and the problematic nature of the concept, simply as ‘music’.23

  • 24 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, pp. 72, 74; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, pp. 7, 8, 10. For a counte (...)
  • 25 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, pp. 74, 71; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, pp. 10, 7.
  • 26 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, corrected edn, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: John (...)

9Instead, Bateson identifies the medium of the literary artefact with what he calls ‘human articulations’, a substratum of ‘articulated sound’, or the ‘oral drama of the mind’– ‘brute matter’ anterior to language.24 While conceding that these ‘articulations’ need sound only to the ‘inner ear’, it is apparent that this position does in fact privilege sound, as a reference back to an earlier discussion of the role of rhyme in determining the text of a poem makes clear.25 Bateson’s ‘oral drama’ may therefore be an example of ‘phonocentrism’, the general precedence that, Derrida argues in Of Grammatology, has consistently been afforded to speech over writing in Western metaphysics.26 Yet while the ‘oral drama of the mind’ is an immensely seductive phrase (for the student of the ballad especially), if the adjective were to be removed, leaving the formulation ‘drama of the mind’, then that would seem to offer a more universally applicable (if not especially informative) identification for the non-sensory medium of art works of all kinds – though whether that would really represent a level of ontological generalization beyond that of language and music is perhaps debatable. (Lest it be objected that all such ideas – language, ‘musical language’, the ‘drama of the mind’– are too far removed from the putative physical basis for art works, it can be observed that in neuroscience creativity and memory are thought to have physical bases, though one would not wish to venture too far into that field.)

  • 27 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, pp. 74–77; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, pp. 10–12.

10Having identified the medium of literature as something other than language itself, Bateson was then left with the necessity of explaining the role of language in literature. It is worth following his line of thought because it leads indirectly to a consideration of one of the ways in which the ballad can be thought of as distinctive, when compared with canonical literature (and music). For Bateson, the role of language in literature is explained by reference to, and extension of, Saussure’s elemental distinction between langue and parole.27 The literary artefact is equated with parole ‘extended and elaborated’ into a memorable, literary form. The corresponding langue is elaborated to incorporate not just the elements of language and the rules for their combination, but also a set of specifically literary devices and rules. These include such things as metre and rhyme, diction and figures of speech, and the themes and conventions (topoi) of literature and specific genres of literary writing (the characteristic subjects and styles of, say, Elizabethan drama or Romantic poetry). Again, it is not difficult to envisage a similar argument distinguishing canonical music from less strictly organized sound, also by reference to Saussurean langue and parole.

  • 28 Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature (Lon (...)
  • 29 Tzvetan Todorov, Introduction to Poetics, trans. Richard Howard (Brighton: Harvester, 1981), pp. 6– (...)

11Other theorists, too, have endeavoured to apply the analogy of Saussure’s division between langue and parole, or Chomsky’s similar distinction of linguistic ‘competence’ and ‘performance’, to the literary realm. Jonathan Culler, for example, has developed the idea of ‘literary competence’to denote knowledge of the system of conventions that is required for reading or writing texts as literature, rather than simply as a concatenation of phrases in a particular language.28 Tzvetan Todorov proposes the term ‘literariness’ to embrace the abstract property that characterizes literature in potentia, an abstract and general structure of which a particular literary work is but one of many possible concrete realizations.29 Note, however, that while both ‘literary competence’ and ‘literariness’ equate to langue, for Todorov the literary work itself equates with parole, while for Culler parole equates with something more like the act of reading or writing.

  • 30 Gérard Genette, Figures of Literary Discourse, trans. Alan Sheridan (Oxford: Blackwell, 1982), pp. (...)

12Gérard Genette has a further take on the linguistic analogy: ‘literary ″production″ is a parole, in the Saussurian sense, a series of partially autonomous and unpredictable individual acts; but the ″consumption″ of this literature by society is a langue, that is to say, a whole the parts of which, whatever their number and nature, tend to be ordered into a coherent system’.30 Thus the translation from linguistics to literature is not transparent or uncontested. Moreover, ‘literary competence’, or a system of literature or poetics, however conceived, is something that must be learned or culturally acquired, by the individual or by society at large. Saussure’s langue or Chomsky’s ‘competence’, in contrast, is something that is assumed to be unconsciously assimilated or generated, and that has a probable innate, biological basis. The application to literature of these fundamental linguistic distinctions must therefore be made with caution, not as extrapolation but as analogy – which has the additional benefit of inviting the consideration of similar ideas in relation to other art forms, such as music.

  • 31 W. P. Ker, Form and Style in Poetry: Lectures and Notes, ed. R. W. Chambers (London: Macmillan, 196 (...)
  • 32 William J. Entwistle, European Balladry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939), p. 10.
  • 33 Albert B. Lord, The Singer of Tales, 2nd edn, ed. Stephen Mitchell and Gregory Nagy (Cambridge, MA: (...)
  • 34 Elsewhere, Lord suggests that oral epic performance equates with something that is both langue and (...)
  • 35 Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk, p. 61 (Buchan specifically quotes Ker, Entwistle, and Lord).

13Needless to say, it is not especially difficult to equate the specific verbal and musical vocabulary, grammar, and generic rules that can be empirically extracted from ballads and folk songs to a particular instance of langue, in much the same way that Bateson posits for canonical literature and its generic conventions and devices. W. P. Ker, for example, conceived of the ballad as a poetic ‘form’, a quasi-platonic idea which has as its essence, along with the intrinsic lyrical beauty of ballad language, ‘the power of taking up new subjects, and treating them according to the laws of the Ballad’.31 In rather more down-to-earth style, W. J. Entwistle states: ‘Any one could compose a ballad who knew how to express events in the ballad manner.’32 Albert Lord directly compares the ‘method’ of oral poetry with that of language, ‘substitution in the framework of the grammar’, so that ‘[i]n studying the patterns and systems of oral narrative verse we are in reality observing the ″grammar″ of the poetry, a grammar superimposed, as it were, on the grammar of the language concerned’.33 Thus oral poetry per se would equate with langue, and the production by the individual ‘singer of tales’ with parole.34 Lord’s account of South Slavic oral poetry then led David Buchan in The Ballad and the Folk to a similar position, expressed in language that closely echoes the preceding quotations: ‘In the Scottish Northeast, and presumably elsewhere, ballads were once composed in traditional fashion by local singers of tales who had mastered the patterns and systems of their poetic language.’35

