The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles

The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles

John Jacob Niles
With a New Introduction by Ron Pen
DECORATIONS BY WILLIAM BARSS
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 400
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jnj1
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  • Book Info
    The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles
    Book Description:

    A legend in the folk music community, John Jacob Niles enjoyed a lengthy career as a balladeer, folk collector, and songwriter. Ever close to his Kentucky roots, he spent much of his adulthood searching for the most well-loved songs of the southern Appalachia.The Ballad Book of John Jacob Nilesbrings together a wealth of songs with the stories that inspired them, arranged by a gifted performer. This new edition includes all of the melodies, text, commentary, and illustrations of the 1961 original and features a new introduction by Ron Pen, director of the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at the University of Kentucky.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5784-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction to the New Edition
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    John Jacob Niles, balladeer, folk collector, and composer, was a sixty-eight-year-old man by the time hisBallad Bookwas published in 1961 by the Houghton Mifflin Company. At this point in his career, Niles had long since written his popular compositions based on folk music, “I Wonder As I Wander,” “Go ’Way from My Window,” “Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head,” and “Black Is the Color.” He had nearly arrived at the end of an active performing career featuring his dulcimer-accompanied tenor voice. He had released the last of his commercial recordings of folk arrangements and original composition for Folkways, Tradition,...

  5. Introduction to the Original Edition
    (pp. xvii-xxviii)

    The fine people, young and old, who sang the ballads found on the pages of this book, were the direct descendants of the hardy English settlers who came to the shores of the North American continent in the 17th and 18th centuries. The spaces in those sailing ships were small. They traveled light. But the men and women who crossed the stormy Atlantic in those early days came from a civilization rich in the tradition of ballad and carol singing, and although we have no records of such activities, it is safe to assume that once they came ashore in...

  6. 1 Riddles Wisely Expounded (Child No. 1)
    (pp. 1-10)

    Riddling is an almost universal art. And as James McNeill Whistler said inTen O’Clock,“No hovel is safe from art, and no prince may depend upon it.” A generation ago distinguished authorities on folklore could be found to say that Chinese people, Jewish people, and American Indians did not employ or understand riddles. It doesn’t take much investigation, though, to discover riddles in Hebrew literature dating from great antiquity, and just in 1952 Ruth Rabin, writing in theJournal of American Folklore,gave some delightful examples of Yiddish folk songs which were variants of a riddle song sung in...

  7. 2 The Elfin Knight (Child No. 2)
    (pp. 11-20)

    The second ballad in this collection gives us an opportunity to observe what happened to the supernatural in the crossing of the North Atlantic. On short acquaintance one might conclude that the American text of “My Father Gave Me an Acre of Ground” could not be even remotely related to its ancestor “The Elfin Knight,” 12 examples of which are given by Child from English and Scottish sources. The supernatural elements in the original have disappeared from the American version.

    Indeed, the differences between the ancestor and the offspring are so marked that it would seem worthwhile to quote a...

  8. 3 The False Knight upon the Road (Child No. 3)
    (pp. 21-23)

    This ballad is not often encountered; not more than a dozen examples have been reported from the United States. At first it might be concluded that its rarity is the result of the supernatural situation, the devil appearing as a knight on the road. But other ballads involving the supernatural are occasionally encountered.

    Here we find a smart little schoolboy outwitting the devil himself and, we may assume, going off to school quite gaily. In one American text the schoolboy calmly throws the devil in a nearby well and then departs for school. The boy wins out, of course, because...

  9. 4 Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight (Child No. 4)
    (pp. 24-30)

    Child tells us that this ballad has obtained the widest circulation of all ballads. (He was speaking of circulation in the Old World. In the United States and Canada, I would say, “Barbary Ellen” is by far the most widely circulated and the best known.) However, Child has traced “Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight” to Scandinavia, Poland, southern and northern Germany, and even into the Latin countries. To this I can add, from my own investigations in Finland and Estonia, that it is well known in both these countries, in folk tradition. In Estonia there is a tribe known as...

  10. 5 Earl Brand (Child No. 7)
    (pp. 31-39)

    Lord William’s Death” stems from a parent ballad entitled “Earl Brand,” indicated in Child’s collection as No. 7, and at the same time is very near the Douglas tragedy, so dear to the heart of Sir Walter Scott.

    There are two other versions of “Earl Brand” in this collection — “William and Ellen” and “Brandywine.” They follow the outlines of “Earl Brand” and the Douglas tragedy, too, with the added complications of a talking horse and the disaster precipitated by the eloping girl when she “names” her lover in a moment of great emergency.

    The English and Scottish versions do not...

  11. 6 The Fair Flower of Northumberland (Child No. 9)
    (pp. 40-46)

    This ballad, formerly popular in Scotland, usually concerns a lady of high position who makes the error of falling in love with an imprisoned man and then helping him to escape. The lady supplies horses and money for the trip.

