Are you going to Scarborough Fair,
Paul Simon liked Carthy's version and recorded it himself in 1966 with his partner Art Garfunkel for their third LP, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme. Their recording was also used in the movie The Graduate and included on the Soundtrack-LP. Since then this song was recorded countless times by all kinds of artists. One may say that it has never been more popular than today. Carthy's version was also important for another reason. Already in the winter 1962/63 Bob Dylan heard him play this song in London Folk clubs and it became a kind of inspiration for his own "Girl From The North Country" (see also my article about this song: "...She Once Was A True Love Of Mine" - Some Notes About Bob Dylan's "Girl From The North Country").
Martin Carthy himself had learned the song most likely from The Singing Island (1960, p. 26), an influential songbook compiled by Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. He only edited the tune and the text a little bit and dropped three of the eight verses. MacColl's recording of his version appeared in 1957 on the LP Matching Songs For The British Isles And America (Riverside RLP 12-637, also available at YouTube). According to the notes in The Singing Island he had collected this particular variant in 1947 from "Mark Anderson, retired lead.miner of Middleton-in-Teasdale, Yorkshire" (p. 109). Here are the original text and tune as sung by Ewan MacColl.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
The following text is an attempt at unraveling the history of this song family. Carthy's and MacColl's versions will serve as a kind of focal point. But the story starts in the second half of the 17th century, presumably in Scotland.
The earliest documented British variant is a long ballad of 20 verses on a black letter broadside. We don't know the exact date of publication but Pinkerton in his Ancient Scottish Poems (Vol. 2, 1786, p. 496) claimed that it was "printed [...] about 1670" and as far as I can see nobody has yet come up with a better idea :
Here a young girl hears an "Elphin Knight" blowing his "Horn both lowd and shril". She wants to marry him and one night he in fact comes "to her bed". But he tells her that he would only marry her if she does a "Courtesie" to him: "shape a sark [...] Without any cut or heme [...] needle & Sheerlesse". According to Child (Vol. 5, p. 284) a "man's asking a maid to sew him a shirt is equivalent to asking for her love, and her consent to sew the shirt to an acceptance of her suitor". But for some reason she now seems to think that it wasn't such a good idea to fall in love with this "Elphin Knight" and in turn she responds by asking him to do her some favors which are equally unsolvable. In the end he confesses that he already had a wife and "seven bairns" and vanishes while the girl is glad that she got rid of him:
Songs and stories about this kind of wit contest were well known all over Europe. Child in his text about the "Elfin Knight" refers to numerous example. But it is not clear if there was a direct relationship to the British ballad or if this type of song was imported from the continent or from Scandinavia.
The structure of this ballad is the same as the modern "Scarborough Fair". There are internal refrains in the second and fourth line although they are very different: no herbs and no "true love of mine". Also variant forms of verses 7, 10, 11 and 15 have survived until today. Songs of this kind were not uncommon at that time. One example is a ballad published on a broadside around 1692 that is closely related to this song family: "A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded: Or: The Maids Answer To The Knight's Three Questions" (Pepys 3.19r, available at EBBA, see also Child I, No. 1, pp. 1-6 and Bronson I, No. 1, pp. 3-8):
There was a Lady of the North-Country
This structure is also known from the songs belonging to the group now commonly known as "The Two Sisters". The earliest available text - by James Smith - was published in 1656 in Musarum Deliciae, or, The Muses Recreation (pp. 169, here from a later reprint; see also Child I, No. 10, pp. 118-141, Bronson I, No. 10, pp. 143-184):
There were two sisters they went playing,
No reprints or other published variants of "Elfin Knight" from that time are known but it seems that the song was quite popular and well known in England. Around the turn of the century songwriter Thomas d'Urfey (1653-1723) borrowed some lines and possibly also the tune for his own "Jockey's Lamentation". This song was first published in 1706 in the fourth volume of Wit And Mirth: Pills To Purge Melancholy (pp. 99-101, here from Songs Compleat V, 1719, pp. 316-9).
Jockey met with Jenny fair
The text has of course nothing to do with the original ballad. This is simply a complaint of a guy who had some problems with his girl. But the refrain is clearly derived from the older song. There is also good reason to believe that this was in fact the "pleasant new tune" originally used - and perhaps even written - for the broadside text. A line in the second verse - "But all the Tunes that he could play/Was, o’er the Hills, and far away" - seems to suggest that it was indeed a well known older melody. Not at least the jump from the "a" a sixth higher to the "f" in measure 6 would perfectly fit the phrase "lowd and shril":
This practice of recycling tunes and some lines - especially refrains - from older ballads was not uncommon at that time (see for example my history of "I Once Loved A Lass"). Already at that time songwriters understood perfectly well that a new popular song must also sound familiar and these kind of old-fashioned Scottish ballads from the previous century could easily be modernized with new lyrics according to the current urban taste. The tune was also used on stage in George Farquhar's popular play The Recruiting Officer (1706, see 4th ed., pp. 18-9). The text can be found in the same volume of Wit and Mirth: "The Recruiting Officer: Or, The Merry Volunteers: Being an Excellent New Copy of Verses upon raising Recruits" (IV, pp .102-4, also Songs Compleat V, 1719, pp. 319-321):
Hark! now the drums beat up again,
This tune - usually with the title "Over The Hills And Far Away" - remained popular throughout the 18th century (see Simpson, pp. 561-3). Not only was it borrowed for some more new songs. It could also be found for example in the second volume of the Dancing Master (1714, 1728, p. 55, available at the Internet Archive) and was used in ten ballad operas, at first in John Gay's The Beggar's Opera as Air 16 in Scene XIII (1728, p. 17 & Airs, p. 5). It was also later included for example in James Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion (Vol.7, ca.1755, p. 23, here in a later edition), Robert Bremner's Instructions for the Guittar (1758, see Scotmus.com [site now unavailable]), Bremner's new edition of William McGibbon's Collection of Scots Tunes (ca. 1760s, Vol.4, p. 97, available at IMSLP) and James Aird's Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs (Vol.2, 1782, No.29, p. 11).
