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“Popular Ballads of the Olden Time,” etc.
NOTHING is more difficult in preparing a book of
this kind than the selection of a title. In the present case the title is the simplest possible; but it needs a word of explanation. A companion volume, published last year, included certain of the popular ballads which deal with historical events; the present volume almost exhausts the rest of our national stock of ballads, in so far as they can be conscientiously adapted to school purposes. Many of the best have of necessity been omitted, for one reason or another; but enough good material is here, it is hoped, to stimulate interest in a form of literature which is only now beginning to be utilised for educational purposes. With such an object in view, an editor of popular ballads must be allowed powers of deletion and alteration which in a scientific work would be reprehensible, and I have therefore freely revised the texts; but I have not gone so far as to alter popular assonances into rhymes, nor have I changed the peculiarities of Scottish orthography, as the language is a vital part of these ballads. It would be impossible, for instance, to translate into equally effective English the last two lines of The Twa Corbies. In compensation, I have modernised four or five excellent long ballads from their seventeenth-century spelling in the Percy Folio MS.-e. The Lord of Learne, The Heir of Linne, Will Stes and John, and Thomas • Pott,—the two latt believe, for the first time.
The Introduction is an attempt to put before pupils in simple language an explanation of the fundamental difference between popular literature and the other kind. The teacher will easily be able to enlarge on the subject by suggesting parallels, from Homer to nursery rhymes. As to the ballads themselves, they are above all things intended to be learnt by heart; and I suggest that their strong dramatic qualities enable them to be recited in dramatic form, with narrator or spokesman, and a number of characters according to the personae of each ballad. Some of the longer ones have been divided into parts; or, rather, I have indicated a few points here and there at which the ballad-dramatist drops his curtain with the phrase “Let us now leave talking” of so-and-so, and raises it again with “Let us talk more” of some one else.
Not too much stress has been laid in the Notes on comparisons with ballads and tales in other languages; it is better for the pupil himself to evolve parallels from his own reading of so-called “fairy-tales,” folktales or Märchen. Selections from Grimm or Perrault, and Dasent's Tales from the Norse, might well be read simultaneously with these ballads, in order to stimulate curiosity and research in this direction.
The textual notes are for the most part simply explanatory, and as a rule philology goes no further than a hint at derivatives still in common use.