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is decidedly in favour of the moderns, as might reason-
ably be expected from the improved taste, and en-
larged knowledge, of an age which abounded to such
a degree in poetry, and of a character so imaginative
as was the Elizabethan era. The poetry addressed to
the populace, and enjoyed by them alone, was animated
oy the spirit that was breathed around. We may
cite Shakspeare's unquestionable and decisive evi-
dence in this respect. In Twelfth Night he describes
a popular ballad, with a beauty and precision which
no one but himself could have affixed to its character;
and the whole constitutes the strongest appeal in
favour of that species of poetry which is written to suit
the taste of the public in general, and is most natu-
rally preserved by oral tradition. But the remarkable
part of the circumstance is, that when the song is
actually sung by Festé the clown, it differs in almost
all particulars from what we might have been justified
in considering as attributes of a popular ballad of that
early period. It is simple, doubtless, both in structure
and phraseology, but is rather a love song than a
minstrel ballad—a love song, also, which, though its
imaginative figures of speech are of a very simple and
intelligible character, may nevertheless be compared
to any thing rather than the boldness of the preceding
age, and resembles nothing less than the ordinary
minstrel ballad. The original, though so well known,
may be here quoted, for the purpose of showing what
was, in Shakspeare's time, regarded as the poetry of
"the old age." Almost every one has the passage by
heart, yet I must quote it, because there seems a
marked difference between the species of poem which
is described, and that which is sung:

"Mark it, Cæsario; it is old and plain:

The spinsters and the knitters in the sun,

And the free maids, that weave their thread with bones,
Do use to chant it; it is silly sooth,

And dallics with the innocence of love,
Like the old age."

The song, thus beautifully prefaced, is as follows:

"Come away, come away, death,

And in sad cypress let me be laid;

Fly away, fly away, breath;

I am slain by a fair cruel maid.

My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it;

My part of death no one so true

Did share it.

"Not a flower, not a flower sweet,

On my black coffin let there be strown;

Not a friend, not a friend greet

My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand, thousand sighs to save,

Lay me, O, where

Sad true lover never find my grave,

To weep there."1

be entitled, with the ordinary, and especially the earlier popular poetry, I cannot help thinking that a great difference will be observed in the structure of the verse, the character of the sentiments, the ornaments and refinement of the language. Neither indeed, as might be expected from the progress of human affairs, was the change in the popular style of poetry achieved without some disadvantages, which counterbalanced, in a certain degree, the superior art and exercise of fancy which had been introduced of late times.

The expressions of Sir Philip Sidney, an unquestionable judge of poetry, flourishing in Elizabeth's golden reign, and drawing around him, like a magnet, the most distinguished poets of the age, amongst whom we need only name Shakspeare and Spenser, still show something to regret when he compared the highly wrought and richly ornamented poetry of his own time, with the ruder but more energetic diction of Chevy Chase. His words, often quoted, cannot yet be dispensed with on the present occasion. They are a chapter in the history of ancient poetry. "Certainly," says the brave knight, "I must confess my own barbarousness; I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas, that I found not my heart more moved than with a trumpet. And yet it is sung by some blind crowder, with no rougher voice than rude style, which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cobwebs of that uncivil age, what would it work, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar." 2

If we inquire more particularly what were the pe culiar charms by which the old minstrel ballad produced an effect like a trumpet-sound upon the bosom of a real son of chivalry, we may not be wrong in ascribing it to the extreme simplicity with which the narrative moves forward, neglecting all the more minute ornaments of speech and diction, to the grand object of enforcing on the hearer a striking and affecting catastrophe. The author seems too serious in his wish to affect the audience, to allow himself to be drawn aside by any thing which can, either by its tenor, or the manner in which it is spoken, have the perverse effect of distracting attention from the catastrophe.

Such grand and serious beauties, however, occurred but rarely to the old minstrels; and in order to find them, it became necessary to struggle through long passages of monotony, languor, and inanity. Unfortunately it also happened, that those who, like Sidney, could ascertain, feel, and do full justice to the beauties of the heroic ballad, were few, compared to the numbers who could be sensible of the trite verbiage of a bald passage, or the ludicrous effect of an absurd rhyme. In England, accordingly, the popular bal'ad fell into contempt during the seventeenth century; and although in remote counties its inspiration was

On comparing this love elegy, or whatever it may occasionally the source of a few verses, it seems to

Twelfth Night, Act ii. Scene 4th.

2 Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poesy.

