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Saxon construction. They are more difficult to translate than any other kind of English poetry. I should like to see what work a clever Frenchman would make with Chevy Chase and “the fine old ballad of Sir Patrick Spens.” The rendering of “Hail, horrors, hail," from Paradise Lost, into "Comment vous portez vous, les horreurs," and of the witches' warning to Macbeth into “Monsieur Macbeth, prenez garde de Monsieur Macduff," and of "there's not a mouse stirring,” into “il n'y a pas un rat qui trotte,” are doubtless fair specimens of what might be done. Yet the Norman trouveurs and Provencal Troubadoursthe latter being greatly excelled by the former-were the first poets who composed metrical romances. At least so it is said ; though it may well be supposed that, among all nations, traditions of war and love were turned into poetry and sung long before the birth of civilization. In many instances a similarity has been found in the stories of different nations, most widely asunder. But these are coincidences, not to be wondered at. "The migrations of Science,” says Campbell, in his admirable essay on English poetry, "are difficult enough to be traced ; but Fiction travels on still lighter wings, and scatters the seeds of her wild flowers imperceptibly over the world, till they surprise us by springing up with regularity in regions the most remotely divided.”
The book herewith presented to the American reader, is reprinted from two volumes edited by S. C. Hall, Esq. and magnificently illustrated with Wood Engravings. Mr. Hall's books, published in London in 1842 and 1843, are far too expensive for the means of any but wealthy persons. They are printed in quarto, and are chiefly occupied with the illustrations, which occur on every page. The proportionate space taken up by the letter-press is inconsiderable ; it is all copied, without the omission of a single ballad, in this volume. I have not thought it necessary to retain Mr. Hall's preliminary observations : since they seemed to me to contain a good deal of irrelevant matter. For the sake of uniformity, each of his introductions is made to fill two pages; and some of them are consequently condensed, and some are curious specimens of how a few ideas may be beaten out, like gold wrought into leaf, over a large space. The “preliminary remarks to each ballad,” here given, are as brief and comprehensive as they could be made. I indulge the hope, that not a few will be gratified with this republication of many of the most delicious poems in our language, compressed, as they are, into a neat and accessible shape.
Mr. Hall has executed his task with much skill and taste. He was indebted to Percy's “Reliques of Ancient Poetry," and to Scott's “ Minstrelsy of the Scottish
Border,” for the majority of bis specimens; and he has had the tact to add to the charm of his performance by giving also a few modern ballads by distinguished contemporaneous poets. Some very successful verses of a similar kind have been produced in America ; and I should have been tempted to join them to this collection, had it not been forbidden by the title. It is my design, with the consent of their authors, to make a collection of them at no distant day, under the title of “ The American Book of Ballads." I wish it could be called the Book of American Ballads; but our authors have, in many instances, gone abroad for their subjects.
The few remarks with which this preface is begun have no claim to originality : they are thrown out as suggestions for something better from abler and more instructive pens. There have been many commentators on the ancient poetry of Britain, and it has given rise to many controversies. An account of these would require more space than the ballads themselves, and would possess but little interest for the general reader. Sir Walter Scott's Dissertation on Popular Poetry, prefixed to the late editions of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, is the most satisfactory source of information with which I am acquainted; it reviews all that has been urged by Dr. Percy, Ritson, and others, gives an account of the various editions which have appeared from the earliest to the latest; and, like every
other effort of his brilliant pen, pours a flood of light upon the subject, banishing its obscurities, and “making that brighter which was bright before."
It is a striking feature of the more ancient of these poems, that, although the productions of a barbarous age, they are free from moral objections; they are alike undegraded by rudeness and undebased by indecency. They seem to have been composed for a more refined and delicate class of hearers than the playgoers even of Massinger's time. I am inclined, therefore, to the belief, that the minstrels by whom they were sung were an order of men, who were greatly respected by our ancestors, and contributed to soften the roughness of a martial and unlettered people by their songs and their music.” That was a sad day for the British muse, when “the lay of the last minstrel” was indeed sung. Poetry, with the
progress of luxury, became more cultivated, more adorned, more choice in its phrases, more dainty in its construction, but less sincere, less pure, less elevating, and less honored by the people to whose sentiments and passions it was address
' ed. A revival of a taste for ballad-writing would have a most beneficial influence on the elegant literature of the day; and there are indications in this book that so desirable a result may be anticipated.
I have alluded to the efforts which have been made by our own poets, and I trust that the present publication will induce others. The topics which our history presents, are numerous and appropriate. Indeed, the almost daily occurrences of social life present fertile sources for the modern minstrel.
Lovers are as faithless as ever, maids as cruel, widows as kind; and on every leaf which is
l turned over by the strong hand of Time, are inscribed as many events of heartmoving pathos, unselfish affection, sublime fortitude, courage, constancy, and truth.
THE BOOK OF BRITISH BALLADS.
CHE V Y-CHACE.
It is not an easy matter to determine the date, at which this beautiful and spirit-stirring ballad was
composed. Neither can we clearly ascertain in what proportion history and fiction have contributed to its embellishment. At the battle of Otterbourne, fought in 1388 during the reign of Richard the Second, the Earl of Douglas was killed, and Earl Percy taken prisoner ; and there is no record of an. other personal encounter between noblemen of that ilk.” Yet cannot that battle be expressly com. memorated herein, since the song itself bears internal evidence that the events described did not occur under a Richard. “ Like tydings to King Henry came.” Probably, upon the historical fact were grafted the details of some border feud, without nice attention to chronological correctness. Froissart thus alludes to the circumstances connected with the fight at Otterbourne, so strongly exemplifying the chivalrous spirit of that age. " The Earl of Douglas had a long conflict with Sir Henry Percy; and in the end, by gallantry of arms, won his pennon, to the great vexation of Sir Henry and the other English. The Earl of Douglas said, “I will carry this token of your prowess with me to Scotland, and place it on the tower of my Castle at Dalkeith, that it may be seen from far.' 'By God, Earl Douglas,' replied Sir Harry, you shall not even bear it out of Northumberland.'. You must come, then,' answered Earl Douglas, 'this night, and, if you will, venture to take it away.' This ballad, like many others, comes before us in a partially modern dress. In its ancient form it won the admiration of Sir Philip Sidney, himself the soul of chivalry, though he speaks of it as beeing so evill apparrelled in the dust and cobweb of that uncivill age.” Addison and Sir Walter Scott have both commended it in the highest terms. But we need not any critical commendations. For hundreds of years past it has been one of the most popular ballads of the British people. For hun. dreds of years to come it must retain its popularity, if a happy combination of beauty, vigour, and simplicity can ensure its hold upon their regard and their memories.