Printed Editions of the Roxburghe Ballads

There is one mostly complete modern edition of the Roxburghe ballads, consisting of 9 volumes in 8, edited by William Chappell (vols. 1-3) and Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth (vols. 4-8), published Hertford: Stephen Austin & Sons, 1869-1901; reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1966. Chappell arranged his three volumes sequentially (covering volume 1 and volume 2, up to p. 100, of the original album volumes). That is, Chappell followed the order of the ballads in the originals. But Ebsworth broke with that ordering system, instead idiosyncratically picking ballads from across the collection and gathering them by theme (he also included, after individual ballads, in small print, editions from other sources which he considered related to the ballads). However, Ebsworth only included seven of the forty-four garlands from the Roxburghe collection, which he derided as “long-winded narrative rhymed-poems,” guilty not only for their extensive length but for not having a printed tune title; these he did not consider proper ballads. For similar, if perversely inverted reasons, he included only thirty-four of the seventy-eight “slip songs,” which are narrow single-column songs printed on small slips of paper that came to displace the more unwieldy broadsides over the course of the eighteenth century (8.738-739; see also pp. 179-188).

There are two other selected modern editions of the Roxburghe collection: Charles Hindley’s two volume The Roxburghe Ballads (1873-74) and John Payne Collier’s A Book of Roxburghe Ballads (1847).

None of these printed editions states their rules of transcription, none imitates the formatting and ornament of the originals (though Chappell and Ebsworth intersperse their volumes with re-drawings of the ballad woodcuts—amazingly, in the later volumes, actually drawn by Ebsworth), none offers access to thick cataloguing, and none makes accessible the oral features of the ballads, that is, recordings of their tunes. And, of course, the advantages of sophisticated search functions, such as are made available in EBBA, are also absent.