Welcome to The British Literary Ballads Archive, a site dedicated to a unique genre of literary imitations of traditional ballads. The site contains a growing archive of over 700 poems, as well as short biographical sketches of the poets who wrote them.

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John Payne (1842-1916)



Born in Devon on 23 August 1842. Although he began to work at the age of thirteen due to poverty, his love of books, languages and poetry had already begun in his boyhood; he had translated some of Horace’s Odes at the age of ten, and imitated Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome (1842) at the age of twelve. When his family moved to Bristol, he attended school, where he learned French, Latin and Greek. He also acquired German, Arabic and other languages on his own. In order to begin an apprenticeship to a solicitor at the age of nineteen, he went to London, where he made friends with Arthur O’Shaughnessy (1844-81) and many Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets. Around this time he met Mrs. Helen Snee, the young woman who would become his Beatrice.

Payne’s The Masque of Shadows (1870) and Intaglios (1871) received praise from A. C. Swinburne, Matthew Arnold, and D. G. Rossetti, and the latter work gained the affection of the French poets Théodore de Banville and Stéphane Mallarmé. In 1872, he visited Paris and stayed with Mallarmé to be introduced to many other French poets. In 1877, he established the Villon Society, and his The Poems of Master Francois Villon (1878) became the first publication offered by the society. Payne’s translations in the 80s and the 90s are outstanding in their number and in the range of languages represented; these volumes include The Arabian Nights (1882-84), The Decameron of Boccaccio (1886), The Poems of Shemseddin Mohammed Hafiz (1901). He is now recognized mostly as a translator. (N. M.)

1.The Ballad of Isobel
2.The Ballad of May Margaret