Mudcat Café message #3344037 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #22617   Message #3344037
Posted By: GUEST,Lighter
27-Apr-12 - 11:21 AM
Thread Name: Origin: High Germany
Subject: RE: Origin: High Germany
I believe this discussion is confusing essentially distinct issues.

The two I see as central are style and dissemination.

Illiterate and poorly educated people obviously are capable of telling stories and composing songs. However, only the untutored geniuses among them will produce tales and songs of outstanding excellence. The rest will be mundane. Think about the average quality of popular music, popular novels, popular films, etc., when compared to the relative handful of those productions that are regarded as "classics of the genre." None of these things were created by rural, uneducated people, and I doubt they'd be better if they had been.

(Obviously the folksongs and Hollywood blockbuster are not commensurable: all I'm saying is that truly outstanding work is very rare in any genre. Compare Shakespeare, for example, with 99% of other poetry or drama. In fact, compare the really great parts of Shakespeare with the rest of his own work.)

The average quality of the average untutored song would, I believe, have made it unlikely to spread very far or be remembered for very long by more than a handful of people. And it would be unlikely for any collector to find a descendant of those people or, if the song was more than few years old, to collect it if he did.

Second point. The English-speaking population of Britain in 1800 was about 12,000,000. That's little more than half the current population of the New York Metropolitan Area. Fewer people means fewer and smaller social networks, which means less interchange of ideas and information. One printed broadside hawked commercially would be far more widely influential than one person's song sung to family and acquaintances.

Travel was also slower and more difficult. People also had less reason to travel long distances than they do today.

My point is that it may be a mistake to assume that folksongs in the distant past traveled as far or as quickly by word of mouth as does information today. Just to be clear: I'm not comparing British subjects of 1800 to cavemen, imaginary people "who have no culture," hermits, morons, or anything of the sort.

I'm simply stating my belief that unlettered songs not committed to print would be unlikely to travel very far or last very long. What's more, as the collections show, it's far more common for a song that's been circulating for any length of time to be found in worn down, partially incoherent versions than in brilliant new interpretations created by the anonymous "folk process." Yes, it does happen, but rarely.

Not to get sidetracked further, but the prose of the Norse sagas is straightforward and direct. And the sagas are prose, not folksong.   

This isn't for me a question of dogma or academic fashion. Rather, the evidence suggests strongly that the bulk of all English balladry (not every ballad without exception) originated in the form we know it with literate broadside printers. I see no evidence to refute that idea, and good evidence (cited by Steve and others) to support it.

Frankly, it would be more fun if things were otherwise But they're not.