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movement. Without it the storm-and-stress young poets and orators and warriors, the tearful and sentimental young women would have been without a conventional language. Product though it was for the most part of the eighteenth century, a fresh breeze from the primitive ages of the Celt blew through it upon European literature and art. And since its time it is the neglected races of Europe that have been giving the newest impulses to Western poetry, fiction and oratory, music and painting, the Celt, the Norseman, the Slave, and the Jew.
Section 21. 1. The Reverend Thomas Percy, rector of a quiet parish in Northamptonshire, had been feeling the same impulse of the new audience towards the primitive orms and sources of literature. He had turned to the Saxon past that floated around him, to the ballads that he heard the peasantry still recite. He had been collecting them for many years when Ossian appeared; yet his time had drawn him into publishing a Chinese novel from the Portuguese and Miscellaneous Pieces relating to the Chinese. He at once published Five Pieces of Runic Poetry translated from Icelandic (1763); and began to prepare for the publication of his ballad collection. It appeared in February 1765, under the name of Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, in three volumes. It immediately became popular and went through four editions before the end of the century, whilst it stirred men like Ritson and Pinkerton and Herd to make similar collections. Like Macpherson, he prospered on the fame of his book, in spite of the controversy it roused. He became chaplain to the Earl of Northumberland, and though a grocer's son from Shropshire, made himself out to belong to the Earl's house; became dean of Carlisle in 1778, and Bishop of Dromore in 1782; he died at the age of 82 in 1811.
2. His famous book he professed to have based on a folio manuscript of ballads he had found "lying dirty on the floor" of a Shropshire friend,“ being used by the maids to light the fire”. But he had been gathering ballads himsel
for years ; and of the 176 in the first edition only 45 came from the manuscript, although it had 195 pieces. That he had not been the first to collect is shown by the mere fact that he had such manuscripts to draw from. This was dated 1650. Another that he took largely from was Pepys's collection at Cambridge, not yet published as a whole; it had been begun by. John Selden and continued by Samuel Pepys till 1700.
He also consulted and collated from Anthony Wood's collection of 200 in the Ashmolean library at Oxford, a collection of political poems in the archives of the London Antiquarian Society, and a folio volume of printed ballads in the British Museum. He also drew upon private collections, especially a “large folio volume which was lent by a lady”; and he had Scotch ballads from several correspondents in Edinburgh. Nay, there had already been some little demand for ballads by the readers of books and journals. For D'Urfey included a few in his Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20), and Allan Ramsay made them a feature in his Evergreen (1724), and Tea-table Miscellany (1724-27); and A Collection of Old Ballads in three volumes was published in London between 1723 and 1725. But the time had evidently not arrived for their full influence upon English literature. It was not till about the middle of the century that the new middle class began to mould and direct literary ambitions. And the small circle of London critics to whom Swift and Pope addressed themselves felt ballads to be beneath their notice. There is one exception. Addison in his Spectator papers becomes almost enthusiastic about Chevy Chase, and mentions The Two Children in the Wood as one of the darling songs of the common people”. But he was beginning to cater for the coming audience as well as for the coffee-houses, and there is a certain condescension in his references. And this cultured condescension was still manifest in the first reception of the Reliques by the culture of London ; Warburton in a letter to Bishop Hurd speaks of the book with scorn; and Johnson parodied the ballad style in his couplet ;-
'I put my hat upon my head, and went into the Strand,
And there I saw another man with his hat in his hand”. But the public that now bought books had far outgrown the
dictation of London critics, and the collection was widely read, and had a lasting effect upon English literature.
