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The Ballad of the White Horse [NOOK Book]


Prefatory Note:

This ballad needs no historical notes, for ...
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The Ballad of the White Horse

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Prefatory Note:

This ballad needs no historical notes, for the simple reason that it
does not profess to be historical. All of it that is not frankly
fictitious, as in any prose romance about the past, is meant to
emphasize tradition rather than history. King Alfred is not a legend in
the sense that King Arthur may be a legend; that is, in the sense that
he may possibly be a lie. But King Alfred is a legend in this broader
and more human sense, that the legends are the most important things
about him.

The cult of Alfred was a popular cult, from the darkness of the ninth
century to the deepening twilight of the twentieth. It is wholly as a
popular legend that I deal with him here. I write as one ignorant of
everything, except that I have found the legend of a King of Wessex
still alive in the land. I will give three curt cases of what I mean.
A tradition connects the ultimate victory of Alfred with the valley in
Berkshire called the Vale of the White Horse. I have seen doubts of the
tradition, which may be valid doubts. I do not know when or where the
story started; it is enough that it started somewhere and ended with me;
for I only seek to write upon a hearsay, as the old balladists did. For
the second case, there is a popular tale that Alfred played the harp and
sang in the Danish camp; I select it because it is a popular tale, at
whatever time it arose. For the third case, there is a popular tale that
Alfred came in contact with a woman and cakes; I select it because it is
a popular tale, because it is a vulgar one. It has been disputed by
grave historians, who were, I think, a little too grave to be good
judges of it. The two chief charges against the story are that it was
first recorded long after Alfred's death, and that (as Mr. Oman urges)
Alfred never really wandered all alone without any thanes or soldiers.
Both these objections might possibly be met. It has taken us nearly as
long to learn the whole truth about Byron, and perhaps longer to learn
the whole truth about Pepys, than elapsed between Alfred and the first
writing of such tales. And as for the other objection, do the historians
really think that Alfred after Wilton, or Napoleon after Leipsic, never
walked about in a wood by himself for the matter of an hour or two? Ten
minutes might be made sufficient for the essence of the story. But I am
not concerned to prove the truth of these popular traditions. It is
enough for me to maintain two things: that they are popular traditions;
and that without these popular traditions we should have bothered about
Alfred about as much as we bother about Eadwig.

One other consideration needs a note. Alfred has come down to us in the
best way (that is, by national legends) solely for the same reason as
Arthur and Roland and the other giants of that darkness, because he
fought for the Christian civilization against the heathen nihilism. But
since this work was really done by generation after generation, by the
Romans before they withdrew, and by the Britons while they remained, I
have summarised this first crusade in a triple symbol, and given to a
fictitious Roman, Celt, and Saxon, a part in the glory of Ethandune. I
fancy that in fact Alfred's Wessex was of very mixed bloods; but in any
case, it is the chief value of legend to mix up the centuries while
preserving the sentiment; to see all ages in a sort of splendid
foreshortening. That is the use of tradition: it telescopes history.
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940012798992
  • Publisher: SAP
  • Publication date: 7/24/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 51 KB

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2013


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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2013


    This copy is very jumbled and hard to read....good book, but get a different version.

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    Posted May 28, 2014

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    Posted April 7, 2012

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    Posted July 21, 2011

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