"Jockey's Lamentation" appeared again in 1787 in the first Volume of the Scots Musical Museum as "O'er The Hills And Far Away" (No .62, p. 62). In 1794 new words were written by Robert Burns ("How Can My Poor Heart Be Glad", see Dick, No. 257, pp. 234 & 451-2) and in 1805 George Thomson published this song in an arrangement by Joseph Haydn in the fourth volume of his Select Collection Of Original Scottish Airs (here in a later edition: Thomson's Collection of The Songs Of Burns [...], Vol. 4, 1825, No. 6).
While the tune had a great career nothing more was heard of the "Elphin Knight" and the smart girl for a long time. But more than a century after the broadside with the earliest text a song with the title "Humours of Love" was published (Madden Ballads 2, Frame No. 1340). Unfortunately this sheet has no imprint but in the catalogue of the library of the University of Cambridge it is tentatively dated as from "1780?":
If you will bring me one Cambrick Shirt,
From the title one may assume that this was regarded as a humorous song. It is clearly related to the old broadside. But here the background story is missing. It is only a dialogue between two persons who set each other these unsolvable tasks. But on the other hand the text is very close to the modern "Scarborough Fair", it includes all its major elements. The refrain in the second line consists of a list of herbs. Here its "sweet savoury" instead of parsley and sage, but the other two - rosemary and thyme - are identical. Also the refrain in fourth line is more or less the same. Seven of the nine verses would appear with only minor variations in the version recorded by Ewan MacColl in 1957.
Most interesting is the term "cambric shirt". Cambric linen - also called "batiste" - was "one of the finest and most dense kinds of cloth" (see Wikipedia). It may have been invented in the town of Cambrai - a part of France since 1677 - some centuries earlier. In England "cambric" or "cambrick" were more or less unknown until the early 18th century, at least judging from the fact that they only very rarely appeared in the newspapers of that time (according to my research in the 17th & 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers). Import to Britain was prohibited during the 18th century not only to save the trade balance - it was very expensive - but also to protect their own attempts to produce this kind of cloth from Indian cotton, the so-called Scotch cambrics. Only during the second half of the century, especially since the 1770s, these terms were becoming more and more common. There is good reason to assume that the "cambric shirt" was only introduced into the song at around this time and refers not to the French but to the Scotch product .
Another text from the 1780s was published in Gammer Gurton's Garland; Or, The Nursery Parnassus. A Choice Collection of Pretty Songs and Verses. For the Amusement of all little good Children, Who can neither read or run. This book of nursery songs and rhymes was compiled by the legendary antiquary Joseph Ritson (1752-1803; see Bronson 1938) first came out 1783 or 1784 and then afterwards it was reprinted a couple of times. Unfortunately we don't know where Mr. Ritson found this song. It could have been in London where he was living. But he also used to collect in Northumberland. This variant is even more closer to the modern "Scarborough Fair" (here from the 1866 reprint of the edition from 1810, pp. 4-5) :
Can you make me a cambrick shirt,
The relationship to "Humours of Love" is not clear. The verse with the "mouse's hole" is missing and the herbs in the second line are now "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme". If the publication date of the song-sheet is correct it could be a slightly abbreviated and edited variant of that text. Of course it is also possible that both versions are descendants of an older, undocumented precursor. But it is also important to note that this particular variant must have been immensely influential for the further development of the song. Behind most popular "Folk-songs" is a printed text and in this case one may assume that countless children during the next 100 years have heard these verses from their teachers or parents or even have read it themselves.
Interestingly we also have a third variant of this song from this time. It was published in July 1807 in the Scots Magazine (Vol. 69, pp. 527-8, available at Hathi Trust Digital Library):
This version was sent in by someone who called himself Ignotus. It was part of an interesting text about old Scottish ballads and served as an example for songs "a little inclined to the humorous and witty". According to the writer it "may justly lay claim to great antiquity" because he "had it from a person who heard it repeated to him when a youth by his grandfather; who also was acquainted with it in his early years". Mr. Ignotus' variant is not complete. The third task for the woman - to dry the "sark" - is missing. But it may represent the original Scottish precursor of both "The Humours of Love" and the text in Gammer Gurton's Garland. In this case it would have been the first use of the term "cambric" in a song from this family. In fact it is not unreasonable to assume that the "cambric shirt" was first introduced into this ballad in Scotland. As already mentioned this kind of linen was usually called "Scotch cambrics" because it was produced there.
It is also interesting to note that this version has an introductory verse. But there is no messenger as in the modern "Scarborough fair". Instead it describes a situation where the man and woman meet on a hill. This may be a relic of the old ballad. One may remember the "Elphin Knight" used to sit "on yon hill". But here the background story is condensed down to one verse. It is not a meeting between a supernatural being and a girl. Here the two protagonists are simply a male and a female without any further explanation.
