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PRELIMINARY ESSAY

ON

SCOTTISH BALLAD LITERATURE.

BY WILLIAM MOTHERWELL.

As this compilation consists principally of Narrative Ballads, there occurring in it no compositions strictly called Songs, in the sense to which that term is now generally confined, the slight observations with which it has been thought proper to introduce it, are to be understood as referring exclusively to the Ancient Romantic and Historic Ballad of Scotland.

Under the head of ROMANTIC, a phrase we are obliged to employ for laek of something more significant and precise, may be ranged a numerous and highly interesting body of short metrical tales, chiefly of a tragic complexion, which, though possessing all the features of real incident, and probably originating in fact, cannot now, after the lapse of many ages, be with certainty traced to any historical source, public or private. With these may also be classed that description of ANCIENT SONG which treats of incredible

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achievements, and strange adventures by flood and field,-deals largely with the marvellous in all its multiform aspects,--and occasionally pours a brief but intense glare of supernatural light over those dim and untravelled realms of doubt and dread, whose every nook the giant superstition of elder days has colonised with a prodigal profusion of mysterious and spiritual inhabitants. And, in short, under this comprehensive head, we must include every legend relating to person, place, thing, or occurrence, to establish whose existence it would be vain to seek for other evidence than that which popular tradition supplies.

The other class is much easier described. It embraces all those narrative songs which derive their origin from historical facts, whether of a public or private nature. The subjects of these are national or personal conflicts, family feuds, public or domestic transactions, personal adventure, or local incidents, which, in some shape or other, have fallen under the observation of contemporary and authentic annalists. In general, these compositions may be considered as coeval with the events which they commemorate; but, with this class as with that which has been styled the Romantic ballad, it is not to be expected that, in their progress to our day, they have undergone no modifications of form, and these very considerable, from that in which they were originally produced and promulgated among the people.

This interesting body of popular poetry, part of which, in point of antiquity, may fairly be esteemed equal, if not superior, to the most ancient of our written monuments, has owed its

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