Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 22, 1911.djvu/43

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29
Presidential Address.

follow Him over it, is a variant of a far less poetical one related in the Apocryphal Gospels, in which He sits, or hangs a jug, on a sunbeam, and His companions fail to do so. The part taken by the mothers of both is wanting. A French prose version of this story was rendered into Southern English rhymed verse about the year 1300.[1] Thus we can actually trace the steps by which the story from being locked up in books and in a dead language came within the ken of the English folk. Put into ballad-form, furnished, ballad-fashion, with a dramatic plot and climax, and adapted to their own belief and practice by the quaint suggestion of the maternal anger and the whipping with willow, it has been incorporated, as we have seen, into the native traditional lore.

Nothing, in fact, illustrates the story of survival better than the history of the European ballad, as told in three recent essays by Professor W. P. Ker.[2] Before giving you the results of his investigations, however, let me make an attempt,—a very rash attempt, I am afraid!—to state exactly what a ballad is. I should define it as a lyrical narrative poem preserved by oral tradition, of which the characteristic features are that it is composed in rhyming stanzas and has a definite plot,—just a few incidents leading up to a climax, simply narrated, with conventional epithets,—green grass, red gold, fair maids, and the like,—with the same idea repeated several times in varying phrases,

  1. Only one extant Ms. contains this story, so Miss L. Toulmin Smith informs me, namely, that known as the Laurentian Codex of the Pseudo-Matthew, printed among Tischendorfs Vatican Texts of the 11th century; but it occurs also in a Latin History of the Infancy, from which the French prose is taken. See Prof. Gerould in Publications of the Modern Languages Association of America, vol. xxxiii., i., pp. 141-167, and cf. Journal of the Folk-Song Society, vol. iv., pp. 2947, where detailed notes on the ballad will be found. See also Mr. F. Sidgwick in Folk-Lore, vol. xix., p. 190.
  2. "On the Danish Ballads," Scottish Historical Review, July, 1904, and July, 1908; On the History of the Ballads, 1100-1500, (Proceedings of the British Academy) vol iv., (1910).