Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Lloyd and the Broadside Ballad

From A.L.Lloyd's Foreword to Leslie Shepherd's the Broadisde Ballad pp. 15-18

... The idea of the "the folk" as an autonomous social category alien to book learning and mechanical industry, and evolving their own unwritten culture in isolation is a sentimental abstraction, particularly where Western Europe is concerned. As the present study illustrates song and ballad texts in the form of street literature were being sold widely in the British Isles for nearly 400 years, and in the main the byers were precisely the the class of people among whom the bearers of the folk-song tradition were to be found.

London was the centre of the song-sheet trade, but it also came to flourish in industrial towns such as Birmingham, Manchester, Preston and Newcastle. Printed on leaflets of various sizes, at times adorned with woodcuts of remarkable incongruity, the song-sheets were sold from cheapjack stalls, or carried from door to door in pedlar's sachets, along with ribbons, papers of pins, and boxes of pills, or hawked in the streets and on the fairgrounds by bawling "chaunters".

Apprentice boys would paste these fugitive leaves the lids of their clothes-chests, seamen would fasten them in the back of log-books, milkmaids would paper them the dairy walls with them, and learn the songs by heart as they churned: and while the dairy would be whitewashed and a newest of songs pasted up, and so through the year layers would accumulate.

... Perhaps the greatest value of Mr. Shepherd's work is to remind us of the valiant party played by the broadside in the shaping of our native tradition of song.

... It is true that, compared with the best models from oral tradition, the poetry of the song-sheets is generally flat, colourless, lacking in secret or surprise. Often in the broadside prints, the magic has ebbed from the ballad, preoccupation with daily affairs has replaced the passions of mythology, and shadowy larger-than life heroes are reduced in statures they are bathed in the light of everyday. The very homeliness of the broadside has encouraged scholars contempt; but in fact these humble pieces of street-literature have performed an important task.

... There can be little doubt that the broadside was a powerful instrument for helping the spread of a song, and chaunter and chapman ensure wide distribution for many fine ballads that might otherwise have withered away in their native locality after a relatively brief and restricted life.

... But it is time we took a fresh look at our folk traditions, and it is salutary to have our presuppositions challenged and our thinking given new directions by the enlarged documentation and penetrating comment to be for in a volume such as this.

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