At this point we have three versions including the "cambric shirt" but with three different sets of herbs. But where is the messenger who is sent to the girl to give her the tasks? What is the relationship of these three texts to the black-letter broadside about the "Elphin Knight"? No more contemporary sources are available. But soon a new wave of Scottish ballad collectors set out to save these old songs from oblivion. Most important in this respect were George Ritchie Kinloch, William Motherwell and Peter Buchan who all published important and influential collections in 1827/8. Professor Child had access to Kinloch's and Motherwell's manuscripts and some of the variants he found there and then included in his English And Scottish Popular Ballads can help to close some gaps.
For example it is not unreasonable to assume that the messenger had already played a role in earlier versions of this song. In the 1820s Kinloch wrote down a variant called "Lord John" from a Scottish singer named Mary Barr (Child I, 2F, pp. 17-8):
Here a messenger is shuttling between the two protagonists and in fact it's quite a long trip from Berwick to Lyne. One may assume that these are the Scottish towns. First the man sends him to the "handsome young dame", in this case apparently a former lover. The term "dame" as well as the title of the song - "Lord John" - suggest that the story is set in the higher echelons of society. Then she sends him back with her requests. How the story ends is not known. Why the messenger was introduced is not clear. He makes it all a little more complicated. The refrain in the second line looks a little bit strange: "Sober and grave grows merry in time" sounds like a terribly corrupted form of the list of herbs from "Cambric Shirt".
It is not known how old this variant was when Kinloch wrote it down. But Mrs. Barr's text seems to be derived from a version of the song that predates "Humours of Love" as well as the variants from Gammer Gurton's Garland and in the Scots Magazine. It may in fact represent an earlier version because there is no "cambric shirt" in this song, instead it is a "holland sark". According to Kinloch she had told him that "she never committed anything to memory that she found in print; all the ballads and songs she can repeat were orally communicated to her, upwards of fifty years ago, since which time she has not attempted to burthen her memory with learning any others" (quoted in Buchan 1972, p. 67).
Interestingly we also have two American texts from around the same time that are closely related to Mary Barr's variant. One - "as sung to him by his father in 1828, at Hadley, Mass." - was sent to Child by the Rev. F. D. Huntington, Bishop of Western New York. Mr. Huntington, Sr. had apparently learned this song "from a rough, roystering 'character' in the town" (Child I, 2J, p. 19):
Now you are a-going to Cape Ann,
This is only the second half of the song: the girl sends the messenger back to the man. Cape Ann is a town in Massachusetts. There are two other innovations not in earlier British versions: the rhyme goose quill/egg-shell in the penultimate verse and the "fool" in the last verse - obviously the American girls were not as polite as her Scottish and English sisters. The refrain looks absurd, but in fact it is not. One should remember that in the "Elphin Knight" it was "Ba, ba, ba, lilli, ba". These kind of nonsense lines are not untypical for this song family. The only difference is that also the "true love of mine" in the fourth line is replaced by what looks like a very early example of scat vocals.
Even more interesting is an American songsheet first printed ca. 1830:
This is a surprisingly complete variant and the hand of an editor is clearly visible. But it also obvious that this text must have been derived from the same precursor as Mary Barr's ballad. Here the refrain is "Every rose grows merry and fine". This makes a little more sense than Mrs. Barr's "Sober and grave grows merry in time" and it may be the original line. The American texts are localized in Massachusetts. Lynn of course sounds similar to the Scottish Lyne:
These three variants from the 1820s are of great help in reconstructing an earlier stage of the song's development. But some of the texts collected by Motherwell, Kinloch and Buchan during the same decade may also give some more hints about the early history of this song family. For example we can see that the old black-letter broadside must have been available in Scotland because Motherwell has collected a fragment of five verses that is clearly derived from that text (Child I, 2E, p. 17):
The Elfin Knight sits on yon hill,
Also notable is another text from Motherwell's manuscripts. According to Child (I, 2I, pp. 18-9) it was from "the recitation of John McWhinnie, collier, Newton Green, Ayr" . The refrain is a little bit different from the broadside but in no way more meaningful: "He ba and balou ba". More important is the background story. Here the protagonists are a lady "on yonder hill" who had "musick at her will" and an "auld, auld man/With his blue bonnet in his han", the latter maybe the devil:
In fact this is a composite version. Only stanzas 3 - 15 were from Mr. McWhinnie. Thomas Macqueen wrote them down in 1827 and this text is now available in Emily Lyle's edition of the Andrew Crawfurd's collection of ballads. Both Crawfurd and Macqueen collected songs for William Motherwell (see Lyle 1995, pp. xxii-xxiii; No.84, pp. 6-7; Lyle 2007). Macqueen found the first two verses two years later, his source was Mary O'Meally from Kilbirnie (Lyle 1995, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii). Motherwell then combined these two parts in his manuscript. If they really belonged together is not clear.
Peter Buchan also published a version in his Ancient Ballads and Songs of The North Of Scotland (Vol.2, 1826, pp. 296-8, also Child I, 2D, p. 17). I must admit that I am very skeptical about this text. It doesn't sound right and it looks as if it was collated from different variants. The first verses with the "Elfin knight" is surely borrowed from the old broadside. But at least there is another new refrain line that seems to be authentic: "Blaw, blaw, blaw winds, blaw". It will crop up again much later in American variants from oral tradition.
