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swift; so eager is man for communication with his neighbour, that a single common point gained becomes the nucleus of a whole field; the reasoning or abstracting faculty forms designations for numberless things from the single root 'to eat;' and when its capabilities can be extended no further, the same process is repeated with some other root, till then unknown; and the process becomes easier each time, from the previous settlement of a certain number of words: we all know how greatly communication with people whose language we do not know is facilitated if we know only half a dozen words of it. The original settlement of roots must therefore have been a tentative process: the number that were actually adopted was very small, consisting only of those which succeeded in making themselves generally intelligible, from a vast, nay.an infinite, number which may have been tried by individuals, but which, failing of the great end of all language, intelligibility to others, dropped off. Have we not noticed infants deliberately invent words and use them perseveringly, till, finding they cannot make them understood, they give them up as a bad job?* Should it be objected that we, after all, make it a matter of chance why each root obtained the meaning which it assumed, we shall not dispute the point. If we are clear upon this point,—that the possession of clear thought, the generalizing faculty, and the conception of personality, which distinguish man from the brutes, rendered speech a necessity, and likewise furnished the form in which it must develop itself so soon as it had received the least start,—then we have assigned the whole course of language as something existing to the domain of reason, and can afford to admit that it was at the outset a matter of indifference, and, as such, liable to be determined mainly by chance, what syllable should be adopted to denote 'to go,''to eat,' and the rest.
* Yet Müller says, “ It shows a want of appreciation as to the real bearings of our problem, if philosophers appeal to the fact that children are born without language, and gradually emerge from mutism to the full command of articulate speech." “Children, in learning to speak, do not invent language. Language is there ready made for them.” “It is useless to inquire whether infants, left to themselves, would invent a language. It would be impossible, unnatural, and illegal to try the experiment; and without repeated experiments, the assertions of those who believe and those who disbelieve the possibility of children inventing a language of their own are equally valueless.” To us it appears that, in the gradual advances made by infants towards intelligible speech, we have the process of the origin of all language daily repeated before our ears. The language that an English child first utters is not English ; and months or years pass before he casts off the words of his infancy. The nurse often has extreme difficulty in discovering the meaning of some word of the child's own formation which obviously has to him a welldefined meaning. As he has intercourse with others besides his nurse, and perceives that they do not understand his speech, he finds it necessary to acquire the proper English words. This is exactly the process which we assume as the origin of all language : the terms which made themselves most generally understood supplanted those of limited range-the infantine terms, as it were.
We do not find quite so explicit a statement by Dr. Müller of his opinion on this subject, although this seems to be the legitimate tendency of his previous arguments; he merely says that the original roots are “phonetic types produced by a power inherent in human nature.” * But when he adds, “ There is a law, which runs through nearly the whole of nature, that every thing which is struck rings. Each substance has its own peculiar ring. .... It was the same with man, the most highly organized of nature's works,” we think he has introduced (" as an illustration only, and not as an explanation") something entirely irrelevant. What the sound given forth by unorganized metal plates or wires, when struck from without, has in common with the utterances given forth by the organized human frame, from an impulse within, we are at a loss to conceive. C. F. Becker's conception of language as a natural organism of the human frame, though it does not explain, nay simply refuses to explain, is far more just than this illustration, which compares it with unorganized matter.
We must now take leave of Dr. Müller, and of a work full of learning and of genius, which has the happy art of presenting a scientific and abstruse subject in a form which neither renders it inaccessible to persons of ordinary cultivation, nor abandons the scientific mode of discussion,-a work which has been long wanted both on the Continent and in England, and which has been executed with such wisdom and care, that it will probably long remain the chief authority on the Science of Language.
Art. VII.—STREET BALLADS. For several years the fact that the street ballad-singer is disappearing from amongst us, has been forcing itself more and more on the unwilling minds of ourselves, and the few others who, from some strange and perverse idiosyncrasy, take an interest in this ancient if no longer honourable profession. His decline has latterly, we fear, been more rapid than that of any of his brethren of the streets. We can still make pretty sure, in several places well known to us, of coming across patterers in the exercise of their varied vocations, and can, by diverging a few hundred yards from our accustomed walk, acquire the privilec of investing the sum of one penny sterling in the purchase of golden sovereigns, a 101. bank-note, a composition for the insta removal and obliteration of dirt spots, grease spots, blood spo and every other spot or stain to which mortal clothes are : or some other equally advantageous bargain. Not seldom
blood spots, e are heirs, still pass a “screever" (if that be his proper name), pensively sitting on the pavement in the midst of his pictures of whole mackerel, halved salmons, ships, and moonlight scenes. Street musicians may be found at every corner, from the full unwashed German band and nigger melodist, to the poor Italian boy with his broken-winded hurdy-gurdy. Street conjurors and tumblers have of late been rather on the increase, and the ever-young Mr. Punch still commits and chuckles over his series of crimes, and defies the terrors of the visible and invisible world, to the untiring delight and solace of the appreciating British public.
