This book is a compilation of the earlier balladry of Russia. It does not profess to explain origins, or to put forward exhaustive theories, or to refute other writers. It is an attempt to set forth legends, as they are.
After all, what is the real barrier between history and legend? History consists of the annals of such accomplished facts as can be vouched by accepted evidence. In modern credence, history therefore excludes the miraculous or superhuman. But mankind lives not only on the indigestible crusts of hard fact; his abiding sustenance is his faith and his aspirations. These latter essentials are portrayed in legendry, and therefore both legendry and history, taken apart and in isolation, are fallacious. It is only in happier ages, when the dream can become the deed, and fact has been compelled to conform with imagination, that the two elements combine and the tale of each can approximate to a whole and sincere truth.
The earlier ballads of Russia depict an incessant warfare against infidels of three confessions, the Romans, (who in the eyes of the Orthodox, are schismatics), the Moslems, and also against some fragments of the Judaized Khazars. So far, then, the Ballads are a sublimate or crystallization of the entirety of the course and tragedy of Russia, hemmed in, as she has always been, by alien folks who barred her access to the open seas. These ballads furnish us with phantasms of a deeper reality: they preclude capricious imagination, and synchronize and emblematize the constant factors of early Russian history. This high function cannot be predicated in the same sense for the balladry of any other country.
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