Version classiqueVersion mobile

The Anglo-Scottish Ballad and its Imaginary Contexts

 | 
David Atkinson

2. On the Nature of Evidence

Texte intégral

  • 1 For the intellectual underpinnings of the Romantic period revival, see Matthew Gelbart, The Invent (...)
  • 2 For the origins of the Victorian/Edwardian revival, see E. David Gregory, The Late Victorian Folks (...)
  • 3 Revisionist accounts, which present the folk song movement as a bourgeois appropriation of proleta (...)

1At the end of the previous chapter, reference was made to the evidence of all the texts and tunes that were not recorded. The burlesque ‘Giles Collins and Lady Alis’ provides evidence of a kind for the currency of the ‘George Collins’ ballad at an earlier date, because parody makes little sense without some knowledge of what is being parodied. But the nature of that currency is uncertain (there is no earlier printed record for ‘George Collins’). The heyday of folk song collecting in Britain falls into two distinct periods: the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth;1 and the last decade or so of the nineteenth century up until the First World War.2 The later period of collecting is very much the better documented, and it is now generally allowed that the collectors achieved rather more social depth than some revisionist critics have liked to make out.3 Even so, their work was mostly compressed into a period of some thirty years (though the inter-war period also saw a certain amount of collecting), and it was mostly concentrated in southern England, though there are important exceptions such as Frank Kidson’s collecting in Yorkshire and the Greig – Duncan collection from the north-east of Scotland. For these reasons, the ballads and songs recovered at this time do not really provide much of a clue to their wider currency. The methodology of collecting, moreover, was directed to recovering the maximum possible numbers of songs and tunes – which, the collectors feared, were in imminent danger of dying out – and not towards a scientific sampling of the population of even a small area or locale.

  • 4 Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot: Wildwood House, 1988 [1978]), pp. (...)
  • 5 Edward Abbott Parry, ed., The Love Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple, 1652–54 (New (...)
  • 6 A. H. Fox Strangways, in collaboration with Maud Karpeles, Cecil Sharp (London: Oxford University (...)
  • 7 Derek Schofield, ‘Sowing the Seeds: Cecil Sharp and Charles Marson in Somerset in 1903’, Folk Musi (...)
  • 8 Patricia Fumerton and Anita Guerrini, eds, Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500–1800 (Farnham a (...)

2For the earlier centuries, historians have found it necessary to adopt a range of ‘oblique approaches’.4 These include a ‘regressive method’, which takes the experience of the years around 1900, with all its limitations, as a starting point to interpret evidence, such as it is, that the same or similar things existed at a much earlier date. In the hands of cautious historians, that is all very well; but it is easy to see the temptation, for instance, to link Dorothy Osborne’s description of ballad singing in the seventeenth century with something at a much later date. In a letter of 1653, Osborne wrote to her lover, William Temple, ‘about six or seven o’clock I walk out into a common that lies hard by the house, where a great many young wenches keep sheep and cows, and sit in the shade singing of ballads. I go to them and compare their voices and beauties to some ancient shepherdesses that I have read of, and find a vast difference there; but, trust me, I think these are as innocent as those could be.’5 Perhaps a suitable equivalent from a more recent time is the famous description of Cecil Sharp’s first encounter with folk song when, sitting in the vicarage garden in Hambridge, Somerset, in 1903, he overheard the gardener, John England, singing ‘The Seeds of Love’(Roud 3) as he mowed the lawn.6 Yet Dorothy Osborne’s description – and she almost admits this herself – seems to belong as much to arcadian literature as to real life. At least it can be confirmed that John England actually was the gardener at Hambridge, but the Sharp story, too, has a suspicious neatness to it.7 Perhaps what is really most evident across the centuries is the persistence of a tendency to myth-making around the idea of ballad singing. To cite just one more example, the introduction to a recent volume of essays about printed ballads observes in passing, ‘ballads were originally an oral genre dating back to medieval times’.8 It is a throwaway remark, but it is made without the support of bibliographic citation, let alone any actual evidence that ballads were circulating orally before, say, 1450.

  • 9 On ‘tradition’, see Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, rev. edn (Lon (...)

3The single overriding reason for this cavalier approach to evidence appears to lie with the fact that the entire edifice of ballad collecting, editing, and research has, at least since the eighteenth century, been predicated upon the idea of continuity over a long period of time. Whether they thought they were recovering the roots of a national literature or of a native musical style, revivalists were driven by the idea that what they were collecting and preserving was poetry and music of considerable antiquity, which had remained current among (largely) rural working men and women of their own day. Ballads and folk songs seem to require a diachronic continuity that is simply not demanded of other kinds of music and literature. The idea of (perceived) diachrony is absolutely inherent in the idea of ‘tradition’ so commonly attached to such items.9

4That diachrony, however, would require evidence not just that the same pieces had existed at a significantly earlier date, which was often not particularly hard to find, but that there was a direct continuity between that earlier point in time and the Romantic or Victorian/Edwardian present, which could be very much more difficult to demonstrate. However, once collectors observed that their sources knew many of their ballads and songs from memory, without direct recourse to written or printed copies, it took little imagination to identify in this superficially non-literate aspect of folk song a mechanism that could provide the desired continuity – a mechanism readily elevated to iconic status as a theory of oral tradition. With the benefit of hindsight, the fact that working people would sing or recite songs from memory, learning them and repeating them with varying degrees of accuracy, scarcely seems worthy of special mention. Nevertheless, oral tradition lent to the folk revivals an intellectual framework, which was eventually (with some exceptions) wholeheartedly embraced.

  • 10 William Motherwell, Minstrelsy: Ancient and Modern (Glasgow: John Wylie, 1827), pp. ii–iv.
  • 11 Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (London: Simpkin; Novello, 1907), pp. 3–4.
  • 12 Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions, pp. 16–31.

5This theoretical underpinning frequently remains more implicit than explicit, but William Motherwell, for example, in the introduction to Minstrelsy: Ancient and Modern, explicitly invokes oral tradition as the guarantor of ballad continuity.10 For the Victorian/Edwardian revival, the primary work of theory is Cecil Sharp’s English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions. Sharp identifies the carriers of folk song as the ‘unlettered, whose faculties have undergone no formal training whatsoever, and who have never been brought into close enough contact with educated persons to be influenced by them’.11 He then goes on to describe oral tradition as the principal dynamic within a social Darwinist framework of continuity, variation, and selection.12

  • 13 Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions, pp. 101–02.

6Collectors were, however, aware that oral tradition was not the only means of ballad transmission, and Sharp in particular attempted to incorporate printed ballads into his account, although he did so primarily by treating them as a degenerate manifestation of tradition.13 But in any case, the important point is that the existence of written or printed copies would do nothing to negate the theory of oral tradition. And therein lies its beauty: it is non-falsifiable. Nowhere is this more evident than in the institutionalized definition of folk song that the International Folk Music Council built upon Sharp’s model in the 1950s:

  • 14 ‘Definition of Folk Music’, Journal of the International Folk Music Council, 7 (1955), 23. For som (...)

Folk music is the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission. The factors that shape the tradition are: (i) continuity which links the present with the past; (ii) variation which springs from the creative impulse of the individual or the group; and (iii) selection by the community, which determines the form or forms in which the music survives.14

  • 15 A later version of the same sort of manœuvre is in David Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk (London: (...)

7The definition is entirely self-contained. Folk music is the product of oral transmission, and if an item were transmitted in another way – through print, for example – it would not be folk music. Similarly with the three descriptive riders: a break in continuity, variation for some other reason (say, a quirk of typography), or selection by someone else (a ballad printer or even an individualistic singer), would simply place the item outside of the definition. A negative instance has no power to challenge the definitional premise.15

  • 16 Note that for the present purpose, the Scottish ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Annet’ (Child 73 A, etc.)–wh (...)
  • 17 William St Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (...)
  • 18 W. Chappell, The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time, 2 vols (London: Chappell a (...)

