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The End of the Middle Ages
> The Historical Ballad
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.
§ 15. The Historical Ballad.
With this ballad we come to history, mainly perverted, but true as tradition.
debased in broadsides,
Hugh Spencers Feats in France
and the vastly popular
naval ballads like the poor
and the excellent
Sir Andrew Barton;
King James and Brown,
and that sterling ballad
which Andrew Lang has successfully called back from Russia to its place at queen Marys own court, with twenty-eight versions still extant to attest its vogueall these are typical in their kind. But the historical ballad, recited rather than sung, epic in all its purposes and details, and far removed from the choral ballad of dramatic situation, is best studied in those pieces which have become traditional along the Scottish border. Not all, however, are of the chronicle type. In 1593, a certain freebooter was hanged, and his nephew took good vengeance for him, calling out a ballad; whatever its original shape, one finds it still fresh with the impression of actual deeds; and, in its nervous couplets, its lack of narrative breadth, the lilt and swing of it, one is inclined to call
The Lads of Wamphray
a case of
a phrase of which Leslie was making use, not far from this date, as to the Borderers and their songs. The dialogue is immediate, and has the old incremental repetition:
O Simmy, Simmy, now let me gang,
And I vow Ill neer do a Crichton wrang.
O Simmy, Simmy, now let me be,
And a peck os goud Ill gie to thee.
O Simmy, Simmy, let me gang,
And my wife shall heap it wis her hand.
This was not made at long range. Epic, on the other hand, and reminiscent, is
Dick os the Cow
cited by Tom Nashea good story told in high spirits; long as it is, it has a burden, and was meant to be sung.
Archie os Cawfield, Hobie Noble, Jock os the Side
and others of the same sort are narratives in the best traditional style; Scotts imitation of these is
at least it is so much his own work as to deserve to bear his name. Still another class is the short battle-piece, of which
Harlaw, Bothwell Bridge
preserved by Delmey, may serve as examples.
in sixty-six stanzas, was made by a minstrel. Refusing classification, there stand out those two great ballads, probably on the same fight,
The version of the former known as
written over for the broadside press, as Child remarks, was the object of Addisons well-known praise; what Sidney heard as trumpet sound is not certain, but one would prefer to think it was the old
One would like, too, the liberty of bringing Shakespeare into the audience, and of regarding that ancient ballad as contributing to his conception of Hotspur. These are no spinsterss songs, but rather, in the first instance at least, the making and the tradition of men-at-arms. A curiously interlaced stanza arrangement, here and there to be noted in both the old
as well as Richard Sheales signature to the former as part of his minstrel stock, imply considerable changes in the structure of the original ballad. Sheale, of course, had simply copied a favourite song; but the fact is suggestive.
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