The Ballad Tree: A Study of British and American Ballads, Their Folklore, Verse and Music, Together with Sixty Traditional Ballads and Their Tunes

By Evelyn Kendrick Wells | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
BORDER RAID BALLADS

THE center of the British ballad world has always been the Scottish Border. Everything conjoins in its favor--its topography, its history, its social economy, and its poetic tradition. Even the discovery of America's hoard, while adding greatly to our knowledge of the processes of tradition, cannot detract from the importance of the Border as the home of ballad makers, singers, and collectors. Indeed, our appreciation of our own ballads is in proportion to our familiarity with the Border as a background for them. The romantic ballads, which throve so heartily in the Yarrow and Ettrick region of the Border, have survived in great abundance in America and form indeed the core of our older songs. While few of the Border Raid ballads have come to America, their type has doubtless inspired many of our indigenous songs. Moreover, life in our own chief ballad country, the Southern Appalachians, bears many likenesses to that of the Border. A brief discussion of the Border Country and its economy will then not be alien to this study.


THE BORDER COUNTRY

"The Border" comprises on the English side the counties of North- umberland and Cumberland, on the Scottish side Berwick, Roxburgh, Dumfries, Peebles, and Selkirkshire. This was a country cut off from north and south, and it developed a strong sense of physical and cultural integrity. Symbolic of its isolation is the Roman Wall. One cannot follow its length from Newcastle to Carlisle, or drive the fifteen miles from Hexham to Housesteads, without a sense of the significance of that great barrier flung across the waist of Britain to keep the northern tribes from descent upon the part of the island which Rome had won and civilized. While the mind is stirred by the thought of the teeming life of the regiments once stationed along the Wall--its busy trade, its baths, its temples and towns and garrisons, its complete

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