It does not occur to one readily why the new police and the march of intellect should entirely tolerate other caterers for the amusement and edification of the frequenters of our thoroughfares, and yet should be hostile to the lineal descendant of the ancient minstrel. As long ago as the Tudor times, no doubt “minstrels” were styled “ministers of the devil,” and were classed with the " sturdy rogues” to whose amendment, by means of pillory and whipping-post, our fathers seem to have paid much attention. But having survived Tudor statutes, and come down to our own time, we cannot see why the ballad-singer should give way before advancing civilisation sooner than the professors of the other humble branches of the Fine Arts above alluded to. But so it is; and though we can still find the professors of these in certain favourite pitches—if not on Monday, then on Tuesday or Wednesday,—when and where, in what favoured streets, at what auspicious hours, can we make equally sure of hearing a ballad-song in the good old style? Those two somewhat shabby companions, with voices of brazen twang, walking slowly down the sides of some quiet but not out-of-the-way thoroughfare, their hands filled with broad-sheets, their eyes keenly glancing round for every possible owner of a spare half-penny, and making the whole neighbourhood ring with their alternate lines and joint chorus of some unspeakable ditty, sung to a popular air, with variations imported on the spur of the moment,-alas, where are they gone? We ourselves have only heard two ballads sung in the streets (both near Clare Market) in the course of this year, and each time the performer was alone. He seemed to sing as conscious of his latter end, and “mindful of a better day,” which both his voice and habiliments might easily have seen. More down in luck than even Scott's Last Minstrel, he had not even an orphan boy to carry his ballads. We committed the extravagance of paying a penny for each of our ballads on these two somewhat sad occasions, and passed on. The investment was not a good one; our purchases proved so feeble that we have not yet assigned them any place in our collection.
If the ballad-singer is disappearing from our streets, as would
seem to be the case, we may be excused for giving him a parting notice in consideration of his past career. We therefore propose to spend an hour with such readers as will follow us amongst our street ballads; but we should be very sorry to take them with us on false pretences. Let us say, therefore, at once, that we can promise them nothing either very wise or very witty. They will scarcely find a gleam of poetic power to repay them for weltering in whole seas of slip-slop. Neither will they much increase their store of available knowledge of “things not generally known" by accompanying us. We have not got the statistics of the whole ballad business in all its branches nicely done up and labelled in packets, and ready to be carried off and added to any person's stock of facts. Such glimpses of light on the subject as have come to us we will impart, but it must be on the understanding that we do not guarantee their accuracy, for we know too well the unreliable nature of many of our sources of information. In short, after years of familiarity with modern street ballads, and of acquaintance (for our relations have never risen to intimacy) with several of the persons engaged in the profession, we are still in a state of much uncertainty upon the subject generally. We live in a mysterious haze, which is not without attraction to us personally, and which we should not altogether rejoice in having to surrender to Mr. Horace Mann, or any other energetic son of science, who would seize on the whole matter, and reduce it to a tabular form in no time. No; we confess that we have very indistinct notions indeed as to who write the ballads, who buy them, why they buy them, how many are sold, in what places, and under what circumstances. But if there is any reader who is inclined for an autuinnal easy-going vacational article, which, if it doesn't improve his mind, will at any rate not call upon him for much intellectual exertion, or hurt his morals, and may amuse him, let him come along fearlessly. We have this further to urge in favour of our subject. It is one of those windows through which we may get a glimpse at that very large body of our fellow-citizens of whom we know so little; and a better reason we do not care to find or to give. In our opinion there can be no better; one half of our world knows nothing of how the other half is living, what it thinks about, reads, takes pleasure in. We have no idea how the events which interest us are looked on by the half to which we do not belong. Any thing that will help us to a fuller knowledge in these matters must be very good for us; and reading street ballads will do something, if not much, towards it: for they are almost all written by persons of the class to which they are addressed ; and the very sameness of them, the family likeness which runs through each separate branch of them, shows that they are adapted to and meet the wants and views of that class. Let any reader of the National Review invest sixpence in the first dozen he can lay his hands on, and, after perusing them, just consider for a minute the enormous gulf which must lie between the thousand buyers and readers of Tennyson, and the tens of thousand serious buyers and readers of these broad-sheets, and we believe that several new thoughts will be suggested to him. We are strictly within the mark in saying tens of thousands; for though ballad-singing is dying out in London, and the broadsheet ballad business generally is not what it used to be, it is still enormous.
Ballads still form an important, perhaps the chief part of the reading of a large class of our population. One London firm alone, the successors of Catnach the Great, have on stock half a million of ballads, more than 900 reams of them; and even in these degenerate days, when a ballad makes a real hit, from 20,000 to 30,000 copies of it will go off in a very short time. Then it finds its way into a book for town consumption. The chief circulation of the broad-sheet is in the country, where the conservative instinct is strong in this as in all other matters. The penny song-books, which have to a great extent superseded the broad-sheet in London, are not valued in the shires. “They hold too much," we have been told; "the country people consider them too big, sir, and that it can't be all correct that's in them. So they like the sheet better, that they've been used to.”
Now let us turn to the ballads themselves. We do not propose to notice any which we have not ourselves found in circulation; but before coming to strictly contemporary productions, we must say a few words about those older ones, which every ballad-fancier must have found scattered about England. The best of the well-known old ballads we have never met with ; but several of the inferior ones are still in broad-sheet. We have bought “ Barbara Allen,” “Gilderoy,” “Lord Thomas and Lady Eleanor,” and several Robin-Hood ballads, within the last few years, the text of which differs very slightly from the versions in Percy's Relics, and other collections. Besides these, we have come across several local narrative ballads, some of considerable length, such as “Jemmy and Nancy of Yarmouth,” and the “ Berkshire Lady,” in parts, and running to some 200 lines each ; others much shorter. The following is a specimen of these latter. We give it in two versions: the first is copied from the broadsheet; the second is in the words in which we learnt it by heart from hearing it often sung in our youth. The variations are curious, and worth remarking. We have found many other instances of ballads thus adapted in different counties. Some