Mid-West Quarterly, The (1913-1918)


Date of this Version

April 1916


I wish to question in this paper, for the second time, two currently accepted affirmations concerning the processes and the development of English popular ballads in the Old and the New World. The first of these affirmations is that a body of folk-song exists in America which supports the theory of “communal” origin for the English and Scottish popular ballads,—an idea which has made considerable headway since it was advanced five or six years ago. The second is that real ballads and ballad-making are extinct. This position is frequently taken in this country, and, being sustained by excellent authority, it has escaped challenge except in stray instances. It is repeated in text-books and articles without inquiry or qualification; and as this fate seems likely to overtake also the newer position, as to communal origins, it is time both views should be called upon for a more satisfactory account of their support.

Particular attention is paid to the collection Cowboy Songs (1910), edited by John Lomax, and to the theories advanced by Professors Gummere, Kittredge, W. W. Lawrence, and Walter Morgan Hart.