Child's, The English And Scottish Ballads

Volume 5 of 8 from 1860 edition - online book

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viii
INTRODUCTION.
But securely established as Robin Hood is in popular esteem, his historical position is by no means well ascertained, and his actual existence has been a subject of shrewd doubt and discus­sion. " A tale of Robin Hood"1 is an old proverb for the idlest of stories, yet all the materials at our command for making up an opinion on these questions are precisely of this description. They consist, that is to say, in a few ballads of unknown antiquity. These ballads, or others like them, are clearly the authority upon which the statements of the earlier chroniclers who take notice of Robin Hood are founded. They are also, to all appearances, the original source of the numerous and widespread tradi­tions concerning him; which, unless the contrary can be shown, must be regarded, after what we have observed in similar cases, as having been suggested by the very legends to which, in the vulgar belief, they afford an irresistible confirma­tion.
Various periods, ranging from the time of Rich­ard the First to near the end of the reign of Ed­ward the Second, have been selected by different writers as the age of Robin Hood ; but (excepting always the most ancient ballads, which may possi­bly be placed within these limits) no mention what-
1 " This is a tale indeed of Eobin Hood,
Which to beleeve might show my wits but weake."
Harington's AriosCo, p. 891, as cited by Eitson.







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