8The point here is not to argue about the definition of folk music, or even the possibility of oral transmission, but to address the nature of evidence. This is perhaps best illustrated by considering a couple of ballad examples. ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor’ (beginning ‘Lord Thomas he was a bold forester’) (Child 73 D) survives in printed copies – primarily broadsides and chapbooks, but also collections such as A Collection of Old Ballads and Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry – from 1677 through to the mid-nineteenth century, after which it started to be collected from singers in England, Scotland, and North America.16 Dating the broadsides and chapbooks can be difficult (though, somewhat unusually, the earliest extant broadside printing of this ballad carries a date), but it looks from the extant items as if ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor’ was printed in just about every decade (with a few possible gaps in the first half of the eighteenth century and the second quarter of the nineteenth). It is also listed in William Thackeray’s stock list of c. 1689, which is thought to represent the stock of the Ballad Warehouse at that time, and again in the Dicey firm’s catalogues of 1754 and 1764. Print runs in the eighteenth century have been estimated at a minimum of 2,000 – 4,000 for broadsides and 1,000 – 2,000 for chapbooks.17 William Chappell, writing in the mid-nineteenth century, noted that ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor’ was still kept in print in Seven Dials.18 One can reasonably interpret these data as indicating that the ballad was more or less continually available in print, for distribution and purchase, throughout the period in question.

  • 19 [Joseph Ritson], Ancient Songs, from the Time of King Henry the Third, to the Revolution (London: (...)
  • 20 Flemming G. Andersen, ‘From Tradition to Print: Ballads on Broadsides’, in Flemming G. Andersen, O (...)

9Here, then, is something approaching, not proof, but strong circumstantial evidence that the print trade provided continuity for this particular traditional ballad over the best part of two centuries. For much of this time, there is precious little evidence that anyone actually sang it. Fortuitously, Joseph Ritson, at the end of the eighteenth century, did record that ‘[a minstrel] was within these two years to be seen in the streets of London; he played on an instrument of the rudest construction, which he, properly enough, called a hum-strum, and chanted (amongst others) the old ballad of Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor’.19 Later commentators, notably Flemming Andersen, have observed just how closely copies collected in the twentieth century correspond textually with the printed broadsides.20

  • 21 Chappell, Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time, pp. 144–45; Claude M. Simpson, Th (...)
  • 22 William Sandys, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), tune no. 18.
  • 23 Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad, p. 100.
  • 24 Bertrand Harris Bronson, The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, 4 vols (Princeton: Princeton (...)

10The musical evidence is less conclusive. Chappell identified the tune he knew for ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor’ as a version of ‘Who list to lead a soldier’s life’, attested in the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century and printed in editions of The Dancing Master from 1650 to 1725.21 It was printed again in the early nineteenth century in William Sandys’s Christmas Carols, under the title ‘Lord Thomas’, which is the copy Chappell reprinted.22 The earliest broadsides are given ‘To a pleasant new tune, called, Lord Thomas’, and later ‘To a pleasant tune, call’d, Lord Thomas, &c.’, or else are without a tune direction. Claude Simpson, not finding any further instances, writes of this ‘Lord Thomas’ that it ‘has survived only in tradition’, thus equating it with the ballad tune collected at a later date.23 That is, of course, possible, but it is not unequivocally so. Bertrand Bronson writes: ‘Whether it [the collected tune] is actually the same as that sung to the early broadsides there is nothing to show.’24 The designation ‘new’ in the tune direction is perhaps promotional, but one might still ask why, if the ballad were indeed to be sung to an established and apparently popular tune – namely ‘Who list to lead a soldier’s life’– should the broadside carry a tune direction that seemingly points in a different direction? Conversely, if ‘Lord Thomas’ really were a ‘new’ tune, and therefore presumably not the same as ‘Who list to lead a soldier’s life’, then what was it? The scope for speculation is almost endless, but the fact remains that exactly when the ballad was matched with the tune that was later collected from singers is not known.

11This, then, is the nature of the evidence for a hypothesis that this particular ballad text enjoyed a diachronic continuity over a span of some two and a half centuries. It depends on oral tradition scarcely at all; and if further evidence of oral transmission were to come to light, it would neither negate nor bolster this existing evidence. It is not watertight, however, and if it could be shown that there was a real gap in the printed record, when the ballad was simply out of print and forgotten – to be rediscovered among the Ballad Warehouse stock, perhaps – then that would falsify the claim to continuity. Quite how such a thing could be demonstrated in practice is difficult to imagine, but as a thought experiment it is possible. In other words, the hypothesis is theoretically falsifiable.

  • 25 Note that ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’ (Child 74) needs to be distinguished from what is usua (...)
  • 26 Child 74 B, C; and see [Thomas Percy], Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 2nd edn, 3 vols (London (...)
  • 27 E. B. Lyle, ed., Andrew Crawfurd’s Collection of Ballads and Songs, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Scottish Te (...)
  • 28 Bronson, Traditional Tunes, ii, 155.

12Unfortunately, it is really very rare to have such a full record. ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’ (Child 74) has a comparably good record in broadside and chapbook print from c. 1720 through to the 1820s.25 It, too, appears in the Dicey firm’s catalogues, and in Percy’s Reliques and David Herd’s Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs. Percy provides the conduit, too, for a few copies that derive from memory rather than directly from print, around the 1760s/70s.26 Thomas Macqueen collected a text in Scotland in 1827.27 At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the extant chapbook copies are all from Scotland. Then, however, there is a lacuna of the best part of a century before the ballad was collected in England and especially in North America, but not, apparently, in Scotland. The musical record, too, is almost exclusively for the ballad as collected in the twentieth century.28

13As if that were not enough, at the other end of the chronological scale, more than a century before the first survival of the ballad in print, lines that echo ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’ appear in the Beaumont and Fletcher play The Knight of the Burning Pestle (c.1607):

When it was growne to darke midnight,
And all were fast asleepe,
In came Margarets grimely Ghost,
And stood at Williams feete.

  • 29 ESPB, ii, 199. The argument is complicated in that these lines also echo the David Mallet ‘William (...)

14The presence of these lines in the drama (like other snatches of song scattered throughout it) makes much more sense if they reference something familiar to its audience. So it has often been stated, or at least implied, that they provide evidence for the existence of ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’ right at the beginning of the seventeenth century.29

15Thus there are problems with the evidence as it relates to ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’. The folk song specialist might well want to advance oral tradition as a hypothesis to bridge the gaps at either end of the ballad’s presumed life. But this time it is difficult to imagine how such a hypothesis could be falsified, even as a thought experiment. For every conceivable hiatus in the line of oral transmission, one could simply posit another route. Unlike the hypothesis for continuity built on the printed record, the oral tradition hypothesis is inherently non-falsifiable. That is why the placing of evidence for oral transmission alongside evidence for printed transmission would really make no difference. The two things are different in kind, not necessarily in relation to ballad practice, but simply in terms of their nature as evidence.

  • 30 Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London: Routledge, 2002 [1959]).
  • 31 D. F. McKenzie, Making Meaning: ‘Printers of the Mind’ and Other Essays, ed. Peter D. McDonald and (...)
  • 32 Richard Levin, ‘Negative Evidence’, Studies in Philology, 92 (1995), 383–410.

