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"Give me the making of a nation's songs, and let who will make their laws," was the maxim of a Scottish patriot. We would prefer to modify this rule, and say, "Give us the poems which the people make for themselves, and then we shall obtain a clear insight into the national character and learn what customs and laws they are likely to accept or reject." Folk-songs are the intimate expressions of the ideas of the people. What the comic drama is to the cultured, and the music-hall to the ill-educated portions of urban population, the popular song has been, and in some countries still is, to the rural peasantry, a true exponent of their sentiments, though too frequently inaccurate in statements of facts. Critics, as is well known, have censured Lord Macaulay for his indiscriminate adoption of the vulgar and often malignant rhapsodies sung in the streets of London. But the Russian bylina, collected by Danilov, Rybnikov, Sreznevsky and others, may be taken as furnishing unimpeachable evidence of the state of Russia during the invasions of the Mongols and Turks.
The Jacobite poems give us the real feelings of the people of Scotland for nearly an entire century. The popular and rustic strains which are handed down from the reign of Henry III have rehabilitated the memory of Simon de Montfort. Moore's Irish melodies, originally composed for the delectation of English aristocrats, have been so generally admired in his native land that they exhibit pretty clear indications of what the Irish patriots would like to do if they had the power. And the battle-hymn by Rouget de Lisle is not only popular in France, but has recently been sung by the Russian bolsheviki when marching to occupy Tsarskoe Selo and other imperial lands.