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74 ENGLISH AND SCOTTISH BALLADS.
inchoate and imperfect they may be. The historical and ethnological value of the ancient ballads consists in their absolute genuineness, and even the imperfection of their utterances illustrates the condition of the popular mind and the characteristics of the individual intelligence which produced them, and are important geological evidences of the growth and development of the human intellect. At the same time this very imperfection of speech, and the struggle of primitive thought to express itself in language sometimes creates, as it were by accident, the very flower of strength and vividness in picturesque description, and the interpretation of emotion as the most skillful art has been unable to do. How strong these ballads were, and what a hold they had upon the minds and imaginations of the people, as the interpretation of their innate poetic spirit, is shown in the tenacity with which they have lived, and been reproduced in varying forms through generations down to the present day. Ballads like The Cruel Sister and Lord Thomas and Fair Annet, the production probably of the sixteenth or seventeenth century, have been recovered, with the essential burden of their verse and the subject of their story, from the mouths of English peasants and Irish servant girls, and in the folk-lore of the American nursery, to which they had been transmitted simply by the force of oral tradition, and