16This discussion of the falsifiability of a hypothesis necessarily alludes to the philosophy of science of Karl Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery.30 It might well be objected that Popper’s method is inappropriate to the ballad material or, indeed, to the humanities at all. Certainly, ballad research should not be confused with scientific investigation. Nevertheless, even without direct reference to his work, Popper’s epistemology has found wider acceptance as a means of drawing a general distinction between explanatory hypotheses that are capable of refutation, and systems that have to be accepted as something like articles of faith. There may be supporting evidence in either case, and general conclusions may well usefully be derived by induction from that evidence; but if those conclusions cannot be tested, then in Popper’s terms they would be no more than pseudo-explanations. Lightly applied, the criterion of falsifiability can therefore be useful in distinguishing explanations of different kinds, even within the humanities. A concern about the nature of evidence and the possibility of falsification is, for instance, important to the development of D. F. McKenzie’s approach to bibliography and the sociology of texts, which in turn has potentially much to offer in charting the still largely unknown territory of ballads and street literature in the eighteenth century.31 On more familiar literary ground, Richard Levin invokes the criterion of falsifiability in a highly polemical (and in places quite amusing) article about ‘negative evidence’ in the interpretation of early modern drama (though without mention of either Popper or even the term ‘falsifiability’).32

17While the oral tradition hypothesis can apparently never be falsified, that does not mean that it is necessarily incorrect; but it does mean that the most we can say is that the hypothesis is correct for those particular occasions on which a ballad was collected from someone who had learned it from someone else just by listening to it. Moving on from the argument over falsifiability, then, the oral tradition hypothesis still presents problems, albeit of a rather more self-evident kind. Thus the mere fact that someone sang or recited a ballad from memory means little in itself, especially in relation to a performance genre such as folk song. Henry Burstow of Horsham, Sussex, had a list of 420 songs that he knew and left a good account of how he had learned them:

  • 33 Henry Burstow, Reminiscences of Horsham, being Recollections of Henry Burstow, the Celebrated Bell (...)

In learning and retaining all my songs my memory has seemed to work quite spontaneously, in much the same way as the faculties of seeing and hearing: many of the songs I learnt at first time of hearing; others, longer ones, I have learnt upon hearing them twice through; none, not even ‘Tom Cladpole’s trip to London’, nor ‘Jan Cladpole’s trip to ‘Merricur’, each of which has 155 verses, has ever given me any trouble to acquire. Besides those I learnt from my father, I also learnt several from my mother, and a great many more from various other people; my brother-in-law, Joe Hopkins, one of the old Horsham stone diggers; Harry Vaughan, bootmaker, who lived in the Causeway; Gaff Batchelor, tailor, Bishopric; Bob Boxall, labourer, Bishopric; Bill Strudwick, sailor, Bishopric; Jim Shoubridge, ex-soldier, Bishopric; Hoggy Mitchell, labourer, Bishopric; Richard Collins, the parish clerk, The Causeway; Michael Turner, bootmaker, Warnham; Tim Shoubridge, labourer, Bishopric; Jim Manvell, bricklayer, Queen Street. Jim could compose songs on any subject. ‘Now Jim, sing us a song about so and so,’ some one would ask, and perhaps in 20 minutes, or half-an-hour, Jim would have his new song ready, to which all were eager listeners. Besides these, many of the shoemakers, bellringers, and other workers with whom I came into contact, each and all of them knew several songs, and those to which I took a fancy I committed to memory: others again I learnt of ‘Country Wills’ in the taprooms and parlours of public houses in the Towns and Villages round, where song singing was always regularly indulged in during the evenings all the year round, and where the words of many songs have been taught and learnt, exchanged or sold, for perhaps a pint of beer. The remainder I learnt from ballad sheets I bought as they were being hawked about at the fairs, and at other times from other printed matter.33

18The quotation is rather lengthy, but is worth giving in full because Burstow describes here a good mixture of oral and written sources, apparently without much distinction between them. Most of the oral sources he mentions were at just a single remove. Of course, there are elsewhere instances where songs are said to have been in a family for several generations – the Copper family of Rottingdean, Sussex, being a prime example. It is true, too, that there are virtually no known instances of singers who learned their tunes from music notation, meaning that an oral tradition for the transmission of melodies is an absolutely necessary hypothesis, falsifiable or not.

  • 34 Williams, Keywords, p. 319.
  • 35 St Clair, Reading Nation, pp. 27, 499; Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550–1640 (Cambr (...)

19Raymond Williams observes that while it takes only two generations to make anything ‘traditional’, the description tends nonetheless to move towards the ‘age-old’.34 It is not difficult to identify items passed from father to son, mother to daughter, even grandmother/father to mother/father to daughter/son, and so forth, among the established folk song collections. Nor do the pathways need to be intrafamilial. It is, however, difficult in most instances to go far beyond, say, three generations – and certainly not into the ‘mists of time’. Thus there is no evidence for the oral transmission of ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’ between c. 1607 (The Knight of the Burning Pestle) and c. 1720 (a Fair Margaret’s Misfortune broadside issued by the London bookseller Sarah Bates). Neither is there any evidence for further broadside printings that are no longer extant but that would, in theory, help bridge the chronological gap. In general, it is the case both that there were broadsides entered in the Stationers’ Register that no longer survive, and that not every ballad that was printed was entered in the Register.35 But in the absence of actual evidence, neither unrecorded oral transmission nor unrecorded printing provides a satisfactory explanation for the early history of ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’.

  • 36 Nicholas Hudson, ‘“Oral Tradition”: The Evolution of an Eighteenth-Century Concept’, in Tradition (...)

20There is a conceptual difference, though. If one imagines that there were an oral tradition, it is still likely – even probable – that it would never be possible to find the evidence for it. Conversely, it is not really possible to imagine a previously unknown broadside printing, or other written record, without imagining precisely the sort of evidence that would reveal its existence. The prime reason for this conceptual distinction is that, outside of the realm of theology, oral tradition itself was an eighteenth-century construct, linked (to simplify greatly) to such things as overseas discoveries of native cultures, the Ossian controversy, and reconsiderations of Homeric verse.36 It is no accident that oral tradition emerged as the theoretical basis for balladry in the Romantic period: it could not have done so any earlier. That collectors tend to find what they are looking for should occasion no surprise. Samuel Pepys found in the ballads he acquired after the Restoration a record of the manners of his own and earlier times, and of the development of the print trade. William Motherwell found in the ballads he collected at the beginning of the nineteenth century a record of the poetic practices of the ‘unlettered’. If there is no evidence for ballads in oral tradition before the late eighteenth century, that is most likely to be because the idea had no real meaning before that time.

  • 37 For example, Jonathan Barry, ‘Literacy and Literature in Popular Culture: Reading and Writing in H (...)
  • 38 Christopher Marsh, Music and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres (...)

21That is not, of course, the same as saying that ballads were not passed on by word of mouth in the seventeenth century. Historians of early modern Britain have for some time now been documenting oral culture – meaning transmission, memorization, and recall – and its complementary existence alongside written culture.37 Intuitively, there is every reason to believe that singing was widespread, and while we know that there were uses for broadside ballads other than singing them, there is also plenty of evidence for ballad singers.38 Still, that is a long way from saying that the ballad was ‘originally an oral genre’, or that it dates back to ‘medieval times’.

  • 39 Emily Lyle, ‘Parity of Ignorance: Child’s Judgment on “Sir Colin” and the Scottish Verdict “Not Pr (...)
  • 40 Lyle, ‘Parity of Ignorance’, p. 112.
  • 41 Lyle, ‘Parity of Ignorance’, p. 114.

22Nevertheless, Emily Lyle has put forward a cogent argument for a position of what she calls ‘parity of ignorance’ in relation to the ballads: ‘The lack of known precedent for an item is not evidence in itself for the absence of that item earlier on the diachronic scale.’39 Lyle’s discussion stems from Child’s treatment of ‘Sir Colin’ (Child 61). Child’s primary copy of this ballad is from the Percy folio manuscript of c. 1650, and he relegated a couple of later, nineteenth-century, Scottish copies to an appendix. In brief, he thought these were re-creations based on the text Percy had published in Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. Much more recently, however, an earlier copy was discovered in a sixteenth-century manuscript in the Scottish Record Office, with the date 1583 at the end of the ballad, which ‘offers proof that the nineteenth-century Scottish versions could have been descendants of a deeply rooted Scottish tradition’.40 More generally, the discovery of the manuscript reinforces the general conclusion: ‘There is nothing safe or objective about taking first known occurrence as directly indicative of first occurrence.’41

  • 42 Joseph Donatelli, ‘The Percy Folio Manuscript: A Seventeenth-Century Context for Medieval Poetry’,(...)
  • 43 Lyle, ‘Parity of Ignorance’, p. 112.