    The lady has indeed been deceived. She has been promised marriage and the treatment of a great lady. When she at last discovers that the promises are false, the lady offers to be the servant of the man she hoped to marry, but she will not be his mistress. She finally gets back to her original home and is taken...

  12. 7 The Twa Sisters (Child No. 10)
    (pp. 47-54)

    The supernatural elements in this ballad are found in nearly all the English, Scottish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Finnish, Estonian, Lithuanian, Slovak, Polish, German, and Spanish versions. In America the supernatural is found very rarely; in fact, out of scores and scores of versions of “The Twa Sisters” known to Americans by oral tradition, I have encountered only two in which the supernatural plays a part — one from the state of Maine and one from North Carolina.

    None of the 3 versions of “The Twa Sisters” found in this collection has even the slightest reference to the supernatural. The melodic...

  13. 8 The Cruel Brother (Child No. 11)
    (pp. 55-57)

    One of the first things a criminal investigator does in trying to solve a crime is to establish a motive: Why was the crime committed? In the case of “Brother’s Revenge,” which is in reality “The Cruel Brother,” Child No. 11, we have no way of establishing the reason for the crime. A brother stabs his sister on her wedding day as she is leaving on her honeymoon.

    By inference the ballad tells us that the brother was not consulted about this marriage. The mother, the father, and the sister of the bride were asked and their consent obtained. The...

  14. 9 Lord Randal (Child No. 12)
    (pp. 58-64)

    Sir Walter Scott, who has been alternately cursed and blessed by modern folklorists, made an equivocal, almost timid statement (I mean timid, for Sir Walter) concerning the possible origin of the legend behind the great tragic ballad of “Lord Randal.” Scott said: “I think it is not impossible that this ballad may have originally regarded the death of Thomas Randolph, or Randal, Earl of Murray, nephew of Robert Bruce, and the Governor of Scotland, who died at Musselburgh in 1332.”

    An English priest was implicated in the plot — an English priest who prepared what was called a “cankered confection.” This...

  15. 10 Edward (Child No. 13)
    (pp. 65-68)

    This ballad of “Edward” has long been considered (to quote Child) “one of the noblest and most sterling specimens of the popular ballad.” In spite of all this, the ballad is not widespread. In fact, it is more often found in oral tradition in America than in the parent countries of England and Scotland. “Edward” is found in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Germany. In each of these countries, the story is told almost exactly as it is told in the English and Scottish versions. The title of the Finnish ballad, “Brother-Murderer,” is not so far from the title indicated by...

  16. 11 Babylon; or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie (Child No. 14)
    (pp. 69-71)

    Five versions of this ballad appear in the Child collection, and it has been encountered in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. On our continent it is not too widespread, though a few examples have been found in Newfoundland, Maine, Vermont, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and, as in the following example, in Kentucky. The story of this ballad is told more fully and effectively in the tradition of the Scandinavian countries, but even here it is not often encountered.

    The Scandinavian versions are almost all more violent, more bloody, and more tragic than the English-Scottish-American counterparts. Even so,...

  17. 12 Hind Horn (Child No. 17)
    (pp. 72-76)

    The Pale Ring” is really the cheerful ballad of “Hind Horn.” I say cheerful because the ballad has a happy ending. The synthetic, sentimental drivel of modern soap opera cannot even compete with the plot complications of the original legend of “Hind Horn.” In olden times, this legend had a story line developed in three long narrative poems, or romances. The first of these, “King Horn,” is no doubt from the latter part of the 13th century and runs to 1550 short verses. The second, possibly from the 14th century, is called “Horn et Rymenhild” and covers 5250 verses; and...

  18. 13 Sir Lionel (Child No. 18)
    (pp. 77-82)

    The swine ballad of “Sir Lionel” appears in this collection as “Old Bangum,” “Rurey Bain,” and “Bangum and the Bo’.” Killing wild boars was a favorite pastime for the knightly figures of ancient legend. The English and Scottish texts offered by Child are not all complete, but they do tell essentially the same story. In some instances, the rescue of a fair lady provides the motivation for the slaying of the boar — a situation that is missing in the American counterparts.

    Anyone who has seen an enraged wild boar — or, for that matter, an enraged tame boar — will understand the...

  19. 14 The Cruel Mother (Child No. 20)
    (pp. 83-87)

    Of the 13 texts of “The Cruel Mother” offered by Child, less than half are complete. The ballad has been encountered many times in America, and very seldom is the story told fully. Until 1870 it had not been encountered in Denmark. That year, however, a folklore collector, working in Jutland, reported the ballad twice, and the similarity between the versions from Scotland and Jutland is surprising. One of these Danish texts runs to 18 verses and tells the story in its entirety. Although Child refers to the German and Wendish versions as “probable variations” of the English, Scottish, and...

  20. 15 The Maid and the Palmer (Child No. 21)
    (pp. 88-89)

    Although this ballad is found in the Faroe Islands, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Moravia, among the Wends, in France, Germany, and Spain, it has been encountered only once in England, once (as far as I have been able to tell) in a fragment from Scotland and once, again in fragmentary form, in the United States.

