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P ERHAPS the most important of all the treasures— apart from the inimitable Diary—in the library bequeathed by Samuel Pepys to Magdalene College, Cambridge, is his collection of broadside ballads. These were grouped loosely according to subject-matter and provided with title-pages and descriptive headings in Pepys's own hand before being bound into five large folio volumes. The first title-page runs:
My Collection of Ballads. Vol. I. Begun by Mr Selden; Im-prov'd by ye addition of many Pieces elder thereto in Time; and the whole continued to the year 1700. When the Form, till then peculiar thereto, viz1, of the Black Letter with Picturs, seems (for cheapness sake) wholly laid aside, for that of the White Letter without Pictures.
Nearly every broadside in the first four volumes is printed in black-letter type, while in the fifth volume appear only broadsides in roman and italic type. Ballads of a comparatively early date—almost none later than 1640—are found in the first volume, those in the other volumes being, for the most part, printed during the years 1660—1700. It seems likely that the majority of the older ballads came from John Selden's collection. A careful study of the old numbering on the separate sheets and of Pepys's new pagination would no doubt partially reveal the extent of the Selden nucleus on which the collection was built.
A manuscript catalogue of the collection shows 1797 entries of first lines. This number, however, not only includes printed duplicates as well as manuscript ballads that Pepys copied but also fails to indicate when more than one ballad is printed on a single sheet. J. W. Ebsworth1, after a painstaking examination of the collection, stated that it contains 1738 individual printed sheets, 67 of
1 Roxburghe Ballads, vm, 740.