23The force of all this is slightly undercut by a couple of considerations. Firstly, the best assessment of the Percy folio manuscript (London, British Library, Additional MS 27879) is that it is an antiquarian anthology compiled during the 1640s, up to c. 1650 (the date usually assigned to it), from written and printed sources ranging in period from late medieval to more or less contemporary (some examples of Cavalier poetry).42 It is not, therefore, to be expected that there would be anything in the manuscript that did not exist prior to its compilation, even though there are ballads in it for which precursors have not (to date) been identified. Secondly, in relation to ‘Sir Colin’, Lyle concedes that ‘any degree of memorization or of recreation could have been involved in the transmission’;43 and while she is evidently thinking here of the ballad’s supposed Scottish transmission from 1583 down to the nineteenth century, the concession actually also means that Child’s scenario could still be valid. The trouble is that ‘proof that... could have...’is not really proof of anything at all.

24For all that the argument for parity of ignorance is important, it does not really take us any further forward, but instead gives credence to the ‘mists of time’ scenario for ballad continuity. Even when earlier manuscript evidence does turn up, it does not provide a date, but only evidence that the ballad did indeed pre-exist the source in question, since ballad manuscripts are rarely (if ever) taken to be authorial holographs. In fact, it is possible to argue that, theoretically, any text must necessarily pre-exist its initial appearance in writing or print. Directly, there always has to be some sort of mental conception of a work prior to its taking form as a written text. Less directly, there also has to be some kind of source material(s) that feed(s) into that work. The latter point is true for all music and literature (no one now believes in the autonomous genius as writer or composer), but it is especially pertinent to the ballads.

  • 44 Mary Ellen Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Urbana (...)
  • 45 Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece, pp. 237–38, citing ESPB, iii, 50.
  • 46 ESPB, ii, 57, cited in Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece, p. 238.

25Child, like Percy before him, very much wanted his ballads to be old and imagined them descending by a devolutionary sort of oral tradition, probably from something like an early medieval ur-text.44 In practice, however, he was much more committed to tangible evidence. As Mary Ellen Brown describes it, although logic dictated that there had to have been an original conception somewhere, Child himself resisted the temptation to try to pin down the origins of individual ballads, and instead sought to connect them with a body of materials that were old and widely distributed and perhaps came from the ‘general stock of mediæval fiction’, which might comprise whole ballads or merely elements (plot devices, motifs, names, and so forth), and which could be found across literature in different languages.45 Noting the general resemblance between ‘Sir Colin’ and the Danish ballad ‘Liden Grimmer og Hjelmer Kamp’, for example, Child writes of ‘the points of agreement permitting the supposition of a far-off connection, or of no connection at all’.46 He then compounded these heterogeneous comparative relationships into the headnotes to individual items in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.

  • 47 ESPB, ii, 33–44.
  • 48 ESPB, ii, 34.
  • 49 Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer’s Constance and Accused Queens (New York: New York University Press, 19 (...)

26These headnotes delineate not so much a path of descent as a site of intertextuality. Among the most elaborate of them is the headnote relating to ‘Sir Aldingar’ (Child 59), one of the ballads in the Percy folio for which there is no known earlier copy.47 However, a Scandinavian ballad, ‘Ravengaard og Memering’, with sufficient resemblances both in outline and in detail to be described as an analogue of ‘Sir Aldingar’, can be dated a hundred years before the Percy folio.48 ‘Sir Aldingar’ is an ‘accused queen’ story, a narrative device regularly exploited in medieval literature, both pseudo-historical and overtly fictional.49 ‘Sir Aldingar’, moreover, incorporates several other literary and historical motifs that give it a medieval feel, such as trial by combat (probably obsolete in law, if not in fiction, by the end of the thirteenth century), leprosy (beginning to die out in Britain in the fifteenth century), and the dream-vision (readily paralleled in medieval chronicle and romance), as well as various instances of seemingly archaic language.

  • 50 This summary is based on Paul Christophersen, The Ballad of Sir Aldingar: Its Origin and Analogues(...)

27In particular, the evidence of names, combined with the outline of the narrative, supposedly links the ballad back to pseudo-historical events of the eleventh century, first recounted in William of Malmesbury’s Gesta regum Anglorum (c. 1125 – 35).50 William tells how Gunhild, daughter of King Cnut and Queen Emma, was married in 1036 to Henry III, king of the Germans and later Holy Roman Emperor, and after a period of marital fidelity was accused of adultery, her name eventually being cleared through trial by combat, where her champion, a small pageboy, overcame her accuser, who was a man of giant stature. William of Malmesbury’s account is then repeated in subsequent chronicles with various additions, the most important of which for the present purpose is that the dwarf who fights as the queen’s champion is named as Mimecan. In the Abbreviationes chronicorum of Ralph de Diceto, a marginal note names the queen’s champion as Mimekin and her accuser as Rodingar (c.1200). The Estoire de Seint Aedward le rei, the French metrical Life of Edward the Confessor attributed to Matthew Paris, has the name Mimecan in the text, but this is accompanied by an illustration of the combat with a descriptive verse that names both Mimecan and his opponent Rodegan (1236–45). The Chronica majora of Matthew Paris likewise has a sketch of the fight, with the antagonists identified as Mimekan and Rodogan (c. 1235–59). Later, the chronicle ascribed to John Brompton names the antagonists as Municon (or Mimicon) and Roddyngar (14th century).

  • 51 ESPB, ii, 36.
  • 52 Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, p. 29.
  • 53 Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, p. 29 n. 2.

28In the Scandinavian ballad, the antagonists are named Ravengaard (or similar) and Memering (or similar). There is sufficient plot resemblance to connect ‘Sir Aldingar’ with ‘Ravengaard og Memering’ on the one hand, and perhaps enough to connect it with William of Malmesbury’s account of Queen Gunhild on the other – provided the exact nature of the connections is not specified. Once the connection is made, though, it is just too tempting to claim that Rodingar (Rodegan) is the forerunner of Aldingar.51 Then, Paul Christophersen’s study of ‘Sir Aldingar’ concludes, ‘If we insist on a connexion between the various occurrences of the names Mimecan and Rodingar (and a connexion, surely, there must be, however remote or involved), the simplest way is to assume an oral tradition.’52 In a footnote, he adds, ‘By oral tradition I mean first of all ballads.’53

  • 54 Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, pp. 19, 30. William’s text reads: Celebris illa pompa nupt (...)
  • 55 Svend Grundtvig, et al., eds, Danmarks gamle Folkeviser, 12 vols (København: Samfundet til den dan (...)
  • 56 ESPB, ii, 37. Child continues, ‘and a ballad is known to have been made upon a similar and equally (...)
  • 57 Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, pp. 29–31.
  • 58 Donald S. Taylor, ‘The Lineage and Birth of Sir Aldingar’, Journal of American Folklore, 65 (1952) (...)
  • 59 Entwistle, European Balladry, pp. 233, 234.
  • 60 Entwistle, ‘“Sir Aldingar” and the Date of English Ballads’, p. 112.