But most interesting is a version collected by George Ritchie Kinloch from the "recitation of M. Kinnear, a native of Mearnsshire, 23 Aug., 1826". The text published in 1827 in his Ancient Scottish Ballads (pp. 145-152, also Child I, 2C, p. 16) is misleading because it was doctored a little bit. Child saw the the original text in Kinloch's manuscripts and noted that four verses - 3, 10, 14, 17 - "are evidently supplied from some form" of the old broadside (Child I, p. 484). Especially important is the fact that verse 3 with the "elfin knicht" was amongst the unnecessary additions. The male protagonist was simply a "knicht" who also happened to blow his "horn loud and shill [sic!]" while standing "at the tap o yon hill". But there is no evidence that he had any kind of supernatural abilities. Here is - reconstructed with the help of Professor Child's notes - the text with the original 14 verses as performed by Kinloch's informant :
The refrain for the second line is "Oure the hills and far awa" instead of the nonsense syllables known from the broadside text. This looks more appropriate and would also explain much better why the tune used by d'Urfey was called by that name. The tasks are more or less complete. Here the girl has to sew the shirt "needle-, threedless" and then wash and dry it. The latter two were missing on the broadside. There is good reason to assume that this variant is much closer to a hypothetical original text of this song, the one that possibly had served as the starting-point for the editor of the broadside.
Now it may be the time for a first attempt to reconstruct this song family's history. Unfortunately until now we only have one half of the songs. Not a single tune is known, with the exception of "Over The Hills And Far Away" that may have been connected with this group of ballads. The available texts represent two distinctively different types of sources. First there are the commercial products, the broadsides. There were only two of them: the black-letter broadside from the second half of the 17th century and "Humours of Love" that was published more than a century later. Their publication suggests that the song was popular at that particular time and they may also reflect what was sung by the people. But one may assume that the editors and publishers also tried to "improve" the text and brought in some variations. These versions in turn had a certain influence on oral tradition.
Then we have the works of the collectors and antiquaries who tried to save the "old ballads" from oblivion. They all had their own agenda and were not interested in what was popular but only in particular genres. Unfortunately they only rarely collected the tunes and were content with the words. Their informants were usually old people from rural areas and what they remembered were often only fragments. But this approach lead to some helpful results. What the ballad-hunters heard and then wrote down often reflected an earlier stage of the song's development. But on the other hand they were also often eager to "improve" their texts for publication and regularly doctored their ballads. In fact their works represent a different body of tradition. What at first looks like a "folk ballad" is in fact often a "folklorists' ballad".
It is not clear if the books of the collectors had any effect on oral tradition. They were of course aimed at a different target group than the broadsides and may have usually not reached those who later served as informants for the next generation of song collectors. The only exception was Ritson's Gammer Gurton's Garland. This book became quite popular and was reprinted regularly. I tend to think that teachers and other intermediaries carried at least some of these nursery songs and rhymes back to the people.
At this point we know that several types of this song existed side by side. They represent different stages of its development. But what we have are only snapshots but in no way a representative cross-section. Nonetheless the available texts allow at least some conclusions. Of course much of it is guessing work, just like a puzzle where 95% of the parts are missing.
First there must have been some kind of early version - let's call it type I - that circulated orally before the black-letter broadside was published in the 1670s. The incomplete variant collected by Kinloch in the 1820s (Child 2C) should be regarded as a relic of this hypothetical original text. The refrain in the fourth line surely was something like "the wind has blown my plaid away" while the one for the second line may have been "over the hills and far away". Two more alternate phrases for the second line were also circulating. First a nonsense refrain like "Ba ba lilly ba" or "He ba and balou ba" or something similar. Of course that one was not written in stone and I presume there were many variations. On the other hand there was also "blaw, blaw, blaw winds, blaw" á la Buchan's text (Child 2B). Which of them was the original refrain line is not clear.
The original text was of course made up of the classic dialogue between the two protagonists. First the girl is asked to sew the "shirt" or "sark" and then to wash and dry it. She responds with a set of tasks for the man and at the end she tells him that he will get his "sark" when he his "wark is weill deen". The background story is delineated in the first few verses. It seems that the man originally was a knight, about the girl we at least learn that she has a sister who "was married yesterday". Other introductory verses may have also existed, like those where the male protagonist is an "auld, auld man", presumably the devil. (Child 2I).
The text on the broadside was most likely derived from this hypothetical original version. The editor dropped some verses, especially two of the tasks for the girl. The last two stanzas don't make much sense (see Child I, p. 13) and were possibly inserted by this editor. But he also turned the knight into a supernatural being. Child (I, p.13) has noted that "the elf is an intruder" who doesn't belong to this story. Why he then called this song family "Elfin Knight" is a little difficult to understand. I assume it was because the broadside was the earliest available text. Nonetheless this is somehow misleading.
As already noted this ballad must have been quite popular around the turn of the century. Both the "original" and the broadside text were most likely written in Scotland but they migrated southwards and were surely also known in London. There either the original version or the broadside became the inspiration and source for a modern popular song, d'Urfey's "Jockey's Lamentation".
