Page:The Folk-Lore Journal Volume 7 1889.djvu/35

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THE LONDON BALLADS.

THEY come from that prosperous but out-of-the-way county of Virginia, in the corner between the Potomac and the Blue Ridge. Plain people of the conservative overseer and small-tenant class have transmitted them from mother to daughter, through the years and lives that have passed since the first settlement, as in England before it. Of course they do not think of writing them down, and know nothing of the books in which the relics of balladry are treasured.

One evening as we approached, in the dusk, our home near Washington, a ballad, then heard for the first time, came chanted to us out of the open windows. The new nurse girl, white, and from up the river, was singing the smaller children to sleep. When the song of many words ended, another was taken up, and after it another. Plainly the services of the collector were called for, and most members of the family enlisted, as opportunity offered. Unfortunately the pace of the music kept ahead of the reporters; and when she undertook to recite the lines deliberately, something was sure to be omitted or confused. Memory depended in part on the swing and excitement of her habitual mode of utterance. But a fair approach to completeness, in some cases, was made by repetition and comparison; and the results in full were read to the young woman’s mother, who made some notable additions, and declared the ballads to be substantially correct. She could not explain anything which is not obvious, nor, indeed, tell us anything of them but what I have said in the beginning.

“Wilson” is, perhaps, the most important of the series: a near relative of “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight,” whatever names may seem to say. That cycle, so carefully studied and preserved by Professor Childs, cannot afford to leave this stray member wandering