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A Book of Old Ballads — Volume 1

64 pages
BOOK OF BALLADS, Beverly Nichols, Volume 1.
The Project Gutenberg EBook Book of Ballads, Beverly Nichols, V1 #1 in our series of ballads selected by Beverly Nichols Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this or any other Project Gutenberg eBook. This header should be the first thing seen when viewing this Project Gutenberg file. Please do not remove it. Do not change or edit the header without written permission. Please read the "legal small print," and other information about the eBook and Project Gutenberg at the bottom of this file. Included is important information about your specific rights and restrictions in how the file may be used. You can also find out about how to make a donation to Project Gutenberg, and how to get involved. **Welcome To The World of Free Plain Vanilla Electronic Texts** **EBooks Readable By Both Humans and By Computers, Since 1971** *****These EBooks Were Prepared By Thousands of Volunteers***** Title: A Book of Ballads, Volume 1. Author: Various Selected by Beverly Nichols Release Date: February 2005 [EBook #7531] [This file was first posted on May 15, 2003] Edition: 10 Language: English Character set encoding: iso-8859-1
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BOOK OF BALLADS, BeverlyNichols, Volume 1.The Project Gutenberg EBook Book of Ballads, Beverly Nichols, V1#1 in our series of ballads selected by Beverly NicholsCopyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check thecopyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributingthis or any other Project Gutenberg eBook.This header should be the first thing seen when viewing this ProjectGutenberg file. Please do not remove it. Do not change or edit theheader without written permission.Please read the "legal small print," and other information about theeBook and Project Gutenberg at the bottom of this file. Included isimportant information about your specific rights and restrictions inhow the file may be used. You can also find out about how to make adonation to Project Gutenberg, and how to get involved.**Welcome To The World of Free Plain Vanilla Electronic Texts****EBooks Readable By Both Humans and By Computers, Since 1971*******These EBooks Were Prepared By Thousands of Volunteers*****Title: A Book of Ballads, Volume 1.Author: Various         Selected by Beverly NicholsRelease Date: February 2005 [EBook #7531][This file was first posted on May 15, 2003]Edition: 10Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: iso-8859-1***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK BALLADS, BY NICHOLS, V1 *** This file was produced by David Widger, Juliet Sutherland, Phil McLaury,Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading TeamA BOOK OF OLDBALLADS
Selected and with an IntroductionbyBEVERLEY NICHOLSACKNOWLEDGMENTSThe thanks and acknowledgments of thepublishers are due to thefollowing: to Messrs. B. Feldman & Co., 125Shaftesbury Avenue, W.C. 2,for "It's a Long Way to Tipperary"; to Mr.Rudyard Kipling and Messrs.Methuen & Co. for "Mandalay" from BarrackRoom Ballads; and tothe Executors of the late Oscar Wilde for"The Ballad of Reading Gaol.""The Earl of Mar's Daughter", "The Wife ofUsher's Well", "The ThreeRavens", "Thomas the Rhymer", "ClerkColvill", "Young Beichen", "MayCollin", and "Hynd Horn" have beenreprinted from English andScottish Ballads, edited by Mr. G. L.Kittredge and the late Mr. F.J. Child, and published by the HoughtonMifflin Company.The remainder of the ballads in this book,with the exception of "JohnBrown's Body", are from Percy's Reliques,Volumes I and II.CONTENTSFOREWORD
MANDALAYTHE FROLICKSOME DUKETHE KNIGHT AND SHEPHERD'SDAUGHTERKING ESTMEREKING JOHN AND THE ABBOT OFCANTERBURYBARBARA ALLEN'S CRUELTYFAIR ROSAMONDROBIN HOOD AND GUY OF GISBORNETHE BOY AND THE MANTLEThe source of these ballads will be found inthe Appendix at the endof this book.LIST OF COLOUR PLATESKING ESTMEREBARBARA ALLEN'S CRUELTYFAIR ROSAMONDTHE BOY AND THE MANTLEFOREWORDByBeverley NicholsThese poems are the very essence of theBritish spirit. They are, toliterature, what the bloom of the heather isto the Scot, and thesmell of the sea to the Englishman. All thatis beautiful in the oldword "patriotism" ... a word which, of late,has been twisted to suchignoble purposes ... is latent in these gayand full-blooded measures.But it is not only for these reasons that theyare so valuable to themodern spirit. It is rather for their tonicqualities that they shouldbe prescribed in 1934. The post-warvintage of poetry is the thinnestand the most watery that England has ever
produced. But here, in theseballads, are great draughts of poetry whichhave lost none of theirsparkle and none of their bouquet.It is worth while asking ourselves why thisshould be--why these poemsshould "keep", apparently for ever, whenthe average modern poem turnssour overnight. And though allgeneralizations are dangerous I believethere is one which explains our problem, avery simple one.... namely,that the eyes of the old ballad-singers wereturned outwards, while theeyes of the modern lyric-writer are turnedinwards.The authors of the old ballads wrote whenthe world was young, andinfinitely exciting, when nobody knew whatmystery might not lie on theother side of the hill, when the moon was agolden lamp, lit by apersonal God, when giants and monstersstalked, without the slightestdoubt, in the valleys over the river. In sucha world, what could a mando but stare about him, with bright eyes,searching the horizon, whilehis heart beat fast in the rhythm of a song?But now--the mysteries have gone. Weknow, all too well, what lies onthe other side of the hill. The scientistshave long ago puffed out,scornfully, the golden lamp of the night ...leaving us in the uttermostdarkness. The giants and the monstershave either skulked away or havebeen tamed, and are engaged in writingtheir memoirs for the popularpress. And so, in a world where everythingis known (and nothingunderstood), the modern lyric-writer wearilyaverts his eyes, and staresinto his own heart.That way madness lies. All madmen areferocious egotists, and so are allmodern lyric-writers. That is the first andmost vital differencebetween these ballads and their moderncounterparts. The old
