Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 14, 1903.djvu/169

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


Notes on Ballad Origins. 153

contained talking animals, sorcerers, elves, and so on, as many of our ballads do. But I have not, and nobody has, any evidence as to the ballads of " millions of years before any existing human records." If I ever said that many extant ballads date from millions of years ago, I said what I cannot prove, and I am anxious to be shown the exact words which I employed. It is unkind of Mr. Henderson to accuse me of delirious nonsense, and yet to offer no reference to my ravings.

The facts as to the extremely wide diffusion, in popular poetry, of the situations, and frequently of the plots, of old traditional narrative romantic ballads, were almost unknown to Scott. These facts I first found out for myself by read- ing foreign collections, in the early seventies, and Professor Child's later work greatly increased the range of my know- ledge. Manifestly the wide diffusion of the stories in the ballads brings them into relation with the problem of the diffusion of Marchen, that old puzzle.

Mr. Henderson writes, " The late Professor Child's list of analogous foreign ballads is curious, and in some respects invaluable ; but it is possible to overrate or misunderstand its significance. An exhaustive list of the plots of the novelists of all nations would be certain to reveal many strange coincidences ; but a very large number of them could not but be accidental. The range of possible variety of plot in the ballad is much more limited, both on account of the comparative shortness of the tale and the limited variety of events in early times." The events are, of course, often such as do not occur, except in early fancy, " popular fancy." People do not really shift shapes wath beasts, are not carried into fairyland, do not bear off their ladies to bed with them in the grave, do not hold conversa- tions with birds, and so forth, as they do in ballads. Such events are, undeniably, the creations of " savage and popular ■ fancy," hovk^ever much the words may offend Mr. Henderson. The ideas are universally human, and therefore inform