- The Glenbuchat Ballads, and: Ballad Collection, Lyric, and the Canon: The Call of the Popular from the Restoration to the New Criticism
In 1949, one of the curators of King's College, Aberdeen, deposited in that college's library a set of manuscripts of unusual interest that had fallen into his hands. The set consisted of four slim folio volumes of ballad texts pertaining to Aberdeenshire. The texts had evidently been taken down from tradition prior to 1818 by Reverend Robert Scott (1778–1855), who for many years was the parish minister at Glenbuchat, near the headwaters of the River Don.
Since these volumes had escaped prior notice, their contents are of obvious importance to anyone interested in Scottish balladry during its most generative and authoritative period (the era of Burns, Scott, and many other ballad collectors and writers). David Buchan initiated the task of editing them, but he never got much farther than transcribing the texts and completing some background research, before his death in 1994. It is thus James Moreira who deserves particular thanks for seeing The Glenbuchat Ballads into print.
Moreira's judicious introduction begins with a description of the manuscripts and their contents, an analysis of the apparent relation of these texts to oral tradition and print, and an evaluation of Scott's editorial methods (pp. viii–xxix). This section is essential reading, since the manuscripts themselves contain almost no contextual information. There follows a biographical sketch of Rev. Scott himself (pp. xxix–xxx-vii) and an indispensable historic-ethnographic account of "the community"—that is, the parish of Glenbuchat as it was at the turn of the nineteenth century, when it was undergoing "simmering changes brought on by political, economic, social, and educational developments" (p. xxxcii). Moreira emphasizes that, though the parish was small and rural, its residents were not insulated from the world beyond their borders. Indeed, literacy was the norm in Glenbuchat by 1800. The confidence that local people felt in their native dialect would have been complemented by their knowledge of standard English, the chief language of literacy. The texts recorded by Rev. Scott reflect this bi-dialectalism, particularly as regards their mixture of Scots and English orthography.
Lovers of the ballad genre will encounter the pleasures of both the familiar and the unexpected as they sift through idiosyncratic versions of such standard ballad types as "Lord Randal" ("Shouly Linkum"), "The Cruel Mother" ("Hey a Rose Malindey"), "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" ("Moncey Grey"), and "Willie o Douglas Dale" ("Dame Olifant"). This latter text is an especially delightful one, and not just for its heroine's name. In the ballad, Dame Olifant, the only daughter of the king of England, becomes pregnant with the child of Sweet William, a Scottish courtier. She elopes with him by leaping into his arms over the castle wall. Not long into the greenwood, she goes into labor (did her athletic feat bring it on?) and, with no assistance, gives birth to a son. Meanwhile, Sweet William uses flint and oak twigs to kindle a fire, and he also hunts venison and "milkt the milk frae the wild goats" (p. 66, st. 23) to keep the two of them from starving. Eventually, with the aid of a passing goatherd (a "bonny may" who is not indifferent to a bribe), they sail off to Scotland, and Dame Olifant becomes Lady o' Douglasdale. Tant pis for the King of England! This is just one of many good ballad adventures in the collection.
The edition aims to be a semi-diplomatic one: "every effort has been made to reproduce Scott's work 'as is'" (p...