    Modern theology is unwilling to admit that Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2) and the woman of Capurnaum (Luke 7:37–50) are one and the same. Neither is it safe to say that the woman of Samaria (John 4:9–29) may be confused with either of...

  21. 16 Judas (Child No. 23)
    (pp. 90-98)

    Ever Since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a few people in every century have believed that Judas Iscariot did not intend to do Christ a great wrong. They base this conclusion on Judas’s reaction to the news that Christ had been convicted and sentenced by Pontius Pilate. We know from Holy Writ that Judas tried to return the thirty pieces of silver, and when this failed, threw the money into the synagogue and destroyed himself by hanging.

    During the second century a sectarian gospel was written in the name of Judas. It represented the work and the belief of a...

  22. 17 The Three Ravens (Child No. 26)
    (pp. 99-105)

    William Chappell, 19th-century editor and writer (who properly emphasized the necessary relation between words and music in old songs and ballads), brought out a work calledPopular Music of the Olden Time,in which he tells us that in his time, the ballad of “The Three Ravens” was still so popular in some parts of England and Scotland, that he had “been favored with a variety of copies of it written down from memory; all differing in some respects, both as to words and tune . . .”

    This ballad is not often encountered in folk tradition in the United...

  23. 18 The Marriage of Sir Gawain (Child No. 31)
    (pp. 106-108)

    Wherever this Arthurian legend is encountered, the cast of characters is almost always the same. First we have a king or prince, then a knightly member of the king’s court (he may be a relative or a friend). These two are then pitted against a bold, robber baron type and his sister, who although young and beautiful, has been stepmother-bewitched into the foulest-appearing female known to man, or at least to legend.

    The robber baron (himself somewhat bewitched) demands the answer to what seems to be the most difficult of questions: “What do women most desire?” Failing to answer, the...

  24. 19 King John and the Bishop (Child No. 45)
    (pp. 109-112)

    This matter of a king, prince, general, or other important official of high rank testing other persons with “hard questions” is as old as man. We discover in the Book of Judges that one Samson, born by divine intercession into a family named Danites, who lived in the community of Zorah, gave his Philistine in-laws such a riddle that they never did answer it in the seven-day period allotted. Only after Samson’s wife wept (again, for seven days) did the biblical strongman relent a bit and give her a clue, which she passed on to her relatives and thus enabled...

  25. 20 The Twa Brothers (Child No. 49)
    (pp. 113-116)

    In discussing the possible origin of the legend behind the ballad of “The Twa Brothers,” William Motherwell and Kirkpatrick Sharpe suggest that it might be related to an event that happened in 1589 near Edinburgh. It seems that a member of the prominent Somerville family was killed when his brother’s firearm was discharged accidentally. Later Sharpe thought that it could be related to the case of a boy of thirteen who killed his brother for pulling his hair. Child brushes off both these suggestions as “unusually gratuitous surmises.”

    The ballad was widely known in England and Scotland, and perhaps even...

  26. 21 Lizie Wan (Child No. 51)
    (pp. 117-120)

    Although the situation involved in this ballad is not unknown to the country people of the Southern Appalachians, the discussion of the subject matter would be avoided. Certainly the women would neither discuss it nor sing it. The only text Cecil Sharp encountered was sung by a man, Ben F. Finlay of Manchester, Ky. My informant was also a man. In all my years of collecting I have never heard a woman even refer to the ballad of “Lizie Wan.” Attention should be called to the subject matter of “Sheath and Knife” (Child No. 16) and “The Bonny Hind” (Child...

  27. 22 Young Beichan (Child No. 53)
    (pp. 121-124)

    Although there is a great similarity between the events in the legend of Gilbert Becket, father of Thomas à Becket, and the ballad of “Young Beichan,” it is safe to assume that the ballad does not derive from the legend. Ballads and legends following the general outlines of this ballad are found quite frequently. Parallel situations are encountered in ballads and legends coming from Spain, Italy, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark.

    The legend of Gilbert Becket comes to us from the manuscript of a poetical narrative which must have been written down about a century after the...

  28. 23 The Cherry-Tree Carol (Child No. 54)
    (pp. 125-128)

    Although Francis J. Child referred to “The Cherry-Tree” as a carol, he grouped it, numbered it, and published it as one ofThe English and Scottish Popular Ballads.The story told in this carol is not part of Holy Writ, but comes from several apocryphal sources, namely: the Pseudo-Matthew Gospel, Chapter 20; Thilo, “Historia de Nativitate Mariae et de Infantia Salvatoris,” inCodex apocryphus Novi Testamenti,page 395; and Tischendorf’sEvangelia apocrypha,page 82.

    According to these sources, we are led to believe that Mary’s and Joseph’s flight into Egypt was made before the birth of Christ. On this journey,...

