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“I knew a very wise man that believed that if a'man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.”-FLETCHER OF SALTOUN, in a Letter to the Marquis of Montrose, etc.
It is desirable that the reader of the following essay should notice the precise subject to which it is limited. The essay is simply an investigation of the influence which the ballads and songs of Scotland may be shown to have exerted on the character of the Scottish people. It makes no pretension, therefore, to be a satisfactory treatment of these lyrical productions in any other aspect. It is impossible, indeed, to discuss the effect of these or of any other productions of the Scottish mind on the development of Scottish character, without indicating more or less definitely the character of the productions themselves; and, consequently, this essay contains a large number of historical and critical observations on the ballads and songs of Scotland. The extent to which such observations were required to elucidate the main question of the essay, will be differently determined by different persons; and possibly a rigid criticism would exclude as irrelevant a considerable amount of what is contained in the following pages.
But the reader must meet with disappointment, who opens these pages with the expectation of finding in them an exhaustive treatment of the Scottish ballads and songs in general, or in any particular aspect other than that to which the essay is definitely limited by its title.
Even the special inquiry, however, to which we are thus confined, raises certain preliminary questions which cannot be accurately answered with ease. It involves, to some extent, an inquiry into the national character of the Scottish people, and into the agencies by which that character has been produced and modified. Both of these inquiries may be ranked among the most perplexing of those intricate problems which the science of human nature encounters at every step of its progress.
The former of these—the inquiry into national character-will, if answered at all by those who apprehend it clearly, be answered only with diffidence and by an indefinite outline; for the phenomena, on which an answer must be founded, are so subtle as often to elude the keenest observation, so intricate as to baffle the most searching analysis, so manifold as to exceed the grasp of the most comprehensive understanding. By means of the spectrum we can now analyse the