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many scarce pieces of ancient poetry, with the free use of which he indulged the Editor in the politest manner. To the Rev. Dr. Birch he is indebted for the use of several ancient and valuable tracts. To the friendship of Dr. Samuel Johnson he owes many valuable hints for the conduct of the work. And, if the glossaries are more exact and curious than might be expected in so slight a publication, it is to be ascribed to the supervisal of a friend, who stands at this time the first in the world for northern literature, and whose learning is better known and respected in foreign nations than in his own country. It is perhaps needless to name the Rev. Mr. Lye, editor of Junius's Etymologicum, and of the Gothic Gospels.

The names of so many men of learning and character the Editor hopes will serve as an amulet, to guard him from every unfavourable censure for having bestowed


attention on a parcel of Old Ballads. It was at the request of many of these gentlemen, and of others eminent for their genius and taste, that this little work was undertaken. To prepare it for the press

has been the amusement of now and then a vacant hour amid the leisure and retirement of rural life, and hath only served as a relaxation from graver studies. It has been taken up at different times, and often thrown aside for many months, during an interval of four or five years. This has occasioned some inconsistencies and repetitions, which the candid reader will pardon. As great care has been taken to admit nothing immoral and indecent, the Editor hopes he need not be ashamed of having bestowed some of his idle hours on the ancient literature of our own country, or in rescuing from oblivion some pieces (though but the amusements of our ancestors) which tend to place in a striking light their taste, genius, sentiments, or manners.

Except in one paragraph, and in the notes subjoined, this Preface is given with little variation from the first edition in MDCCLXV.




1. The MINSTRELS (A) were an order of men in the middle ages, who subsisted by the arts of poetry and music, and sang to the harp verses composed by themselves, or others.* They also appear to have accompanied their songs with mimickry and action ; and to have practised such various means of diverting as were much admired in those rude times, and supplied the want of more refined entertainment, (B). These arts rendered them extremely popular and acceptable in this and all the'neighbouring countries; where no high scene of festivity was esteemed complete that was not set off with the exercise of their talents; and where, so long as the spirit of chivalry subsisted, they were protected and caressed, because their songs tended to do honour to the ruling passion of the times, and to encourage and foment a martial spirit.

(A) The larger notes and illustrations referred to by the letters (A) (B) &c. are thrown together to the end of this Essay.

* Wedded to no hypothesis, the Author hath readily corrected any mistakes which have been proved to be in this Essay ; and considering the novelty of the subject, and the time, and place, when and where he first took it up, many such had been excusable.That the term minstrel was not confined, as some contend, to a mere musician, in this country, any more than on the Continent, will be considered more fully in the last note (GG) at the end of this Essay.



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The Minstrels seem to have been the genuine successors of the ancient Bards (c), who under different names were admired and revered, from the earliest ages, among the people of Gaul, Britain, Ireland, and the North; and indeed by almost all the first inhabitants of Europe, whether of Celtic or Gothic race ;* but by none more than by our own Teutonic ancestors, t particularly by all the Danish tribes. I Among thesethey were distinguished by the name of SCALDS, a word which denotes "smoothers and polishers of language.” Š The origin of their art was attributed to ODIN òr Woden, the father of their gods, and the professors of it were held in the highest estimation. Their skill was considered as something divine; their persons were deemed sacred; their attendance was solicited by kings; and they were every where loaded with honours and rewards. In short, Poets and their art were held among them in that rude admiration, which is ever shown by an ignorant people to such as excel them in intellectual accomplishments.

As these honours were paid to Poetry and Song, from the earliest times, in those countries which our AngloSaxon ancestors inhabited before their removal into Britain, we may reasonably conclude, that they would not lay aside all their regard for men of this sort immediately on quitting their German forests. At least, so long as they retained their ancient manners and opinions, they would still hold them in high estimation. But as the Saxons, soon after their establishment in this island, were converted to Chris

* Vide Pelloutier Hist. des Celtes, tom. 1, 1. 2, c. 6, 10.
+ Tacit. de Mor. Germ. cap. 2.

# Vide Bartholin. De Causis contemptæ a Danis Mortis, lib. i. cap. 10.-Wormij Literatura Runic. ad finem.-See also “ Northern Antiquities, or a Description of the Manners, Customs, &c., of the ancient Danes and other Northern Nations : from the French of M. Mallet.” London, printed for T. Carnan, 1770. 2 vol. 8vo.

Torfæi Præfat. ad Orcad. Hist.—Pref. to“Five Pieces of Runic Poetry,” &c.

tianity, in proportion as literature prevailed among them this rude admiration would begin to abate, and poetry would be no longer a peculiar profession. Thus the Poet and the MINSTREL early with us became two persons, (D). Poetry was cultivated by men of letters indiscriminately, and many of the most popular rhymes were composed amidst the leisure and retirement of monasteries. But the Minstrels continued a distinct order of men for many ages after the Norman conquest, and got their livelihood by singing verses to the harp at the houses of the great, (E). There they were still hospitably and respectfully received, and retained many of the honours shown to their predecessors, the Bards and Scalds, (f). And though, as their art declined, many of them only recited the compositions of others, some of them still composed songs themselves, and all of them could probably invent a few stanzas on occasion. I have no doubt but most of the old heroic ballads in this collection were composed by this order of men; for, although some of the larger metrical romances might come from the pen of the monks or others, yet the smaller narratives were probably composed by the minstrels who sang them. From the amazing variations which occur in different copies of the old pieces, it is evident they made no scruple to alter each other's productions; and the reciter added or omitted whole stanzas according to his own fancy or convenience.

In the early ages, as was hinted above, the profession of oral itinerant Poet was held in the utmost reverence among all the Danish tribes; and therefore we might have concluded, that it was not unknown or unrespected among their Saxon brethren in Britain, even if history had been altogether silent on this subject. The original country of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors is well known to have lain chiefly in the Cimbric Chersonese, in the tracts of land

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