  29. 24 Dives and Lazarus (Child No. 56)
    (pp. 129-131)

    In the last thirteen verses of the 16th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke we discover the dramatic story of Dives and Lazarus. As early as 1557 this subject matter was woven into a ballad. At least theRegisterof the Company of Stationers in London indicates that a license was issued for such a ballad about July 19, 1557. This early work had been co-authored by a gentleman named Master John Wallye and a female person named Mistress Toye. We do not have the text of this 1557 ballad, but of the versions so far discovered, either...

  30. 25 Sir Patrick Spens (Child No. 58)
    (pp. 132-136)

    My investigation into the background of the ballad of “Sir Patrick Spens” has caused me to look into the writings of 25 world authorities in the field of ballad literature, not to mention the encyclopedia and the dictionary. Most of these authorities agree and disagree with one another in a quiet, gentlemanly manner until they reach the subject of the ballad’s historical background: here they begin to sound acrimonious. As a rule, the American authorities are inclined to believe that a fine ballad is a thing of beauty, so let us be thankful for it, whatever its historical background may...

  31. 26 Lady Maisry (Child No. 65)
    (pp. 137-142)

    Ballads containing the story-line of “Lady Maisry” have been encountered in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, the Baltic States, the Germanic countries, France, Spain, Portugal, and, of course, England, Scotland, and on the North American continent. In almost every case, there is agreement on the important points. The heroine rejects all the local suitors. An employee on her father's estate, a kitchen worker, or a rejected suitor reports that the heroine is about to give birth to an illegitimate child. She loses her life at the stake or in some equally violent manner, her true lover arriving too late to...

  32. 27 Young Hunting (Child No. 68)
    (pp. 143-146)

    The tragic ballad of “Young Hunting” is based on a practical joke, or it may even have been mere teasing. A young man tells his sweetheart that he is giving her up for a much more beautiful girl, who lives nearby. The young lady believes him, and to keep her rival from gaining the man of her choice, she murders him on the spot. Later a bird, in some cases a parrot or a poppinjay, comes and tells her that her lover loved no one but her, that he came to marry her.

    But once the man is killed, the...

  33. 28 Lord Thomas and Fair Annet (Child No. 73)
    (pp. 147-156)

    In “Lord Thomas and Fair Annet” we find a crass, fortune-hunting nobleman who, on his mother’s advice, marries the wrong girl. Fair Annet is beautiful but poor, while the “brown girl” is unusually dark, unlovely, and very rich. Lord Thomas’s mother makes the decision, based no doubt on the dwindling family fortunes. Fair Annet is the one he really loves, and he admits it in the presence of his new wife, the brown girl, saying to Annet in the 12th stanza (Niles 28 A):

    “Dispraise her not, Fair Ellender mine,

    Dispraise her not unto me,

    For I think more of...

  34. 29 Fair Margaret and Sweet William (Child No. 74)
    (pp. 157-162)

    This is the second in the trilogy of tragic ballads to which I referred in connection with “Lord Thomas and Fair Annet.” In “Fair Margaret and Sweet William,” we have what seems to be a lovers’ quarrel, resulting in the death of two of the three people involved. There is no question of house and lands, oxen, horses, and cows; the restoration of a family’s fortune has nothing to do with the case. It is simply a case of the young man deciding to marry the other girl — one might say, the wrong girl.

    The ballad “Fair Margaret and Sweet...

  35. 30 Lord Lovel (Child No. 75)
    (pp. 163-166)

    The ballad of “Lord Lovel,” the third in the tragic trilogy, presents the legend of a weakling member of the nobility who suffered from an Englishman’s usual desire to see far places. Lord Lovel was continually traveling. Indeed in text C of Child’s collection, Lord Lovel becomes Lord Travell. His sweetheart, named Lady Ouncebell, Fair Nancybelle, Lady Ounceville, Lady Oonzabel, or just plain Isabell, really dies of what seems to be boredom. Child refers to her as one who died “not of affection betrayed, but of hope too long deferred.”

    We may safely say that Lord Lovel died a laggard’s...

  36. 31 The Lass of Roch Royal (Child No. 76)
    (pp. 167-172)

    Verses containing the phrases “shoe my foot” or “glove my hand” have been encountered in scores of American ballads and love songs. Their presence alone does not identify the ballad in question as “The Lass of Roch Royal.” In its more or less complete form, this ballad tells the story of a distraught young woman, about to become a mother, who has traveled a considerable distance in a quickly built ship in search of her lover. She does find his home, but is denied admission by the young man’s protective mother.

    The lass turns away, loses her life in the...

  37. 32 The Unquiet Grave (Child No. 78)
    (pp. 173-180)

    The Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the Germans, the Scandinavians, the Scottish Highlanders, the English, and even the realistic Americans had, and in some cases still have, a common notion that obstinate, excessive weeping for a departed loved one is an error and might even be a sin. This concept is the basis for a vast folk tradition, resulting in ballads, tales, and sagas.

    Three American variants of “The Unquiet Grave” will be found in this collection. The ballad concerns a young man who sits on his sweetheart’s grave and laments her death in continuous weeping until the long buried...