It seems that some time during 18th century a new version of the old ballad came into being. It had a new refrain in the fourth line: "the wind has blown my plaid away" was replaced by "Then he/she will be a true love of mine" or something similar. Two subtypes are clearly identifiable. The first - I'll call it IIa - had as the refrain in the second line a phrase like "Every rose grows merry in time" or variations thereof. The "cambric shirt" was not yet part of the song. But most important was a new background narrative: in the first verse an unidentified male protagonist sends a messenger to a girl who relayed the tasks to her. She in turn sends him back to tell the man what he had to do before he can get his shirt. In fact the dialogue has remained stable.
This subtype is represented by Mary Barr's variant (Child 2F) and the two American texts - Child 2J and the songsheet from Boston -, all from the late 1820s. Of course it not clear if Berwick and Lyne in Scotland were the town names used in the hypothetical original version of this type. "Lyne" isn't particularly successful as a rhyme word for "dame" in the third line. At least Lyne must have been part of the variant that had migrated to North America where then it was changed to Lynn, a town in Massachusetts. But the editor of the songsheet also had some problems with the rhymes: "Lynn" doesn't fit to "woman". These kind of rhyming problems strongly suggest that originally the first verse must have looked a little bit different.
It is also not clear what kind of shirt the girl had to sew. In Mary Barr's text it is a "holland sark" and in the Boston songsheet it remains unspecified. The American text also has a new second verse that is not known from older versions. Here the girl's first task is to weave "a yard of cloth". But it seems that this stanza was also introduced to the song in Britain. There is one variant collected by H. E. D. Hammond in 1907 in Dorset where the man asks her to to buy him "a yard of broadcloth" and then make him "a shirt out of that" (see HAM/4/31/16, p. 4 & 5, available at The Full English Digital Archive).
Interestingly the fragment from Bishop Huntington's father (Child 2J) also shows that at least in the USA the new refrains were sometimes dropped in favor of nonsense phrases. They must have been some kind of relic from the earlier type of the song. In fact it is not that far from "He ba and balou ba" to "Ummatiddle, ummatiddle, ummatallyho" and there is also not much difference in "meaning".
Of course we don't know who has created the original version of this subtype. It was surely very influential and successful. Otherwise it wouldn't have spread so far. One would expect a printed text as the starting point of this line of tradition. But by all accounts there was none and the song was at first disseminated only orally. It was printed for the very first time in 1830, most likely a couple of decades after its introduction, but only in the USA and not in Britain.
The second clearly identifiable subtype - it should be called IIb - also spread only by oral transmission and - like the first - most likely was created in Scotland. This type is represented by the variant published in the Scots Magazine in 1807. As mentioned above Mr. Ignotus claimed in his article that "he had it from a person who heard it repeated to him when a youth by his grandfather" who also apparently had learned it in his youth. Of course the text may not be exactly like the one known by said grandfather and something could have been lost or added over the intervening years. But there is good reason to assume that the distinctive elements of this subtype have remained intact.
The first verse offers a new background story. There is no messenger sent out to the girl. Instead this time the male protagonist goes "up to yonder hill". This may be influenced by the early versions of this song where the knight was "sitting on a hill". But this time he meets "his mistress" there and she even has a name: Nell. In this variant we also find the "cambric shirt" and a list of herbs as the refrain in the second line. Here we get "Saffron, sage, rue, myrrh and thyme". But it seems that they were a late addition. At least there are also other variants of this group where the refrain is more like the one we know from subtype IIa. In a version collected by Motherwell in the 1820s it is more of a mixture between the two phrases: "Every rose grows merry wi' thyme". This looks like a good advice for gardeners. Interestingly this variant also includes Nell although the introductory verse is a little bit different (Child I, 2H, p. 18):
'Come pretty Nelly, and sit thee down by me,
Another closely related Scottish variant was published by the Rev. William Findlay in 1869 in Notes & Queries (4th Ser., Vol. 3, p. 605). He had collected it during the 1860s. His informant was one "Jenny Meldrum, Framedrum, Forfarshire". Child included it as variant 2M in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Child I, 2M, pp. 484-5; V, p. 206). This text is very similar to the version from the Scots Magazine although it was written down nearly 60 years later. The girl's name is still Nell. In fact she is mentioned by name in the three earliest available variants of this subtype. This strongly suggest that she was there from the start. Not at least hill/Nell is a reasonably usable rhyme. Here Miss Nell gets four tasks instead of three: she also has to bleach the "cambric sark". The refrain is closer to the one used for the other subtype but we have to do without the herbs: "Every rose springs merry i' t' time":
As I went up to the top o yon hill,
Besides these two subtypes outlined here we also have the two printed variants from the 1780s - the broadside with "The Humours of Love" and the text from Gammer Gurton's Garland - that only consist of the dialogue between the two protagonists. There is no introductory verse to create a narrative framework. On first sight it looks as if they could have been derived from earlier versions of the subtype IIb. But this would imply that the songs of this family evolved in the course of a century in a process of stepwise reduction or simplification from grand ballad to nursery rhyme: first a long ballad of 19 or 20 verses, then shorter versions where the background story is reduced to one verse and at last the decapitated variants where only the dialogue is left. But that seems to me too simple an explanation and maybe also misleading.
