Mudcat Café message #3880368 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3880368
Posted By: Jim Carroll
05-Oct-17 - 02:23 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
"you have a wonderful record of collecting songs -"
Please don't patonise me Tim - if you think that all I've done is collect songs and learned nothing from them, you insult me as much as Richard and Steve does
Steve's comments may relate to the early twentieth century collections, but his definitive statement covers the entire reperoire, including the ballads - his contemptuous reference to "shepherds and swains" romanticism is at least a seventeenth century one.
To make such a definitive statement based on the condition of the song tradition in the early twentieth century is academic madness - kile trying to assess the general health of a human being by examining a corpse.
Our song traditions began to disappear when the Industrial Revolution wrought massive changes both in the town and the countryside, breaking up the communities and putting massive pressure on the workers.
Sharp and his colleagues stressed over and over again that they were dealing with the pale shadow of a song tradition - as Tommy Munnely put it "a race with the undertaker"
By the time the BBC mounted their mopping up campaign, in England they were dealing with singers who were remembering songs that had been remembered from parents who had might or might not have been part of a living oral tradition - second or third hand rather than direct from the horse's mouth - a moribund or dead tradition.
Ireland was different in that rural agriculture and the lifestyle that came with it still had a living song tradition right through to the 40s and fifties - the non-literate Travellers had one up to the 1970s
Both these latter were not only still carrying the old songs, largely untainted, but in both cases, were still producing a rich repertoire of newly made songs.
If Steve is referring to the early twentieth century state of things, when the tradition had deteriorated beyond repetition, he needs to make that clear - so far he has either poured scorn or refused to comment on the fact that working people made their songs "romantic nonsense2
I wen to bed extremely depressed last night - I am still seething, so I got up at this gaud-awful hour and dug out a several 'character references
Steve attaches such importance to - the end result is somewhat long because I have left it intact - I apologise for the length of the piece - both to those still interested and to the site administrators for taking up so much space
The first two writers lived and worked at a time when the broadside industry was thriving and both were totally familiar with its output and spent a great deal of time comparing it with the oraol repertoir
I confess I haven't read the second for around forty years, so it came as a shaft of sunlight through all this mirk.
The third seems to have concentrated primarily on broadsides and has done stirling work in dating them
Might look in before I head for Galway - thanks for your best wishes

"The immense collections of Broadside ballads, the Roxburghe and Pepys ... doubtless contain some ballads which we should at once declare to possess the popular character, and yet on the whole they are veritable dung-hills, in which, only after a great deal of sickening grubbing, one finds a very moderate jewel."
Francis James Child letter sent by Child to Svend Grundtvig in Copenhagen, August 25th 1872.