3 A curious and spirited specimen occurs in Cornwall, as late as the trial of the Bishops before the Revolution. The


tempt to emulate the merits and avoid the errors with which the old ballad was encumbered; and in the effort to accomplish this, a species of composition was discovered, which is capable of being subjected to peculiar rules of criticism, and of exhibiting excel

have become almost entirely obsolete in the capital.
Even the Civil Wars, which gave so much occasion
for poetry, produced rather song and satire, than the
ballad or popular epic. The curious reader may satis-
fy himself on this point, should he wish to ascertain
the truth of the allegation, by looking through D'Ur-lences of its own.
fey's large and curious collection,' when he will be
aware that the few ballads which it contains are the
most ancient productions in the book, and very sel-
dom take their date after the commencement of the
seventeenth century.


In Scotland, on the contrary, the old minstrel ballad long continued to preserve its popularity. Even the last contests of Jacobitism were recited with great vigour in ballads of the time, the authors of some of which are known and remembered; nor is there a more spirited ballad preserved than that of Mr. Skirving, (father of Skirving the artist,) upon the battle of Prestonpans, so late as 1745. But this was owing to circumstances connected with the habits of the people in a remote and rude country, which could not exist in the richer and wealthier provinces of England.

On the whole, however, the ancient Heroic ballad, as it was called, seemed to be fast declining among the more enlightened and literary part of both countries; and if retained by the lower classes in Scotland, it had in England ceased to exist, or degenerated into doggerel of the last degree of vileness.

Subjects the most interesting were abandoned to the poorest rhymers, and one would have thought that, as in an ass-race, the prize had been destined to the slowest of those who competed for the prize. The nelancholy fate of Miss Ray, who fell by the hands of a frantic lover, could only inspire the Grub Street muse with such verses as these,-that is, if I remember them correctly:

"A Sandwich favourite was this fair,
And her he dearly loved;

By whom six children had, we hear;
This story fatal proved.

"A clergyman, O wicked one,

In Covent Garden shot her;
No time to cry upon her God,

It's hoped He's not forgot her."

If it be true, as in other cases, that when things are at the worst they must mend, it was certainly time to expect an amelioration in the department in which such doggerel passed current.

Accordingly, previous to this time, a new species of poetry seems to have arisen, which, in some cases, endeavoured to pass itself as the production of genuine antiquity, and, in others, honestly avowed an at

In writing for the use of the general reader, rather than the poetical antiquary, I shall be readily excused from entering into any inquiry respecting the authors who first showed the way in this peculiar department of modern poetry, which I may term the imitation of the old ballad, especially that of the latter or Elizabethan era. One of the oldest, according to my recollection, which pretends to engraft modern refinement upon ancient simplicity, is extremely beautiful, both from the words, and the simple and affecting melody to which they are usually sung. The title is, "Lord Henry and Fair Catherine." It begins thus

"In ancient days, in Britain's isle,

Lord Henry well, was known; No knight in all the land more famed, Or more deserved renown.

"His thoughts were all on honour bent, He ne'er would stoop to love: No lady in the land had power

His frozen heart to move."

Early in the eighteenth century, this peculiar species of composition became popular. We find Tickell, the friend of Addison, who produced the beautiful ballad, "Of Leinster famed for maidens fair," Mallet, Goldsmith, Shenstone, Percy, and many others, followed an example which had much to recommend it, especially as it presented considerable facilities to those who wished, at as little exertion of trouble as possible, to attain for themselves a certain degree of literary reputation.

Before, however, treating of the professed imitators of Ancient Ballad Poetry, I ought to say a word upon those who have written their imitations with the preconceived purpose of passing them for ancient.

There is no small degree of cant in the violent invectives with which impostors of this nature have been assailed. In fact, the case of each is special, and ought to be separately considered, according to its own circumstances. If a young, perhaps a female author, chooses to circulate a beautiful poem, we will suppose that of Hardyknute, under the disguise of antiquity, the public is surely more enriched by the contribution than injured by the deception. It is hardly possible, indeed, without a power of poetical genius, and acquaintance with ancient language and

President of the Royal Society of London (Mr. Davies Gilbert) has not disdained the trouble of preserving it from obli


1 Pills to Purge Melancholy

9 See Hogg's Jacobite Relics, vol. i.-ED.

then First Lord of the Admiralty, was assassinated by Mr Hackman, "in a fit of frantic jealous love," as Boswell expresses it, in 1779. See Croker's Boswell, vol. iv. p. 254.-ED 4 "Hardyknute was the first poem that I ever learnt-the last that I shall forget."-MS. note of Sir Walter Scott on

8 Miss Ray, the beautiful mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, leaf of Allan Ramsay's Tea-table Miscellany.

manuers possessed by very few, to succeed in deceiving those who have made this branch of literature their study. The very desire to unite modern refinement with the verve of the ancient minstrels, will itself betrzy the masquerade. A minute acquaintance with ancient customs, and with ancient history, is also demanded, to sustain a part which, as it must rest on deception, cannot be altogether an honourable one.

