English, Department of


Date of this Version



MODERN PHILOLOGY, Volume 11, Number 2, Oct., 1913


Several writers recently have found analogy between the conditions attending the growth of cowboy songs in isolated communities in the Southwest, and the conditions under which arose the English and Scottish popular ballads—those problematic pieces which form so special a chapter in the history of English poetry. Mr. Lomax, the chief collector of southwestern folk songs, notes, when speaking of western communities, how "illiterate people and people cut off from newspapers and books, isolated and lonely—thrown back on primal resources for entertainment and for the expression of emotion—utter themselves through somewhat the same character of songs as did their forefathers of perhaps a thousand years ago." Professor Barrett Wendell suggests that it is possible to trace in this group of American ballads "the precise manner in which songs and cycles of songs—obviously analogous to those surviving from older and antique times—have come into being. The facts which are still available concerning the ballads of our own Southwest are such as should go far to prove, or to disprove, many of the theories advanced concerning the laws of literature as evinced in the ballads of the Old World." Ex-President Roosevelt affirms in a personal letter to Mr. Lomax that "there is something very curious in the reproduction here on this new continent of essentially the conditions of ballad-growth which obtained in mediaeval England."