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university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 4, fall 2004 Y U R I C O W A N William Allingham’s Ballad Book and Its Victorian Readers When William Allingham began to compile his book of British ballads for the Golden Treasury Series in 1863, he faced a singular situation. The folkballad was no longer merely the province of scholars and singers. More people were becoming interested in ballads than ever before, stimulated by the growing English pride in the chivalric past, the vogue for primitivism, and the interest, both well-meaning and sentimental, in the customs and traditions of the ‘common folk.’ More importantly for the history of print culture, the ballad now had a book-buying audience that rivalled the listening audience in size. This middle-class readership was the target market for the Golden TreasurySeries; to it,accordingly,Allinghampitched his book. Folk-ballads had been before the reading public for a hundred years, since the publication in 1765 of Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, more than long enough for the ballad to acquire a significant set of associations in the public mind. Poets from Chatterton through Coleridge to Allingham himselfandhisacquaintances among the Pre-Raphaelites had taken the ballads as poetic models, contributing to the ballad’s public visibility. Those literary relations gave the ballad artistic legitimacy, while its stirring descriptions of English history and its autochthonous origins in folk-song made it a matter for patriotic pride. The canon from which Allingham was to draw his ‘British’ (that is, English and Scottish) ballads had already solidified around the well-known collections of Bishop Percy and Walter Scott. Allingham’s challenge was to edit this national treasure for domestic consumption. It would, of course, be a mistake to say that even the more scholarly ballad works constituting that national treasure at mid-century had ever been faithfully presented. Percy, like Scott after him, had quite ostentatiously intervened between his Folio Manuscript and the readers of the Reliques, giving his found balladsmore elegant form and even in some cases more impressive antique diction. Joseph Ritson, in contrast, had been an extreme (and angry) advocate of fidelity to the manuscript or oral sources of the ballads. But with the popularization of ballad reading, when every genteel post-Romantic lover of ancient English culture needed to have a copy of the songs of the common people in his or her library, such fidelity became awkwardat best. So incomplete texts were compounded with fuller versions, dialect touches were toned down or made to conform 1004 yuri cowan university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 4, fall 2004 The Ballad Book, edited by William Allingham for the Golden Treasury series. 1864. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto to standard written English, and entire phrases were changed to fit preconceived editorial schemes of rhythm and rhyme. Various indecencies were suppressed, and the sophistication of the ballad on the page mirrored the gentrification of its audience. The popularity of Scott’s transcriptions naturally led, later, to enthusiastic amateur collectors ransacking the hills and dales of England for authentic scraps of old song. The result was a number of ballad collections that relied for their appeal on local rather than national pride, such as Egerton Leigh’s for Cheshire (1867) and Sidney Gilpin’s for Cumberland (1874). These often included many poems of quite recent date, so that they offered a kind of showcase for minor poets of the local gentry in addition to being repositories of provincial lore. John Harland’s Ballads and Songs of Lancashire (1875), for example, is subtitled Ancient and Modern – and the modern songs far outnumber the ancient ones. The advertisements at the back of the second edition of Harland’s book are instructive for the student of nineteenth-century ballad culture. A variety of books are advertised there, generally selling for an aristocratic guinea apiece; among them are allingham’s BALLAD BOOK 1005 university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 4, fall 2004 Advertisement pages from Ballads and Songs of Lancashire: Ancient and Modern, edited by John Harland. 1875 Robarts Library, University of Toronto works referringto folklore and local tradition, the picturesque, antiquarianism...


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