Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Rutland Boughton

Letter No.: 
[1932 or 1933]

The White Gates,
Westcott Road,

Dear Boughton
 It is a mistake to suppose that ballads as far as I know are ‘outspoken’ about amorous things – You will look in vain for detailed physical descriptions of sexual contact; the folksinger has a due sense of proportion & does not imitate the modern novelist in a morbid preoccupation with those physical details of the natural functions of man
 The folksinger when confronted with the collector has an exaggerated idea of what he will consider “rude” – of course it is absurd for the F.S. collectors to refuse to print such beautiful lines as
 “I wish that the night had been seven long years”
or  “Undress yourself my darling said he
 “and come along to bed with me”
or “We spent that night in sweet content
 and the very next morning to church we went”

But these are positively reticent compared with what one gets in a modern novel – it is only the conventions of expression are different.

Of course there is a type of ballad words which are indecent in the true sense of the word -  these though harmless (I am not one to cast a stone at anyone who relishes an improper story) – are of no artistic or any other value and therefore are best left unrecorded. But these are not out spoken but their point (as in all “smutty” stories) depends on facetious and sly allusiveness. – Possibly these are not genuine to the songs – but have drifted in from some other stratum. – The whole question of genuineness is hopelessly confused – and collectors are always apt to think that all they value is genuine and all they dislike is a corruption
Yrs sincerely
R Vaughan Williams


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
Add MS 52366, ff. 97-100

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
MS Mus. 1714/2/5, ff.22-26
General notes: 

Date ascribed by British Library.

Original database number: