American Ballads and Songs

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The problem of its origin is of little interest except to the specialist. The fact of popular transmission and the circumstance that generations of singers have contributed to its modification, curtailment, or expan­sion, lend it its attraction. It is always surprising to learn how soon the memory of the history and author­ship of popular songs is lost.
For indigenous ballads, a few generalizations may safely be made. A percentage reflect real events;'but in general there is little connection with history, or the connection is of slight importance. A few had their genesis in local happenings chronicled by local poets. Some, hTHTThe ballads of the Meeks murder examined by Professor H. M. Belden,1 have found but little diffusion. Others, like Springfield Mountain, wandered far from their starting point. Young Char­lotte seems to have been carried widely over the United States by the peregrinations of its author. As a general thing, local ballads, made by some local bard, or im­provised by individual contributors, are the most ephemeral of all ballads. They rarely survive except in chance fragments.. A considerable proportion of the pieces current in American folk-song were floated by singers in traveling troupes, especially by the old-time "entertainers" and minstrel troupes of various types; or they were carried over the country, in later days, through the agency of plays into which they were introduced. Since Elizabethan times this has been a notable source of impetus. Fletcher's Knight of the Burning Pestle mentions many popular songs of the day. One is Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, which is still alive in this country, whether or not it is in England, and another is The Romish Lady, which is also yet alive. The early popularity in London circles of
'"A Study in Contemporary Balladry," The Mid-West Quarterly, vol. I, pp. 162-172.