Two of the most distinguished authors of this class have, in this manner, been detected; being deficient in the knowledge requisite to support their genius in the disguise they meditated. Hardyknute, for instance, already mentioned, is irreconcilable with all chronology, and a chief with a Norwegian name is strangely introduced as the first of the nobles brought to resist a Norse invasion, at the battle of Largs: the "needlework so rare," introduced by the fair authoress, must have been certainly long posterior to the reign of Alexander III. In Chatterton's ballad of "Sir Charles Baudwin," we find an anxious attempt to represent the composition as ancient, and some entries in the public accounts of Bristol were appealed to in corroboration. But neither was this ingenious but most unhappy young man, with all his powers of poetry, and with the antiquarian knowledge which he had collected with indiscriminating but astonishing research, able to impose on that part of the public qualified to judge of the compositions, which it had occurred to him to pass off as those of a monk of the 4th century. It was in vain that he in each word doubled the consonants, like the sentinels of an endangered army. The art used to disguise and mispell the words only overdid what was intended, and afforded sure evidence that the poems published as antiques had been, in fact, tampered with by a modern artist, as the newly forged medals of modern days stand convicted of imposture from the very touches of the file, by which there is an attempt to imitate the cracks and fissures produced by the hammer upon the original.1

I have only met, in my researches into these matters, with one poem, which, if it had been produced as ancient, could not have been detected on internal evidence. It is the "War Song upon the victory at Brunnanburg, translated from the Anglo-Saxon into Anglo-Norman," by the Right Honourable John Hookham Frere. See Ellis's Specimens of Ancient English Poetry, vol. i. p. 32. The accomplished Editor tells us, that this very singular poem was intended as an imitation of the style and language of the fourteenth century, and was written during the controversy occasioned by the poems attributed to Rowley. Mr. Ellis adds, "the reader will probably hear with some surprise, that this singular instance of critical ingenuity was the composition of an Eton schoolboy."

on this occasion, (disowning, at the same time, all purpose of imposition,) as having written, at the request of the late Mr. Ritson, one or two things of this kind; among others, a continuation of the romance of Thomas of Eraldoune, the only one which chances to be preserved. And he thinks himself entitled to state, that a modern poet engaged in such a task, is much in the situation of an architect of the present day, who, if acquainted with his profession, finds n10 difficulty in copying the external forms of a Gothic castle or abbey; but when it is completed, can hardly, by any artificial tints or cement, supply the spots, weather-stains, and hues of different kinds, with which time alone had invested the venerable fabric which he desires to imitate.

Leaving this branch of the subject, in which the difficulty of passing off what is modern for what is ancient cannot be matter of regret, we may bestow with advantage some brief consideration on the fair trade of manufacturing modern antiques, not for the purpose of passing them as contraband goods on the skilful antiquary, but in order to obtain the credit due to authors as successful imitators of the ancient simplicity, while their system admits of a considerable infusion of modern refinement. Two classes of imitation may be referred to as belonging to this species of composition. When they approach each other, there may be some difficulty in assigning to individual poems their peculiar character, but in general the difference is distinctly marked. The distinction lies betwixt the authors of ballads or legendary poems, who have attempted to imitate the language, the manners, and the sentiments of the ancient poems which were their prototypes; and those, on the contrary, who, without endeavouring to do so, have struck out a particular path for themselves, which cannot, with strict propriety be termed either ancient or modern.

In the actual imitation of the ancient ballad, Dr. Percy, whose researches made him well acquainted with that department of poetry, was peculiarly successful. The "Hermit of Warkworth," the "Childe of Elle," and other minstrel tales of his composition, must always be remembered with fondness by those who have perused them in that period of life when the feelings are strong, and the taste for poetry, especially of this simple nature, is keen and poignant. This learned and amiable prelate was also remarkable for his power of restoring the ancient ballad, by throwing in touches of poetry, so adapted to its tone and tenor, as to assimilate with its original structure, and impress every one who considered the subject as being coeval with the rest of the piece. It must be owned, that such freedoms, when assumed by a professed antiquary, addressing himself to antiquaries, and for the sake of illustrating literary antiquities, are subject to great and licentious abuse; and herein

The author may be permitted to speak as an artist the severity of Ritson was to a certain extent justified.