ballad-singers hardly ever used the firstperson singular. The modernlyric-writer hardly ever uses anything else.IIThis is really such an important point that itis worth labouring.Why is ballad-making a lost art? That it is alost art there canbe no question. Nobody who is painfullyacquainted with the rambling,egotistical pieces of dreary versification,passing for modern"ballads", will deny it.Ballad-making is a lost art for a very simplereason. Which is, that weare all, nowadays, too sicklied o'er with thepale cast of thought toreceive emotions directly, without self-consciousness. If we arewounded, we are no longer able to sing asong about a clean sword, and agreat cause, and a black enemy, and awaving flag. No--we must needs gointo long descriptions of our pain, andabstruse calculations about itseffect upon our souls.It is not "we" who have changed. It is lifethat has changed. "We" arestill men, with the same legs, arms andeyes as our ancestors. But lifehas so twisted things that there are nolonger any clean swords norgreat causes, nor black enemies. And theflags do not know which way toflutter, so contrary are the winds of themodern world. All is doubt.And doubt's colour is grey.Grey is no colour for a ballad. Ballads arewoven from stuff ofprimitive hue ... the red blood gushing, thegold sun shining, the greengrass growing, the white snow falling. Neverwill you find grey in aballad. You will find the black of the nightand the raven's wing,and the silver of a thousand stars. You will
find the blue of manysummer skies. But you will not find grey.IIIThat is why ballad-making is a lost art. Oralmost a lost art. For evenin this odd and musty world of phantomswhich we call the twentiethcentury, there are times when a man findshimself in a certain place ata certain hour and something happens tohim which takes him out ofhimself. And a song is born, simply andsweetly, a song which othermen can sing, for all time, and forgetthemselves.Such a song was once written by a masterat my old school, Marlborough.He was a Scot. But he loved Marlboroughwith the sort of love which theold ballad-mongers must have had-the sortof love which takes a man onwings, far from his foolish little body.He wrote a song called "The ScotchMarlburian."Here it is:--  Oh Marlborough, she's a toun o' touns  We will say that and mair,  We that ha' walked alang her douns  And snuffed her Wiltshire air.  A weary way ye'll hae to tramp  Afore ye match the green  O' Savernake and Barbery Camp  And a' that lies atween!The infinite beauty of that phrase ... "and a'that lies atween"! Theinfinite beauty as it is roared by sevenhundred young throats inunison! For in that phrase there drifts awhole pageant of boyhood--thesound of cheers as a race is run on astormy day in March, the tollingof the Chapel bell, the crack of ball againstbat, the sighs of sleepin a long white dormitory.But you may say "What is all this to me? I
wasn't at Maryborough. Idon't like schoolboys ... they strike me asdirty, noisy, and usuallyfoul-minded. Why should I go into rapturesabout such a song, whichseems only to express a highly debatableapproval of a certain method ofeducation?"If you are asking yourself that sort ofquestion, you are obviously invery grave need of the tonic properties ofthis book. For after you haveread it, you will wonder why you ever askedit.IVI go back and back to the same point, at therisk of boring you todistraction. For it is a point which has muchmore "to" it than theaverage modern will care to admit, unlesshe is forced to do so.You remember the generalization about theeyes ... how they used to lookout, but now look in? Well, listen to this....  I'm feeling blue,  I don't know what to do,  'Cos I love you  And you don't love me.The above masterpiece is, as far as I amaware, imaginary. But itrepresents a sort of reductio ad absurdumof thousands of lyricswhich have been echoing over the post-warworld. Nearly all these lyricsare melancholy, with the profound andprimitive melancholy of the negroswamp, and they are all violentlyegotistical.Now this, in the long run, is an influence offar greater evil than onewould be inclined at first to admit. Ifcountless young men, everynight, are to clasp countless young womento their bosoms, and rotateover countless dancing-floors, muttering
