Collecting ballads: Don’t forget your screwdriver

Francis James Child is a name well-known to ballad singers and scholars alike; William Macmath less so. However had the latter not given up his summer holidays in the months of July and August, 1890, Child’s seminal ballad collection “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads” would not have had the benefit of several transcriptions of ballad manuscripts used in the preparation of Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802)


One small bookcase in the Library, which contains Ballads, can only be opened by the use of a screw driver. No wonder, therefore, that David Laing and Thomas Carlyle could do nothing. Writing letters of of no avail. Personal presence is required, to sit down before the place, and pointing say in effect, but more politely, I must have that book out, please get the screw driver, as I can’t go away without seeing the volume.”

Macmath – Child, in Montgomerie, “Macmath and the Scott Ballad Manuscripts”, Studies in Scottish Literature, no. 1, July 1963.


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