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The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. In Five Volumes Edited by Francis James Child. (Dover Publications, Mineola, New York: 2003.) Vol I: Ballads 1-53. Pg. xxxi, 508. ISBN: 0-486-43145-2. Vol II: Ballads 54-113. Pg. ix, 515. ISBN: 0-486-43146-0. Vol III: Ballads 114-188. Pg. ix, 521. ISBN: 0-486-43147-9. Vol IV: Ballads 189-265. Pg. ix, 525. ISBN: 0-486-43148-7. Vol V: Ballads 266-299. Pg. ix, 807. ISBN: 0-486-43149-5.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - March 30, 2005

Francis James Child's five volume concordances of English and Scottish folk ballads is the most scholarly and comprehensive discourse on the subject of popular ballads ever written. (The term popular ballad was later superceded by the term folk song.) Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads was first published between 1882 and 1898, as a ten-volume series. It has been republished many times, most often as a five-part series. This Dover edition of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads consists of five volumes and it is an unabridged republication of the original ten-volume work. Each volume in the Dover edition contains the text of two volumes from the original series. This edition is nicely type set and eminently readable.

The English and Scottish Popular Ballads has served as a priceless reference work for students of folk music and folklore for more than 100 years. This work was responsible for making the ballad a unique literary genre, and a subject worthy of academic study. In compiling this work, Child gathered together 305 popular folk songs and preceded to make a comparative study of the English and Scottish versions of the ballads with similar works from other countries. In this work, he provides the text of each of the English or Scottish ballads that he studied. The ballads are enhanced by the text of variations to the ballads that he discovered during his studies, as well as a discourse on each ballad that details how he first came upon the ballad, information about any historical or mythological people or events described in the text, and he offers a comparative analysis of the English language work with the various European versions of the ballad. This is a strenuously academic work, and it includes copious footnotes and explanatory passages.

Child was born in Boston in 1825 and he attended Harvard University, where he later became a respected professor. He died in 1886, just as he was completing this heroic work. In compiling The English and Scottish Popular Ballads he endeavored to record every known ballad - and he did an admirable job. The Dover edition of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads includes the text of the original advertisements that accompanied the ten-volume edition, as well as the amended 'Additions and Corrections' that were made to the original text, a detailed biography of Child, and an informative essay entitled Professor Child and the Ballad written by Walter Morris Hart.

Child's work has become so ingrained in the academic and music communities that the 305 ballads examined in this series are as commonly referred to as Child #XX, as to its proper name. For example, the ballad John of Hazelgreen is also referred to as Child #293. This work is concerned primarily with the text of the ballads. He provides brief excerpts of the melodies of only a handful of the ballads included in this volume. Compiling this collection of ballads was a monumental task. In all, Child refers to works that are drawn from almost forty different languages and cultures. When this work was first published, it set the standard for scholarly research into balladry. It has never been surpassed. This is an essential reference series for libraries, schools, and the home. Reading the text of these ballads and Child's lucid commentaries is an education in and of itself. Anyone interested in modern folk music will discover that many modern folk songs are variants of the ballads gathered by Child. Folklorist, musicians, students of literature, writers, and other interested individuals will find a wealth of information, insight, and inspiration within the pages of these books.

Brief highlights from the volumes in this edition:

Related Reviews:

When This Bloody War is Over, by Max Arthur.
Soldiers' Songs of the First World War - Historically annotated lyrics to nearly 100 songs from The Great War.

One Hundred English Folksongs, edited by Cecil J. Sharp.
A collection of one hundred English folksongs accompanied by musical scores for piano and medium voice, as well as historical notes on each song.

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