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Ballad Collection, Lyric, and the Canon

The Call of the Popular from the Restoration to the New Criticism

By Steve Newman

Publication Year: 2011

The humble ballad, defined in 1728 as "a song commonly sung up and down the streets," was widely used in elite literature in the eighteenth century and beyond. Authors ranging from John Gay to William Blake to Felicia Hemans incorporated the seemingly incongruous genre of the ballad into their work. Ballads were central to the Scottish Enlightenment's theorization of culture and nationality, to Shakespeare's canonization in the eighteenth century, and to the New Criticism's most influential work, Understanding Poetry. Just how and why did the ballad appeal to so many authors from the Restoration period to the end of the Romantic era and into the twentieth century?

Exploring the widespread breach of the wall that separated "high" and "low," Steve Newman challenges our current understanding of lyric poetry. He shows how the lesser lyric of the ballad changed lyric poetry as a whole and, in so doing, helped to transform literature from polite writing in general into the body of imaginative writing that became known as the English literary canon.

For Newman, the ballad's early lack of prestige actually increased its value for elite authors after 1660. Easily circulated and understood, ballads moved literature away from the exclusive domain of the courtly, while keeping it rooted in English history and culture. Indeed, elite authors felt freer to rewrite and reshape the common speech of the ballad. Newman also shows how the ballad allowed authors to access the "common" speech of the public sphere, while avoiding what they perceived as the unpalatable qualities of that same public's increasingly avaricious commercial society.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-14

Ballads run like a radioactive dye through elite literature in the eighteenth century and beyond, illuminating the structures and workings of high culture. Authors happen across ballads on the walls of country houses and city streets, hear them bawled out in London and Edinburgh, and track them to cottages in pursuit of minstrelsy. ...

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1. Why There's No Poetic Justice in The Beggar's Opera: Ballads, Lyric, and the Semiautonomy of Culture

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pp. 15-43

To understand the work ballads do in The Beggar's Opera, it is best to approach them from the oblique angle provided by the conclusion. As Macheath moves toward the scaffold, his progress is stopped by an exchange between the Player and the Beggar who has putatively written the play: ...

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2. Scots Songs in the Scottish Enlightenment: Pastoral, Progress, and the Lyric Split in Allan Ramsay, John Home, and Robert Burns

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pp. 44-96

In the eighteenth century Scottish authors faced a crisis even more pressing than the one encountered by D'Urfey, Addison, and Gay. A century after losing its court with James VI's accession to the English throne, Scotland lost its parliament to the 1707 Act of Union,1 and the Act also helped further displace Scots with English as the standard language of the polite. ...

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3. Addressing the Problem of a Lyric History: Collecting Shakespeare's Songs/Shakespeare as Song Collector

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pp. 97-135

In Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd, Patie praises Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Drummond of Hawthornden, and Cowley without discriminating among them. By the 1740s many would have reckoned it an insult to list any other writer, including Jonson, alongside the author who would become "the Bard" during this era. ...

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4. Ballads and the Problem of Lyric Violence in Blake and Wordsworth

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pp. 136-184

Although the Preface to Lyrical Ballads has been raked over as thoroughly as any bit of prose in English, a passage that has attracted little notice includes the single example of good poetry that Wordsworth actually cites.1 It is from the redoubtable "Children in the Wood;' and it shows why understanding Romantic lyric and its relationship to politics and history require attention to the Ballad Revival: ...

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5. Reading as Remembering and the Subject of Lyric: Child Ballads, Children's Ballads, and the New Criticism

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pp. 185-228

Three years before writing ''America the Beautiful;' Katharine Lee Bates published a collection of ballads for use in schools.1 Drawing her epigraph from "The Solitary Reaper" ("The plaintive numbers flow .. :'), she immediately locates her textbook within a Romantic tradition of ballad collection. ...


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pp. 229-262


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pp. 263-282


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pp. 283-292

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pp. 293-294

During a sojourn at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, I found intellectual fellowship with Julia Garrett and John Price, among many others. Now, at Temple University, I have been gifted with excellent and supportive colleagues like Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Eli Goldblatt, Shannon Miller, Lyn Tribble, Sue Wells (a wonderful chair), and especially Dan O'Hara. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202939
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812240092

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011