Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of England

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Title: Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of England
Author: Robert Bell
Release Date: September, 1996 [EBook #649]
[This file was first
posted on September 17, 1996]
[Most recently updated: September 2,
Edition: 10
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Transcribed from the 1857 John W. Parker and Son edition by David
Price, email [email protected]

In 1846, the Percy Society issued to its members a volume entitled
Ancient Poems, Ballads, and Songs of the Peasantry of England, edited
by Mr. James Henry Dixon. The sources drawn upon by Mr. Dixon are
intimated in the following extract from his preface:-
He who, in travelling through the rural districts of England, has made
the road-side inn his resting-place, who has visited the lowly dwellings
of the villagers and yeomanry, and been present at their feasts and
festivals, must have observed that there are certain old poems, ballads,
and songs, which are favourites with the masses, and have been said
and sung from generation to generation.
This traditional, and, for the most part, unprinted literature,-- cherished
in remote villages, resisting everywhere the invasion of modern
namby-pamby verse and jaunty melody, and possessing, in an historical
point of view, especial value as a faithful record of the feeling, usages,
and modes of life of the rural population,-- had been almost wholly
passed over amongst the antiquarian revivals which constitute one of
the distinguishing features of the present age. While attention was
successfully drawn to other forms of our early poetry, this peasant
minstrelsy was scarcely touched, and might be considered unexplored
ground. There was great difficulty in collecting materials which lay
scattered so widely, and which could be procured in their genuine
simplicity only from the people amongst whom they originated, and
with whom they are as 'familiar as household words.' It was even still

more difficult to find an editor who combined genial literary taste with
the local knowledge of character, customs, and dialect, indispensable to
the collation of such reliques; and thus, although their national interest
was universally recognised, they were silently permitted to fall into
comparative oblivion. To supply this manifest desideratum, Mr. Dixon
compiled his volume for the Percy Society; and its pages, embracing
only a selection from the rich stores he had gathered, abundantly
exemplified that gentleman's remarkable qualifications for the labour
he had undertaken. After stating in his preface that contributions from
various quarters had accumulated so largely on his hands as to compel
him to omit many pieces he was desirous of preserving, he thus
describes generally the contents of the work:-
In what we have retained will be found every variety,
'From grave to gay, from lively to severe,'
from the moral poem and the religious dialogue, -
'The scrolls that teach us to live and to die,' -
to the legendary, the historical, or the domestic ballad; from the strains
that enliven the harvest-home and festival, to the loveditties which the
country lass warbles, or the comic song with
which the rustic sets the
village hostel in a roar. In our collection are several pieces exceedingly
scarce, and hitherto to be met with only in broadsides and chap-books
of the utmost rarity; in addition to which we have given several others
never before in print, and obtained by the editor and his friends, either
from the oral recitation of the peasantry, or from manuscripts in the
possession of private individuals.
The novelty of the matter, and the copious resources disclosed by the
editor, acquired for the volume a popularity extending far beyond the
limited circle to which it was addressed; and although the edition was
necessarily restricted to the members of the Percy Society,
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