1 See Appendix, Note A.

2 See Sir Tristrem, Scott's Poetical works, vol. v.; editiva


But when the license is avowed, and practised without the intention to deceive, it cannot be objected to but by scrupulous pedantry.

whose hand the ancient Scottish harp has not sounded a bold and distinguished tone. Miss Anne Bannerman likewise should not be forgotten, whose "Tales of Superstition and Chivalry" appeared about 1802. They were perhaps too mystical and too abrupt; yet if it be the purpose of this kind of ballad poetry power

satisfy it, few persons have succeeded better than this gifted lady, whose volume is peculiarly fit to be read in a lonely house by a decaying lamp.

The poet, perhaps, most capable, by verses, lines, even single words, to relieve and heighten the character of ancient poetry, was the Scottish bard Robert Burns. We are not here speaking of the avowed ly-fully to excite the imagination, without pretending to rical poems of his own composition, which he communicated to Mr. George Thomson, but of the manner in which he recomposed and repaired the old songs and fragments for the collection of Johnson 1 and others, when, if his memory supplied the theme, or general subject of the song, such as it existed in Scottish lore, his genius contributed that part which was to give life and immortality to the whole. If this praise should be thought extravagant, the reader may compare his splendid lyric, " My heart's in the Highlands," with the tame and scarcely half-intelligible remains of that song as preserved by Mr. Peter Buchan. Or, what is perhaps a still more magnificent example of what we mean, "Macpherson's Farewell," with all its spirit and grandeur, as repaired by Burns, may be collated with the original poem called "Macpherson's Lament," or sometimes the "Ruffian's Rant." In Burns' brilliant rifacimento, the same strain of wild ideas is expressed as we find in the original; but with an infusion of the savage and impassioned spirit of Highland chivalry, which gives a splendour to the composition, of which we find not a trace in the rudeness of the ancient ditty. I can bear witness to the older verses having been current while I was a child, but I never knew a line of the inspired edition of the Ayrshire bard until the appearance of Johnson's Mu


As we have already hinted, a numerous class of the authors (some of them of the very first class) who condescended to imitate the simplicity of ancient poetry, gave themselves Lo trouble to observe the costume, style, or manner, either of the old minstrel or ballad-singer, but assumed a structure of a separate and peculiar kind, which could not be correctly termed either ancient or modern, although made the vehicle of beauties which were common to both. The discrepancy between the mark which they avowed their purpose of shooting at, and that at which they really took aim, is best illustrated by a production of one of the most distinguised of their number. Goldsmith describes the young family of his Vicar of Wakefield, as amusing themselves with conversing about poetry. Mr. Burchell observes, that the British poets, who imitated the classics, have especially contributed to introduce a false taste, by loading their lines with epithets, so as to present a combination of luxuriant images, without plot or connexion,-a string of epithets that improve the sound, without carrying on the sense. But when an example of popular poetry is produced as free from the fault which the critic has just censured, it is the well-known and beautiful poem

Besides Percy, Burns, and others, we must not omit of Edwin and Angelina! which, in felicitous attention to mention Mr. Finlay, whose beautiful song,

to the language, and in fanciful ornament of imagery, is as unlike to a minstrel ballad, as a lady assuming the dress of a Shepherdess for a masquerade, is different from the actual Sisly of Salisbury Plain. Tickell's beautiful ballad is equally formed upon a pastoral, sentimental, and ideal model, not, however, less beautifully executed; and the attention of Addison's friend had been probably directed to the ballad stanza (for the stanza is all which is imitated) by the praise bestowed on Chevy Chase in the Spectator.