  • 36 Dan Ben-Amos, ‘The Seven Strands of Tradition: Varieties in its Meaning in American Folklore Studie (...)
  • 37 Peter Bogatyrëv and Roman Jakobson, ‘Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity’, trans. Manfred Jaco (...)
  • 38 Bogatyrëv and Jakobson, ‘Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity’, p. 38.
  • 39 Bogatyrëv and Jakobson, ‘Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity’, p. 39.
  • 40 Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (London: Simpkin; Novello, 1907), p. 29.

14Elsewhere, scholars of both structuralist and behaviourist persuasions have sought to identify ‘folklore’ or ‘tradition’ itself with an abstract system of knowledge that then generates actual performances.36 In an important article from 1929 titled ‘Die Folklore als eine besondere Form des Schaffens ‘(‘Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity’), Peter Bogatyrëv and Roman Jakobson of the Prague linguistic circle state: ‘A fundamental difference between folklore and literature is that folklore is set specifically toward langue, while literature is set toward parole.’37 The rules and conventions found in the domain of folklore, unlike those that can be identified in the domain of canonical literature, comprise a generative system in their own right. The performer of a ballad or folktale, therefore, is not to be identified with the author, reader, or performer of a literary work. Even allowing for some invention and variation, ‘the work [ballad, tale, etc.] is a fact of langue, i. e., an extra-personal, given fact, independent of this performer’, not a fact of parole.38 Presumably this situation accounts for an element of conservatism in the reproduction of ballads and so forth. In practice, this generative system is said to operate through a process of ‘censorship’ by the (putative) community.39 Seemingly, the mechanism envisaged is something very similar to that which Cecil Sharp proposed, whereby selection by the community acts as a constraint on the transmission, preservation, and development of folk songs.40

15Bogatyrëv and Jakobson’s article is still cited (in European scholarship especially) and their qualitative distinction between folklore and literature remains influential, so that the repetition of ballads, folktales, and so forth can be envisaged as being constrained by an encompassing, collective, cultural system, in a manner that is simply not applicable to conventional literature – be it either canonical literature or ‘popular’ literature – which is an individual pursuit. However, ideas such as Bateson’s literary langue or Culler’s ‘literary competence’ now pose a very substantial challenge to this claim to exceptionalism – to the idea of folklore as a special form of creativity. The ready analogy between langue and a culturally based system of knowledge that enables the repetition of ballads and tales holds just as well for the creation and reception of literary works. And the fundamental objection to the extrapolation from linguistics remains the same for both: the practice either of literature or of folklore is always culturally learned; neither can be argued to have a biological basis comparable to that which is thought to underlie language (and perhaps music as well).

  • 41 Peter L. Shillingsburg, Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age: Theory and Practice, 3rd edn (Ann Ar (...)

16If that is so, then the ballad should be conceived as the equivalent of the literary ‘work’, equating to parole in its own right. The difficulty, though, lies in identifying where the boundaries of the work might fall: Enos White’s ‘George Collins’ (which recording? which transcription of words and tune?), with or without Bob Copper’s continued singing of it; the Hampshire oikotype, with its assumed, though unproven, genetic continuity; ‘Lady Alice’(Child 85) at large, or a ‘Lady Alice’/’Clerk Colvill’ (Roud 147) complex? Here it is necessary to draw on the distinction between ‘text’ and ‘work’ that underpins much of modern textual criticism.41 ‘Text’ can be defined as the actual order of signs contained within a single physical form. The most familiar kind of text consists of words and punctuation in a particular order, but texts may equally be comprised, for example, of sequences of music notation, or variations in the magnetic coating of recording tape or a computer disk, or the sequence of pits and lands on a CD. In principle, precisely the same text – exactly the same sequence of words and musical notes that comprise a ballad, say – can exist in several different places, held in different storage media – in print on paper, etched on a CD, or within the sound waves of a live performance. In practice, it is extremely difficult to conceive of a text in isolation from the physical form, the ‘document’, that it inhabits.

17The idea of the ‘work’, in contrast, is essentially an abstraction, which can be considered from a number of different perspectives: (i) the standpoint of the producer, as a dynamic product of the imagination, growing and changing until it reaches – if it ever does – a fullness and stasis; (ii) the point of view of audience and editor, as something represented more or less well and more or less completely by any one of the various texts that are available – manuscript, print, performance, sound recording, and so on; (iii) the perspective of aesthetic reception, in the minds of readers/listeners, as an imagined whole implied by all the differing texts that can be conceived of as standing for a single entity. The literary or musical work, while still an artefact in Bateson’s sense, is invisible, temporal, and infinitely reproducible, with (unlike an individual text) a capacity for variation and no single circumscribed form. The redundancy of possible documents and texts testifies to this condition. It testifies, too, to the ever present possibility not only of deliberate revision but also of falling short – at every stage of text production, from the making of documents (performance, manuscript, print, sound recording) through to reception by listener or reader – of the producer’s presumed intention. Only an ‘imaginary’ work can be pinned down in the manner of a text, and such a form is always necessarily subject to conjecture.

  • 42 The distinction between intangible and tangible media is closely based on Tanselle, Rationale, pp. (...)
  • 43 This is not to say that a painting or a pot cannot also be conceived of as an imaginary ‘work’, in (...)
  • 44 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, p. 72; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, p. 7.

