"English & Scottish Ballads" by Francis James Child
Over this past autumn I read the multi-volume collection English & Scottish Ballads, edited by Francis James Child. The collection is sometimes referred to as the "Child Ballads."
I decided to read through all of them because coming across the vague outlines of a couple of the Child Ballads gave me some story ideas. I felt it would be good to go through all of them in the hope of finding other story ideas, which I did. I also wanted to keep adding to the list of classic works that I've read over the past several years.
Francis James Child assembled his collection during the latter half of the 19th Century. He seems to have gone back as far as he could with his sources. Some of the ballads in his collection have two or more variations. In the text Child hints at reasons, such as trying to get to the oldest possible version, or comparing versions published by earlier compliers to find out what was original in the ballad and what might have been added by the compiler or the first printer.
While some ballads Child printed in his collection date back to the Middle Ages, most appear to come from the Renaissance. One volume of the collection is devoted to the stories of Robin Hood. There's also several ballads about King Arthur. Among some of the more well-known ballads in the collections are "The Twa Sisters," "Tam Lin," "Sir Patrick Spens," and "The Unquiet Grave."
Reading through these volumes was worth my time and effort. Not that I could get through everything. Child printed quite a few ballads in their earliest forms, with eccentric spelling and grammar that made reading them difficult to impossible. The variations printed weren't always that different from each other, so some variations I chose to skip. Still, I feel happy to have read them, and they did give me story ideas.
The ebook editions I read came from Project Gutenberg; find them here.