Mudcat Café message #3886709 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3886709
Posted By: Richard Mellish
04-Nov-17 - 07:07 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
I am with Sue in this, seeing shades of grey more than black and white.

I also feel that Jim and Steve are to some extent at cross purposes, arguing about different subsets of the thousands of songs that have existed in England. Jim has ample evidence of "the folk" in Ireland making new songs about current events up until modern times and surmises that the folk in England were surely capable of the same, at least around 200 years ago if not more recently. However a large proportion of such songs in Ireland spread only locally and were collected only if someone happened to go collecting in that locality. The same seems very likely in England. So, however many songs were genuinely made by ploughboys, milkmaids, weavers, etc, few of them ever reached Sharp, Baring-Gould and co unless at some point they found their way into print and thus got more widely disseminated. Likewise all of us would surely agree that a large proportion of broadsides were pretty poor stuff, were actually sung by the folk only briefly if at all, and were never collected.

The songs that are of interest are those that were sung for at least a few decades, in some cases centuries, from when they were first made. These include the classic corpus from the collectors a hundred-odd years ago. (Opinions differ as to whether more recent ones, for example from the music hall, deserve the label "folk", but certainly the folk have sung some of them.)

Sticking to that classic corpus, the earliest evidence of most of them is in print, and some of them were certainly written for the stage or the pleasure gardens by the likes of Dibden. Who wrote most of them will never be known for certain. Jim would like to attribute a lot of them to the folk, largely on the basis of internal evidence of expert knowledge of the subjects addressed. Others attribute the bulk of them to "hacks" largely on the basis of style.

One of the most beautiful songs is the Coppers' A Shepherd of the Downs. It can hardly be disputed that that song derived from The Shepherd Adonis (rather than the other way round), but someone changed it along the way, greatly improving it. And yet in the last verse there appears the phrase "we hear", which is quite superfluous to the story and serves only to satisfy the metre and provide a rhyme. Roud says (on page 307) that that last verse "appears nowhere else". It is very unlikely that evidence will ever emerge of who exactly wrote that verse, but whoever did so borrowed that phrase from umpteen other songs. A broadside hack or a Sussex Shepherd?