18These summary definitions apply readily enough to literary and musical works, and also to works in other sequential arts, such as dance and film, the media of which are likewise intangible.42 For works in the non-sequential, plastic arts (painting and sculpture, pottery and textiles, architecture, and the like), the media of which are permanent and tangible, there is a readier sense in which the physical artefact – the ‘text’ in its documentary form – does equate with the work.43 Unlike the texts of a poem or a piece of music, the ‘text’ of a painting (arguably) cannot be preserved in different storage media. A painting or a pot, which is present in its entirety at any one moment, can be handed down through time. In contrast, a work comprising a sequential arrangement of language and/or music can be preserved and transmitted only by means of ‘sets of instructions’ for its reconstitution and repetition, which are themselves potentially variable. In brief, in a tangible medium, the text equates to the physical artefact and is the only possible representation of the work; in an intangible medium, the text is merely one of many possible ‘translations’(Bateson’s word) of the work.44 We can ‘know’ what a painting or a sculpture consists of with a degree of confidence that we simply cannot enjoy in relation to a literary or a musical work. This is the difference between the Mona Lisa on the one hand and Hamlet or the Toccata and Fugue in D minor on the other, between the Grecian urn and Keats’s poem.

19Faced with all the documentary evidence in the world – performances, manuscripts, print, sound recordings – the constitution of the literary or musical work remains a matter of conjecture. It is not just that documentary texts may be faulty witnesses, as in the case of classical or biblical texts created long after the date of the work they purport to transmit, or conflicting witnesses, as in the case of the quarto and folio texts of Hamlet. Nor is it even that works of art are never quite realizable just as they were imagined by their human creators. The point is rather one of theoretical principle. Even if a work of art has been perfectly realized, there is no way of knowing for certain from the documentary evidence that this is the case. The great cruxes of literature and music – Hamlet’s ‘too too solid’ or ‘sallied’ or ‘sullied’ flesh; the A-natural or A-sharp in the first movement of the Hammerklavier Sonata – are only illustrations of this all-pervasive principle. Cruxes serve as a sort of necessary evil to remind readers, performers, listeners, and editors alike of the unreliability that runs through all texts. For this reason, the individual ballad text does not serve to locate the ballad any more than does an individual text of Hamlet or of the Toccata and Fugue. It is fair to say that the ‘work’ is what both scholars and laypersons mean when they refer to Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. It remains, then, to identify what we mean by the ballad as a literary and musical work.

  • 45 For the musical examples, see Treitler, ‘History and Ontology’.
  • 46 Paul Eggert, ‘The Way of All Text: The Materialist Shakespeare’, in Voice, Text, Hypertext: Emergin (...)

20By and large, it is mostly textual editors who worry themselves about intractable discrepancies between quarto and folio texts of Hamlet, first and last editions of novels of Henry James, differing written notations and performances of medieval chant or of piano pieces by Chopin.45 One reason for this is that (in at least three out of the four cases just mentioned) it is possible to impose a unifying label, in the shape of the name of the author or composer, which conveniently lumps together all the textual options in a manner that will satisfy most readers or listeners. Recent approaches to the sociology and materiality of texts have drawn attention on the one hand to the various kinds of collaborators (editors, readers, printers, performers, and so on) involved in the production of texts, and on the other to the material qualities of documents, which are capable of signifying in their own right. Nevertheless, the shorthand of identifying a work by reference to its primary, named author persists, even among the most committed materialist critics – to indicate, for example, that the folio and two quarto Hamlets have something to do with each other, more so than with the non-Shakespearian Ur-Hamlet, possibly written by Thomas Kyd. The work thus identified is a means of defining – subjectively, no doubt – the amount of variation that is tolerable before one thing becomes something else.46

  • 47 William St Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (...)
  • 48 Michel Foucault, ‘What Is an Author?’, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (Harmondsworth: Pen (...)

21It was not always thus. With much of medieval vernacular literature and music, the named author is the exception rather than the rule. The modern conception of literary authorship is generally understood to have developed only gradually, over a long period of time from the late Middle Ages to the late eighteenth century, as the product of various interconnected factors, including the growth of a marketplace for works of the imagination, the gradual lessening of the book industry’s monopoly over intellectual property rights, and an emerging idea of the autonomy of the creative artist.47 Michel Foucault’s famous essay ‘What Is an Author?’ sketchily outlines the process whereby over time, ‘literary discourses came to be accepted only when endowed with the author function. We now ask of each poetic or fictional text: From where does it come, who wrote it, when, under what circumstances, or beginning with what design?’48 Yet it remains the case that there are other ways of envisaging both music and literature, in which an author figure is not invoked to assert authority over the limits of the work, and where instead such things as subject matter and generic devices chart its (generally much more fluid) boundaries. Middle English romances, chronicles, and saints’ lives are good literary examples; the corpus of medieval chant provides a broadly comparable musical instance. The work is merely an organizing principle for texts; it is not ineluctably tied to external ideas of authorship, genre, or anything else.

  • 49 Ian Russell, ‘The Singer’s the Thing: Individual and Group Identity in a Pennine Singing Tradition’ (...)

22Howbeit, students of the ballad have developed a strong tendency to label their object of study using the name of the source performer as organizing principle: Enos White’s ‘George Collins’, and so forth. Often, this simply reflects an ethnographic, performer/performance-based orientation to the research.49 If one wishes to study aspects of an individual singer’s style, for example, a very good way of doing so is to compare their performance of a particular ballad with someone else’s, even (indeed, especially) if the two ballads are all but identical in words and tune. Yet this hypothetical situation also brings out the ontological problem. On the one hand, the two renditions – the two singers’ performances, comprising separate documents, even if their verbal and musical identity were such as to make it possible to speak of just a single text – clearly represent no more than instances of a single work, and they could quite reasonably be collated in the preparation of an edition. On the other hand, the application of the singer’s personal name as organizing principle, capable of consolidating many potential renditions (texts) and/or different documentary formats (as in the initial ‘George Collins’ example described above), is well-nigh equivalent to equating the performer with the author or composer of a conventional literary or musical work. Editorial collation with texts from another source would then appear to be a violation of the integrity that implies.

