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Logic of Child Ballad Numbering

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Joe Offer 23 Feb 08 - 02:20 PM
EBarnacle 23 Feb 08 - 04:18 PM
Bill D 23 Feb 08 - 06:46 PM
Jon Bartlett 23 Feb 08 - 07:27 PM
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Subject: Logic of Child Ballad Numbering
From: Joe Offer
Date: 23 Feb 08 - 02:20 PM

Somebody started a thread today on a question about a phrase from The Laily Worm and the Machrel of the Sea. In cross-indexing, I found Laidley Worm of Spindleston Heughs which Child put in his appendix, tied to Child 34, Kemp Owyne (and yes, I can see from the crosslinks at the top of this thread, that it's time for me to split this group).

So, we have two "Lailly Worm" songs, not the same Child number, but very close to each other in the book.

It seems that Child often put related songs in the vicinity of each other, but I haven't been able to figure out the logic of his numbering and grouping.

Any comments, explanations, lectures?

-Joe, quizzically-


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Subject: RE: Logic of Child Ballad Numbering
From: EBarnacle
Date: 23 Feb 08 - 04:18 PM

I dunno, there are some groupings, such as the Robin Hood ballads but many of them seem to be almost randomly placed.


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Subject: RE: Logic of Child Ballad Numbering
From: Bill D
Date: 23 Feb 08 - 06:46 PM

OK..one amateur lecture.

In Child's day, it was quite a feat to find and organize all these at all, what with few other scholars helping, and no internet to look up other opinions. (Only 'slightly' tongue in cheek there.) Lots of elements and lines appear in other ballads.

Many of the songs and stories are about legends and myths, and it's a hard task to decide what is a different story, and what is simply a different version of a story. There are several of the ballads where the debate still rages about whether it deserves a separate listing, but Child's list is pretty good and quite 'set' in printed editions, so singers & scholars who care just try to be aware of the relationships & similarities.

If you look at the table of contents in Child, you see some basic grouping of the ballads by age, then, it seems to me, by subject. (Robin Hood is one example)

As soon as we have clarified the precise meaning of 'folk', I propose we sit down and revise Child, adding ballads he missed and re-ordering them by ....let me think....


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Subject: RE: Logic of Child Ballad Numbering
From: Jon Bartlett
Date: 23 Feb 08 - 07:27 PM

The structure of Child's magnum opus and the order of the ballads was a problem he struggled with for years. He corresponded with the Danish scholar Grundtvig, whose collection was one of Child's models. Grundtvig's collection had been broken down into I think four categories, the first two being battles with monsters and ballads of chivalry; but this would not be a useful way of dealing with the English and Scottish ballads, since there were so few of these first two categories. They eventually agreed on printing the oldest BY FORM first - the 1/3 texts with the 2/4 choruses or refrains - think of the Cruel Mother or the Twa Sisters - but this too would not have been an entirely satisfactory organizational model. Child's final publication ran from c. 1870-c. 1895 and new material kept turning up, and, given this, ANY organizational model would have collapsed. Child never met Grundtvig - they tried to arrange a meeting on a couple of occasions, but in both cases, as I recall, one of their wives was to sick to travel. What a meeting that would have been, and what ballad scholar wouldn't have wanted to be a fly on the wall!

The correspondence is published in full as an appendix to "Ballad Books and Ballad Men" by Hustved and is a fascinating read. My books are not to hand so please, Malcolm Douglas, correct anything here that's wonky.

Jon Bartlett


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