Popular Music Of The Olden Time Vol 1

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2                                                   ENGLISH MINSTRELSY.
peculiar profession. Thus the poet and the minstrel early with us became two persons. Poetry was cultivated by men of letters indiscriminately ;- and many of the most popular rhymes were composed amidst the leisure and retirement of monasteries. But the Minstrels continued a distinct order of men for many ages after the Norman conquest; and got their livelihood by singing verses to the harp, principally at the houses of the great. There they were still hospitably and respectfully received, and retained many of the honours shown to their pre­decessors, the bards and scalds. And though, as their art declined, many of them only recited the compositions of others, some of them still composed songs themselves, and all of them could probably invent a few stanzas on occasion. I have no doubt but most of the old heroic ballads .... were composed by this order of men."
The term Minstrel, however, comprehended eventually not merely those who sang to the harp or other instrument, romances and ballads, but also such as were distinguished by their skill in instrumental music only. Of this abundant proof will be.given in the following pages. Warton says, "As literature, the certain attendant, as it is the parent, of true religion and civility, gained ground among the Saxons, poetry no longer remained a separate science, and the profes­sion of bard seems gradually to have declined among them: I mean the bard under those appropriated characteristics, and that peculiar appointment, which he sustained among the Scandinavian pagans. Yet their natural love of verse and music still so strongly predominated, that in the place of their old Scalders, a new rank of poets arose, called Glbemen, or Harpers." These probably gave rise to the order of English Minstrels, who flourished till the sixteenth century."
Ritson, in his Dissertation on Romance and Minstrelsy (prefixed to his Col­lection of Ancient English Metrical Romances), denies the resemblance between the Scalds and the Minstrels, and attacks Percy with great acrimony for as­cribing with too great liberality, the composition of our ancient heroic songs and metrical legends, to those by whom they were generally recited. Percy, in the earlier editions of his Reliques of Ancient Poetry, said : "The Minstrels seem to have been the genuine successors of the ancient Bards, who united the arts of poetry and music, and sung verses to the harp, of their own composing?' which he afterwards modified into " composed hj themselves or others." With this • qualification there appears to be no essential difference between their systems, as the following quotation from Ritson will show : " That the different professors of minstrelsy were, in ancient times, distinguished by names appropriated to their respective pursuits, cannot reasonably be disputed, though it may be difficult to prove. The Trouveur, Trouverre, or Rymour, was he who composed romans,
■Gieemek, or Harpers. Fabyan, speaking of Blage-      strongest internal proof that this profession was extremely
bride, an ancient British king, famous for his skill in      common and popular here before the Norman conquest.
poetry and music, calls him "a conynge musicyan, called ......The Anglo-Saxon harpers and gleemen were the
of the Britons god of Oleemen." The learned Percy says:      immediate successors and imitators of the Scandinavian
"This word o/e«isd«rived from the Anglo-Saxon 5I155      Scalds." We have also the authority of Bede for the
(gligg), musica, music, minstrelsy (Somner). This is,      practice of social and domestic singing to the harp, in
the common radix, whence arises such a variety of terms      the Saxon language, upon this island, at the beginning of
and phrases relating to the minstrel art, as affords the      the eighth century.

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