Page:A book of the west; being an introduction to Devon and Cornwall.djvu/51

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27
FOLK MELODIES

Fair" is as good an example as can be had. Of what may be called the religious element, save in Christmas and Easter carols, I have never discovered any trace.

The Rev. H. Feetwood Sheppard, who has spent ten years in collecting the melodies of Devon and Cornwall, says of them, "I have found them delightful, full of charm and melody. I never weary of them. They are essentially poetical, but they are also essentially the songs of sentiment, and their one pervading, almost unvarying theme is—The Eternal Feminine."

When we pass into Somersetshire the folk-music assumes quite a different character. The tenderness, the refinement have vanished. Judging from their songs, we might expect to find the Somersetshire folk bold, frank, noisy, independent, self-assertive; and this view would be quite in keeping with their traditional character. In Shakespeare's time bandogs and bull baiting were the special delight of the country gentry,[1] and Fuller describes the natives of Taunton Dean as "rude, rich, and conceited." If one turn to the music, "Richard of Taunton Dean," or "Jan's Courtship," "George Riddler's Oven," and the like, are in entire keeping with the character of the people as thus depicted. There is vigour and go in their songs, but no sweetness; ruggedness, no smoothness at all; and it is precisely this latter quality that marks the Cornish and Devonshire airs.

Take such a tune as that to which the well-known hunting song of Devon, "Arscott of Tetcott," is

  1. See M. Drayton's Polylbion on this.