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Description de l’éditeur
Probably no teacher of English literature in our schools or colleges would gainsay the statement that the chief aim of such instruction is to awaken in the student a genuine love and enthusiasm for the higher forms of prose, and more especially for poetry. For love is the surest guarantee of extended and independent study, and we teachers are the first to admit that the class-room is but the vestibule to education. So in beginning the critical study of English poetry it seems reasonable to use as a starting-point the early ballads, belonging as they do to the youth of our literature, to the youth of our English race, and hence appealing with especial power to the youth of the human heart. Every man of letters who still retains the boy-element in his nature—and most men, Sir Philip Sidney tells us, are "children in the best things, till they be cradled in their graves"—has a tenderness for these rough, frank, spirited old poems, while the actual boy in years, or the actual girl, rarely fails to respond to their charm. What Shakespeare knew, and Scott loved, and Bossetti echoes, can hardly be beneath the admiration of high school and university students. Rugged language, broken metres, absurd plots, dubious morals, are impotent to destroy the vital beauty that underlies all these. There is a philosophical propriety, too, in beginning poetic study with ballad lore, for the ballad is the germ of all poem varieties.
This volume attempts to present such a selection from the old ballads as shall represent them fairly in their three main classes,—those derived from superstition, whether fairy-lore, witch-lore, ghost-lore, or demon-lore; those derived from tradition, Scotch and English; and those derived from romance and from domestic life in general. The Scottish ballads, because of their far superior poetic value, are found here in greater number than the English. The notes state in each case what version has been followed. The notes aim, moreover, to give such facts of historical or bibliographical importance as may attach to each ballad, with any indispensable explanation of outworn or dialectic phrases, although here much is left to the mother-wit of the student.
It is hoped that this selection may meet a definite need in connection with classes not so fortunate as to have access to a ballad library, and that even where such access is procurable, it may prove a friendly companion in the private study and the recitation-room.