  38. 33 The Wife of Usher’s Well (Child No. 79)
    (pp. 181-191)

    The Wife of Usher’s Well, whom we may assume to be a person of wealth and position, sends her three sons off to gain what passes for an education. A plague falls upon the land, and the three sons die. The mother wearies the heavens with her prayers, and at long last the children return as ghosts. But the lads will accept neither food nor drink, and being ghosts they must depart — according to legend — before the cock crows at daybreak. Before leaving, they give their mother a veiled warning against unreasonable grief.

    As late as the 1930’s the ballad...

  39. 34 Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard (Child No. 81)
    (pp. 192-198)

    So far as public performance is concerned, the three most popular ballads I know are, in the order named, “Barb’ry Ellen” (“Bonny Barbara Allan”), “Little Mattie Groves” (“Little Musgrave and Lady-Barnard”), and “The Hangman” (“The Maid Freed from the Gallows”). It is safe to say that I’ve sung “Little Mattie Groves” a thousand times in the past 25 years. These performances were spread all over the U.S. and Canada, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, Finland, and Estonia.

    At one time in my life I knew only 7 verses. As years ground by, I learned additional verses from native singers, usually one...

  40. 35 The Bonny Birdy (Child No. 82)
    (pp. 199-201)

    The Bonny Birdy” is a ballad in which betrayal plays the major part. In fact, it is the only part played at all. In place of the page boy of “Little Mattie Groves,” in “The Bonny Birdy” we have a feathered friend who carries the doleful news.

    The only time I encountered this ballad was in the summer of 1934, at a tiny place called Gum Log Gap about seven miles from Boone, N. C. It came to me from the singing of three members of the same family. I could never establish their exact relationships to one another, but...

  41. 36 Bonny Barbara Allan (Child No. 84)
    (pp. 202-206)

    It would seem that an endless foreword might be written about the most popular ballad in the Anglo-American tradition, but this, I regret, does not follow. As performance material, however, “Barbara Allan” (known to my family as “Barb’ry Ellen”) is positively foolproof. I have sung this ballad for nigh on to 60 years, and I have never found it to fail to hold the listeners. The most severe critics have said that “in the ballad of ‘Barbara Allan’ the singer seemed to hold the audience in the hollow of his hand.” In all the thousands of performances I have done...

  42. 37 Lady Alice (Child No. 85)
    (pp. 207-212)

    This ballad was not overly valued by Child. In fact, he presents only two rather incomplete texts. In the United States, however, it has flourished, and, no doubt by way of the Irish migration to Pennsylvania and West Virginia, some new and intriguing situations have been added to it.

    Although the poetry in the first version given by Child is very fine — and particularly in the 4th verse:

    “And bury me in Saint Mary’s church,

    All for my love so true,

    And make me a garland of marjoram,

    And of lemon-thyme and rue.”

    we must admit that the more sturdy...

  43. 38 Lamkin (Child No. 93)
    (pp. 213-216)

    There was a time when some parents and many nurses used the most terrorizing devices on small children. This is possibly the reason why the ballad of “Lamkin” had such wide distribution. As a bedtime story it was told and retold, and made over to fit local situations, to become, as Child put it, “the terror of countless nurseries.”

    I have seen a version of this ballad, from Caroline County, Va., indicating a strange complication — namely, a trip by the lord of the newly built manor to London, to purchase the nursemaid a ring. If this were a fact, then...

  44. 39 The Maid Freed from the Gallows (Child No. 95)
    (pp. 217-224)

    The Maid Freed from the Gallows” has been discussed by almost everyone seriously concerned with ballad study. These discussions have taken the form of classroom lectures, scholarly papers, and articles set up for publication. In all of these learned items, there is a considerable measure of repetition, because there are only a few things to be said. These few things have been said so eloquently inSouth Carolina Balladsby Reed Smith in his chapter entitled “Five Hundred Years of ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows,’” that I should like to summarize Smith as follows: The ballad was composed before...

  45. 40 The Knight and Shepherd’s Daughter (Child No. 110)
    (pp. 225-227)

    Examples of this interesting ballad have been found in Massachusetts, Maine, Newfoundland, North Carolina, and Kentucky. The plot material is quite simple: boy meets girl, boy rapes girl, girl appeals to the highest authority in the land, boy is given two choices and decides on the lesser of two evils and marries the girl (the other evil being hanging).

    The Kentucky text runs to 9 verses, and as such, is greatly concentrated. The characters in this version are indeed a hireling servant and the shepherd’s daughter, who is just that and no king’s daughter in disguise as she is in...

  46. 41 Johnie Cock (Child No. 114)
    (pp. 228-233)

    So far as I have been able to tell, this fine ballad has been found only a few times on the North American continent. I know of two examples from Virginia — one reported from Highland County, Va., on November 3, 1920, and the one in my collection, taken down in Marion, Smyth County, Va., in August 1933.

    As in the Child texts, the American versions present Johnie Cock in the form of a gay, sportloving young man who understands bows and arrows, hounds and hunting, and, besides all this, has a great appetite for venison. It seems that his hounds...

