Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 22, 1911.djvu/46

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Presidential Address.

agreed that the ballads were originally, and for long, the pastime of the gentry. The Faroe Islanders, in their ballad-dances, have preserved what was the favourite amusement in the mediæval Danish country houses. Certain it is that when, in the sixteenth century, the current traditional ballads were at length committed to writing, it was by Danish ladies, and in the most important case at the instigation of the queen. Moreover, mediæval Denmark had scarcely any poetry besides the ballads. She had no literary poets, no Dante, no Chaucer. So the best poetic feeling of the country found expression in the shape of the ballad, which was the oral literature of a nation, not of a class.

When the old social order of Denmark passed away, the living original ballad passed away with it, and ballad-poetry is now but a survival,—the survival of what once was culture, the remains of which are gathered up by the folklore collector from the mouths of fishermen and peasants in lonely huts and obscure corners,—beautiful relics, but relics only.

But, long ere this stage was reached, the ballad-poetry of Scandinavia crossed the North Sea,—(thanks no doubt to the seafaring and commercial habits of the Northmen),—and found a congenial home in the Lowlands of Scotland.[1] Something in the rough, simple unlettered life of the Borders, resembling that of its earlier home, formed a suitable nidus for its growth. It became part of the life of the country; it was used to record local events and tragedies as it had been on the other side of the sea. As it travelled southwards into England it lost much of its original grace and fragrance. Presently it was no longer

  1. Professor Ker points out that among other similarities the Scandinavian, Scottish, and English ballads all favour the double refrain, while in France the refrain is only single, and in Germany is usually wanting altogether. So far, I have given the Professor's views,—faithfully, I hope!—but I alone am responsible for what follows.