The Critics & the Ballad

By Macedward E. Leach; Tristram P. Coffin | Go to book overview

13
Some Effects
of Scribal and Typographical Error
on Oral Tradition

W. EDSON RICHMOND

THE oral nature of popular literature, of one form of folklore in other words, has been so emphasized in the past few years that frequently the fact that printed folklore also exists is lost sight of. Indeed, though no competent scholar would boldly assert that printed folklore does not exist, such an assumption is not uncommonly implicit in the definitions which may be found for various types of popular literature. The emphasis, for example, which has been placed upon oral transmission as the principal element contributing to the creation of a popular ballad and which may be traced at least as far back as Sir Walter Scott's day,1 if not, as is probable, considerably further, suggests that all printed ballads except those in the volumes of scholarly collectors are suspect.

If we are to deal at all with contemporary materials of Western European civilization, however, we must realize that today the printed page is nearly as much the property of the "folk" as is oral tradition and that it differs from the latter only in that to it is attributed more authority than is usually given today to the unsupported word.

It is true, of course, that the broadside ballad is easily distinguishable from the so-called popular ballad of tradition and that the broadside ballad cannot in general stand alongside the ballad of tradition if any accepted canons of literary taste be applied--but then, neither can

-225-

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