European Balladry

European Balladry

European Balladry

European Balladry

Excerpt

A critic has been known to complain that he could not imagine for what sort of reader a given book was devised. Lest this difficulty should again arise, it may be well to say that this book counts on one reader: its author. It is an attempt to set down answers to a number of' small questions which have been nagging at the base of his brain for several years: what are ballads? who made them, and for whom? what purpose do they serve? why do they die? and so on. Once the answers are fair and feateously written down, no one will have motives more keen than those of the author to see whether they stand their ground when the enthusiasm of invention has died; no one -- because past experience promises that these questions, insufficiently answered, will raise their heads and nag, nag again.

The author would have been contented to accept any complete solution. At first indeed, it seemed sufficient to repeat the words of the masters whenever the course of professional duty brought up the topic of ballad poetry. (The field happened to be Spanish ballads, where the masters are insuperable.) Curiosity leading the writer to follow up some references to the ballads of his own tongue, he realized that there were other masters holding very different language. There are, perhaps, no two ideas in common between Sr. Menéndez Pidal and Andrew Lang on this subject. So new questions raised their heads: are all ballads really the same thing? are the different explanations compatible within some larger answer? The author nibbled at the cheese in some articles on points of detail, and then it seemed possible to cut a way through to a solution (since a conviction of ballad oneness was steadily gaining strength) by comparing the evidence of some of the greatest national balladries on a few fundamental problems: this was the purpose of an article in Medium Aevum, vol. i, a comparative study of Spanish, Danish, and Yugoslav balladries. What effect that article had on its readers, if any, is concealed from the present writer: on himself it had the disconcerting effect of revealing the insufficiency of his data. To answer the very simplest inquiries about the nature of ballads, it seemed necessary to traverse all the ground of dispute. All the ballads of all the nations or communities in Europe have some evidence to contribute. This was the . . .

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