The dialogue between the two protagonists is the song's core and it has always remained surprisingly stable except that at some point a new set of internal refrains was introduced. This dialogue could easily exist in its own, without any introductory verses. Otherwise it wouldn't have been printed that way on a broadside nor included in Gammer Gurton's Garland. Much later, in 1890, English collector Sabine Baring-Gould was informed by a correspondent from Cornwall that this song used to be "enacted in farm houses. A male going outside and entering the room, and a female seated is addressed by him". The man sings the first half and then she replies with the set of requests he has to fulfill before he gets his cambric shirt (see Baring-Gould, Fair Copy CXXVIII, SBG/3/1/629, available at The Full English; see also Child IV, pp. 439-440). In fact this is the only reliable and reasonable contextual information we have about this song.
A game like this may have been used to affirm gender roles in a rural society: the woman has to take care of the clothes while the man has to work outside and plough the field. But on the other hand these kind of insolvable tasks could have also been a way of making fun of the excessive demands some adolescents might have of their future spouses. Not at least this song may have helped the girls to show some self-consciousness: before the man has the right to ask too much of her he better try to accomplish something special himself. There is no reason to exclude the possibility that this dialogue was used in a similar way much earlier. The anonymous ballad writers - whoever that was - could have then utilized it as a core for a longer narrative song by outlining a background story with the help of new introductory verses: the knight on the hill blowing his horn and then visiting the girl who had fallen in love with him; the messenger shuttling between the protagonists, presumably two former lovers; the man going up to "yonder hill" to meet his mistress. Other plots may have existed, too.
In fact these background stories all sound a little forced to me, as if they were grafted onto the dialogue to explain why the song's protagonist have to set each other these kind of insolvable tasks. They are never really convincing and I wouldn't regard them as masterpieces of song-writing. If in turn the dialogue is a relic of another earlier undocumented ballad is another question that is impossible to answer.
For the next 50 years not much was heard of the songs from this family. 1841 saw the publication of the first edition of James Orchard Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes of England, Collected Principally from Oral Tradition in a small print run for the Percy Society of which Mr. Halliwell - later a noted Shakespeare scholar - was a founder member (available at Google Books; for more about Halliwell see Gregory 2006, pp. 113-122). A second, expanded edition followed in 1843 and in the preface he noted that it had been his intention "to form as genuine a collection of the old vernacular rhymes of the English nursery as he possibly could, without admitting any very modern compositions, at least none belonging to the present century" (p. vii). In fact this was an impressive work that remained the standard collection for this particular genre for a long time.
"Cambric Shirt" was among the pieces that were added to the second edition (No. CCCLIV, pp. 191-3). The text used here was not from "oral tradition" as the subtitle may suggest but taken straight out of Gammer Gurton's Garland. Halliwell made this variant even more popular and more accessible. A year later another collection, Nursery Rhymes, Tales and Jingles published by James Burns in London, was criticized by a reviewer for leaving it out (see Royal Cornwall Gazette, March 7, 1845, p. 4, at BNA). But the text can be found for example in Felix Summerly's Traditional Nursery Songs of England (2nd ed, London 1846, pp. 8-9).
Another old acquaintance also found a new home in Halliwell's huge tome (No. CXIII, p. 79-80). The poor guy from D'Urfey's "Jockey's Lamentation" had mutated into Tom the Piper and then spent the rest of his long life in a nursery rhyme:
Tom he was piper's son,
My father left me three acres of land,
This is an example for what German folklorists used to call Schwundstufe: the dialogue between the two protagonists has been abandoned, the tasks - all from the second part of the original song - "have lost their dramatic function" (Bronson I, p. 10). There is no "cambric shirt", no "true love of mine" and no list of herbs. Instead a different set of plants has been turned into a nonsense rhyme. It is not clear how old this "new" type was at that time. Already in the 1820s peasant poet and collector John Clare from Northamptonshire knew this song (see Deacon, p. 21). Interestingly another even more simplified variant of this type was published same year in the magazine Notes & Queries (Vol. 7, No. 166, January 1, 1853, p. 8; also Child I, 2L, p. 20):
My father gave me an acre of land,
24 years later the next piece of information about this song family appeared in print, this time in the London magazine Athenaeum. On February 9, 1867 (p. 198, available at BPC) a correspondent who identified himself as "The Collector Of 'Popular Romances Of England'" - i. e. Robert Hunt, who had published a book with this title in 1865 - quoted this variant:
Can you make me a cambrick shirt,
He claimed that he had received this text from a "lady from Cornwall" who herself had heard it "when a child" from an "old woman of St. Ives, - a district beyond railways, - around which still linger many of the old-world customs, and much of the lore which was the stock-in-trade of the Cornish droll-teller". This is hard to believe. While the first four verses are more or less like those in "The Cambric Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland the last one about the "handless man" clearly doesn't belong in this context. In fact it was first used only in 1843 by George Henry Borrow in his book The Bible in Spain (Vol. 2, p. 312, here at Google Books) and there is no evidence that it ever was traditional in England. How it came to be appended to this fragment of "Cambric Shirt" is not known. This was also noted by another correspondent, a Mr. Lonsdale, who sent in what he called the "original verses [...] the true version [...], as received in this country, to my knowledge, upwards of forty years": They were printed two weeks later (February, 23,1867, p. 262):
Canst thou make me a cambric shirt,
Unfortunately Mr. Lonsdale didn't tell his readers where exactly he had heard this variant. But it is very close to the text from Gammer Gurton's Garland. There are some minor variations, the refrain is only slightly changed - "savoury" instead of "parsley" - and the last verse is missing.