29Add to this, William of Malmesbury states that in his own day people still sang in the streets about the splendour of Gunhild’s wedding and, according to a note in a manuscript connected with the abbey of Bury St Edmunds, its fame persisted as late as the fourteenth century.54 This has been enough, then, for scholars to assert the existence in the first half of the twelfth century of a ballad that recounted Gunhild’s accusation and trial.55 Child writes: ‘Nor can we well doubt that William of Malmesbury was citing a ballad, for the queen’s wonderful deliverance in so desperate an extremity would be even more likely to be celebrated in popular song than her magnificent wedding’.56 But the fact is, William of Malmesbury wrote that Gunhild’s wedding was remembered in popular song; he did not say that the accusation and trial were recorded in song. Yet even those who have been careful to acknowledge this objection have nonetheless still located the accusation and trial story in a hypothetical oral tradition – either probably a ballad;57 or else a ballad, romance, or folktale, or all three.58 The reason for all this hypothesizing is clear enough from Entwistle’s account, where he claims ‘Sir Aldingar’ is both ‘the most important of our ballads’ and ‘the oldest English ballad’.59 ‘With the date of Sir Aldingar’, he asserts, ‘goes the dating of the ballad genre in southern England.’60

  • 61 E. K. Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945) (...)
  • 62 For a further example, see David Buchan, ‘History and Harlaw’, in Ballad Studies, ed. E. B. Lyle ( (...)
  • 63 Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, p. 156.

30This is not the place to attempt a wholesale refutation of the argument as it relates to ‘Sir Aldingar’, but a statement by E. K. Chambers can stand for more detailed objections: ‘surely there could be no more gratuitous hypothesis than an assumption that a poem which, like Sir Aldingar, comes to us from the Percy MS. of about 1650 can be identical in style with one known to William of Malmesbury in the twelfth century’.61 Just as the argument for ballad continuity has frequently depended on non-falsifiable hypotheses of oral tradition, so, it seems, does that for an early origin of the English-language ballads.62 Chambers offers a balanced view of the early history of stories that found their way into ballads: ‘We must not [...] forget that there were other channels, besides songs, for the transmission and perversion of historical and legendary themes, through oral tradition, easily long-lived in monasteries, and still more through chronicles in prose and verse.’63

31As already noted, the presence of an item in, say, the Percy folio manuscript can be taken as evidence for its pre-existence. Yet parity of ignorance does not justify an indefinite backward projection of ballads in time. As we think back in time, considerations such as prevailing styles of language, versification, and melody will eventually come to militate against the ballad as we know it. Sooner or later in the early post-Conquest period, the English language itself will no longer be a vehicle that can readily accommodate the ballad as we know it. Although no one would claim the ballad (either verse or melody) is a fixed or easily defined genre, as with any other artistic form (the novel, say, or late Tudor drama) there is a point – albeit a ‘point’ that might very well be extremely imprecise and extended over time – at which it emerged out of something else. At that point, the weight of evidence concerning the beginnings of the ballad genre starts to outweigh the parity of ignorance principle, to prevent the ballad being pushed back indefinitely.

  • 64 Thomas J. Garbáty, ‘Rhyme, Romance, Ballad, Burlesque, and the Confluence of Form’, in Fifteenth-C (...)

32Thomas Garbáty describes a range of overlapping genre terms, some of them contemporary and some of more modern introduction, that can be attached to vernacular poetry of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries – including ‘ballad’, ‘carol’, ‘geste’, ‘lyric’, ‘ryme’, ‘romance’– and concludes that what was taking place in late medieval English verse was a ‘confluence of form’.64 At the later end of his period, for example, he shows that the preference in both romance and ballad – taking as examples the romance The Weddynge of Sir Gawen and Dame Ragnell and the ballad ‘The Marriage of Sir Gawain’(Child 31) – is for such things as a fast-moving, single narrative focus, an ironic tone, and a matter-of-fact world view expressed through an un-heroic protagonist, all of which can be identified with the heritage of Chaucer and the Gawain-poet from the fourteenth century.

  • 65 John C. Hirsh, ‘The Earliest Known English Ballad: A New Reading of “Judas”’, Modern Language Revi (...)
  • 66 Carleton Brown, ed., English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), pp. 39– (...)
  • 67 Brown, ed., English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century, pp. 119–20; Thomas G. Duncan, ed., Medieval Engl (...)

33At the earlier end of the period, the thirteenth-century ‘Judas’(Child 23) is quite ballad-like in its narrative, although rather less so in its versification, and John Hirsh has argued that it was more amenable to popular performance than the probable monastic provenance of the written text might initially suggest.65 The scepticism sometimes expressed as to whether ‘Judas’ really deserves its place in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads illustrates Garbáty’s point about the medieval ‘confluence of form’ rather well. ‘Twelfth Day’, from the same manuscript and in the same hand as ‘Judas’, actually looks rather more like a ballad (especially if printed in quatrains) but is lacking in dramatic narrative style.66 The pastourelle beginning ‘As I me rode this endre dai’ (c. 1300), formally a carol (a poem with a ‘burden’– that is, a line or group of lines that precedes the first stanza and is then repeated after the first and all other stanzas) and not at all ballad-like in versification, nevertheless invites comparison with later ballads in terms of plot situation, character, and tone or point of view – yet it, too, is ultimately lacking in narrative development.67

  • 68 Not considered any further here is the inherently problematic nature of invoking European analogue (...)

34(Some) further examples could be added, but the point is that, without straying beyond the evidence of extant texts, these generic considerations introduce an important element of probability into the parity of ignorance principle. Thus, to return to ‘Sir Aldingar’, at c. 1650, the date of the Percy folio, we can say with a high degree of confidence that the ballad was already in existence. At c. 1550, the date of the Karen Brahe manuscript which includes the earliest extant copy of the Danish ‘Ravengaard og Memering’, we can say with some confidence that the English ballad could have been in existence – and it might or might not have actually been so.68 But at c.1250 (Matthew Paris), or before c.1150 (William of Malmesbury), it is very much less probable that the ballad ‘Sir Aldingar’ could have been in existence, and even something recognizable as the basic story is much more likely to have been recorded, in verse, in the language and metres of Latin or Anglo-Norman French.

  • 69 ESPB, ii, 34.
  • 70 Sir Walter Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, ed. T. F. Henderson, 4 vols (Edinburgh: Olive (...)
  • 71 Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, p. 180.

35Superficially, the argument from proper names (summarized above) gains some additional support from the much later version in Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, in which the queen’s accuser is named Rodingham and her champion Sir Hugh le Blond. Scott gave his source as (indirectly) ‘the recitation of an old woman, long in the service of the Arbuthnot family’ and claimed the ballad as the original of ‘Sir Aldingar’. This was not, however, taken seriously by Child.69 T. F. Henderson, editor of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, adds: ‘It may even be nothing more than a mere vamp of that ballad [“Sir Aldingar”] after its publication in the Reliques.’70 The truth of the matter is for Scott specialists to determine; but if oral tradition is one scenario that the parity of ignorance principle keeps open, then the deliberate reinvention of ballads must, as Chambers suspected, be another.71

36An example of ballad rewriting that has been generally accepted is the recasting of The Berkshire Tragedy; or, The Wittam Miller (‘Young men and maidens all give ear’) as The Cruel Miller (‘My parents educated me’), probably around the beginning of the nineteenth century (both ballads listed as Roud 263). In twenty-two eight-line stanzas, The Berkshire Tragedy tells the story of a miller who kills a young woman he has made pregnant and throws her body into the river, but he falls under suspicion nonetheless, and when the corpse is found he is apprehended and brought to trial, the ballad ending with his plea for God’s mercy. The Berkshire Tragedy has a good record in chapbook and broadside print from 1744 up until around the second decade of the nineteenth century. Then, at much the same time in the early nineteenth century, there appeared the ballad variously titled The Cruel Miller, Bloody Miller, or False Hearted Miller, which tells the same story in nine stanzas of four long lines, ending more or less with the discovery of the body, the trial verdict and sentence being merely summarized in the last two lines. The Cruel Miller is well represented in broadside print from before 1820 until the latter part of the nineteenth century.

