Mudcat Café message #3935224 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3935224
Posted By: GUEST,Pseudonymous
04-Jul-18 - 11:32 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
I think the mention of Child cropped up allegedly in the context of Roud re-writing a definition that has held for a century or so.

It has been pointed out that Child called his volumes 'Popular ballads'. What did he mean by this?

Assuming what Roud says about Child is correct, and I suppose he will have looked into this, Roud says Child never wrote the General Preface that people hoped for. Child doesn't go into all this in volume one, where one might expect to find such an introduction.

Roud says on page 112 that 'A small cottage industry developed in articles that tried to reach Child's definition of the genre and his selection criteria by extrapolating from the general text of the volumes, but there has been no agreement on their selections.'

Now that is worth knowing, so thank you Roud.

Roud then says Child did write an article on Ballad Poetry for an encyclopaedia, but himself said not to take this as definitive.

'The crucial point is that for him ballad poetry was the forerunner of art poetry and belonged to a period when there was no or little distinction between popular and art culture.'

Roud on page 113 quotes Child as follows:

The primitive ballad then, is popular, not in the sense of something arising from and suited to the lower orders of people. As yet, no sharp distinction of high and low exists, in respect to knowledge, desires and tastes An increased civilisation, and especially the introductin of book-culture, gradually gives rise to such a division; the poetry of art appears: the popular poetry is no longer relished by a portion of the people, and is abandoned to an uncultivated or not over-cultivated class - a constantly diminishing number...


From what has been said, it may be seen or inferred that the popular ballad is not originally the product or the property of the lower classes of the people. Nothing, in fact, is more obvious than that many of the ballads of the now most refined nations had their origin in that class whose acts and fortunes they depict - the upper class.


Roud (p109) reminds us that Child's interest in ballads arose from a general interest in English Literature, including Chaucer. Child was not interested in the pieces as music. Nor, says Roud, was he interested in performance. Roud says that for some Child pieces there is no evidence that they were ever sung or recited. He saw the ballads as 'literature'.


I have been reading Kittredge's introduction to his selection of Child. He says:

"They belonged, in the first instance, to the whole people, at a time when there were no formal divisions of literate and illiterate; when the intellectual interests of all were substantially identical, from the king to the peasant."

"The homogeneous folk that is, the community whose intellectual interests are the same from the top of the social structure to the bottom is no fiction; examples in abundance have been observed and recorded."

I don't believe a word of this. Nor do I share Kittredge's belief that this is clear and unarguable. I would on the contrary be wanting proof that such an intellectually monolithic culture ever existed.

But my main point was that definitions of 'popular' vary and don't seem to be getting me much further.

Now, some have complained that Roud includes a section about writers about folk, but it seems to me that maybe, in view of information like this, it is worth knowing about these writers.