The ballad tradition

Daniel Cook (Lead / Corresponding author)

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    No poet in the eighteenth century was unaffected by balladry. As a city dweller he or she would have listened to salacious broadsides chanted through the streets or else offered for sale on stalls or in stationers’ shops. Country folk could not help but hear stories resound through their local inns and taverns. And all writers, at least since the appearance in 1765 of Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, along with Thomas Evans’s Old Ballads (1777-84), Joseph Ritson’s Ancient Songs (1790) and the like, would have been familiar with published collections of ballads and songs. The works included in such collections catered to a wide range of interests: love and war, nuns and demons, mad mothers and outlaws, the natural and the supernatural. Indeed, as Robert Mayo has suggested, by 1798 ‘almost anything might be called a "ballad"'. Generically, the ballad was often grouped with lyrical poetry, pastoral, romance, and even the epic. Dismissive commentators nevertheless associated it with the folk, the non-literary. Such a distinction between the elite (poetry) and the popular (the ballad) remains with us. An avid reader of the expanded 1794 edition of Percy’s collection in particular, Wordsworth himself admits, in a defiant tone, ‘I do not think that there is an able writer in verse of the present day who would not be proud to acknowledge his obligations to the Reliques’: ‘for myself’, he confesses, ‘I am happy in this occasion to make a public avowal of my own’.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationWilliam Wordsworth in Context
    EditorsAndrew Bennett
    Place of PublicationCambridge
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages10
    ISBN (Electronic)9781139236188
    ISBN (Print)9781107028418
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Arts and Humanities


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