  • 72 See Thomas Pettitt, ‘Journalism vs. Tradition in the English Ballads of the Murdered Sweetheart’, (...)
  • 73 See G. Malcolm Laws, Jr., American Balladry from British Broadsides: A Guide for Students and Coll (...)
  • 74 Cited from The Berkshire Tragedy; or, The Wittam Miller (London: Sympson’s Printing Office, [1765? (...)

37‘Murdered-sweetheart’ ballads represent a common and frequently highly formulaic sub-genre of balladry,72 but in view of a great deal of agreement in narrative detail, as well as numerous very close verbal parallels, there has been a general consensus that The Cruel Miller is directly based upon The Berkshire Tragedy.73 It is difficult to convey the parallels without giving the two texts side by side in their entirety, but a few examples will have to suffice (Table 2.1).74 The setting for The Cruel Miller is often named on broadsides as Wexford, although the copy cited in Table 2.1, which is probably one of the earliest, leaves a blank. In The Berkshire Tragedy the action takes place in the vicinity of Oxford. Of course, if we do accept the textual evidence that the ballad was recast, it is still not possible to identify precisely when that would have been done, or by whom, or how (whether this was simply an act of rewriting, or whether oral reception and memory played a part), or why. These are all legitimate matters for scholarly debate, drawing largely on textual and print trade evidence, since the ballad does not seem to have been collected much before the early twentieth century and there is no pertinent melodic evidence.

The Berkshire Tragedy

The Cruel Miller

And promis’d I would marry her,
If she would with me lie

I told her I would marry her
if she would with me lie

Then took a stick out of the hedge,
And struck her in the face

I took a stick out of the hedge,
and struck her to the ground

But she fell on her bended knee,
And did for mercy cry

She fell upon her bended knees,
and did aloud for mercy cry

Thus in the blood of innocence,
My hands were deeply dy’d

Now with the blood of innocence,
my hands & clothes were dy’d

How came you by that blood upon,
Your trembling hands and cloaths?
I presently to him reply’d,
By bleeding at the nose.

He asked me and questioned me,
what stained my hands and clothes!
I made him answer as I thought fit,
by the bleeding of my nose.

Her sister did against me swear,
She reason had no doubt

Her sister persecuted was,
for reason and for doubt

Floating before her Father’s door,
At Henly Ferry Town

A floating by her brother’s door,
who lives in — town

Table 2.1 Parallels in The Berkshire Tragedy and The Cruel Miller

  • 75 Charles Hindley, The Life and Times of James Catnach, (Late of Seven Dials), Ballad Monger (London (...)
  • 76 The Berkshire Tragedy; or, The Wittam Miller ([London]: J. Pitts, [1802–19]) [Oxford, Bodleian Lib (...)

38To give just one example of the direction that research might take, it is sometimes said that the appearance after the beginning of the nineteenth century of ballads that are shorter, less prolix, and less explicitly moralistic (but does the textual evidence actually bear out this last point, or is the difference rather just one of language?) is evidence of a change in popular taste and sensibility. However, these later ballads are also smaller in format (frequently so-called ‘slip songs’, printed on a narrow piece of paper and often formed by cutting a larger broadside into two or more strips), and the explanation may lie instead in aspects of the print trade that have yet to be fully researched – in particular, improvements in paper and printing that James Catnach is said to have introduced after he moved to London in 1813/14, which were subsequently also adopted by John Pitts.75 Pitts printed both The Berkshire Tragedy (in more than one issue) and The Cruel Miller.76 It does appear that the ballad genre was changing around the early decades of the nineteenth century, even while it would be difficult to argue that The Berkshire Tragedy and The Cruel Miller are not still the ‘same’ thing.

  • 77 See, for example, Tom Pettitt, ‘Mediating Maria Marten: Comparative and Contextual Studies of the (...)
  • 78 The Berkshire Tragedy; or, The Whittam Miller (Edinburgh: John Keed, 1744) [ESTC T60621]; The Berk (...)
  • 79 There is, for example, no trace in reports of either Berkshire or Oxford assizes in the Daily Post(...)
  • 80 No other entries in ESTC and no relevant listings in either the British Book Trade Index, currentl (...)

39At least it ought in principle to be possible to assign to ballad accounts of murder cases a terminus post quem.77 The earliest known text of The Berkshire Tragedy is in a chapbook of 1744, where it is followed by (in prose) ‘The last dying Words and Confession of John Mauge, a Miller; who was Executed at Reading in Berkshire, on Saturday the 20th of last Month, for the barbarous Murder of Anne Knite, his Sweet-heart’.78 Although the information given here is not comprehensive, the printing of the confession along with the ballad does seem to imply that publication was more or less contemporaneous with the crime and execution, and the proper names and date (1744) certainly look as if they relate to an actual event. Yet no one (to the best of my knowledge) has been able to identify the crime in question.79 And there is something odd about the chapbook itself – which actually exists in two editions, printed, according to the title page, for the same bookseller, John Keed, at Edinburgh and at York, both dated 1744. The two editions are different settings of type, with some textual variants and different title-page woodcuts. No other trace has been found of a bookseller named John Keed;80 and why would an account of what was presumably a topical event in the Reading area have been printed at either Edinburgh or York (rather than, say, London)?

  • 81 Pettitt, ‘Journalism vs. Tradition’, esp. pp. 76–77; Malcolm Gaskill, ‘Reporting Murder: Fiction i (...)

40Among the elements of the ballad story that lend an appearance of historicity is the perpetrator’s claim that he posted a notice in a newspaper offering a reward for information about his victim’s whereabouts. The Edinburgh chapbook names the publication as the Post Boy, which was published 1695–1728 (or perhaps the Daily Post Boy, 1728–36?) – which immediately poses a problem of dating vis-à-vis the chapbook, compounded by the fact that nothing relevant has been identified in the newspaper itself. The title, moreover, is the site of a textual variant, with the York chapbook naming it as the Gazett[e], which is harder to pin down and is perhaps just a generic title, although the variously titled Reading Mercury/Oxford Gazette and Reading Mercury/Reading Mercury and Oxford Gazette, which began in 1723, might fit. It is true that fictitious or misleading imprints are not altogether unknown; and likewise that the raison d’être for early modern murder ballads was less reportage of real events than revelation of the working out of divine providence.81 Yet the deception, if that is really what it is (and, of course, something might turn up in a newspaper or other source), seems exceptionally elaborate for a fairly run-of-the-mill murdered-sweetheart ballad.

  • 82 See David Atkinson and Steve Roud, eds, Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and (...)

41The Berkshire Tragedy/The Cruel Miller provides evidence of ballad rewriting, apparently for the purpose of print and, even more importantly, of ballad rewriting as a factor in continuity and variation – in relation not just to the particular ballad text (and perhaps tune) but to the genre as a whole. How that might then interact with oral transmission is a question that largely remains still to be researched.82 Ballad research has frequently resorted to filling in the gaps around extant items and points of historical reference (actual or supposed) – but while parity of ignorance demands that absence of evidence is not taken as evidence of absence, neither is it an open invitation to invoke a favoured mechanism to fill in the gaps. Rather, an informed scepticism is more likely to allow the ballad genre to unfold at its own pace.

Notes

1 For the intellectual underpinnings of the Romantic period revival, see Matthew Gelbart, The Invention of ‘Folk Music’ and ‘Art Music’: Emerging Categories from Ossian to Wagner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

2 For the origins of the Victorian/Edwardian revival, see E. David Gregory, The Late Victorian Folksong Revival: The Persistence of English Melody, 1878–1903 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010).