  • 50 Phillips Barry, ‘The Part of the Folk Singer in the Making of Folk Balladry’, in The Critics & the (...)
  • 51 Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed., The Oxford Book of Ballads (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), pp. ix–xi. F (...)

23That this equivalence is intended is apparent in a number of studies of variation in ballads and folk songs which emphasize the importance of conscious acts of creation on the singer’s part, summed up in Phillips Barry’s description of ‘the passionate individualist folk-singer’.50 Modern ballad editors have indeed generally reinforced this impression through the separate transcription and publication of words and music from each of the individual sources they had to hand (though in practice sometimes circumscribed by constraints imposed by their publishers). Conversely, editors like Arthur Quiller-Couch, who, in the (first) Oxford Book of Ballads, sought to edit not each text of a ballad but the work in its generality, collating texts to arrive at a representative text, which may not ever have actually been sung in quite that form, have attracted opprobrium.51 Sound recordings of different performers, of course, have their own very immediate rationale, for they carry additional, usually quite distinctive, information in the form of vocal quality, style, individuality of expression and interpretation. Ironically, these are just the things that suggest a direct comparison not between ballad singer and author/composer, but between the ballad singer and the reciter of poetry, the actor in a play, or the performer of art music.

24The ballad singer, too, is almost invariably not the author or composer – never, in the case of the Child ballads and the tunes generally associated with them. And despite the ‘passionate individualism’, while variations certainly do arise between ballads deriving from different sources (or the same source on separate occasions), in many cases what is more evident is a strong element of conservatism, so that the degree of variation is certainly no greater than can be found among texts attributable to a single author – the quarto and folio Hamlets and King Lears, the sketches and scores of Chopin’s Nocturne in B major, op. 62, no. 1, the variant endings of Great Expectations, the multiple revisions in Joyce’s Ulysses. Indirectly, the type/version paradigm of ballad scholarship goes some way to square this circle, tacitly acknowledging the anonymity of ballads while retaining a sort of equivalence between performer and author/composer. It does so effectively by introducing an additional ontological layer in the concept of ‘type’, which is similar to, but not identical with, the literary or musical ‘work’.

  • 52 Flemming G. Andersen, ‘“All There Is... As It Is”: On the Development of Textual Criticism in Balla (...)
  • 53 Stith Thompson, ‘Type’, in Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, (...)
  • 54 Confusingly, some scholars use ‘version’ and ‘variant’ interchangeably, while others maintain a dis (...)
  • 55 Samuel P. Bayard, ‘Prolegomena to a Study of the Principal Melodic Families of British-American Fol (...)
  • 56 Robert A. Georges and Michael Owen Jones, Folkloristics: An Introduction (Bloomington and Indianapo (...)

25Following the practice of the Danish ballad editor Svend Grundtvig (1824 – 83), who was in turn influenced by the Scottish collector William Motherwell (1797 – 1835), Francis James Child classified the individual texts in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882 – 98) into 305 different types.52 Stith Thompson defines type as a narrative ‘capable of maintaining an independent existence in tradition’– that is to say, across time and space.53 The individual instance is then identified by the (problematic) designation ‘version’ (or sometimes ‘variant’).54 The corresponding categorization of ballad tunes involves grouping them into ‘tune families’.55 This type/version principle is widely applied to genres of folk literature – and is sometimes used, implicitly or explicitly, to define folk literature and music, and to distinguish these from canonical literature and music by their amenability to grouping into ‘type sets’ on the basis of similarities with other examples documented from elsewhere in time and space.56 The type concept is embodied in the standard numbering system for English-language ballads and folk songs provided by the Roud indexes (even while its limitations in relation to genres with less narrative content, such as sea shanties and certain kinds of lyric songs, are readily acknowledged).

  • 57 Treitler, ‘History and Ontology’, p. 298.
  • 58 See David Atkinson, ‘The English “Maid” and the Ballad Idea’, in Singing the Nations: Herder’s Lega (...)

26Yet it is questionable whether ‘type’ really does impart a distinctive ontology to folk music and literature. Treitler raises instances such as Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral transcription for the Disney film Fantasia of the Bach Toccata and Fugue which was actually composed for the organ, a rendition by the Swingle Singers, Wendy Carlos’s electronically synthesized recording on the CD Switched-On Bach 2000, or a performance that introduces a virtuoso obbligato violin part into the fugue.57 Equally, we might pose the reported text contained in the first, ‘bad’ quarto of Hamlet, or the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s 25-minute Hamlet. We might go on to add passages in the Historiae Danicae of Saxo Grammaticus and the Histoires Tragiques of François de Belleforest, the Elizabethan Ur-Hamlet, the German play Der bestrafte Brudermord, Franco Faccio’s opera Amleto with libretto by Arrigo Boito, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, John Wain’s poetic cycle Feng, and Adam McNaughtan’s song in vernacular Scots, ‘Oor Hamlet’. By the same token, we could cite prosimetric cantefables that include the stanzas of the Child ballad ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows’(Child 95) in what are in effect folktales,58 other ballad narratives retold by storytellers, and the operas Lord Bateman (the story of Child 53) by Arnold Foster to a libretto by Joan Sharp (daughter of Cecil Sharp) and The Two Sisters (the story of Child 10) by Cyril Rootham with libretto by Marjory Fausset. All of these are, of course, arguable instances, dependent simply upon the degree of variation, both thematic and generic, that one is prepared to allow within the boundaries of the ‘same’ work. They serve, however, to illustrate the general point that both ‘type’ and ‘work’ are subjective abstractions, organizing principles, constructed upon actual instances of texts.

  • 59 Robert A. Georges, ‘The Universality of the Tale-Type as Concept and Construct’, Western Folklore, (...)
  • 60 See also George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind (C (...)
  • 61 Treitler, ‘History and Ontology’, p. 312.