Before concluding this very incomplete summary, something must needs be said about the broadside or ballet, which has had so marked, and in many ways so detri¬mental an influence upon the- words of the folk-ballad and song. The ballad broad¬side, which sprang into life very soon after the invention of printing, consisted of a single sheet of paper, upon one side of which were printed the words only of the ballad, or song. These broadsheets were hawked about the country by packmen, who frequented fairs, village festivals, and public gatherings of all sorts, and who advertised their wares by singing them in market-places, on village greens, in the streets of the towns, and wherever they could attract an audience. In this way bal¬lads and songs were disseminated all over the land. In later days the broadside would have two or more ballads printed upon it, and sometimes several ballads were bound together and distributed in small books of three or four pages, called “ gar¬lands ”.
Many of these broadside ballads were the productions of the literary hacks of the towns, the Fleet Street scribblers of the day; occasionally they were written by ballad-mongers of literary repute, like Martin Parker. Some of them were learned by the hawkers during their country excursions, and were afterwards recited by them, for a consideration, to their employers. In this manner the traditional ballad found its way on to the broadside, but, usually, in a very garbled form, and after many editings. Consequently, the ballad-sheet, while it aided the popularization of the ballad, also tended to vulgarize it. It was only very rarely that a genuine tra¬ditional ballad found its way on to a broadside without suffering corruption. A broadside version of a ballad is usually, therefore, a very indifferent one, and vastly inferior to the genuine peasant song.
With very rare exceptions, and for obvious reasons, the broadside contained the words only of the songs, not the music to which they were sung. The music of the folk-song did not, therefore, suffer corruption through the agency of the ballad-sheet, as was the case with the words. We must remember also that the folk-singer would often learn modern and very indifferent sets of words from the broadside, and sing them to old tunes, after the manner of the “ execution songs,” already mentioned.
These, no doubt, are the chief reasons why the music of the folk-song of to-day has been more faithfully preserved than its text. For it must be confessed that the words of the folk-song often come to the collector of to-day in a very corrupt and incomplete state. The truth is that the twentieth century collector is a hundred years too late. The English ballad is moribund ; its account is well-nigh closed.
This conclusion corroborates that which was reached by 4 4 The Society of Anti¬quaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne ”, when, in 1855, they set about the collection of the Northumbrian ballads. In their first report they recorded that, so far as the words were concerned, they were “ half-a-century too late ”.
And yet, although page after page of the collector’s note-books are filled with scraps of imperfectly-remembered broadside versions, here and there will be found, sometimes a whole ballad, more often a verse or two, or, perhaps, a phrase only of genuine folk-made poetry. It is only from scraps of this kind that an estimate can be formed, and that a speculative one, of what the English ballad was in its prime. It has been pointed out that the Scottish ballad is immeasurably finer and more poetical than the English. But the comparison is scarcely a fair one. For the songs of Lowland Scotland were collected more than a hundred years ago, when ballad- singing was still a living art; whereas we in England have so neglected our oppor¬tunities that we are only now making a belated attempt to gather up the crumbs. Such ballads as “ The Unquiet Grave ” etc., which have survived in more or less in¬corrupt form, are there to remind us of the loss that we have suffered from the un¬worthy neglect of past opportunities.
Over and above this question of word-corruption, there are some folk-songs, which, for other reasons, can only be published after extensive alteration or excision. Some of these, happily only a few, are gross and coarse in sentiment and objectionable in every way. I am convinced, however, that the majority of these are individual and not communal productions, and cannot therefore be classed as genuine folk-songs. At any rate, I know that they offend against the communal sense of propriety, that the verdict of the community is expressly against them, and that those who sing them do so fully understanding that they are bad, vicious and indefensible.
But there are also a large number of folk-songs, which transgress the accepted conventions of the present age, and which would shock the susceptibilities of those who rank reticence and reserve amongst the noblest of the virtues. These are not, strictly speaking, bad songs ; they contain nothing that is really wrong or unwhole¬some. And they do not violate the communal sense of what is right and proper. They are sung freely and openly by peasant singers, in entire innocence of heart, and without the shadow of a thought that they contain anything that is objectionable, or that they themselves are committing any offence against propriety in singing them.
This is a phenomenon which opens up a large question. The key-note of folk- poetry, as we have already shown, is simplicity and directness without subtlety—as in the Bible narratives and Shakespeare. This characteristic might be mistaken for
a want of refinement by those who live in an age where subtlety and circumlocution are extensively practised, This question comes especially to the fore when the most universal and elemental of all subjects is treated, that of love and the relations of man to woman. Its very intimacy and mystery cause many minds to shrink from expressing themselves openly on the subject, as they would shrink from desecrating a shrine. The ballad-maker has no such feeling. He has none of that delicacy, which, as often as not, degenerates into pruriency. Consequently, he treats “ the way of a man with a maid ” simply and directly, just as he treats every other sub¬ject. Those, therefore, who would study ballad-literature, must realize that they will find in it none of those feelings and unuttered thoughts, which are characteristic of a more self-conscious but by no means more pure-minded age. Nevertheless, however much we may admire the simplicity and the straightforward diction of the ballad- maker, we have to realize that other times and other people are not so simple- minded and downright, and that what is deemed fit and proper for one period is not necessarily so for others. The folk-song editor, therefore, has perforce to undertake the distasteful task of modifying noble and beautiful sentiments in order that they may suit the minds and conform to the conventions of another age, where such things would not be understood in the primitive, direct and healthy sense.
These songs, however, in that they throw a searching light upon the character of the peasant, possess* great scientific value. For this reason alone, it is obviously the duty of the collector to note them down conscientiously and accurately, and to take care that his transcriptions are placed in libraries and museums, where they may be examined by students and those who will not misunderstand them.
Songs of the type that we have been discussing, as well as those whose words are incomplete or corrupt, present a knotty problem to the collector who would publish them for popular use. Only those who have tried their hands at editing a folk-song can realize the immense difficulty of the task. To be successful the editor must be in close sympathy with the aims of the folk-poet. He must divest himself of all acquired literary tricks, be alert to avoid anachronisms, and contrive to speak in the simple and direct language of the peasant. The high estimation, in which the best Scottish traditional poetry is deservedly held, is due in no small measure to the genius and sympathetic insight of those who edited it. Amongst these Burns was, of course, pre-eminent. But he was a peasant as well as a poet, and represented the peasant element in song. He was, moreover, an enthusiastic collector of the folk- tunes of his own country, of which he possessed an intimate, if not a technical knowledge. Yet, it cannot truthfully be said that even Burns was uniformly suc¬cessful in his revisions, although in such songs as “ John Anderson, my Jo ”, or “ O ! my luve’s like a red, red rose ”, he approached perfection. It must be remembered, too, that he confined his attention to the songs, and that he scarcely touched the ballads, which were left to Sir Walter Scott and others to recover and to edit. Who will do for our English ballads and songs what Scott and Burns did for the Scottish ?
Cecil J Sharp, , ‘Folk Poetry’ from English Folk Songs - Some Conclusions

At least a third of the 305 ballads canonised in his great work owe their continuance in oral tradition to having been printed as street literature, and many of those that don't are tainted by the interference of a series of literary hands, some having been totally fabricated by such. Indeed, this literary interference has been, and is, a lively and thriving tradition all of its own.
Dunghill’ (Steve Gardham)