3 Revisionist accounts, which present the folk song movement as a bourgeois appropriation of proletarian culture, include Dave Harker, Fakesong: The Manufacture of British ‘Folksong’, 1700 to the Present Day (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1985); Georgina Boyes, The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival (Leeds: No Masters Co-operative, 2010 [1993]); Richard Sykes, ‘The Evolution of Englishness in the English Folksong Revival, 1890–1914’, Folk Music Journal, 6.4 (1993), 446–90. For trenchant criticism of their position, see Christopher James Bearman, ‘The English Folk Music Movement 1898–1914’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Hull, 2001); C. J. Bearman, ‘Who Were the Folk? The Demography of Cecil Sharp’s Somerset Folk Singers’, Historical Journal, 43 (2000), 751–75; C. J. Bearman, ‘Cecil Sharp in Somerset: Some Reflections on the Work of David Harker’, Folklore, 113 (2002), 11–34. A balanced account is provided by David Gregory, ‘Fakesong in an Imagined Village? A Critique of the Harker–Boyes Thesis’, Canadian Folk Music/Musique folklorique canadienne, 43.3 (2009), 18–26.

4 Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot: Wildwood House, 1988 [1978]), pp. 77–87.

5 Edward Abbott Parry, ed., The Love Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple, 1652–54 (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1901), p. 107.

6 A. H. Fox Strangways, in collaboration with Maud Karpeles, Cecil Sharp (London: Oxford University Press, 1933), p. 33.

7 Derek Schofield, ‘Sowing the Seeds: Cecil Sharp and Charles Marson in Somerset in 1903’, Folk Music Journal, 8.4 (2004), 484–512.

8 Patricia Fumerton and Anita Guerrini, eds, Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500–1800 (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010), p. 1.

9 On ‘tradition’, see Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, rev. edn (London: Fontana, 1988), pp. 318–20. For the perception of diachrony, see Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

10 William Motherwell, Minstrelsy: Ancient and Modern (Glasgow: John Wylie, 1827), pp. ii–iv.

11 Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions (London: Simpkin; Novello, 1907), pp. 3–4.

12 Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions, pp. 16–31.

13 Sharp, English Folk-Song: Some Conclusions, pp. 101–02.

14 ‘Definition of Folk Music’, Journal of the International Folk Music Council, 7 (1955), 23. For some of the problems of this definition, see Gelbart, Invention of ‘Folk Music’ and ‘Art Music’, pp. 2–10.

15 A later version of the same sort of manœuvre is in David Buchan, The Ballad and the Folk (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), where ballads are divided into ‘the oral tradition’, ‘the tradition in transition’, and ‘the modern tradition’. Counter-evidence, such as printed transmission, would not challenge the basis of definition but merely shift the item from one category to another.

16 Note that for the present purpose, the Scottish ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Annet’ (Child 73 A, etc.)–which, pace Child, is quite possibly a deliberate reworking of ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor’– needs to be considered as a separate ballad, as does the broadside The Unfortunate Forrester; or, Fair Elener’s Tragedy, which is known in just a single printing.

17 William St Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 340.

18 W. Chappell, The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time, 2 vols (London: Chappell and Co., [1859]), p. 145.

19 [Joseph Ritson], Ancient Songs, from the Time of King Henry the Third, to the Revolution (London: J. Johnson, 1790), p. xvii.

20 Flemming G. Andersen, ‘From Tradition to Print: Ballads on Broadsides’, in Flemming G. Andersen, Otto Holzapfel, and Thomas Pettitt, The Ballad as Narrative: Studies in the Ballad Traditions of England, Scotland, Germany and Denmark (Odense: Odense University Press, 1982), pp. 39–58.

21 Chappell, Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time, pp. 144–45; Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and its Music (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1966), pp. 773–75.

22 William Sandys, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), tune no. 18.

23 Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad, p. 100.

24 Bertrand Harris Bronson, The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, 4 vols (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959–72), ii, 88.

25 Note that ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’ (Child 74) needs to be distinguished from what is usually referred to as David Mallet’s ‘William and Margaret’.

26 Child 74 B, C; and see [Thomas Percy], Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 2nd edn, 3 vols (London: J. Dodsley, 1767), iii, 119.

27 E. B. Lyle, ed., Andrew Crawfurd’s Collection of Ballads and Songs, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society, 1975, 1996), ii, xxv, 22–24.

28 Bronson, Traditional Tunes, ii, 155.

29 ESPB, ii, 199. The argument is complicated in that these lines also echo the David Mallet ‘William and Margaret’, but that, too, is unknown in print before c. 1724. See David Atkinson, ‘“William and Margaret”: An Eighteenth-Century Ballad’, Folk Music Journal, 10.4 (2014), 478–511.

30 Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London: Routledge, 2002 [1959]).

31 D. F. McKenzie, Making Meaning: ‘Printers of the Mind’ and Other Essays, ed. Peter D. McDonald and Michael F. Suarez (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002), esp. pp. 14–18.

32 Richard Levin, ‘Negative Evidence’, Studies in Philology, 92 (1995), 383–410.

33 Henry Burstow, Reminiscences of Horsham, being Recollections of Henry Burstow, the Celebrated Bellringer & Songsinger, [ed. William Albery] (Horsham: Free Christian Church Book Society, 1911), pp. 107–08.

34 Williams, Keywords, p. 319.

35 St Clair, Reading Nation, pp. 27, 499; Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 42.

36 Nicholas Hudson, ‘“Oral Tradition”: The Evolution of an Eighteenth-Century Concept’, in Tradition in Transition: Women Writers, Marginal Texts, and the Eighteenth-Century Canon, ed. Alvaro Ribeiro and James G. Basker (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 161–76; Nicholas Hudson, ‘Constructing Oral Tradition: The Origins of the Concept in Enlightenment Intellectual Culture’, in The Spoken Word: Oral Culture in Britain, 1500–1850, ed. Adam Fox and Daniel Woolf (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), pp. 240–55. There is an interesting precursor, however, in John Aubrey’s seventeenth-century enthusiasm for supposedly oral ballads. See Henk Dragstra, ‘“Before woomen were Readers”: How John Aubrey Wrote Female Oral History’, in Oral Traditions and Gender in Early Modern Literary Texts, ed. Mary Ellen Lamb and Karen Bamford (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008), pp. 41–53.

37 For example, Jonathan Barry, ‘Literacy and Literature in Popular Culture: Reading and Writing in Historical Perspective’, in Popular Culture in England, c. 1500–1850, ed. Tim Harris (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995), pp. 69–94; Adam Fox, Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500–1700 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000); R. A. Houston, Scottish Literacy and the Scottish Identity: Illiteracy and Society in Scotland and Northern England, 1600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Barry Reay, Popular Cultures in England, 1550–1750 (London: Longman, 1998), pp. 36–70.

38 Christopher Marsh, Music and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 238–50.

39 Emily Lyle, ‘Parity of Ignorance: Child’s Judgment on “Sir Colin” and the Scottish Verdict “Not Proven”’, in The Ballad and Oral Literature, ed. Joseph Harris (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 109–15 (p. 114).

40 Lyle, ‘Parity of Ignorance’, p. 112.

41 Lyle, ‘Parity of Ignorance’, p. 114.

42 Joseph Donatelli, ‘The Percy Folio Manuscript: A Seventeenth-Century Context for Medieval Poetry’, English Manuscript Studies, 1100–1700, 4 (1993), 114–33.

43 Lyle, ‘Parity of Ignorance’, p. 112.

44 Mary Ellen Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2011), pp. 237–38. See also 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.

45 Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece, pp. 237–38, citing ESPB, iii, 50.

46 ESPB, ii, 57, cited in Brown, Child’s Unfinished Masterpiece, p. 238.

47 ESPB, ii, 33–44.

48 ESPB, ii, 34.

49 Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer’s Constance and Accused Queens (New York: New York University Press, 1927).

50 This summary is based on Paul Christophersen, The Ballad of Sir Aldingar: Its Origin and Analogues (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952), esp. pp. 17–32, with some modifications drawn from the entries for the various chroniclers in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The relationships between the chronicles are complicated and the dates uncertain, but a (very) condensed summary should suffice here. The connection between ‘Sir Aldingar’ and the Queen Gunhild story was first mooted in Percy, Reliques (1767), ii, 49.

