Ballad Collection, Lyric, and the Canon

Ballad Collection, Lyric, and the Canon: The Call of the Popular from the Restoration to the New Criticism

Steve Newman
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 304
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    Ballad Collection, Lyric, and the Canon
    Book Description:

    The humble ballad, defined in 1728 as "a song commonly sung up and down the streets," was widely used in elite literature in the eighteenth century and beyond. Authors ranging from John Gay to William Blake to Felicia Hemans incorporated the seemingly incongruous genre of the ballad into their work. Ballads were central to the Scottish Enlightenment's theorization of culture and nationality, to Shakespeare's canonization in the eighteenth century, and to the New Criticism's most influential work, Understanding Poetry. Just how and why did the ballad appeal to so many authors from the Restoration period to the end of the Romantic era and into the twentieth century? Exploring the widespread breach of the wall that separated "high" and "low," Steve Newman challenges our current understanding of lyric poetry. He shows how the lesser lyric of the ballad changed lyric poetry as a whole and, in so doing, helped to transform literature from polite writing in general into the body of imaginative writing that became known as the English literary canon. For Newman, the ballad's early lack of prestige actually increased its value for elite authors after 1660. Easily circulated and understood, ballads moved literature away from the exclusive domain of the courtly, while keeping it rooted in English history and culture. Indeed, elite authors felt freer to rewrite and reshape the common speech of the ballad. Newman also shows how the ballad allowed authors to access the "common" speech of the public sphere, while avoiding what they perceived as the unpalatable qualities of that same public's increasingly avaricious commercial society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0293-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Ballads run like a radioactive dye through elite literature in the eighteenth century and beyond, illuminating the structures and workings of high culture. Authors happen across ballads on the walls of country houses and city streets, hear them bawled out in London and Edinburgh, and track them to cottages in pursuit of minstrelsy. They turn to ballads to answer the agonized question posed by Coleridge in the second epigraph I have chosen, “Why do you make a book?” And, as the first two epigraphs reveal, Addison and Coleridge, despite their many differences, are both drawn to the much reprinted ballad...

  4. Chapter 1 Why There’s No Poetic Justice in The Beggar’s Opera: Ballads, Lyric, and the Semiautonomy of Culture
    (pp. 15-43)

    To understand the work ballads do in The Beggar’s Opera, it is best to approach them from the oblique angle provided by the conclusion. As Macheath moves toward the scaffold, his progress is stopped by an exchange between the Player and the Beggar who has putatively written the play:

    Player. But, honest Friend, I hope you don’t intend that Macheath shall be really executed.

    Beggar. Most certainly, Sir.—To make the Piece perfect, I was for doing strict poetical Justice.¹

    Poetic justice requires that a narrative end with the guilty punished and the virtuous rewarded. Yet when the Player protests...

  5. Chapter 2 Scots Songs in the Scottish Enlightenment: Pastoral, Progress, and the Lyric Split in Allan Ramsay, John Home, and Robert Burns
    (pp. 44-96)

    In the eighteenth century Scottish authors faced a crisis even more pressing than the one encountered by D’Urfey, Addison, and Gay. A century after losing its court with James VI’s accession to the English throne, Scotland lost its parliament to the 1707 Act of Union,¹ and the Act also helped further displace Scots with English as the standard language of the polite. However, these losses did not move a majority of elite Lowland Scots to oppose the Union through outright rebellion; if many agreed with the eloquent objections raised by Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun or those who upheld the claims...

  6. Chapter 3 Addressing the Problem of a Lyric History: Collecting Shakespeare’s Songs/Shakespeare as Song Collector
    (pp. 97-135)

    In Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd, Patie praises Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Drummond of Hawthornden, and Cowley without discriminating among them. By the 1740s many would have reckoned it an insult to list any other writer, including Jonson, alongside the author who would become “the Bard” during this era. Shakespeare’s rising reputation was signaled by the dedication of his bust in Westminster Abbey in 1741, and it is on that monument that John Home, mortified by David Garrick’s rejection of Agis, pencils these lines:

    Image of Shakespeare! To this place I come

    To ease my bursting bosom at thy tomb;

    For neither Greek...

  7. Chapter 4 Ballads and the Problem of Lyric Violence in Blake and Wordsworth
    (pp. 136-184)

    Although the Preface to Lyrical Ballads has been raked over as thoroughly as any bit of prose in English, a passage that has attracted little notice includes the single example of good poetry that Wordsworth actually cites.¹ It is from the redoubtable “Children in the Wood;” and it shows why understanding Romantic lyric and its relationship to politics and history require attention to the Ballad Revival:

    Such verses have been triumphed over in parodies, of which Dr. Johnson’s Stanza is a fair specimen: —

    “I put my hat upon my head

    And walked into the Strand,

    And there I met...

  8. Chapter 5 Reading as Remembering and the Subject of Lyric: Child Ballads, Children’s Ballads, and the New Criticism
    (pp. 185-228)

    Three years before writing “America the Beautiful;” Katharine Lee Bates published a collection of ballads for use in schools.¹ Drawing her epigraph from “The Solitary Reaper” (“The plaintive numbers flow …”), she immediately locates her textbook within a Romantic tradition of ballad collection. Less inclined than I have been to draw differences between Wordsworth and Scott, she then quotes Scott’s memory of his first encounter with Percy’s Reliques:

    All the morning long he lay reading the book beneath a huge platanus-tree in his aunt’s garden. “The summer day sped onward so fast,” he says, “that notwithstanding the sharp appetite of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 229-262)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-282)
  11. Index
    (pp. 283-292)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 293-294)