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Magdalene College, Cambridge: The Pepys Ballad Collection

Pepys Volumes

The Pepys collection of over 1,800 ballads resides in The Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Samuel Pepys collected most of his ballads into five album books with approximate dimensions of 340 x 358 mm. The volumes are roughly 70 mm. thick, with Volume 1 closer to 100 mm. since it contains earlier ballads which are on heavier paper. The individual ballads were trimmed and sometimes cut in half to fit into these volumes (see Images and Ballad Sheet Sizes), and EBBA provides the dimensions of the trimmed and cut ballads in the cataloging for each ballad. Each ballad in the collection is catalogued extensively and includes volume and page number(s): for example, a two-part ballad on pp. 224-225 of volume 1 would be catalogued as 1.224-225. There are ten ballads in the Pepys library that are not in the ballad collection proper, however; these were pasted into various other books owned by Pepys and are indicated by their Pepys library number and the page number onto which they were pasted.

Pepys's album collection was begun with the acquisition of John Selden's ballad collection (probably in the 1680s), which forms most of volume 1. The entire collection of five albums is a significant but small part of a larger collecting initiative on the part of Pepys that resulted in an extensive library by the time of his death in 1703 of some 3,000 works (on Pepys the man and his ballad collecting in the light of his collecting practices as a whole, see Pepys and his Collecting). Pepys gathered the ballads in his collection roughly chronologically and also by category. For an overview of Pepys's organizing principles for his ballad collection as well as individual essays on each of the categories by which Pepys gathered his ballads from volume to volume, see Pepys's Categories.

Printed Editions

There are three printed editions of the Pepys ballads: a facsimile edition, The Pepys Ballads, edited by W. G. Day, in 5 volumes, from the Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College Cambridge (Wolfboro, N.H.: D. S. Brewer, 1991), which is accompanied by a 2 volume catalogue of the ballads made by Helen Weinstein (1992); a modern edition of 505 selected ballads edited by Hyder E. Rollins, The Pepys Ballads, 8 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1929); and Rollins’s slimmer selection of seventy-nine Pepys ballads in his A Pepysian Garland (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971).

The facsimile edition issued by The Pepys Library has the advantage over Rollins’s modern editions of providing not only the complete set of ballads but also of giving the reader a good sense of what the original album books and ballads pasted into the albums look like. But the facsimile edition is at the same time extremely difficult to read. Because it is also oversized, the pages are nearly impossible to read when reduced and printed on 8.5 x 11 paper for purposes of teaching. The Rollins editions offer the advantage of transcriptions of some of the ballads as well as some shrewd if minimal commentary, but Rollins never spells out his rules of transcription and his editions lose the formatting and ornament of the originals (though the odd woodcut illustration is interspersed throughout). Finally, none of the above editions 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.