The term “popular” is here employed, of course, in a technical meaning, and does not have reference to vogue or popularity, in the ordinary sense. Popular works, in the stricter definition of the term, are anonymous and are held to be the product of many successive authors. They commonly pass through a long period of oral transmission before being committed to writing, and they are consequently cast in a conventional or traditional, rather than an individual, style and form. The exact nature and extent of popular composition is a matter of dispute. In the case of ballad poetry, with its dancing, singing throng, the process of communal authorship can sometimes be actually observed; but in the case of the prose tales no such opportunity exists for collective composition. Still even there the changes and additions introduced by successive narrators make of a story a common product, for which no single author is responsible. Popular works in both prose and verse show various stages of artistry; and just as in the Anglo-Saxon epic of “Beowulf,”〖Harvard Classics, xlix, 5ff.〗 there is evidence of the hand of a single poet of high order, so in the “Arabian Nights,”〖H. C., xvi, 15ff.〗 for example, one may suspect that the style and structure were largely molded by a single writer, or group of writers, of skill and literary training. There are many mooted questions as to the history of the whole type, or as to the exact nature of particular works, but there can be no doubt of the existence of a great body of literature which is in a real sense public property—popular somehow in origin and transmission, and thereby determined in its character. Both the verse and the prose of this popular sort are well represented in The Harvard Classics, the former by the traditional ballads and the latter by the works enumerated above.

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