More important for a better understanding of this song family's history and development is a variant called "Whittingham Fair" that was first published in the Newcastle Courant on August 29, 1879 (BNCN, Gale Document Nr. Y3205322708) as part of a series called Northumberland Pipe And Ballad Music:
Are you going to Whittingham fair?
Tune and text were reprinted three years later in Northumbrian Minstrelsy. A Collection Of The Ballads, Melodies, And Small-Pipe Tunes Of Northumbria (Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1882, p. 79/80), an interesting and important publication compiled by the Rev. J. Collingwood Bruce and John Stokoe. Here for some reason the last line of every verse was always: "For once she was a true love of mine". This was the very first time that an authentic tune for a song belonging to this family was published. The author of the article in the Newcastle Courant - it seems that it was Mr. Stokoe (see Rutherford, p.272) - noted that they "have heard it sung to different tunes, but prefer" this one which "has the clearest claim to be considered the original air, and is always sung to it in north and west Northumberland". The introductory verse is nearly identical to the one we know from the modern "Scarborough Fair" except that here the town's name is "Whittington".
Interestingly this text is very similar to "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland. It looks as if someone had taken the version from the book, added the introductory verse with the messenger and then changed the beginnings of the first lines of every stanza from "can you" to "tell him/her". But the whole text is much too "clean" and an editor's hand is clearly discernible. Thankfully in this case the original version is available. According to the newspaper article the "tune and the ballad" were contributed "to the Antiquarian Society's collection about twenty years ago" by Mr. Thomas Heppell [sic!] of Kirkwhelpington. In 1855 the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne - an organization founded in 1813 - "appointed a committee 'to protect and preserve the ancient melodies of Northumberland'". Two years later the Duke of Northumberland offered prizes for the two best collections of "ancient Northumbrian music". Thomas Hepple from Kirkwhelpington, a "local singer", sent in his manuscript of 24 songs, in his own words "some old ballads I have had off by ear since boyhood" (Lloyd, Foreword to Bruce/Stokoe, pp. vi, xi; Rutherford 1964, pp. 270-2). "Whittingham Fair" was one of the pieces included (Thomas Hepple manuscript, now available at FARNE). The tune was the same. It only was transposed for publication from am to em, a fifth lower. But the text looks a little bit different:
Are you going to Whittingham fair,
This is a much more authentic text. It sounds a little uneven at times as if Mr. Hepple had some problems remembering the original words. At least one verse is missing, the one with the third task for the girl. The penultimate verse - "thrash it on yonder wall" - can't be found in any other earlier variant and it was deleted by the editor of the text published in the newspaper and in the book. But for some reason it was reinstated when Rokoe published this song again in an article in the Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend in 1889 (p. 7).
This additional verse suggests that Mr. Hepple's text represents a different line of tradition. His version also includes elements of both of the ideal-typical subtypes I have proposed: the messenger in the first verse is known from IIa while the "cambric shirt" has been part of IIb. Interestingly the second part doesn't start with the girl sending the messenger back to the man as in IIa. Instead there is a variant form of the verse common to the two published versions and the subtype IIb: here she states that she has received three questions from him and then announces that she will give him the same amount. The refrain in the second line is a mixture of those known from these two subtypes: in the first half there are two herbs, parsley and sage, while the phrase "grow merry in time" is known from earlier variants.
I don't know who has rewritten Mr. Hepple's text. I presume it was either Mr. Stokoe or the Rev. Bruce. But whoever it was he did his best to "correct" the lyrics with the help of "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland. He not only deleted the additional verse but also added the one that was missing. Besides that every verse got its "right" shape and not at least the refrain with the complete list of herbs - "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" - replaced the seemingly corrupt form used by Mr. Hepple. The editors wanted to save these kind of songs from oblivion, they wanted the people to sing them again. In this respect it was not a bad idea to add a more coherent text that corrects the unevenness of the original words. But on the other hand these kind of "corrections" can be severely misleading because the use of parts from other variants obscures the real background and provenience of the text in question. As noted above this was for example also the case when Kinloch supplemented the text he had collected from oral tradition with some stanzas from the old black-letter broadside.
In fact "Whittingham Fair" as published in the Newcastle Courant and in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy is a folklorist's ballad, a kind of "booklore" that later started a life of its own and a new line of tradition. The edited text became a reference point for subsequent collectors and scholars who then - as will be seen - used it as model to "correct" and "improve" other "imperfect" or fragmentary variants unearthed from oral tradition. It was even included by Professor Child in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads (II, pp. 495-6). Apparently nobody told him about the original version in Mr. Hepple's manuscript.
The Northumbrian Minstrelsy was indeed an influential collection, according to Gregory (2010, p. 68) even a "foundational document of the Late Victorian folksong revival". But it also has drawn much criticism because of the editors' policies (see Gregory 2004, pp. 369-76 & 2010, pp. 68-84). But that's the way it was at that time. It is always a good idea to check the original sources. Much of what was published has been tinkered with and shouldn't be used uncritically. But of course this applies to all collections of so-called "folk-songs".
