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design of turning it into ridicule. But though the language is mean, the thoughts, as I have said, from the one end to the other, are natural, and therefore cannot fail to please those who are not judges of language, or those who, notwithstanding they are judges of language, have a true and unprejudiced taste of nature.'

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These words, with reference to one of the old English ballads, might be taken as a general description of the peculiar charm which is felt in reading the Scottish ballads and songs; but it is necessary to be more specific, and even to modify somewhat the language of Addison, in order to avoid misapprehension. The artlessness or naturalness which is predicated of the ballads and songs may suggest two very different qualities. It may be applied either to the absence of all ornaments whatever —even of those by which art seeks to imitate nature; or to that perfect imitation of nature, in which, if it be the result of artistic effort, the art is wholly concealed.

I. Now, in relation to the first of these meanings, it must be admitted that there is, especially in the ballads, a baldness which renders almost every one of them insipid in some passages. This arises of course from that absence of effort, which certainly frees the ballads from all strained sentiment and language; but the same cause results too often in a slovenliness which a very slight artistic ambition would have avoided. This want of labour in the composition of the ballads is seen at once in the tameness of incident, by which the interest of the plot often flags, and in the use of phrases which have become so tarnished by long service that they take 1 Spectator, No. 85.

from the dignity of any work in which they are introduced. The fault is peculiarly noticed, however, in the recurrence of incidents and expressions which became a sort of common property among the ballad-makers, and with which the reader of ballads very soon becomes familiar, at times even nauseated. For an example of such incidents I need only refer to the uniform intertwining of the rose and the briar which grow out of the graves of unfortunate lovers. It is unnecessary to burden these pages with examples of the insipid repetition of commonplace phrases, which seem to fall into their position as a matter of course, because they have done service on similar occasions before. The reader who does not recall a number of these, will find enough by glancing through any collection of ballads.

The same deficiency, even in respect to the essential requisites of poetic art, is observable in the excessive similarity of the rhymes employed in the ballads, the minstrels evidently having been content to draw from a very slender common stock, neither afraid of the unpardonable fault of monotony, nor ambitious of producing the pleasure of variety. The whole structure of the ballad versification, in fact, shows but a rough attempt at observing the principles of metre and of rhyme. Few even of our modern poets are perfectly faultless in regard to the rhymes they employ, and our older poets are not to bę, criticised in the light of the definition of rhyme which guides us at the present day. In the ballads, however, the idea of rhyme adhered to is of the vaguest character, requiring at times nothing but a similarity of vowel sounds, without reference to the

identity or difference either of the consonantal sounds which precede or of those which follow. The metrical structure, also, of the ballads knows none of the regularity which English versification has attained since the Earl of Surrey's time. It binds itself by no condition but the equality in the number of accented syllables which each verse contains, assuming a license, limited only by necessity, as to the number of unaccented syllables that may intervene. It is still possible, however, for the reader who enters into the spirit of the ballads, by laying a vigorous stress on the accented syllables, to reproduce the rude rhythm at which the ballad-singers aimed, and in which their audiences found delight.

This excessive artlessness of the ballads is much more prominent in the form in which they were preserved in the memories of the people, than in that which they assume in modern ballad-books. For the collectors, to whose labours we owe the permanent preservation of the ballads in literature, generally make up the versions which they print from a number of versions. which they have obtained from various sources, and each of which may present not only important discrepancies with the others, but also a mere fragment of the whole. In their natural state, therefore, as they were known to the people among whom they have been traditionally preserved, the ballads showed a ruder destitution of all artistic labour than might be supposed by the reader who knows them only from ballad-books.1 It is true

1 The importance of remembering this fact in the study of the ballads is well illustrated in Motherwell's "Minstrelsy, Ancient and Modern,” vol. i. pp. 7, 8 (Amer. ed.)

that the imperfections of the ballads are not to be ascribed wholly, or even mainly, to their original authors; for the most superficial acquaintance with them discovers proofs of various corruptions which they have undergone in the course of transmission from one district and from one generation to another.1 But for the more immediate purpose of this essay it is necessary to bear in mind that the ballads have exerted an influence on the people in the ruder forms in which they were traditionally sung ; while it may be questioned whether any ballad was ever more polished than a well-collated version by an industrious modern collector.

II. But while the simplicity of our popular lyrics degenerates at times into all the defects of careless composition, it oftener attains instinctively that perfect imitation of nature, at which the conscious artist frequently strives in vain. This excellence may be noticed in various forms.

There is, first of all, a naturalness in the choice of language, which is more than a compensation for all the staleness and monotony of phrase by which the ballads become occasionally insipid. The ballad-maker expresses himself in the words which most readily suggest themselves to his mind, even though the readiness of the suggestion may be due to the fact that the words have grown familiar from having been frequently used for a similar purpose in previous ballads. Without any fear of being charged with plagiarism, he relates an event in any well-known verse; and he never hesitates

1 This is interestingly illustrated by Scott in the " Border Minstrelsy,” vol. i. pp. 18-27.

to describe an object by an epithet, or to illustrate it by a simile, because these have been applied to the same object before. He knows nothing of that morbid craving for originality which results in the substitution of quaint instead of luminous expressions, which starts the author on a hunt after far-fetched analogies that darken rather than illustrate his subject, which produces all sorts of spasmodic efforts to contrive novel literary artifices. The events, therefore, of the life pictured in these old poems, the objects of the world around, the feelings of the human heart, appear in all the natural colours which they have originally imprinted on the minstrel's mind. The sunshine is bright, the winter nights are long and mirk, the heroes are bold, the fair Teuton lass is blue-eyed, with cheeks like roses and hair as yellow as gold, the burns run clear as crystal, the snow is white, the leaves are green, just as they are in nature.

This naturalness in the style of the ballads is also seen in their thorough objectivity. The minstrel endeavours not to express his sentiments about the events he narrates; he seeks to relate them as they actually took place. His soul is in immediate contact with the facts of nature and of life; and his narrative is but a reproduction of these facts without the colouring of his own personal character. It is this that makes the style of the ballads so uniform, numerous and various though their authors must have been: probably no compositions contain fewer internal traces of the persons from whom they have emanated. It is this also that imparts to the ballads a vividness of narrative and a dramatic distinctness in the portraiture of character,

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