  47. 42 Robin Hood and the Monk (Child No. 119)
    (pp. 234-238)

    Hit befel on Whitsontide,

    Erly in a May mornyng,

    and, according to Child No. 119, Robin Hood, concluding that he had not “seen his Saviour” for some time, decides to go into Nottingham and hear mass. Twelve archers want to attend him on this perilous journey, but Robin takes only Little John.

    On the way to church Robin and Little John shoot for a wager. An acrimonious argument follows: Robin insults Little John, and proceeds into Nottingham alone. Little John will have no more of him. Once in St. Mary’s Church, Robin Hood is recognized by a monk, who calls...

  48. 43 Robin Hood’s Death (Child No. 120)
    (pp. 239-242)

    From two texts given by Child under No.120 we discover that (1) Robin Hood is ill, (2) he decides that he must be bled, (3) goes to Kirklees Priory to be treated with the bleeding irons, (4) is bled to death by the Prioress, (5) will not permit Little John to burn Kirklees, and (6) is buried with his sword at his head, his arrows at his feet, and his bow at his side.

    The Child texts are 27 stanzas and 19 stanzas long. The American text offered herewith as Niles No. 43 tells the essentials of the story in...

  49. 44 Robin Hood and the Potter (Child No. 121)
    (pp. 243-246)

    On May 20, 1934, I came upon Preston and Mattie Cobb quite by accident. It was near a community called Big Hill in Madison County, Ky. I had been trying to photograph some wildflowers, and the Cobbs, man and wife, went to helping me. They said they were visiting in Berea, just a few miles away, and planned to return to Manchester, a town on Goose Creek in Clay County. Mrs. Cobb called her husband Potsie. She said, “Hit’s a sweet name for Preston.” Mr. Cobb, a onetime blacksmith, smiled. He was the silent type.

    Mattie Cobb said that in...

  50. 45 Robin Hood and Little John (Child No. 125)
    (pp. 247-250)

    A seven-foot giant named John Little encounters Robin Hood on a narrow bridge. Robin is at this time a 20-year-old forester with a company of three-score-and-nine bowmen. However, Robin directs them to stay out of sight, but to come quickly if they hear his horn.

    Robin refuses to give way to the tall stranger. At first, he considers shooting an arrow into him, but then decides that this would be poor sportsmanship since his antagonist is unarmed, save for a staff. Robin then provides himself with an oaken staff, and the fight is on. The rules of the game are...

  51. 46 The Bold Pedlar and Robin Hood (Child No. 132)
    (pp. 251-254)

    Robin Hood and Little John encounter a peddler and bother him with their usual sort of teasing. They ask the peddler what he is carrying in his pack, and he truthfully tells them that he has several green silken suits and some silken bowstring. Thereupon Little John declares that he will have one half of the peddler’s pack. The peddler offers to give up the entire pack if he can be pushed one perch* from where he stands. Little John and the peddler fight, and the peddler forces John to cry hold. Robin Hood engages the peddler with the same...

  52. 47 Robin Hood Rescuing Three Squires (Child No. 140)
    (pp. 255-259)

    In this case, the original story is as follows: Robin Hood is on his way to Nottingham. He encounters an old woman who is weeping because her sons will be executed that day by the sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood borrows the clothing of an old man (a palmer or a beggar) and continues on his way to Nottingham. Once there he offers to be the sheriff's hangman. Having been given the job, he blows his trusty horn. His merry men appear, release the three young men, and hang the sheriff.

    The Reader has already discovered by way of “Oh...

  53. 48 Queen Eleanor’s Confession (Child No. 156)
    (pp. 260-263)

    In the English versions of “Queen Eleanor’s Confession” we find the Queen of England dying. She asks for two priests to receive her last confession. The priests arrive in cowl and hood. They are, however, not actual priests but the King, husband of Queen Eleanor, and a man called the Earl Marshal, whom the King suspects as the Queen’s lover. Moreover, the King has made a solemn promise that no matter what the Queen says, he will not hold it against the Earl Marshal.

    The Queen proceeds to reveal a past life involving the Earl Marshal. She then confesses that...

  54. 49 King Henry Fifth’s Conquest of France (Child No. 164)
    (pp. 264-270)

    From the text of this ballad as given by Child we gain the idea that Henry V was in the habit of collecting a tribute of gold coinage from Charles VI, King of France. At one point, with the tribute long overdue, Henry V sends a messenger to France to remind the French ruler of his delinquent payments. Although Henry V was almost 28 years of age, the French, instead of paying the tribute, go out of their way to belittle the English king by sending him some tennis balls. (All this according to Child ballad No. 164.)

    We are...

  55. 50 The Death of Queen Jane (Child No. 170)
    (pp. 271-275)

    In February 1776 the following text was written down from memory by one Mrs. Bernard, the mother of the Dean of Derry. The Dean of Derry later delivered the writing to Lord Percy, and thereupon the ballad, “The Death of Queen Jane,” became a part of the Percy Papers.*

    Queen Jane was in labour full six weeks and more,

    And the women were weary, and fain would give oer:

    ‘O women, O women, as women ye be,

    Rip open my two sides, and save my baby!’

