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HE ballad may be considered as the
native species of poetry of this country. It very exactly answers the idea formerly given of original poetry, being the rude uncultivated verse in which the popular tale of the times was recorded.
As our ancestors partook of the fierce warlike character of the northern nations, the subjects of their poetry would chiefly consist of the martial exploits of their heroes, and the military events of national history, deeply tinctured with that passion for the marvellous, and that fuperftitious credulity, which always attend a state of ignorance and barbarism. Many of the antient ballads have been transmitted to the present times, and in them the character of the nation displays itself in striking colours. The boastful history of her victories, the prowess of her favourite kings and captains, and the wonderful adventures of the legendary faint and knight errant, are the topics of the rough rhyme and unadorned narration which was ever the delight of the vulgar, and is now an object of curiofity to the antiquarian and man of taste. As it is not my design to collect pieces of this fort, which is already done in a very
elegant manner by Dr. Percy, in his Reliques of antient English poetry, I shall proceed to consider the ballad more as an artificial than a natural species of composition.
When language became refined, and poetical taste elevated, by an acquaintance with the Greek and Latin authors, the subjects of the Epic Muse were no longer drest in the homely garb of the popular ballad, but assumed the borrowed ornament and stately air of heroic poetry; and every poetical attempt in the sublime and beautiful cast was an imitation of the clasfic models. The native poetry of the country was reserved merely for the humorous and burlesque; and the term ballad was brought by custom to signify a comic story, told in low familiar language, and accompanied with a droll trivial tune. It was much used by the wits of the time
as a vehicle for laughable ridicule, and mirthful satire ; and a great variety of the most pleasing specimens of this kind of writing is to be found in the ballads of the witty æra of English genius, which I take to be comprehended between the beginning of Charles the Second's reign, and the times of Swift and Prior. Since that period the genius of the age has chiefly been characterized by the correct, elegant, and tender; and a real or affected taste for beautiful fimplicity has almost universally prevailed. This has produced several imitations of the antient ballad as a serious composition, turned however in its general subject from the story of martial adventure to the pathetic tale of the peaceful village. It is a juft taste, founded upon real observation of nature, which enjoins simplicity of expression in every attempt to engage the sympathetic emotions; we have many delightful examples of its success, and I
hope in this collection to prove by some powerful appeals to the heart, how sweetly the antient ballad, judiciously imitated, is adapted to this purpose. A delicate sense of propriety, and nice judgment are required to conduct the plan of simplicity in such a manner as to retain all its beauties without finking into insipidity or disgustful vulgarity. In general, we should aim at it rather by dropping all ornament and glitter, than by putting on an affected rusticity, and making use of antiquated expressions. We should be particularly careful that simplicity reigns in the thoughts as well as the language, a very essential piece of uniformity, which yet some writers of eminence have not always observed. If the piece be narrative, such circumstances of the story as tell it in the most striking manner are to be held out to view, and their effect is not to be interrupted by simile or metaphor, or any of the artificial prettinesses of