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AND ON THE
VARIOUS COLLECTIONS OF BALLADS OF BRITAIN, PARTICULARLY
THOSE OF SCOTLAND.
The Introduction originally prefixed to “ The Min- various devices, often more ingenious than elegant, strelsy of the Scottish Border," was rather of a his- that they may establish, if not an absolute claim to torical than a literary nature; and the remarks which originality, at least a visible distinction betwixt themfollow have been added, to afford the general reader selves and their predecessors. Thus it happens, that some information upon the character of Ballad early poets almost uniformly display a bold, rude, Poetry.
original cast of genius and expression. They havo It would be throwing away words to prove, what walked at free-will, and with unconstrained steps, all must admit, the general taste and propensity of along the wilds of Parnassus, while their followers nations in their early state, to cultivate some species move with constrained gestures and forced attitudes, of rude poetry. When the organs and faculties of a in order to avoid placing their feet where their predeprimitive race have developed themselves, each for its cessors have stepped before them. The first bard who proper and necessary use, there is a natural tendency compared his hero to a lion, struck a bold and conto employ them in a more refined and regulated man- genial note, though the simile, in a nation of hunters, ner for purposes of amusement. The savage, after be a very obvious one; but every subsequent poet who proving the activity of his limbs in the chase or the shall use it, must either struggle hard to give his lion, battle, trains them to more measured movements, to as heralds say, with a difference, or lie under the imdance at the festivals of his tribe, or to perform obeis- putation of being a servile imitator. ance before the altars of his deity. From the same It is not probable that, by any researches of modern impulse, he is disposed to refine the ordinary speech times, we shall ever reach back to an earlier model of which forms the vehicle of social communication be- poetry than Homer; but as there lived heroes before twixt him and his brethren, until, by a more ornate Agamemnon, so, unquestionably, poets existed before diction, modulated by certain rules of rhythm,cadence, the immortal Bard who gave the King of kings his assonance of termination, or recurrence of sound or fame; and he whom all civilized nations now acknowletter, he obtains a dialect more solemn in expression, ledge as the Father of Poetry, must have himself to record the laws or exploits of his tribe, or more looked back to an ancestry of poetical predecessors, sweet in sound, in which to plead his own cause to and is only held original because we know not from his mistress.
whom he copied. Indeed, though much must be asThis primeval poetry must have one general cha-cribed to the riches of his own individual genius, the racter in all nations, both as to its merits and its im- poetry of Homer argues a degree of perfection in an perfections. The earlier poets have the advantage, art which practice had already rendered regular, and and it is not a small one, of having the first choice out concerning which, his frequent mention of the bards, of the stock of materials which are proper to the art; or chanters of poetry, indicates plainly that it was and thus they compel later authors, if they would studied by many, and known and admired by all.2 avoid slavishly imitating the fathers of verse, into It is indeed easily discovered, that the qualities ne
1 These remarks were first appended to the edition of the doubted that the Iliad and Odyssey were substantially the * Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," 1830.-Ed.
works of one and the same individual. He said of the Wol
fian hypothesis, that it was the most irreligious one he had * Su Walter Scott, as this paragraph intimates, nerer heard of, and could never be believed in by any poet.-ED.