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William Motherwell (1797-1835), journalist, poet, man-of-letters, wit, civil servant, and outspoken conservative, published his anthology of ballads, Minstrelsy: Ancient and Modern, in 1827. His views on authenticity, editorial practice, the nature of oral transmission, and the importance of sung performance--acquired through field collecting--anticipate much later scholarly discourse.

Published after the death of Burns and the publication of Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, ballads such as those Motherwell collected were one focus of a loose-knit movement that might be designated, cultural nationalism. This interest in preserving relics that suggested a distinctly Scottish culture and nation was one response to the union of the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707. Mary Ellen Brown's study provides a model for historical ethnography, focusing on an individual and illustrating the multiple ways he was richly embedded in his time and place.

Mary Ellen Brown, professor of folklore and director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Indiana University, Bloomington, is editor of the Journal of Folklore Research.

"This book is a must for all ballad scholars. . . . Has managed, as the result of a judicious and systematic exploration of all relevant sources, to assign Motherwell his rightful place in the history of the traditional ballad. This is ballad scholarship at its best."—Wilhelm F. Nicolaisen

"Provides a new kind of insight into not only the man but also his milieu—Glasgow and Paisley in the waning years of the Romantic movement."—Choice

"Brown has grasped the opportunity to contract an unusual kind of literary biography, one that explores the life in a context of whys and wherefores. . . . Both an essential contribution to ballad studies and a valuable work of cultural history."—Folk Music Journal

"Not only does it give us a good picture of the man, but it gives us through him a very informative picture of 19th century antiquarian activities, interests, ideologies, and contexts."—Frank de Caro

"The only study to examine his personality and activities in sufficient detail to permit a comprehensive understanding of this important but enigmatic character. Her work will no doubt become a permanent fixture in ballad scholarship."—James Moreira

"A remarkable book about the life of a remarkable person in remarkable times. . . . A very satisfying and readable, substantial piece of scholarship."—Journal of American Folklore

"An ambitious and extremely useful study of this neglected figure in the discovery of the ballad."—Roger Abrahams

"A reader will find everything that he or she needs to know about early nineteenth century ballad scholar, William Motherwell."—Scottish Economic and Social History

"Provides a new kind of insight not only into the man but also into his milieu, Glasgow and Paisley in the waning years of the Romantic Movement."—Scottish Studies Review

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






William Motherwell, Scottish literature, Ballads


Literature in English, British Isles

William Motherwell's Cultural Politics
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