The book [English and Scottish Ballads] circulated widely, and was at once admitted to supersede all previous attempts in the same field. To Mr. Child, however, it was but the starting-point for further researches. He soon formed the plan of a much more extensive collection on an altogether different model. This was to include every obtainable version of every extant English or Scottish ballad, with the fullest possible discussion of related songs or stories in the "popular" literature of all nations. To this enterprise he resolved, if need were, to devote the rest of his life. His first care was to secure trustworthy texts. In his earlier collection he had been forced to depend almost entirely on printed books. No progress, he was convinced, could be made till recourse could be had to manuscripts.... It was clear to Mr. Child that he could not safely take anything at second hand, and he determined not to print a line of his projected work till he had exhausted every effort to get hold of whatever manuscript material might be in existence.... A number of manuscripts were in private hands; of others the existence was not suspected. But Mr. Child was untiring. He was cordially assisted by various scholars, antiquaries, and private gentlemen....
Some manuscripts were secured for the Library of Harvard University, and of others careful copies were made, which became the property of the same library. Gradually...the manuscript materials came in, until at last, in 1882, Mr. Child felt justified in beginning to print. Other important documents were, however, discovered or made accessible as time went on.
In addition, Mr. Child made an effort to stimulate the collection of such remains of the traditional ballad as still live on the lips of the people in this country and in the British Islands.2
It thus took Professor Child together with his backers and collaborators no less than twenty-two years to locate and gather a bare minimum of the textual evidence of British ballad tradition, and even then the toil of securing the necessary documentation was not over. Such an expense of human and financial resources would seem prodigal if one did not remember that, unlike written literature, oral traditions do not come neatly packaged and ready-to-hand in printed books or other prepared forms. Yet nothing can be known for certain about oral tradition in any language until hundreds of texts have been recorded, collected, and carefully compared. The task of oral literary researchers in this respect has not diminished since Child's time.
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