Mudcat Café message #3992490 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #166098   Message #3992490
Posted By: GUEST,Pseudonymous
15-May-19 - 07:20 AM
Thread Name: If you don't like ballads......
Subject: RE: If you don't like ballads......
I can only suggest people have a look at what Child wrote in the Encyclopaedia article. It was republished by The Journal of Folklore Research in 1994. You can see it if you register on JSTOR, which costs nothing.

Regarding Child's views on the origins of ballads, it still seems to me to be reasonable to assume that these affected his selections, irrespective of the sources of these ballads in more recent times. He is quite clear that they were not created by the lower orders. He says that the elite moved on as the 'race' developed to art poetry, leaving the ballads to the lower ranks, who often changed them over time.

The article is entitled 'ballad poetry' but almost straight away he introduced the phrase 'popular ballad'. He says he find the nomenclature unsatisfactory because it is ambiguous. He later clearly states that he does not think that the ballads came from the common people. He clearly believes that the ballad represents 'the people' meaning the whole 'race' or 'people' at a particular time in its evolution, and emphasises the 'whole' bit by his assertions that the people was not differentiated at the time.


I am not saying I agree with what Child says in this article; I tend to be a 'nobody knows'. But I think if we assume that by 'popular' he meant something like 'lower orders' 'common man' etc we are making a mistake. He seems to mean 'truly national' when he says 'popular', all the people in one 'nation' or 'race', he uses both terms.

Perhaps if I actually quote his attitudes will be clearer.

"The condition of a society in which a truly national or popular poetry appears explains the character of such poetry. It is a condition in which the people are not divided by political organisation and book culture into markedly distinct classes, in which consequently there is such community of ideas and feelings that the whole people form an individual' (p214 of the Journal)


...' though a man, and not the people, has composed them, still the author counts for nothing, and it is not by mere accident, but with the best reason, that they have come down to us as anonymous'

(NB this seems to suggest Child himself did not subscribe to a 'communal creation' theory, though some close to him did).

"The primitive ballad, then, is popular not in the sense of something arising from and suited to the lower orders of a people .... (over time, with education and societal development) the popular poetry is no longer relished by a portion of the people and is abandoned to an uncultivated or not over-cultivated class..."

Later on, he refers to the 'popular poetry' as being the first bloom of 'national genius'. Several times he says it was replaced by 'art poetry', as if this was an improvement in line with increasing civilisation and sophistication.

He seems to believe that he has discovered a pattern of cultural development which was repeated all over Europe, and that less 'cultured' countries may give hints about how things used to be.

The article goes on to discuss how various European nations have and have not preserved their old myths/culture etc He says the English have preserved very few very early ballads and that the date of many f these is impossible to fix.

I read this article in the first place because I read it was the closest Child came to setting out his philosophy. I think there is a risk of assuming that Child shared a view that ballads were made by the lower orders, a view common today, but not one supported by what he wrote.

As to the point made above why write ballads if you can pay somebody to do it, my first response was because it is fun. Also it seem the case that at some points in history being cultured included having the ability to compose poetry, much Elizabethan poetry was composed by the nobility or as Child might put it the 'higher orders'. The 'complaint' or lyric about courtly love and the unnatainable women is a genre that continued for a long time.

It may be that people have found my comments about social darwinism, racialist thinking and early US folklorists unconvincing: for a good account of this a book discussing early writing about blues by Hagstrom Miller is very good. He has lots of quotations from early folklore publications and many of the articles he cites can also be found on JSTOR for anybody who wishes to check Miller's points out.

I know 'blues' isn't the same as 'folk' but blues was also studied by folklorists so the same 'paradigm' as Miller calls it was applied.

I also once read an interesting piece on Child's selection criteria

Jewels Left in the Dung-hills: Broadside and other Vernacular
Ballads Rejected by Francis Child
Rosaleen and David Gregory

Interesting discussion.