    ‘O royal Queen Jane, that thing may not be;

    We'll send for King Henry...

  56. 51 Mary Hamilton (Child No. 173)
    (pp. 276-279)

    According to Leslie’sHistory of Scotland(1830), Mary Stuart embarked at Dunbarton for France in 1548, and with her, among a great company of retainers, went “four young virgins,” all by the same name of Mary. The Maries, as they were called, were the daughters of noblemen, about the same age as Mary Stuart, “being of four sundry honorable houses, to wit, Fleming, Livingston, Seaton, and Beaton of Creich.” In the ballad, the names of Fleming and Livingston were dropped, and the names Carmichael and Hamilton were substituted.

    Writing a great many years later, T. F. Henderson said: “If this...

  57. 52 The Gypsy Laddie (Child No. 200)
    (pp. 280-284)

    Wherever this ballad appears, be it in England, Scotland, or America, the general outlines of the story are in agreement. It was published in England, we think, as early as 1720, and the Scottish form is supposed to have appeared in the 4th volume of Ramsay’sTea-Table Miscellanyin 1740. Since then, the ballad has been reprinted many times, either with traditional or arbitrary variations.

    From Volumes III of Robert Pitcairn’sCriminal Trials in Scotlandand IV of theActs of the Parliaments of Scotlandand from other source materials we discover that Johnny Faa was a prominent and frequent...

  58. 53 Geordie (Child No. 209)
    (pp. 285-287)

    In the consideration of this ballad, one is inclined to ask whether the Scottish versions were colored by the English versions, or whether the English versions were colored by the Scottish versions. The many variations were noted by Motherwell, particularly among “reciters” of the ballad.

    Most of the Scottish examples of this ballad are powerful, and conform closely to what a true ballad should be — that is, they tell a proper story. In these examples, we find that a battle has been fought somewhere in the north, an important person named Sir Charles Hay has been killed, and Geordie has...

  59. 54 The Braes o Yarrow (Child No. 214)
    (pp. 288-295)

    The story told in the original examples offered by Child runs along the following lines:

    A brawl, growing out of a drinking bout, leads to combat. Nine men in some cases (in others, the number is six or three, or even more) challenge one man, sometimes identified as a shepherd, who has married a very desirable young woman of wealth and position in a somewhat surreptitious manner. There is usually another man involved in the combat, a brother to the young woman — a brother “who takes no heart for fight.” This brother feels that the marriage will be personally detrimental...

  60. 55 James Harris (The Daemon Lover) (Child No. 243)
    (pp. 296-299)

    After a study of the 65 American texts of this ballad, it seems to me that the lover in question has lost both his name and much of his daemonic quality. In this part of the world, the James Harris of the original ballad is a sailor who manages to persuade a young wife to desert her husband and child and go through an elopement, with the usual sad consequences.

    In the original ballad (taking Child No. 243 A as an example), a young man and a young woman are to be married. The man is James Harris and the...

  61. 56 The Suffolk Miracle (Child No. 272)
    (pp. 300-301)

    Child is surely not impressed with the English version of “The Suffolk Miracle.” He refers to it as being “in a blurred, enfeebled, and disfigured shape” compared to the impressive form in which it existed on the European continent. From the forematter on this ballad, one is almost inclined to conclude that Child was not impressed with ghost stories of any kind. Having seen many a ghost, and told many a ghost story (both in public and in private), and having made a special study of what we in Kentucky call “the restless ghost” or “the traveling ghost” or “the...

  62. 57 Our Goodman (Child No. 274)
    (pp. 302-306)

    The cuckoo is a pretty bird,

    She sings as she flies.

    She brings us glad tidings,

    And she never tells lies.

    And she apparently has the disturbing habit of laying her eggs in another bird’s nest, thereby relieving herself of the problem of feeding fledglings. The legend of this tiresome habit on the part of the cuckoo undoubtedly provided us with the word “cuckold.” There is this difference, however, in the application of the term to human beings: the odious title is bestowed not on the adulterer but on the deceived husband. (All this seemingly irrelevant information is given here...

  63. 58 Get Up and Bar the Door (Child No. 275)
    (pp. 307-309)

    Get Up and Bar the Door,” although not widely known in the United States, is known to the French, the Germans, Italians, Arabs, and Turks. In some cases it appears as a ballad; in others, it is a fable. The basic idea is almost invariably the same.

    In the three examples given by Child, a goodwife is cooking puddings. The man of the house, or the goodman, demands that she give up her cooking and bar the door against the wind and cold. This she will not do. Thereupon they retire, agreeing that whoever speaks first will get up and...

