The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #143842   Message #3327175
Posted By: John Minear
22-Mar-12 - 02:15 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Child Ballads in 18th c. America?
Subject: RE: Origins: Child Ballads in 18th c. America?
It seems that many of the ballads in Child's collection were around in one form or another in England and Scotland in the 1700s. Without creating any hard and fast categories, I would suggest four different groupings. There were "manuscript" collections, which were not usually public, unless they had been gathered up and published. There were "broadsides" and broadside collections. These may have been old and would probably have fallen into the category of manuscript collections. Or they were contemporary and in active circulation. Then there were the actual publications of books, etc., which contained "collections". It would appear that a number of these went through several editions during the 18th century, especially toward the end of the century. And finally, there were the ballads that were still being sung in the "oral tradition". It would seem that some of these ballads still being sung were beginning to be collected toward the end of the century and would perhaps show up in the early 19th century published collections, which would also contain much of the manuscript material as well. There may have been and probably was overlap amongst these different groupings.

Now the question is, for my purposes, how did each of these groupings of ballad material contribute to their exportation to the American Colonies and later to the new republic in the 1700s? Obviously, actual books could have been exported or brought over by immigrants. But realistically, how often, back then, would a ballad be taken from a book and sung and thus put back into oral circulation? It is certainly possible. But I would assume not so likely.

On the other hand, contemporary Broadside Ballad sheets could easily have been exported to America in many different ways. And one would assume that to a certain extent that these were designed for singing? Or at least some were used for that purpose. So, which of these ballads found in the 18th century were in contemporary Broadside form? Which ones were actually published as broadsides in the 1700s?   Is there an accessible list for this? Or is this going to entail another sorting project? I don't really have the background to do this because I am not familiar at all with the sources.

I would assume that until they were "collected" and published, the various manuscript collections were not available for public use either in England and Scotland, or in America. Unless someone had made a copy and brought it over with them, they would not likely have gotten to America from this group.

And that leaves those ballads that were being actively sung in the oral tradition throughout the 1700s in England and Scotland. I did notice quite often that ballads were "taken down from recitation" in Child's notes. A lot of them were not being sung but recited like poetry? That is a somewhat different kind of oral tradition than one would normally think of in association with ballads. Can we tell which of these ballads were being sung in England and Scotland during the 1700s? I would assume that just because they show up in a written manuscript or a published book doesn't mean that they necessarily had "died out of the oral tradition." I suspect that some of this information is probably in those collections from the first quarter of the 19th century, such as Scot, which I have not included in my survey. But once again, I am not familiar with these materials. How do we find out which ones were being sung?

I would assume that the two primary ways that these ballads traveled to America were either by the oral tradition or by the Broadside tradition, or some combination of these two.

This means that what we've established with this survey is the probable exclusion - although they may have been in the oral tradition and not "collected" yet - of those ballads for which there is no written documentation in Child (or elsewhere) until at least 1825 or so. It turns out that this doesn't really narrow the scope very significantly. On the flip side, we can say, at least theoretically that all of the ballads for which we do have documentation (in Child and elsewhere) in 18th century England and Scotland (and in a few cases Ireland), "could" have come over to America during that time, or later.

But the fact is, as far as documentation goes, there is no evidence that many of them ever did come over to America. Now I want to look at which of the ballads from the survey of 18th century material have been "collected" from the oral traditions in America prior to audio recordings and radio. However, for the most part, our American documentation for this comes from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It was interesting to come across a handful of American versions in Child, almost all of them in the footnotes and appendices. I had not expected that. Some of them were dated fairly early in the 19th century.

I am not at all sure that when all of this is said and done that we'll actually have any more certain information that when we began, but at least I will have a better understanding of the scope of things. That seems helpful and may raise some additional questions of interest.

Remember, I am trying to document the presence of any of the so-called "Child" ballads in America in the 1700s. I continue to appreciate all of your help.