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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Folklore and Folksong (Dorset and Somerset; William Barnes, Cecil Sharp)

William Barnes on Folklore (written 1886; published 1922, in Dorsetshire Folk-Lore, John Symonds Udal

Barnes concludes his Fore-Say: "Neither folklore, nor a form of folk speech, is confined by the outline of a county; and if no piece of Dorset folklore should be given in a book of Dorset folklore because it is found also in Somerset, Devon, Wilts, or Hants, then it should not be given in a book of the folklore of either of those shires, because it is found in Dorset".

From introduction (C.L.M.) to Folk Songs from Somerset, First Series, 1904, by Cecil J. Sharp and Charles L. Marson:

"Folk-song, unknown in the drawing-room, hunted out of the school, chased by the chapel deacons, derided by the middle classes, and despised by those who have been uneducated into the three R's, takes refuge in the fastnesses of tap-rooms and the wilder parts. It is a treasure to be sought and found in nooks and corners, underneath much mental and some moral lumber. It comes out shyly, late at night, and is heard when the gentry have gone home to bed, when the barrack-room has exhausted its Music-hall menu. It is to be found when men have well drunk. The parson hears of it, but rarely hears it. Domesticated and holy Penelope does not sing it at her loom...You must ask our Arcadian Aspasias if you want to get news of it".

Ralph Vaughan Williams, National Music, 1934:

"The folk-singer, being un-selfconscious and unsophisticated and bound by no prejudices or musical etiquette, is absolutely free in his rhythmical figures".

On Cecil Sharp (Wikipedia)

"No Sir!" Not the familiar Somerset version of 'O No John' I was taught in a Somerset school!
From the Cecil Sharp Mss, as reproduced in James Reeves' 'The Idiom of the People' (1958) 

"I find myself that, although I can rapidly unlock the hearts of our Devon and Cornish singers, I find more difficulty elsewhere- I do not understand the peasant in other parts so thoroughly as I do in the West, for there we have a score of subjects in common: we know about each other and each other's friends and companions, about places associated with each other's old recollections- we are on common ground very soon."

S. Baring Gould, "A Garland of Country Song", 1895.

"I have written out the songs exactly as I heard them with no attempts at Bowdlerisms or expurgation. I thought it best upon reflection to treat the songs just as the tunes, though it is of course clear that a certain number of the verses are quite unprintable".

Henry Hammond, Letter to Lucy Broadwood, June, 1905.

"The song of the land, the song of rural labour, the song of delight in the many forms of life with which we share our physical world, is too important and too moving to be tamely given up, in an embittered betrayal, to the confident enemies of all significant and actual independence and renewal".

Raymond Williams ("The Country and the City", 1973)

"There was the abstract and limiting definition of  'folksong', which in Cecil Sharp was based on the full rural myth of the 'remnants' of the 'peasantry', and which specifically excluded, as not of the 'folk', the persistent songs of the industrial and urban working people, who did not fit the image but who were continuing to create, in an authentic popular culture, what it suited this period and this class to pretend was a lost world. It was then not only that the real land and its people were falsified; a traditional and surviving rural England was scribbled over and almost hidden from sight by what is really a suburban and half-educated scrawl. That is the damage which can never be forgotten."

Raymond Williams ("The Country and the City")

Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco, "Essays in the Study of Folk-Songs" (London, 1886), p.1, on the study of folk-songs and "the way to set about seeking after old lore":

"We ought to shake off as much as possible of our conventional civilisation which frightens uneducated peasants, and makes them think, at best, that we wish to turn them into ridicule. If we must not hope to pass for spirits of earth or air, we can aim at inspiring such a measure of confidence as will persuade the natural man to tell us what he still knows of those vanishing beings, and to lend us the key to his general treasure-box before all that is inside be reduced to dust".

No comment.

A folk-song about folk-song collectors:

Cecil Sharp he scoured old Somerset,
The Appalachians too;
Henry Hammond biked round Dorset,
All in the foggy dew.

They cycled and they hiked it,
They rattled round the lanes,
They searched in pub and workhouse
For old-fashioned folk-song strains.

They noted down in note-books
One half of what they heard;
They cut out all the juicy bits,
And every other word.

Before Cecil there was Sabine,
A double-barrelled squire-cum-Rev…
He hunted down his song-birds
Then rewrote the truth they’d give.

Before Maud was Lucy Broadwood,
Charles and Percy, Ralph and George;
Henry went with brother Robert,
To ensure no song was forged.

But they edited and they censored,
And tampered with each tune,
So what they handed down to us
Wasn’t even fit to croon.

The Reverends were most worthy,
The collectors all meant well;
But those toothless peasant singers
Were all left to go to hell.

  With a fol-derol-de-rol-de
  With a right fol-derol-de-day!


Finally, a Marshwood Vale saying (a suitable subject for a folk-song?)

"Faults be thick when love be thin"

(from "Some Folklore of Marshwood Vale" by Cecil Walter Creed, as told to J. Stevens Cox, Toucan Press, Guernsey).

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