Studies In Folk-song And Popular Poetry

An Extensive Investigation Into The Sources And Inspiration Of National Folk Song

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sea and air; but they are of no such distinct historic value as are the indications to be found in the more definite folk-lore in prose or verse, which have the element of dramatic interest and narrative. It is to be remembered that these chants, as we have said, were essentially improvisations, with a pur­pose different from ordinary song, — that is, to give the governing power of melody to united exer­tion, — and that whatever color and substance they have are extraneous, and not inherent. What is distinctively American can be determined only by local allusions or by definite knowledge of their origin: the first are of very little value, for an English chant, with its local allusions, might be very readily altered into an American one by the substitution of American names; and in regard to the second, as has been said, the songs were born, and passed from mouth to mouth, and from ship to ship, without any one's knowing or caring where they originated. Nevertheless, the American sail­ors, when there were American sailors, had as strong a national and provincial feeling as those of any other country; were capable of making their own chants, if not as much given to improvisation as those of the Latin races; and had a selection of local names as sonorous and as readily adapted to the needs of a rhythmical chorus as those of any English-speaking people. The Rio Grande and
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