Page:A book of the west; being an introduction to Devon and Cornwall.djvu/52

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28
THE WESTERN FOLK

wedded. The air is a couple of centuries older than the words, for the Arscott whom the song records died in 1788, though we can only trace the tune back to D'Urfey at the end of the seventeenth century. The music is impetuous, turbulent, excited, it might be the chasing the red deer on Exmoor; the hunt goes by with a rush like a whirlwind to a semi-barbarous melody, which resembles nothing so much as that of the spectral chase in Der Freischütz.

But Somersetshire song can be tender at times, though not quite with the bewitching grace of Devonia. There is a charming air which found its way from the West up to London some sixty years ago, the original words of which are lost, but the tune became immensely popular under the title of "All round my hat," a vulgar ditty sung by all little vulgar boys in the streets. The tune is well worth preserving. It is old, and there is a kind of wail about it which is touching.

But who were the composers of these folk-airs? In the old desks in west galleries of churches remain here and there piles of MS. music: anthems, and, above all, carols, the composition of local musicians unknown beyond their immediate neighbourhood, and now unknown even by name.

A few years ago I was shown such a pile from Lifton Church. I saw another great library, as I may call it, that was preserved in the rack in the ceiling of a cottage at Sheepstor, the property of an old fiddler, now dead. 1 saw a third in Holne parish. I have seen stray heaps elsewhere.