"There came a knight from the field of the slain," Is so happily descriptive of antique manners; or Mickle, whose accurate and interesting imitations of the ancient ballad we have already mentioned with approbation in the former Essay on Ballad Composition. These, with others of modern date, at the head of whom we must place Thomas Moore, have aimed at striking the ancient harp with the same bold and rough note to which it was awakened by the ancient minstrels. Southey, Wordsworth, and other distinguished names of the present century, have, in repeated instances, dignified this branch of literature; but no one more than Coleridge, in the wild and imaginative tale of the "Ancient Mariner," which dis-more immediately allied to common life. But Mallet plays so much beauty with such eccentricity. We should act most unjustly in this department of Scottish ballad poetry, not to mention the names of Leyden, Hogg, and Allan Cunningham. They have all three honoured their country, by arriving at distinction from a humble origin, and there is none of them under

Upon a later occasion, the subject of Mallet's fine poem, Edwin and Emma, being absolutely rural in itself, and occurring at the hamlet of Bowes, in Yorkshire, might have seduced the poet from the beau idéal which he had pictured to himself, into something

was not a man to neglect what was esteemed fashionable, and poor Hannah Railton and her lover Wrightson were enveloped in the elegant but tinsel frippery appertaining to Edwin and Emma; for the similes, reflections, and suggestions of the poet are, in fact, too intrusive and too well said to suffer the reader to feel the full taste of the tragic tale. The verses are doubt

Johnson's "Musical Museum," in 6 vols., was lately re- less beautiful, but I must own the simple prose of the printed at Edinburgh.

Curate's letter, who gives the narrative of the tale as

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it really happened, has to me a tone of serious veracity | music. In either case, however, it frequently hap-
more affecting than the ornaments of Mallet's fiction.
The same author's ballad, "William and Margaret,"
has, in some degree, the same fault. A disembodied
spirit is not a person before whom the living spectator
takes leisure to make remarks of a moral kind, as,

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pens that the scholar, getting tired of the palling and monotonous character of the poetry or music which he produces, becomes desirous to strike a more independent note, even at the risk of its being a more difficult one.

The same simplicity involves an inconvenience fatal to the continued popularity of any species of poetry, by exposing it in a peculiar degree to ridicule and to parody. Dr. Johnson, whose style of poetry was of a very different and more stately description, could ridicule the ballads of Percy, in such stanzas as these,—

"The tender infant, meek and mild,
Fell down upon a stone;
The nurse took up the squalling child,
But still the child squall'd on:"


It may be found in Allan Ramsay's “ Tea-table Mis- with various slipshod imitations of the same quality.
It did not require his talents to pursue this vein of
raillery, for it was such as most men could imitate,
and all could enjoy. It is, therefore, little wonderful
that this sort of composition should be repeatedly laid
aside for considerable periods of time, and certainly
as little so, that it should have been repeatedly revived,
like some forgotten melody, and have again obtained
some degree of popularity, until it sunk once more
under satire, as well as parody, but, above all, the
effects of satiety.

We need only stop to mention another very beautiful piece of this fanciful kind, by Dr. Cartwright, called Armin and Elvira, containing some excellent poetry, expressed with unusual felicity. I have a vision of having met this accomplished gentleman in my very early youth, and am the less likely to be mistaken, as he was the first living poet I recollect to have seen.1 His poem had the distinguished honour to be much admired by our celebrated philosopher, Dugald Stewart, who was wont to quote with much pathos, the picture of resignation in the following

stanza :

"And while his eye to Heaven he raised,

Its silent waters stole away."2

After enumerating so many persons of undoubted genius, who have cultivated the Arcadian style of poetry, (for to such it may be compared,) it would be endless to enumerate the various Sir Eldreds of the hills and downs whose stories were woven into legendary tales-which came at length to be the name assigned to this half-ancient half-modern style of composition.

During the thirty years that I have paid some attention to literary matters, the taste for the ancient ballad melody, and for the closer or more distant imitation of that strain of poetry, has more than once arisen, and more than once subsided, in consequence, perhaps, of too unlimited indulgence. That this has been the case in other countries, we know; for the Spanish poet, when he found that the beautiful Morisco romances were excluding all other topics, confers upon them a hearty malediction.1

A period when this particular taste for the popular ballad was in the most extravagant degree of fashion, became the occasion, unexpectedly indeed, of my deserting the profession to which I was educated, and in which I had sufficiently advantageous prospects for a person of limited ambition. I have, in a former publication, undertaken to mention this circumstance; and I will endeavour to do so with becoming brevity, and without more egotism than is positively exacted by the nature of the story.

In general I may observe, that the supposed facility of this species of composition, the alluring simplicity of which was held sufficient to support it, afforded great attractions for those whose ambition led them to exercise their untried talents in verse, but who were desirous to do so with the least possible expense of thought. The task seems to present, at least to the inexperienced acolyte of the Muses, the same advantages which an instrument of sweet sound and small compass offers to those who begin their studies into suppose that my situation in life or place in society

I may, in the first place, remark, that although the assertion has been made, and that by persons who seemed satisfied with their authority, it is a mistake

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