3. Yet over much of the marble of the old popular poetry the stucco of the eighteenth century was plastered. Percy was so far influenced by his narrower audience as to prune what he thought the vulgarities of many of the ballads, to re-edit the conclusion of others so as to fit the sentiment of the day, and to eke out a few more. The custom of printing the popular poetry in broad sheets for sale, that arose in the seventeenth century, had already done much to vulgarise its most imaginative qualities. Oral transmission amongst the peasantry seems rather to have refined their gold. For the Scotch ballads, taken down from the recital of some shepherd or rustic by Scott and other Scottish collectors, have the true poetic fire in them. Whilst most of the English ballads, especially those of the South of England, taken as they were from black-letter prints, are feeble and often prosaic. The rough-voiced and roughmoralled hawkers from the city, like Autolycus in The Winter's Tale, could not but debase their currency to suit their own feelings and ideas of poetry. Even most of those that Shakespeare wove into his dramas had been by his time stripped of much of their real poetry, although his own familiarity with them, and his assumption that his audience was familiar with them show how close the frequenters of the Elizabethan theatre were to the people and to the springs of national life. Even the scholar and courtier, Sir Philip Sydney, acknowledged that “the old song of Percy and Douglas” moved his heart more than with a trumpet”, even though “sung by some blind crowder”; and the devotee of classical precedent, Ben Jonson, would have rather been the author of it than of all his works ; the lifeblood of the nation ran through the veins of even the most hide-bound pedant. The recovery of these children of the wild and forest and wayside for English literature was the natural precursor of another great national era. Yet the eighteenth century could not help intruding its standard of taste. Percy acknowledges as much in his preface; "by a few slight corrections and additions a most beautiful or interesting sense hath started forth ”; his “ object was to
please both the judicious antiquary and the reader of taste; and he hath endeavoured to gratify both without offending either"; and he pleads guilty to the charge of concealing his own share in the amendments under some such general title as “Modern Copy". In spite of Ritson's crusade against him for vandalism, it was scarcely known how much he had “amended” the ballads till Hales and Furnivall reprinted in 1867-8) the folio manuscript from which he took so many.
The Second Book of the First Series, containing some eighteen ballads, poems, and songs, "that illustrate Shakespeare”, supplies a salient example of his more obtrusive method of “correction and addition". The Friar of Orders Gray is the greater part of it Percy's own on a frame-work of scraps taken from various plays of the Elizabethan dramatist. The first two lines
“It was the friar of orders gray
Walked forth to tell his beads”, are modified from a scrap of Petruchio's introduced when he is taming his shrew,
“ It was the friar of orders gray
As he walked forth on his way. The third and fifth come without much alteration from the mad carollings of Ophelia ; the fifteenth turns her most pathetic verse into one most prosaic ;
“ And will he not come again !
No, no he is dead ;
He never will come again”.
“ And will he ne'er come again ?
Will he ne'er come again ?
For ever to remain ”.
Sigh no more, lady, sigh no more”, is the first stanza of Balthazar's song in Much Ado About Nothing. The other twenty-two verses eke out these, on the model of Goldsmith's Edwin and Angelina in The Vicar of Wakefield, into an eighteenth century story of romantic love, with an occasional phrase from Shakespeare's repertory of ballads, like “since summer trees were leavy," and “flaxen locks”. The friar turns out to be the youth whom the lady had rejected and believed in her despair to be dead. Percy revised, according to eighteenth century ideas, no less than twenty-nine, including The Heir of Lynne, Barbara Allen's Cruelty, Sweet William's Ghost, Edom o' Gordon, Gilderoy, King Estmere, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, Sir Cauline, Aldingar, and The Child of Elle.. The last, for example, he found with thirty-nine lines, he left it with fifty verses of four lines each.
4. But on the whole English literature has to thank him for meddling so little, when he had such a pretty turn for song and ballad as he displays in his “O, Nancy wilt thou go with me”, and his “Hermit of Warkworth”. Perhaps, if he had left them “defective or corrupted”, as he found them, they would not have so readily appealed to the literary instinct of the time. We can see from Ossian how much the pioneers of the older literatures had to bewig and powder them for the audiences of the third quarter of the century, lest they should be rejected as mere “antiquarianism”, a word Warburton applied to this collection even as it was. Percy himself was afraid, he says in his preface, that they were of too great "simplicity", and was * long in doubt whether in the present state of improved literature, they would be deemed worthy the attention of the public.” And “to atone for the rudeness of the more obsolete poems, each poem concludes with a few modern attempts in the same kind of poetry writing; and to take off from the tediousness of the long narratives they are everywhere intermingled with little elegant pieces of the lyric kind”; “the artless productions are ”
"occasionally confronted with specimens of the compositions of contemporary poets of a higher class”. Yet his better instincts tell him that the former are often the better.
5. In other words the collection is by no means one of old ballads alone. It is perhaps even more an anthology of narrative, satiric, didactic, and lyrical poems from the two previous centuries, a large number of them with the names of the authors attached. For instance, we have Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd to his Love, Wotton's philosophical lyric “My Mind to me a Kingdom is”, Drayton's Dowsabell, a Sonnet by Queen Elizabeth, a song from a masque of