Mudcat Café message #3342733 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #22617   Message #3342733
Posted By: Artful Codger
24-Apr-12 - 04:10 PM
Thread Name: Origin: High Germany
Subject: RE: Origin: High Germany
I have to side with Steve Gardham in thinking that a far greater percentage of "folk songs" were original creations for the broadside industry than were slight adaptations of pre-existing folk songs. Consider: the industry was primarily based in London, but there were printers all over the British Isles. If the typical source of broadside songs were folk songs, it stands to reason that these songs would likely have existed and spread for some time prior to the broadside industry latching onto them; thus, we would expect printers in various parts of the country to publish versions of these songs which varied significantly in their wording, as with folk songs collected from oral tradition. But most broadsides of a song that I have seen are surprisingly uniform in their language.

I also notice what Gardham has described regarding the "polishing": that the broadside versions contain not just flowery but downright awkward language that soon gets "ironed out" in oral versions, as we see from later collection, or even later broadside versions--and if the songs derived from oral tradition, rather than merely recycling common formulae in new works, they would be less likely to have such language added to them, considering the intended market. In contrast, there are also broadside texts of probable oral origin, where such artifices are noticeably lacking. One could investigate whether such texts were published at roughly the same time in significantly different versions; that should weigh more heavily one side of the debate or the other.

The intended market also explains the sympathies that the broadside ballads express wrt criminals and such--it's like modern films pandering to the (crude) tastes of teenage boys and girls. The writers may be capable of much better stuff, and hopefully have a higher moral grounding (aside from selling out to Hollywood), but the products reflect the demands and sympathies of the market, not the (radically different) personal tastes, political bent or educational level of the writers and executives pushing this tripe. Jim Carroll's objection based on sympathies simply ignores market realities. As for the sympathies being "seditious", how could they have been distributed from either source in printed form had the official censors viewed them so? The censors would not have applied a double standard based on the source of the lyrics.

So, to my mind, we do have evidence of oral vs. manufactured origins in broadsides. It's not the sort of irrefutable evidence that Jim Carroll seems to require, but it's corroborative, and constitutes, to my mind, a preponderance that comes as close to conclusive as one can ever expect. Despite the cachet that folkies desire that most folk songs we're familiar with were written by heynonnymous masses in the country, rather than by hacks in the cities, that doesn't seem to be the case for the majority of the songs which have been collected. This in no way detracts from the genuine products of oral tradition, or imputes the capabilities of folk poets or even discounts the propensity of the folk to versify; it merely argues that fewer examples of truly orally-originated works have survived than we'd like to believe, on balance.