51 ESPB, ii, 36.

52 Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, p. 29.

53 Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, p. 29 n. 2.

54 Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, pp. 19, 30. William’s text reads: Celebris illa pompa nuptialis fuit, et nostro adhuch seculo etiam in triviis cantitata, dum tanti nominis virgo ad navem duceretur.

55 Svend Grundtvig, et al., eds, Danmarks gamle Folkeviser, 12 vols (København: Samfundet til den danske Literaturs Fremme, Universitets-Jubilæets danske Samfund, et al., 1853–1976), i, 183, cited in translation in Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, p. 30; William J. Entwistle, European Balladry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939), pp. 66–67, 195, 233–34; W. J. Entwistle, ‘“Sir Aldingar” and the Date of English Ballads’, Saga-Book of the Viking Society, 13 (1946–53), 97–112.

56 ESPB, ii, 37. Child continues, ‘and a ballad is known to have been made upon a similar and equally fabulous adventure which is alleged in chronicle to have occurred to Gunhild’s mother’. The reference is to an account in the annals of Winchester which tells how Queen Emma was accused of having a bishop for her lover and to vindicate herself submitted to the ordeal of walking over red-hot ploughshares (end of 12th century). The register of St Swithin’s priory then records a musical entertainment of 1338, where: cantabat joculator quidam Herebertus nomine canticum Colbrondi, necnon Gestum Emme regine a judicio ignis liberate, in aula prioris. See ESPB, ii, 38; Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, pp. 33–36. Christophersen points out that there is no evidence whatsoever that this was a ballad (a romance, probably in French, seems more likely).

57 Christophersen, Ballad of Sir Aldingar, pp. 29–31.

58 Donald S. Taylor, ‘The Lineage and Birth of Sir Aldingar’, Journal of American Folklore, 65 (1952), 139–47.

59 Entwistle, European Balladry, pp. 233, 234.

60 Entwistle, ‘“Sir Aldingar” and the Date of English Ballads’, p. 112.

61 E. K. Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945), p. 154.

62 For a further example, see David Buchan, ‘History and Harlaw’, in Ballad Studies, ed. E. B. Lyle (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, for the Folklore Society, 1976), pp. 29–40 (esp. p. 38).

63 Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, p. 156.

64 Thomas J. Garbáty, ‘Rhyme, Romance, Ballad, Burlesque, and the Confluence of Form’, in Fifteenth-Century Studies: Recent Essays, ed. Robert F. Yeager (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1984), pp. 283–301. See also Peter Dronke, “Learned Lyric and the Popular Ballad in the Early Middle Ages,” Studi Medievali, 3rd ser., 17 (1976), 1–40; Holger Olof Nygard, ‘Popular Ballad and Medieval Romance’, in Ballad Studies, ed. E. B. Lyle (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, for the Folklore Society, 1976), pp. 1–19.

65 John C. Hirsh, ‘The Earliest Known English Ballad: A New Reading of “Judas”’, Modern Language Review, 103 (2008), 931–39.

66 Carleton Brown, ed., English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), pp. 39–41; W. W. Greg, ‘A Ballad of Twelfth Day’, Modern Language Review, 8 (1913), 64–67; 9 (1914), 235–36.

67 Brown, ed., English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century, pp. 119–20; Thomas G. Duncan, ed., Medieval English Lyrics and Carols (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2013), p. 70 (and see introduction, pp. 3–4).

68 Not considered any further here is the inherently problematic nature of invoking European analogues as evidence for international ballad relations. See W. F. H. Nicolaisen, ‘On the Internationality of Ballads’, in Gender and Print Culture: New Perspectives on International Ballad Studies, ed. Maria Herrera-Sobek ([n. p.]: Kommission für Volksdichtung, 1991), pp. 99–104.

69 ESPB, ii, 34.

70 Sir Walter Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, ed. T. F. Henderson, 4 vols (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1902), iii, 66.

71 Chambers, English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages, p. 180.

72 See Thomas Pettitt, ‘Journalism vs. Tradition in the English Ballads of the Murdered Sweetheart’, in Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500–1800, ed. Patricia Fumerton and Anita Guerrini (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 75–89.

73 See G. Malcolm Laws, Jr., American Balladry from British Broadsides: A Guide for Students and Collectors of Traditional Song (Philadelphia: American Folklore Society, 1957), pp. 104–22 (where American variants are also considered). Laws observed that the rewriting of ballads, which he attributes primarily to the broadside trade (pp. 121–22), had received little attention from scholars (p. 104)–and the situation has not changed much over the intervening years.

74 Cited from The Berkshire Tragedy; or, The Wittam Miller (London: Sympson’s Printing Office, [1765?]) [ESTC T21545; Roxburghe Ballads 3.802–803]; The Cruel Miller; or, Love and Murder ([London]: J. Catnach, [1813–38]) [London, British Library, L. R. 271. a. 2., vol. 4, no. 384].

75 Charles Hindley, The Life and Times of James Catnach, (Late of Seven Dials), Ballad Monger (London: Reeves and Turner, 1878), p. 44; Leslie Shepard, John Pitts: Ballad Printer of Seven Dials, London, 1765–1844 (London: Private Libraries Association, 1969), p. 58; W. Weir, ‘St. Giles’s, Past and Present’, in London, ed. Charles Knight, 6 vols (London: Charles Knight, 1841–44), iii, 257–72 (p. 264).

76 The Berkshire Tragedy; or, The Wittam Miller ([London]: J. Pitts, [1802–19]) [Oxford, Bodleian Library, Harding B 6 (101)]; The Berkshire Tragedy; or, The Wittam Miller ([London]: Pitts, [1819–44]) [Oxford, Bodleian Library, Harding B 6 (102)]; The Cruel Miller ([London]: Pitts, [1819–44]) [Oxford, Bodleian Library, Harding B 11 (755)].

77 See, for example, Tom Pettitt, ‘Mediating Maria Marten: Comparative and Contextual Studies of the Red Barn Ballads’, in Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America: The Interface between Print and Oral Traditions, ed. David Atkinson and Steve Roud (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014), forthcoming.

78 The Berkshire Tragedy; or, The Whittam Miller (Edinburgh: John Keed, 1744) [ESTC T60621]; The Berkshire Tragedy; or, The Whittham [sic] Miller (York: John Keed, 1744) [ESTC N49176] (quotation from the Edinburgh printing).

79 There is, for example, no trace in reports of either Berkshire or Oxford assizes in the Daily Post, 10 March 1743, 21 July 1743, 8 March 1744, 12 July 1744, 14 March 1745, 1 August 1745. My thanks to Richard Clark of the http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org website who confirms that he has likewise found no trace of this case, its victim, or perpetrator (personal communication, 15 June 2013), and to Tom Pettitt for sharing his own notes on the historicity (or not) of the ballad.

80 No other entries in ESTC and no relevant listings in either the British Book Trade Index, currently available at http://www.bbti.bham.ac.uk or the Scottish Book Trade Index, available at http://www.nls.uk/catalogues/scottish-book-trade-index.

81 Pettitt, ‘Journalism vs. Tradition’, esp. pp. 76–77; Malcolm Gaskill, ‘Reporting Murder: Fiction in the Archives in Early Modern England’, Social History, 23 (1998), 1–30. The latter is also in Malcolm Gaskill, Crime and Mentalities in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 203–41. In the nineteenth century, a species of street literature known as ‘cocks’ related sensational but fictitious narratives of murders and the like. See Hindley, Life and Times of James Catnach, pp. 355–56. While ‘news’ is a useful generic description for broadside ballads from different periods, it should not be assumed that this amounts to factual reportage.

82 See David Atkinson and Steve Roud, eds, Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America: The Interface between Print and Oral Traditions (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014).

Acheter

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search