Greetings, George. Earlier, I could have said it was a fine St Patrick's day, but now it's pissing down here, as it has over the last few weeks.
I take your point too, but I really don't think the good Dr Wilgus's credibility or sensitivity need necessarily stand or fall on the passage that I quoted. Tony was looking for a bit of controversy and I threw that in to cut the grease of any hagiography that might ensue. I must say, though, that I agree with most of what Wilgus had to say. However, I was unfair to him in that I quoted him out of context. It was 1 am and I had no inclination to type or paraphrase further.
A reading of the extract alone could convey the impression that Wilgus was suggesting some dishonesty or deception on the part of B-G. That is far from the truth. He is at pains to point out that no editorial dishonesty was involved, that these Victorian editors were 'not of the tribe of Percy' and that their basic honesty could not be questioned. Their aim was to introduce traditional song into middle class life 'by providing tunes and texts for performance and appreciation, not for study'. He points out that this is a laudable aim but, from the scholarly viewpoint, 'the value of the collections was diminished'. He agrees with what Malcolm said above - that it was the way of the times. However, he also points to the activities of Lucy Broadwood, Fuller-Maitland and the early members of the Folk Song Society as a contrast to the B-G approach.
The fact remains that B-G added, amended, bowdlerised, rewrote, emended or shortened texts. You ask why it is to the greater benefit of scholarship that the original texts be preserved. Wouldn't you agree that any scholarship can only be as good as its materials? If the scholar is to deal with B-G amended texts rather than the original materials, he is already another remove from the tradition. The original materials themselves are problematic enough with collations from chapbooks, Fortey ballad sheets etc without the rewritings of the collectors. I admit that 'butchers' may be somewhat intemperate, but the basic point holds.
I must admit to a personal fondness for Wilgus because he was one of the few scholars, until very recently, to recognise that old-time or hillbilly music is worthy of serious study. Wilgus has paid his dues to the folk song community as a singer of folksongs in the late 30s when few were interested, as a member of the Kentucky Folklore Society, as founder and editor of the Kentucky Folklore Record and as founder of the Kentucky Folklore Archive, as well as numerous publications. I agree that navel-gazing folksong academics abound, but Wilgus is not one of them. He can be difficult going at times, but he is never abstruse or incomprehensible in the fashion of Cantwell and others. And his book is a classic!
One final quote from him:
In the fire of acrimonious debate and on the anvil of reason are being forged the tools of a scholarship that is at once scientific and humane ... In 1937, Reed Smith suggested that to 'the things that the Psalmist held to be past finding out - the way of a man with a maid, the way of the eagle in the air and the way of the serpent on the rocks'- one might add 'the way of a folksong in oral tradition'. To the glory of the 20th century scholars, they have continued to track the untrackable with heat and light.