English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians

122 Songs and Ballads, and 323 Tunes With Lyrics & sheet Music - online book

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Introduction                                 xxi
educationist should be not to forge the first link of a new chain, but to add a fresh link to an old one.
That culture is primarily a matter of inheritance and not of educa­tion is, perhaps, a mere truism, but it is one, nevertheless, which educa­tionists often forget. My knowledge of American life may be too slender for an opinion of mine to carry much weight, but I cannot withhold the criticism—advanced with the greatest diffidence—that the educational authorities of some of the larger cities in the United States are too ready to ignore the educational and cultural value of that national heritage which every immigrant brings with him to his new home, and to rest too con­fidently upon their educational system, which is often almost wholly utilitarian and vocational, to create the ideal American citizen. I admit that the problem which faces the educationist in America is a peculiarly difficult one, but it will, I am convinced, never be satisfactorily solved until the education given to every foreign colonist is directly based upon, and closely related to, his or her national inheritance of culture.
Of the supreme cultural value of an inherited tradition, even when unenforced by any formal school education, our mountain community in the Southern Highlands is an outstanding example. Another, though negative, instance of the truth of the same principle may be seen in the contents of a book which Professor Lomax has recently compiled, con­cerning the songs of the cowboys of Texas.1 Let me ask the reader to compare these with the songs of the Southern Highlanders. The com­parison is a fair one, for the cowboys live a communal life almost as isolated and shut off from the world as that of the mountaineers, and feel, accordingly, the same compelling desire to express themselves in song. They are not, or at any rate they would not, I imagine, consider themselves, in any way inferior to their neighbours; they are, I take it, less illiterate, while the life they lead is more vivid and exciting and far richer in incident. Why, then, is it that their songs compare so un­favourably with those of the mountain singers? It can only be because the cowboy has been despoiled of his inheritance of traditional song; he has nothing behind him. When, therefore, he feels the need of self-expression, having no inherited fund of poetic literature upon which to draw, no imaginative world into which to escape, he has only himself and his daily occupations to sing about, and that in a self-centred, self-conscious way, e.g., "The cowboy's life is a dreadful life"; "I'm a poor lonesome cowboy"; "I'm a lonely bull-whacker"—and so forth.
Now this, of course, is precisely what the folk-singer never does.
1 Cowboy Songs and other Frontier Ballads. Sturgis and Walton, 1916.