Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 22, 1911.djvu/45

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31
Presidential Address.

flourished was Scandinavia, The French lyrical dancing game came north just when what Professor Ker calls the "Viking industry" was passing away and the Scandinavian kingdoms were aspiring to enter into the comity of European nations. It carried all before it. The old native alliterative unrhymed verse,[1] the old native literary culture, came to an end. The foreign culture planted in its place grew and flourished, and took on new and finer forms in its adopted home. The themes of the Danish ballads were not confined to the wandering tales,—the Singing Bone, the Elfin Lover, the hero poisoned by his sweetheart,—which the ballad has carried with it wherever it has penetrated. Political events, gallant feats of arms, and tragedies of the countryside, in Denmark and the sister-countries, were celebrated in ballads, which there "became the form and vehicle of original heroic poetry," and the Danish ballads, so say those who are conversant with the Northern tongues, surpass all others in fire and beauty.

How is such a complete and extraordinary revolution to be accounted for,—the native form of poetry discarded and the foreign style adopted in its place? Professor Kcr attributed it partly to the psychological moment at which the novel fashion was introduced, but mainly to the social conditions of the environment in which it was planted. The old Northern system of land tenure favoured the growth of a class of freeholders neither nobles nor peasants, but, as we should say, untitled gentry. Early Danish society was thus largely made up of small landowners, and was accordingly possessed of more solidarity and therewith more unity of culture than that of highly feudalized lands. "It is possible," says Professor Ker, "for a nation to be gentle all through, 'the Quality' not a distinct class from the Quantity." However this may be, Danish historians are

  1. These, one fancies, can never have been sung in chorus, much less accompanied by dancing, but must always have been the property of the solitary skald or gleeman with his harp.