27Robert Georges maintains that ‘the construct which is identifiable as the tale-type is based upon a concept which is itself a manifestation of the human abilities to conceptualize reality phenomenologically and to engage in the two seemingly contrastive, yet actually complementary, processes of distinguishing among phenomena, on the one hand, and grouping phenomena together, on the other’.59 Georges conceives of the activity of type classification as a behaviour that is innate, biologically based, rather than learned.60 If that is so, then the type/version idea cannot in principle be confined to folk music and literature, even if empirically those are the genres that particularly and characteristically invite its application (largely because of the sheer volume of texts available to be compared). Rather, if the innate impulse towards type classification is analogous with langue, then type itself must equate with parole and is really not distinguishable from modern conceptions of the literary or musical work. The individual ballad version, then, equates simply with text – that is to say, a ‘translation’ or ‘set of instructions’, or ‘exemplification’(Treitler’s word),61 permitting a reconstitution and repetition, but only one of many conceivable such reconstitutions and repetitions, of a work.

28Such a perspective does indeed accord with the mostly unknown authorship of ballads and the presumed ultimate genetic interdependence of all their known instances (even if those exact connections are no longer recoverable and the attempted reconstruction of a hypothetical archetype might be a largely futile exercise when one is faced with inordinate numbers of potential variables). But that is not the primary reason for pursuing this ontological inquiry into the ballad – for asking, what is the state of its being? The inquiry begins, rather, with the implicit insistence that the ballad is an aesthetic artefact, capable of existing both within and outside of the reactions it provokes among its readers and listeners (the latter including singers themselves), and worthy of the repetition that is intrinsic to works of art in sequential media. Like other such artefacts, the ballad cannot be located in a single place, but demands instead an organizing principle, which is what the concept of the work provides.

  • 62 Treitler, ‘History and Ontology’, pp. 309–12. Lydia Goehr, The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: A (...)
  • 63 Roger deV. Renwick, Recentering Anglo/American Folksong: Sea Crabs and Wicked Youths (Jackson: Univ (...)

29Yet, (i) the nature of the work is always a matter of conjecture, so that only a ‘postulated work’can be advanced in any given situation, founded on the evidence of available texts; and (ii) texts themselves, at every stage of their production, can fall short of the works they endeavour to represent. To cite a concrete example, imagine conjecturing the play Hamlet with only the evidence of the first quarto to hand. A musical example, which comes closer to the ballad situation, is that of medieval chant, where the ‘same’ chant could be sung with a large variety of introductory and interpolated tropes, so that a single surviving notation alone could not possibly give an impression of the potential whole; it is not a question of the text being ‘faulty’(as can perhaps be charged against the reported text of Hamlet), but of its being simply one possible exemplification out of many that could represent the same work.62 Then it becomes a simple mathematical principle that the conjectured work can be refined by a proliferation of the available exemplifications, even if this means that the resultant postulated work is one that encompasses an increasing degree of fluidity. This is more than an adequate description of the ballad situation, where a proliferation of renderings, accessible through what Roger Renwick terms the ‘data banks and databases’ of Anglo-American folk song,63 permits the refinement and amplification of an idea of the ballad as work.

  • 64 The locus classicus for the social theory of text is Jerome J. McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual (...)

30It might be objected that to cast the individual rendering of a ballad as an exemplification of a larger, abstract concept that is the work appears to deprive the performer of agency. That is not the case, though, for two related reasons. The first is that the work concept does not in any way seek to negate the integrity of individual texts, which, indeed, provide its ontological foundations. Rather, the work provides a background against which the distinctive features of individual texts can appear in sharper relief, highlighting characteristics such as style and variation. The work provides the framework within which the individual text can represent a particular set of artistic, aesthetic choices made at a particular place and time. The second reason is that modern textual criticism, in the form of the ‘social theory of text’, is highly conscious of the multiple agencies that contribute to the creation of texts.64 Such agents might include editors, printers, readers, actors, even censors; performers in the Western art music tradition; scribes working in medieval scriptoria – all of whom have historically had various kinds of input into the received texts of literary and musical works. No longer are these agents perceived as potentially hostile mediators of the originating intentions of authors and composers – or at best as a necessary evil – but instead they are acknowledged as essential collaborators in the creation of aesthetic artefacts.

31From the collaborative nature of much Elizabethan playwriting (even in the case of Shakespeare), through Edward Bulwer Lytton’s role in the altered ending of Great Expectations, and Smith, Elder, and Company’s in-house punctuation of Jane Eyre, to Ezra Pound’s contributions to The Waste Land – not to mention Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstück XI, a composition comprising eleven segments, the order of which is determined only by the performer at the moment of performance – the collaborative, social nature of text-making is more than apparent. This remains the case even when the author’s name continues to be perceived as the dominant organizing principle, and may to the lay person be more or less coterminous with the very idea of the work. Where authorship is largely unknown – for much of medieval literature and music, and for the ballad – then the agency of contributors who are not the prime authors or originators of the texts in question seems incontestable.

  • 65 Foucault, ‘What Is an Author?’, p. 109.

32In the absence of a controlling idea of unitary authorship, the ballad has fallen prey to competing and sometimes restrictive organizing principles, which seemingly seek to reinstate that missing ‘author function’, asking, in Foucault’s words, ‘From where does it come, who wrote it, when, under what circumstances, or beginning with what design?’65 So approaches to the ballad variously defer to process, ethnography, text, geography, genre – emphasizing such things as method of production, singer and occasion, ballad type or tune family, concentration of texts and tunes found in a region, or the wider practice of telling stories in song to strophic melodies. In practice, of course, all of these approaches contribute to the interdisciplinary richness of ballad scholarship – but it can be difficult to maintain the broad-mindedness necessary to conceive of the ballad in all of these ways simultaneously, at all of its possible levels of ontology.

33We cannot now know Enos White, though he can be heard briefly talking about his life and work on the BBC recording (cited above), and we have Bob Copper’s bucolic pen-portrait, which is worth quoting in full:

  • 66 Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 9.2 (1961), 73. See also Copper, Songs and Sout (...)