  64. 59 The Wife Wrapt in Wether’s Skin (Child No. 277)
    (pp. 310-313)

    According to the Scottish versions of this ballad a young man by name of Robin has married a woman considerably above him in station. She, thinking herself too great a lady, will not be debased with menial housework. Robin has a solution, however. He kills a castrated lamb (a wether), wraps the unwilling wife in the wether’s skin, and beats the wether’s skin soundly. In this way he can say that he did not beat his wife but, rather, the wether’s skin.

    The reformation of the unwilling wife is complete. The beating over, we hear the young woman cry

    “It’s...

  65. 60 The Farmer’s Curst Wife (Child No. 278)
    (pp. 314-320)

    The legend of a violent, repulsive old hag who can outdevil the devil himself is widely known, and it is one that never fails to be funny. The story is part of the folklore of the Orient, and in India it turns up in thePanchatantra.* The Setu tribe in Estonia know it well; I have heard it told by peasants and scholars in Finland and Sweden. I remember hearing it sung by German immigrants in Louisville, Ky., and once, in the same city, a chorus of visiting Bohemian singers sang a sweetened-up version of it with great verve. This...

  66. 61 The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity) (Child No. 286)
    (pp. 321-324)

    The story of the ballad of “The Sweet Trinity (The Golden Vanity),” Child No. 286 A, would lead us to believe that Sir Walter Raleigh caused a ship namedThe Sweet Trinityto be built in the Netherlands and that this fine ship was captured by a galley sailing in the vicinity of the Low Country. The captain calls for a seaman to take the galley and redeem theSweet Trinity.A “little ship-boy” speaks up and is offered gold and fee and the captain’s eldest daughter as payment for the sinking of the galley.

    The little boy employs a...

  67. 62 The Mermaid (Child No. 289)
    (pp. 325-330)

    Child tells us that just before the turn of the 20th century the ballad of “The Mermaid” was still in circulation as a broadside. I can remember “The Mermaid” at that time as a song sung in the grade schools of Louisville and Jefferson County, Ky.

    Accounts of the appearance or capture of mermaids are continually turning up in communities bordering on the sea. Though I have searched diligently, I have not been able to discover any legendary lore concerning fresh-water mermaids. Nor have I ever encountered anyone who actually saw a mermaid: she was always seen by a friend....

  68. 63 John of Hazelgreen (Child No. 293)
    (pp. 331-335)

    In the original Scottish and English texts of this ballad we find that a gentleman walking along the highroad encounters an exceptionally well-favored young female who is weeping for the love of a person by name of John of Hazelgreen.

    And nothing will do but John of Hazelgreen — not even fine newly purchased raiment, a belt containing silver coinage of the realm, the offer of the gentleman’s eldest son as an emergency spouse, and, of course, comforting words. Nothing will do but John of Hazelgreen, and there is much weeping and hand-wringing until John himself steps out, helps the lovely...

  69. 64 The Brown Girl (Child No. 295)
    (pp. 336-340)

    In the English originals offered by Child as No. 295 A and B, we find a young man apparently very much enamored of a girl whose skin is very brown in color. In the first of these two variants, in the first verse, the girl describes herself as brown of color, with eyes black as a sloe, and she as brisk as a nightingale and wild as any doe.

    In spite of these secondary charms, the color of the girl’s skin is too great a handicap. The young man writes the fateful letter of rejection, and thinks his brown sweetheart...

  70. 65 Trooper and Maid (Child No. 299)
    (pp. 341-346)

    In Child No. 299, we find that a soldier is received affectionately by his lady. She, knowing the demands of soldiering, realizes that the soldier and his horse are hungry. Both are fed bountifully. Presently we discover that the soldier and the lady have decided to spend the night together. In some cases the lady removes only her petticoat; in others, she casts off her gown of Holland-made calamanco cloth. The soldier is a little more reticent; he removes his silken beaver, his big watch-coat, a pair of pistols, and then “he lay down beside her.”

    It is easy to...

  71. Postscript
    (pp. 347-348)

    So, I have come to the end of my ballad book, the end of more than 100 examples, some long, some short, some boastful, some violently tragic, and a few humorous. Once, while a student of Greek drama at the Université de Lyon in France, I was told by one of my masters that “starkest tragedy and the most bombastic, slapstick comedy are the most likely to remain in the current of human consciousness. They are quite sure to be republished as books, attended as plays, and revered as music.”

    Perhaps this explains why 39 surviving ballads in my collection...

  72. Key to the Guitar Chords Used in This Book
    (pp. 350-351)

    This information is intended only for beginners of guitar playing. Accomplished players will be able to read the guitar chords indicated on the music. The others should study each position as indicated on the music and interpreted on this page, and then try for simple inversions of the same chords, in the hope that with a bit of experience easier positions may be discovered.

    No two hands are alike, and no two ears are entirely satisfied with exactly the same chordings. With this in mind, the following key is offered. It is intended to represent the standard chord combinations; but...

  73. Bibliography
    (pp. 352-356)
  74. Index of Titles
    (pp. 357-360)
  75. Index of First Lines
    (pp. 361-362)
  76. Index of Explanatory Material
    (pp. 363-372)