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 12
FRANCIS JAMES CHILD

THE years between Scott and Child bore fruit in ballad theory, the accumulation of texts, and anecdote concerning singers and their ways. "The Clan of Scott," as Hustvedt calls the men influenced by Scott to collect and theorize, includes such names as that of John Finlay, with his reliable theory of French influence on English and European minstrelsy; Robert Chambers, who compares the extreme age of the romantic ballad with the comparative youth of the historical; Robert Jamieson, who points out interesting Anglo-Norse connections, and traces the rise of some romances from earlier ballads;1 and the highly discriminating and judicious George Kinloch. Peter Buchan, with his rather dubious blind harper, was first discredited as a collector, but later, by the researches of Gavin Greig in Buchan's own county, Aberdeenshire, in 1906, restored to good repute. William Motherwell's Minstrelsy is the result of the most careful recording, and in addition to his energy and scholarship he is humanly alive to the relation between singer and song, and between singer and collector. His notebooks, even his expense accounts, are touched with the selfless amateur's delight in treasure found, or depression over time lost--as when he writes of one day's expenses, "So much for a hobby horse, in the riding of which there is neither fame nor thanks."2 His successors have given him both fame and thanks in good measure. Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe fills in social background for the ballads in his pictures of the watch mender, or the tailor, or the tinker, traveling over the countryside and staying a week or so with the county families every year, passing on his store of gossip and folklore and tales and songs as he did his chores. Andrew Lang, known to every child for his many books of fairy tales, and to every ballad scholar as essayist, author, editor, and folklorist, links us with later nineteenth-century scholarship.

____________________
1

Walter Nelles, in "The Ballad of Hind Horn," Journal of American Folklore, XXII ( 1909), 42, shows this ballad to have been evolved from a romance which in turn is derived from an earlier ballad.

2
Notebooks of William Motherwell, in Harvard College Library.

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