Enos will always be one of my favourite singers. A slight man of 70 years (at that time – now deceased), face and arms tanned to the colour of old oak by the sun of nearly as many harvests. He had been a carter for the whole of his working life, working on the farms in the immediate surroundings. I took all his recordings in the front parlour of his tiny cottage at the back of the ‘Crown Inn’, Axford, and afterwards spent the remainder of many long summer evenings on a rickety wooden bench under a gnarled apple tree in his garden. There we would sit while he recalled many of the old singers, sipping our ale until the last of the light had faded. He remembered Ralph Vaughan Williams’s visit to the area some 50 years before. ‘He used to come up with another gentleman from the station at Micheldever, in a horse and fly’, he said, ‘Black coats and hard-hats they had on and one was the ″song-getter″ and the other the ″music writer″.’66

  • 67 In each case, the printed words of ‘George Collins’ differ slightly from what can be heard on the s (...)

34But equally it cannot be said that Enos White’s ‘George Collins’ no longer exists, for we have the sound recording (with its limitations) in various formats (with their limitations), as well as the transcribed words and music (with their limitations, too).67 We have, moreover, the additional evidence of similar forms of ‘George Collins’ collected in Hampshire, and in North America (as ‘Johnny Collins’), and rather less similar forms in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads – though we do not have the evidence of all the texts and tunes that were not recorded (the existence of such a lost multiplicity being suggested by the appearance of the parody in The Universal Songster). So the ballad – both ‘George Collins’ and the English-language ballad at large – cannot be located in one place, for while each documentary text is complete in itself, it also stands in relation to the work of which it is an incomplete realization. The ballad is both physical document and imaginary conjecture.

  • 68 This sentence adapts remarks of Bernard Cerquiglini, In Praise of the Variant: A Critical History o (...)

35It may be that it has always been thus, and that the folk revival that gathered pace in Europe from the late eighteenth century onwards, which came to identify the individual ballad with the individual contributor, thereby elevated to the status of an ‘author-equivalent’, has obscured a fundamental ontology that is much closer to that of pre-modern literature and music. As Treitler argues, understanding(s) of the ontology of works changes with the progress of history, and it is necessary to recognize the transience of any current perspective. The ballad should be seen not as a closed, original, and seminal utterance, but as constant and multiple production, like the constant reworkings of anonymous medieval texts.68 It may be uncomfortable, but the appropriate organizing principle is precisely one of proliferation, and of multiple sets of instructions or exemplifications for the reconstitution and repetition of a work which, like Hamlet, like the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, can never be wholly represented by a single exemplification – but which, for so long as it remains in someone’s memory, can never be altogether lost, either.

Notes

1 It is perhaps as well to state that ontology is not at all a mere synonym for a genre definition, and while scholarly tradition means that ESPB has provided the point of departure for the study of the English-language ballads, the discussion here and in the chapters that follow is not concerned with drawing the boundaries of a canon of narrative song.

2 BBC RPL 21857 [archival CD copy in London, Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, BBC CDA 12].

3 Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 9.2 (1961), 72–73; Bob Copper, Songs and Southern Breezes: Country Folk and Country Ways (London: Heinemann, 1973), pp. 108–13, 246–47.

4 The Child Ballads 1, The Folk Songs of Britain, vol. 4, 12-inch LP (Caedmon TC1145, 1961; Topic 12T160, 1969); Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland, vol. 1, CD (Rounder 11661-1775-2, 2000).

5 Songs and Southern Breezes: Country Singers from Hampshire and Sussex, recorded by Bob Copper, 12-inch LP (Topic 12T317, 1977); O’er his Grave the Grass Grew Green: Tragic Ballads, The Voice of the People, vol. 3, CD (Topic TSCD653, 1998).

6 The Folktrax archive lists Enos White’s ‘George Collins’ on two CDs: Three Maidens a-Milking: Songs from Hampshire (FTX-426); The Baffled Knight: Classic Ballads 2 (FTX-502), available at http://www.folktrax-archive.org.

7 When the May Is All in Bloom: Traditional Singing from the South East of England, CD (Veteran VT131CD, 1995). My thanks to Jon Dudley for this last piece of information.

8 R. Vaughan Williams and A. L. Lloyd, eds, The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959), pp. 44–45, 114–15; R. Vaughan Williams and A. L. Lloyd, eds, Classic English Folk Songs, rev. Malcolm Douglas (London: EFDSS, 2003), pp. 25, 90–91. (It is not in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs published in 2012.)

9 London, EFDSS Archives, George Gardiner Collection, GG/1/6/327 [George Blake, Southampton, Hampshire, 17 July 1906], GG/1/7/419 [Henry Stansbridge, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, 27 September 1906], GG/1/8/439 [Henry Gaylor, Minstead, Hampshire, 27 September 1906; Philip Gaylor, Minstead, Hampshire, 16 July 1906?], GG/1/11/658 [George Hiscock, Minstead, Hampshire, November 1906], GG/1/19/1193 [Henry Blake, Bartley, Hampshire, September 1908].

10 Barbara M. Cra’ster, ‘George Collins’, Journal of the Folk-Song Society, 4.2 (no. 15) (1910), 106–09; Samuel P. Bayard, ‘The “Johnny Collins” Version of “Lady Alice”’, Journal of American Folklore, 58 (1945), 73–103; Harbison Parker, ‘The “Clerk Colvill” Mermaid’, Journal of American Folklore, 60 (1947), 265–85. Currently, Child 42/85 is listed as Roud 147. For a counter-argument, see David Atkinson, ‘“George Collins” in Hampshire’, in The Flowering Thorn: International Ballad Studies, ed. Thomas A. McKean (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2003), pp. 193–204.

11 The Universal Songster; or, Museum of Mirth, 3 vols (London: John Fairburn; Simpkin and Marshall; Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper, 1825–26), iii, 16.

12 F. J. Child, ‘Ballad Poetry’, in Johnson’s New Universal Cyclopædia, eds-in-chief Frederick A. P. Barnard and Arnold Guyot, 4 vols (New York: A. J. Johnson, 1881 [1874]), I, 365–68 (p. 365).

