★ Conclusion Story:
Our collection of vernacular scraps, which, like the “brave beggars of Coudingham fair,” have been gathered from the lanes and by-ways, is now brought to a conclusion. They are, it must be confessed, but literary vagrants at the best; but they breathe of country freshness, and may impart some of their spirit to our languishing home-life. The cottage without its traditional literature is but a poor feature in the landscape that is loved by the poet. The legend or antique rhyme emanating from its door expresses a characteristic he would not willingly see perish. It may be that little of this now remains in England, but the minutest indications should be carefully chronicled ere they disappear.
Many of the fragments in the preceding pages are, in fact, rather indications of what formerly existed than complete specimens of their class. It is beyond a doubt that, two centuries ago, our rural districts were rich in all kinds of popular and traditional literature, in legends and ancient rhymes. Unfortunately, the antiquaries of the old school considered such matters beneath their notice; and instead of conferring a very important benefit on literature by preserving them, occupied a great portion of their time in essays of very questionable utility. It thus happened that allusions in our old poets, intelligible enough in those days, became enigmas when the memory of these trifles disappeared. We should fall into a similar error did we neglect those which still remain, merely because their value is not always immediately apparent, or be alarmed at a suggestion that we are “suckling fools, and chronicling small beer.”
Let us hope the reader may view these trifles with more indulgence, and enlist his sympathies with our own; for if literary value is insisted upon as the sole use of their publication, the critic may require an abler apologist. He may refuse to admit the importance of preserving a large collection for the sake of the few which may illustrate the works of our ancient authors. But we trust this opinion will not be general; that their natural simplicity will compensate in some respects for deficiency of literary elegance; and that the universal and absorbing prevalence of one pursuit has not put to flight all kindly memory of the recreations of a happier age:
The sports of childhood’s roseate dawn Have passed from our hearts like the dew-gems from morn: We have parted with marbles–we own not a ball, And are deaf to the hail of a “whoop and a call.” But there’s an old game that we all keep up, When we’ve drank much deeper from life’s mixed cup; Youth may have vanished, and manhood come round, Yet how busy we are on “Tom Tidler’s ground Looking for gold and silver!”
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