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(NOTE: The Preface and Bibliography which follow were transcribed from the 1860 edition, titled 'English and Scottish Ballads'; the ballads were transcribed from the much expanded 1886-98 edition, titled "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads"--JBH.)
THESE volumes have been compiled from the numerous collections of Ballads printed since the beginning of the last century. They contain all but two or three of the ancient ballads of England and Scotland, and nearly all those ballads which, in either country, have been gathered from oral tradition,--whether ancient or not. Widely different from the true popular ballads, the spontaneous products of nature, are the works of the professional ballad-maker, which make up the bulk of Garlands and Broadsides. These, though sometimes not without grace, more frequently not lacking in humor, belong to artificial literature,--of course to an humble department. 1 As
many ballads of this second class have been admitted as it was thought might be wished for, perhaps I should say tolerated, by the "benevolent reader." No words could express the dulness and inutility of a collection which should embrace all the Roxburghe and Pepys broadsides--a scope with which this publication was most undeservedly credited by an English journal. But while the broadside ballads have been and must have been gleaned, the popular ballads demand much more liberal treatment. Many of the older ones are mutilated, many more are miserably corrupted, but as long as any traces of their originals are left, they are worthy of attention and have received it. When a ballad is extant in a variety of forms, all the most important versions are given.--Less than this would have seemed insufficient for a collection intended as a complement to an extensive series of the British Poets. To meet the objections of readers for pleasure, all those pieces which are wanting in general interest are in each volume inserted in an appendix.
The ballads are grouped in eight Books, nearly corresponding to the division of volumes. The arrangement in the several Books may be called chronological, by which is meant, an arrangement
according to the probable antiquity of the story, not the age of the actual form or language. Exceptions to this rule will be observed, partly the result of oversight, partly of fluctuating views; the most noticeable case is in the First Book, where the ballads that stand at the beginning are certainly not so old as some that follow. Again, it is very possible that some pieces might with advantage be transferred to different Books, but it is believed that the general disposition will be found practically convenient. It is as follows:--
BOOK I. contains Ballads involving Superstitions of various kinds,--as of Fairies, Elves, Water-spirits, Enchantment, and Ghostly Apparitions; and also some Legends of Popular Heroes.
BOOK II. Tragic Love-ballads.
BOOK III. other Tragic Ballads.
BOOK IV. Love-ballads not Tragic.
BOOK V. Ballads of Robin Hood, his followers, and compeers.
BOOK VI. Ballads of other Outlaws, especially Border Outlaws, of Border Forays, Feuds, &c.
BOOK VII.Historical Ballads, or those relating to public characters or events.
BOOK VIII. Miscellaneous Ballads, especially Humorous, Satirical, Burlesque; also some specimens of the Moral and Scriptural, and all such pieces as had been overlooked in arranging the earlier volumes.
For the Texts, the rule has been to select the most authentic copies, and to reprint them as they stand in the collections, restoring readings that had been changed without grounds, and noting all deviations from the originals, whether those of previous editors or of this edition, in the margin. Interpolations acknowledged by the editors have generally been dropped. In two instances only have previously printed texts been superseded or greatly improved: the text of The Horn of King Arthur, in the first volume, was furnished from the manuscript, by J. O. Halliwell, Esq., and Adam Bel, in the fifth volume, has been amended by a recently discovered fragment of an excellent edition, kindly communicated by J. P. Collier, Esq.
The Introductory Notices prefixed to the several ballads may seem dry and somewhat meagre. They will be found, it is believed, to comprise what is most essential even for the less cursory reader to know. These prefaces are intended to give an account of all the printed forms of each ballad, and references to the books in which they were first published. In many cases also, the corresponding ballads in other languages, especially in Danish, Swedish, and German, are briefly pointed out. But these last notices are very imperfect. Fascinating as such investigations are, they could not be allowed to interfere with the progress of the series of Poets of which this col
lection of Ballads forms a part, nor were the necessary books immediately at hand. At a more favorable time the whole subject may be resumed, unless some person better qualified shall take it up in the interim.
While upon this point let me make the warmest acknowledgments for the help received from Grundtvig's Ancient Popular Ballads of Denmark (Danmarics Gamle Folkeviser), a work which has no equal in its line, and which may in every way serve as a model for collections of National Ballads. Such a work as Grundtvig's can only be imitated by an English editor, never equalled, for the material is not at hand. All Denmark seems to have combined to help on his labors; schoolmasters and clergymen, in those retired nooks where tradition longest lingers, have been very active in taking down ballads from the mouths of the people, and a large number of old manuscripts have been placed at his disposal.--We have not even the Percy Manuscript at our command, and must be content to take the ballads as they are printed in the Reliques, with all the editor's changes. This manuscript is understood to be in the hands of a dealer who is keeping it from the public in order to enhance its value. The greatest service that can now be done to English Ballad-literature is to publish this precious document. Civilization has made too great strides in the island of Great
[paragraph continues] Britain for us to expect much more from tradition.
Certain short romances which formerly stood in the First Book, have been dropped from thise second Edition, in order to give the collection a homogeneous character. One or two ballads have been added, and some of the prefaces considerably enlarged.
F. J. C.
vii:1 This distinction is not absolute, for several of the ancient ballads have a sort of literary character, and many broadsides were printed from oral tradition. The only popular ballads excluded from this selection that require mention, are The Bonny Hynd, The Jolly Beggar, The Baffled Knight, The Keach in the Creel, and The Earl of Errol. These ballads, in all their varieties, may be found by referring to the general Index at the end of the eighth volume. To extend p. viii the utility of this index, references are also given to many other ballads which, though not worth reprinting, may occasionally be inquired for.