13 D. K. Wilgus, Anglo-American Folksong Scholarship since 1898 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1959), p. 69.

14 David Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972).

15 Barre Toelken, Morning Dew and Roses: Nuance, Metaphor, and Meaning in Folksongs (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995), p. 157.

16 F. W. Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography and the Literary Artifact’, in English Studies Today, 2nd ser., ed. G. A. Bonnard (Bern: Francke, 1961), pp. 67–77 (p. 74); F. W. Bateson, ‘The New Bibliography and the “New Criticism”: A Lecture at Lausanne’, in Essays in Critical Dissent (London: Longman, 1972), pp. 1–15 (pp. 9–10). See also René Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature, 3rd edn (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963), pp. 142–57 (‘The Mode of Existence of a Literary Work of Art’).

17 Leo Treitler, ‘History and the Ontology of the Musical Work’, in With Voice and Pen: Coming to Know Medieval Song and How It Was Made (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 298–316 (p. 298).

18 G. Thomas Tanselle, A Rationale of Textual Criticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), pp. 11–13.

19 Tanselle, Rationale, p. 17; Wellek and Warren, Theory of Literature, p. 142.

20 Tanselle, Rationale, pp. 16–17.

21 Tanselle, Rationale, p. 17.

22 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, p. 74; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, p. 10.

23 An analogy can be, and has often been, drawn between music and language. See Joseph P. Swain, Musical Languages (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997). Yet it is very difficult to comprehend what ‘musical language’ might actually be, in part because it is difficult to envisage what might be the nature of the information that (all) music can convey. Christopher Small, Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1998), addresses music as something like a system which can be apprehended in multiple ways: ‘To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composing), or by dancing’ (p. 9). Nevertheless, ‘musicking’ ties music more to action than to its imaginary presence. Mostly, I will simply use the term ‘music’ here, but with the language analogy always in mind.

24 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, pp. 72, 74; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, pp. 7, 8, 10. For a counter-argument, see James McLaverty, ‘The Mode of Existence of Literary Works of Art: The Case of the Dunciad Variorum’ , Studies in Bibliography, 37 (1984), 82–105.

25 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, pp. 74, 71; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, pp. 10, 7.

26 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, corrected edn, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).

27 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, pp. 74–77; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, pp. 10–12.

28 Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature (London: Routledge, 2002 [1975]), pp. 131–52. See also Jonathan Culler, ‘Prolegomena to a Theory of Reading’, in The Reader in the Text: Essays on Audience and Interpretation, ed. Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 46–66.

29 Tzvetan Todorov, Introduction to Poetics, trans. Richard Howard (Brighton: Harvester, 1981), pp. 6–7.

30 Gérard Genette, Figures of Literary Discourse, trans. Alan Sheridan (Oxford: Blackwell, 1982), pp. 18–19.

31 W. P. Ker, Form and Style in Poetry: Lectures and Notes, ed. R. W. Chambers (London: Macmillan, 1966 [1928]), p. 41.

32 William J. Entwistle, European Balladry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939), p. 10.

33 Albert B. Lord, The Singer of Tales, 2nd edn, ed. Stephen Mitchell and Gregory Nagy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 35–36.

34 Elsewhere, Lord suggests that oral epic performance equates with something that is both langue and parole at the same time: ‘a third form of communication, or of relationship, peculiar to oral verbal art’ (The Singer of Tales, pp. 279–80 n. 7).

35 Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk, p. 61 (Buchan specifically quotes Ker, Entwistle, and Lord).

36 Dan Ben-Amos, ‘The Seven Strands of Tradition: Varieties in its Meaning in American Folklore Studies’, Journal of Folklore Research, 21 (1984), 97–131 (pp. 121–22); Mary Ellen Brown and Bruce A. Rosenberg, eds, Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1998), pp. xxxvi–xxxvii.

37 Peter Bogatyrëv and Roman Jakobson, ‘Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity’, trans. Manfred Jacobson, in The Prague School: Selected Writings, 1929–1946, ed. Peter Steiner (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982), pp. 32–46 (p. 39).

38 Bogatyrëv and Jakobson, ‘Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity’, p. 38.

39 Bogatyrëv and Jakobson, ‘Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity’, p. 39.

40 Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (London: Simpkin; Novello, 1907), p. 29.

41 Peter L. Shillingsburg, Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age: Theory and Practice, 3rd edn (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), pp. 42–47; James Grier, The Critical Editing of Music: History, Method, and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 20–24. (This paragraph and the next draw particularly on Shillingsburg’s concise account.)

42 The distinction between intangible and tangible media is closely based on Tanselle, Rationale, pp. 20–33; G. Thomas Tanselle, ‘The Varieties of Scholarly Editing’, in Scholarly Editing: A Guide to Research, ed. D. C. Greetham (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1995), pp. 9–32 (pp. 10, 12–13).

43 This is not to say that a painting or a pot cannot also be conceived of as an imaginary ‘work’, in much the same manner as a literary or musical work, taking account, for instance, of the creator’s known or perceived intentions. But the distinction can be further illustrated by reference to the work of the scholar who wishes to recover a form that the work might have had at some point in the past. The art restorer can achieve this only by physically and permanently altering a painting, an intervention that will unavoidably change the experience of the work for everyone who subsequently views it. The literary editor, however, can produce a new text–or, heaven forfend, alter an existing manuscript!–without bringing about any permanent alteration in the literary work itself, and subsequent readers can choose whether or not to take account of the editor’s intervention. See Tanselle, Rationale, pp. 29–30.

44 Bateson, ‘Modern Bibliography’, p. 72; Bateson, ‘New Bibliography’, p. 7.

45 For the musical examples, see Treitler, ‘History and Ontology’.

46 Paul Eggert, ‘The Way of All Text: The Materialist Shakespeare’, in Voice, Text, Hypertext: Emerging Practices in Textual Studies, ed. Raimonda Modiano, Leroy F. Searle, and Peter Shillingsburg (Seattle: Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities in association with University of Washington Press, 2004), pp. 162–76 (pp. 171–72).

