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388 ENGLISH SONG AND BALLAD MUSIC.
Neither Mr. Wright nor Mr. Hunter place any reliance upon the passage so 'often quoted from the Scoti-Ohronicon, concerning Robin Hood. They regard it as part of the addition made to the genuine Fordun in the fifteenth century. The earliest notice, therefore, in our literature is contained in Longland's poem, The Vision of Pierce Ploughman, where one of the characters, representing Sloth, says:—
" I kan not perfitly my paternoster as the Preist it singeth, But I kan rymes of Robyn Hode, and Randolf, Earl of Chester."
The date of this poem is between 1355 and 1365, and proves the popularity of the ballads among the common people, in the reign of Edward HI. " It seems also to prove," says Mr. Hunter, " that, in that reign, the outlaw was regarded as an actual person, who had a veritable existence, just as Randolph, Earl of Chester, was a real person."
Three of the ballads of Robin Hood are contained in manuscripts which cannot be of later date than the fourteenth century. They are The Tale of Robin Hood and the Monk; Robin Hood and the Potter; and Robin Hood and Ciandeleyn. But, " far above these in importance, is the poem—for it can hardly be called a ballad—which was printed by Winkyn de Worde in or about 1495. It is entitled The Lytel Geste of Robyn Hood; and is a kind of life of him, or rather a small collection of the hallads strung together, so as to give a continuity to the story, and with a few stanzas here and there, which appear to be the work of the person who, in this manner, dealt with such of the ballads as were known to him." The language of the ballads thus incorporated is the same as of the three ballads above cited, that is, of the fourteenth century. Mr. Hunter takes The Lytel Geste as a guide, and, comparing it with historical evidence, worked out by his own researches, has produced an account so probable and so confirmatory, as to leave scarcely a doubt as to its general accuracy.
Many writers, like Grafton, Stow, and Camden, have referred to, or quoted, Major's account of Robin Hood, in his history, which was first published in Parisr in 1521; but, when Major assigns him to the reign of Richard the First, he writes only from conjecture. His words are, " Circa hsec tempora, ut augur or, Robertus Hudus Anglus et Parvus Joannes, latrones famatissimi, in nemoribus latuerunt," &c. (Historia Majoris Britannia:, per Joannem Majorem, 1521, fol. lv., v°.)
We may therefore revert to the history of Robin Hood, as it was published in 1495 from materials of the preceding century; and, although derived from ballads, Bayle has truly said, that " a collection of ballads is not an unprofitable companion to an historian;" while Selden has gone so far as to say that they are often truer than history.
Without entering far into detail, I may mention a few of the points adduced by Mr. Hunter, in corroboration of the ballad account, and refer the reader, for the life of Robin Hood, to his excellent little book.
The Lytel Geste lays the scene in the reign of one of the Edwards, who is distinguished throughout by no other epithet than that of '•■ Edward our comely