Page:An Elizabethan garland; being a descriptive catalogue of seventy black-letter ballads, printed between the years 1559 and 1597.djvu/9

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If any portion of our literature be more generally interesting than another it is ancient ballad lore. How many events historical and domestic do we owe the knowledge of to this source. Battles have been fought, and heroes immortalised in its expressive and inspiring strains; and the sports, pastimes, manners, customs, and traditions of our forefathers have received from it some of their most important and curious illustrations. Scholars, critics, and antiquaries have rendered good service to literature by snatching from oblivion those precious relics of legendary poetry which would have been lost to posterity but for their well directed labours of love. They have made us familiar with the thoughts, sympathies, and language of our ancestors. We follow them to the tournament, the border foray, the public hostelrie, and the domestic hearth. We glow with their martial spirit and revel in their rude festivities!

The chief characteristics of an ancient ballad are simplicity and force. With the minstrels of the olden time the impulses of the heart were the inspirations of the muse. Yet in this absence of study and polish, thoughts of exquisite beauty, felicity of expression beyond the reach of art, and rare pathos surprise and delight