"I'm feeling blue ... Idon't know what to do", it is notunreasonable to suppose that they willsubconsciously apply some of the lyric'smournful egotism to themselves.Anybody who has even a noddingacquaintance with modern psychologicalscience will be aware of the significance of"conditioning", as appliedto the human temperament. The late M.Coué "conditioned" people intohappiness by making them repeat, over andover again, the phrase "Everyday in every way I grow better and betterand better."The modern lyric-monger exactly reversesM. Coué's doctrine. He makesthe patient repeat "Every night, with all mymight, I grow worse andworse and worse." Of course the "I" of thelyric-writer is an imaginary"I", but if any man sings "I'm feeling blue",often enough, to acatchy tune, he will be a superman if hedoes not eventually apply that"I" to himself.But the "blueness" is really beside the point.It is the egotismof the modern ballad which is the trouble.Even when, as theyoccasionally do, the modern lyric-writersdiscover, to theirastonishment, that they are feeling happy,they make the happiness sucha personal issue that half its tonic value isdestroyed. It is not, likethe old ballads, just an outburst of delight, asudden rapture at thewarmth of the sun, or the song of the birds,or the glint of moonlighton a sword, or the dew in a woman's eyes.It is not an emotion so sweetand soaring that self is left behind, like adull chrysalis, while thebutterfly of the spirit flutters free. No ... thechrysalis is neverleft behind, the "I", "I", "I", continues, in amaddening monotone. Andwe get this sort of thing....  I want to be happy,
  But I can't be happy  Till I've made you happy too.And that, if you please, is one of the jolliestlyrics of the lastdecade! That was a song which made us allsmile and set all our feetdancing!Even when their tale was woven out of thestuff of tragedy, the oldballads were not tarnished with such morbidspeculations. Read the taleof the beggar's daughter of Bethnal Green.One shudders to think what amodern lyric-writer would make of it. Weshould all be in tears beforethe end of the first chorus.But here, a lovely girl leaves her blindfather to search for fortune.She has many adventures, and in the end,she marries a knight. Theballad ends with words of almost childishsimplicity, but they are wordswhich ring with the true tone of happiness:--  Thus was the feast ended with joye anddelighte  A bridegroome most happy then was theyoung knighte  In joy and felicitie long lived hee  All with his faire ladye, the pretty Bessee.I said that the words were of almost childishsimplicity. But thestudent of language, and the would-bewriter, might do worse than studythose words, if only to see how thecumulative effect of brightness andradiance is gained. You may think thewords are artless, but justponder, for a moment, the number ofbrilliant verbal symbols which arecollected into that tiny verse. There are onlyfour lines. But thoselines contain these words ...Feast, joy, delight, bridegroom, happy, joy,young, felicity, fair,pretty.Is that quite so artless, after all? Is it notrather like an old andprimitive plaque, where colour is piled on
colour till you would saythe very wood will burst into flame ... andyet, the total effect is oneof happy simplicity?VHow were the early ballads born? Whomade them? One man or many? Werethey written down, when they were stillyoung, or was it only after thelapse of many generations, when theirrhymes had been sharpened andtheir metres polished by constant repetition,that they were finallycopied out?To answer these questions would be one ofthe most fascinating taskswhich the detective in letters could sethimself. Grimm, listeningin his fairyland, heard some of the earliestballads, loved them,pondered on them, and suddenly startledthe world by announcing thatmost ballads were not the work of a singleauthor, but of the people atlarge. Das Volk dichtet, he said. And thatphrase got him into alot of trouble. People told him to get back tohis fairyland and notmake such ridiculous suggestions. For how,they asked, could a wholepeople make a poem? You might as well tella thousand men to make atune, limiting each of them to one note!To invest Grimm's words with such anintention is quite unfair.[Footnote: For a discussion of Grimm'stheories, together with muchinteresting speculation on the origin of theballads, the reader shouldstudy the admirable introduction to Englishand Scottish PopularBallads, published by George Harrap & Co.,Ltd.] Obviously amultitude of people could not, deliberately,make a single poem any morethan a multitude of people could,deliberately, make a single picture,one man doing the nose, one man an eye
and so on. Such a suggestion isgrotesque, and Grimm never meant it. If Imight guess at what he meant,I would suggest that he was thinking thatthe origin of ballads musthave been similar to the origin of the dance,(which was probably theearliest form of aesthetic expression knownto man).The dance was invented because itprovided a means of prolonging ecstasyby art. It may have been an ecstasy of sexor an ecstasy of victory ...that doesn't matter. The point is that it gaveto a group of people anordered means of expressing their delightinstead of just leaping aboutand making loud cries, like the animals.And you may be sure that as theprimitive dance began, there was alwayssome member of the tribe alittle more agile than the rest--some manwho kicked a little higher orwriggled his body in an amusing way. Andthe rest of them copied him,and incorporated his step into their own.Apply this analogy to the origin of ballads. Itfits perfectly.There has been a successful raid, or awedding, or some great deed ofdaring, or some other phenomenal thing,natural or supernatural. And nowthat this day, which will ever linger in theirmemories, is drawing toits close, the members of the tribe drawround the fire and begin tomake merry. The wine passes ... andtongues are loosened. And someonesays a phrase which has rhythm and asparkle to it, and the phrase iscaught up and goes round the fire, and isrepeated from mouth to mouth.And then the local wit caps it with anotherphrase and a rhyme is born.For there is always a local wit in everycommunity, however primitive.There is even a local wit in the monkeyhouse at the zoo.And once you have that single rhyme andthat little piece of rhythm, you
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