American Ballads and Songs

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INTRODUCTION                      xix
"which /reflect most faithfully local conditions and characters. They tell of privations on government claims, of mining fevers, of cattle and "bosses" and the adventures of cowboys, of shooting affrays, and of the confessions of criminals and rovers. The occa­sional theme of death for love, appearing in American ballads, reflects the survival in folk-literature of what was once a widespread literary convention. In the "complaints" of the troubadours and of their lyric successors, as the sonneteers, death from love was the inevitable prospect held out as in store for himself by the singer or the poet, if the object of his adoration did not prove kind. Verse of this type lasted into the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Dying for love is the theme of Barbara Allen's Cruelty, and it helps to fix the period from which this ballad must have emerged. But death from love as a central motive has passed from present-day song as it did long ago from book verse; though sentimental song in general plays as large a r61e as ever in popular literature. So has the murderous lover, who was once so conspicuous a figure, passed from contemporary verse, though he lingers in folk-song. There is little violence in song of the present day and there are fewer striking stories. Serious or tragic stories hardly play any part in the song of our own time. Nor is it probable that much popular contemporary song will win foothold or prove to be long-lived. A favorite like Tipperary will not persist as did Willie Reilly, for example, which has a clear-cut and popular story and which gained its currency through coming into use as a campaign song. In general, themes and modes which have long been given up in the circles that knew them first remain alive in out-of-the-way places. Folk literature reflects the tastes in themes, the characters, manners, and stories of book or semi-literary verse of earlier genera-






E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III