Broadside Black-Letter Ballads Printed in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
Llanerch Publishers. ISBN 1 86143 077 9
Facsimile of 1868 edition. Llanerch Publishers, Felinfach 1999
xii + 130pp. Illus. Notes. £8.95 paperback.
As a student of balladry one must first applaud Llanerch's very welcome affordable reproduction in facsimile of out-of-print books on folk song and balladry. They should be given every encouragement. I notice from their advertisement that their reproductions include Baring Gould's A Garland of Country Song, and Bruce and Stokoe's Northumbrian Minstrelsy which are very welcome having been long out of print, but I'm not so sure about the reprinting of Roy Palmer's Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams under the new title of Bushes and Briars. The first edition can still be found in secondhand book shops with a little searching - and there is a book of Essex folk songs with this same title by Occomore and Spratley.
However I'm always ready to welcome any affordable reproduction of early ballads and one hopes that Llanerch, having started on a small scale with this modest volume, may be encouraged to go for something more ambitious such as Pepys, Roxburgh, Bagford, or even some of the major collections becoming more accessible now such as Madden or some of the Cambridge collections. For me, one sadly neglected era in broadside balladry is the eighteenth century where many of our present-day folk songs originated.
In 1868, encouraged by other collections being made available, Collier put together 25 ballads from his own collection. It is a typical selection from the period. A rough summary of the subject matter found therein will suffice; 6 religious pieces, 3 moral pieces, 3 'last goodnights', 3 historical, 3 on the same murder!, only one 'merry geste', a love song, one long tale in 4 parts based on the Merchant of Venice story, one description of a masque or ball, and all rounded off with an untypical medley of ballad titles such as those common on mid-l9th century broadsides. The last goodnights mainly concern the execution of traitors to Queen Elizabeth, and one of the historical ballads, The Story of Ill May-day, relates how in the time of Henry VIII, Queen Katherine begged Henry for the lives of 2,000 London apprentices who had run riot in the capital killing foreigners who it was said had been taking away their trade.
One occasionally comes across in larger collections ballads which relate to folk songs, but having searched carefully through there is really nothing here to interest the folk song scholar. However as I have said elsewhere, there is much in old ballads to interest the historian and social historian and writers in such fields would do well to make greater use of balladry for many reasons, not least being their propensity to express feelings and sentiments of the times in a very succinct way.
The book follows the Roxburgh policy regarding use of woodcuts (Collier was involved in publishing part of the Roxburgh collection ) i.e. where space allows and cuts are not totally incongruous with text they have been kept with the text, but in some cases a more appropriate cut from the same period has been used.
There has been some talk recently in ballad circles of Collier's forging of some ballads using old titles from the Stationers Registers (see website at firstname.lastname@example.org), and whilst some of these have been reproduced in prestigious collections such as Child and Chappell, I think the ballads in this volume are most probably genuine. Only one title given here The Cobbler of Colchester is listed among Collier's known forgeries and the version given is from an actual broadsheet, not from Collier's forged manuscript which he refers to in the notes.
Finally to return to Llanerch's reproductions in general, I was recently discussing them with a well-known librarian friend and he commented on the bland cover of the books. My response to this was if it keeps the ballads coming and keeps costs down, well so be it. Well done, Llanerch. Keep it up.
Steve Gardham - 4.5.99
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