47 William St Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

48 Michel Foucault, ‘What Is an Author?’, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), pp. 101–20 (p. 109).

49 Ian Russell, ‘The Singer’s the Thing: Individual and Group Identity in a Pennine Singing Tradition’, Folk Music Journal, 8.3 (2003), 266–81, the title of which confronts D. K. Wilgus, ‘The Text Is the Thing’, Journal of American Folklore, 86 (1973), 241–52. However, some folklorists seemingly want to do away with the idea of texts altogether. See Jeff Todd Titon, ‘Text’, in Eight Words for the Study of Expressive Culture, ed. Burt Feintuch (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), pp. 69–98.

50 Phillips Barry, ‘The Part of the Folk Singer in the Making of Folk Balladry’, in The Critics & the Ballad, ed. MacEdward Leach and Tristram P. Coffin (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1961), pp. 59–76 (p. 76). See also Roger D. Abrahams and George Foss, Anglo-American Folklsong Style (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), pp. 12–36; Tom Burns, ‘A Model for Textual Variation in Folksong’, Folklore Forum, 3 (1970), 49–56; Eleanor R. Long, ‘Ballad Singers, Ballad Makers, and Ballad Etiology’, Western Folklore, 32 (1973), 225–36; Ian Russell, ‘Stability and Change in a Sheffield Singing Tradition’, Folk Music Journal, 5.3 (1987), 317–58.

51 Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed., The Oxford Book of Ballads (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), pp. ix–xi. For a discussion, see E. David Gregory, ‘In the Shadow of Child: Other Victorian Perspectives on Ballad Editing’, in Ballad Mediations: Folksongs Recovered, Represented, and Reimagined, ed. Roger deV. Renwick and Sigrid Rieuwerts, BASIS, vol. 2 (Trier: WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2006), pp. 69–77.

52 Flemming G. Andersen, ‘“All There Is... As It Is”: On the Development of Textual Criticism in Ballad Studies’, Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung, 39 (1994), 28–40; Mary Ellen Brown, ‘Mr. Child’s Scottish Mentor: William Motherwell’, in Ballads into Books: The Legacies of Francis James Child, ed. Tom Cheesman and Sigrid Rieuwerts (Bern: Peter Lang, 1997), pp. 29–39.

53 Stith Thompson, ‘Type’, in Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, ed. Maria Leach, 2 vols (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1949–50), pp. 1137–38.

54 Confusingly, some scholars use ‘version’ and ‘variant’ interchangeably, while others maintain a distinction and prefer the latter term where a degree of apparently deliberate variation is apparent. See [Stith Thompson], ‘Variant’, in Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, ed. Maria Leach, 2 vols (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1949–50), pp. 1154–55. Ballad scholarship currently tends to favour ‘version’for all instances (but see chapter 6 below).

55 Samuel P. Bayard, ‘Prolegomena to a Study of the Principal Melodic Families of British-American Folk Song’, Journal of American Folklore, 63 (1950), 1–44; reprinted in The Critics & the Ballad, ed. MacEdward Leach and Tristram P. Coffin (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1961), pp. 103–50; Bertrand Harris Bronson, The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, 4 vols (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959–72).

56 Robert A. Georges and Michael Owen Jones, Folkloristics: An Introduction (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), pp. 112–20.

57 Treitler, ‘History and Ontology’, p. 298.

58 See David Atkinson, ‘The English “Maid” and the Ballad Idea’, in Singing the Nations: Herder’s Legacy, ed. Dace Bula and Sigrid Rieuwerts, BASIS, vol. 4 (Trier: WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2008), pp. 298–308.

59 Robert A. Georges, ‘The Universality of the Tale-Type as Concept and Construct’, Western Folklore, 42 (1983), 21–28 (p. 28).

60 See also George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); David V. Newman, ‘Chaos, Classification, and Intelligence/Caos, classificazione e intelligenza’, in Origine della vita intelligente nell’universo/Origin of Intelligent Life in the Universe, ed. Roberto Colombo, Giulio Giorello, Gioachino Rigamonti, Elio Sindoni, and Corrado Sinigaglia (Como: Edizioni New Press, 1999), pp. 93–106; Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England, 1500–1800 (London: Allen Lane, 1983), pp. 51–70; and Jorge Luis Borges’s essay ‘The Analytical Language of John Wilkins’.

61 Treitler, ‘History and Ontology’, p. 312.

62 Treitler, ‘History and Ontology’, pp. 309–12. Lydia Goehr, The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music, rev. edn (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), argues cogently that the ‘work concept’ in Western art music, exemplified by the music of Beethoven, is a product of the history of musical practice and aesthetics which only emerged c. 1800, and so the more fluid conception described by Treitler might well be the more representative case in relation to music at large. It would no doubt be possible to think of further examples from popular music genres such as blues and jazz. Treitler, ‘History and Ontology’, p. 312, explicitly compares his example of medieval chant with the tune family concept as it applies to ‘Barbara Allen’ (Child 84).

63 Roger deV. Renwick, Recentering Anglo/American Folksong: Sea Crabs and Wicked Youths (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), p. x.

64 The locus classicus for the social theory of text is Jerome J. McGann, A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992 [1983]). The social theory informs Grier’s Critical Editing of Music (see pp. 16–19) and, less explicitly, Treitler’s ‘History and Ontology’.

65 Foucault, ‘What Is an Author?’, p. 109.

66 Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 9.2 (1961), 73. See also Copper, Songs and Southern Breezes, pp. 108–13.

67 In each case, the printed words of ‘George Collins’ differ slightly from what can be heard on the sound recording.

68 This sentence adapts remarks of Bernard Cerquiglini, In Praise of the Variant: A Critical History of Philology, trans. Betsy Wing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), p. 39.

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Légende Fig. 1.1 Enos White and his wife, outside Crown Cottage, Axford, Hampshire. Provenance unknown.
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