Saturday, June 4, 2016

Essays in the Study of Folk-Songs

Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco - Essays in the Study of Folk-Songs (1886) direct link
Open Library main page

Another work from the great period of comparative myth and folklore studies.  Oscar Wilde gave it a positive review which he concluded with this great sentence that would drive most modern editors nuts:  "In a volume of moderate dimensions, not too long to be tiresome nor too brief to be disappointing, she has collected together the best examples of modern Folk-songs, and with her as a guide the lazy reader lounging in his armchair may wander from the melancholy pine-forests of the North to Sicily's orange-groves and the pomegranate gardens of Armenia, and listen to the singing of those to whom poetry is a passion, not a profession, and whose art, coming from inspiration and not from schools, if it has the limitations, at least has also the loveliness of its origin, and is one with blowing grasses and the flowers of the field."

The book also received positive notice from Francis Child, leading one writer to note "His praise makes all others' superfluous."

Perhaps I don't need to point out that this is only European folk songs but in any case it's certainly a deeply researched, scholarly work.  She doesn't hesitate to bring in any information that helps the study, whether it's local religious beliefs, classical history, linguistic connections or detailed analysis.

Countess Martinengo-Cesaresco (1852-1931) was born Evelyn Lilian Hazeldine Carrington in England and later married into Italian society.  At age seven she had a "sunstroke" and stopped the normal education routine, instead embarking on what appears to have been largely self-directed work, with assistance from her father (who translated Hugo and other French poets).  She married a Lombard nobleman in 1882 and they settled at Salo.

She wrote several well-regarded books about her new home including The Liberation of Italy, 1815-1870, Italian Characters in the Epoch of Unification, Cavour (perhaps her most widely acclaimed book and which seems to be the only English-language biography until one in 1985), The Place of Animals in Human Thought and The Outdoor Life in Greek and Roman Poets.  Several of those seem worth a post in the future.  She corresponded with W.E.B. Du Bois.

As with many writers I cover in this blog biographical information is scarce until finding one source, in this case an essay by William Roscoe Thayer in his 1908 Italica.  Unfortunately it's too early to cover the rest of her career.  I can find a notice of her death in The Spectator which didn't even bother to separate it from another notice - it has no details.