Sadly Mr. Hepple's manuscript has been neglected both by Stokoe and Bruce who only used very few of his songs for their book and also by later scholars who - as far as I know - have ignored it. Thomas Hepple must have been a very educated man: he could not only read and write but was also familiar with musical notation. Maybe that was the problem. Many folk song scholars preferred the products of illiterate peasants. But his collection is an excellent resource and a useful historical document because it shows what kind of songs were popular in Northumberland at that time. Some of this pieces are derived from printed texts, for example "Down In Yon Meadows" (see this page at FARNE). This is a slightly abbreviated variant of the "Unfortunate Swain", an immensely popular broadside ballad. In case of "Whittingham Fair" it is not clear how much it owes to the commercially published versions of songs from this family. But with one verse not known from either "Humours of Love" or "Cambrick Shirt" it seems to represent at least partly an otherwise undocumented line of tradition.
1882 not only saw the publication of the Northumbrian Minstrelsy. A much more important and influential work also found it way to the printer: the first part of the first volume of the English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Professor Child from Boston was finally presented to the public after many years of research. But this massive collection was of course intended for a more academically inclined readership. The song family discussed here found itself canonized as No. 2 with the title "The Elfin Knight". Child wrote a groundbreaking and masterful scholarly account of this group's history that is unsurpassed to this day although it surely needs some critical adjustments. But he also published a great number of variants he had found in books and manuscripts. In some way this new standard work symbolized the end of an era. It was first and foremost an appraisal and an inventory of all what was known about historical ballads at that time. But it also can be seen as the start of a new era because henceforth Professor Child's canon served as a kind of roadmap for all future researchers and collectors.
Since the 1880s more variants of songs from this family came to light. In 1887 Walter Rye, antiquary from Norfolk, wrote an article for the magazine East Anglian (p. 211-213) where he published two ballads "taken down nearly half a century ago [...] ca. 1840". Even the name of the singer is given. It was "Sam. Self, of Hethersett", a village in Norfolk, some miles from Norwich. The second one was "Cambric Shirt":
I pray you to make me one Cambridge Shat [sic!],
This is of course only a fragment of six verses. Most interesting is the rhyme mousen's hall/Cobbler's awl in the last verse. It can be found both in the "Humours of Love", the broadside published in the 1780s and in the the Scottish version sent to the Scots Magazine by Mr. Ignotus in 1807. But it seems that Mr. Self's variant is a fragmentary relic of the broadside because the wording of all the other verses can easily be traced back to that particular text. Even more interesting is that the name of the tune is given here: "Robin Cook's Wife". I must admit that I have never heard of one with that name. But in fact the other song published in the article, "The Old Grey Mare", starts with exactly this phrase:
Robin Cook's wife she had a grey mere
It has exactly the same structure as "Cambric Shirt": four lines with internal refrains in the second and fourth. One may assume that Mr. Self used to sing both songs to the same tune. But unfortunately this particular melody has never been found. Bronson (I, p. 9) claims that "The Old Grey Mare" is "alternatively known as 'Roger the Miller' and 'Beautiful Kate'". But that is a completely different song that has nothing to do with this "grey mere". Nonetheless this is an interesting variant not only because it suggests that copies of the broadside had made it to Norfolk. But it is also an example of how the song can disintegrate. It is no longer recognizable as a dialogue between the two protagonists because the start of the girl's reply is missing. What has remained is only a series of impossible tasks á la "Acre of Land".
Since the 1880s also a new generation of song collectors came to the fore in Britain, at first people like the Rev. Baring-Gould from Devon and Frank Kidson from Leeds and after the turn of the century for example Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams, H. E. D. Hammond and, from Scotland, Gavin Greig and the Rev. Duncan. Especially the years 1903 - 1913 became "the golden age of English and Scottish folk song collecting" (Gammon, p. 15). Thankfully these collectors have also noted many tunes as they were interested in the songs and not only in texts like most of the old ballad scholars.
The term "folk song" was a new invention. It "came into fairly general use only in the 1890s" (Gregory 2010, p. 27). I don't want to discuss the ideology of this movement nor the ideological struggles of today's folk song scholars (but see Bearman 2001 and Gregory 2010). I must admit that I have really learned to admire these collectors' accomplishments and the great body of songs they have assembled. They were on a rescue mission, they wanted to save this kind of songs from oblivion. Baring-Gould was amongst those who sounded the alarm and claimed in the Introduction to his Songs and Ballads of the West (p. ix) that "in five year's time all will be gone; and this is the supreme moment at which such a collection can be made".
On the other hand I am still astonished about the recklessness - or naivité - with which they took into their possession other people's music. In the early volumes of the Journal of the Folk-Song Society it is pointed out that "all versions of songs and words published in this Journal are the copyright of the contributor supplying them" (see f. ex. Vol.II, N. 8, 1906, title page). This attitude suggests that - notwithstanding the often good relationship the collectors had with their informants - they somehow still regarded them not as individual artists but as members of an anonymous "folk" that has only preserved the songs they were looking for.
But at first it must be noted that what they collected was far from being representative. "The country lanes were not full of collectors on bicycles", they were a very small minority that "did no more than scratch the surface of a rich vernacular musical culture which they only partially documented" (Gammon, p. 15). Besides that they had a very limited perspective. The song collectors were only interested in particular genres, they were very selective and had a deplorable bias against contemporary popular music. In fact they preferred to look out for relics of "old songs". Their favorite informants were illiterate old people in remote rural areas although in practice the singers were not always as illiterate and old as they wanted their readers to believe (see Graebe 2004, p. 178 about Baring-Gould; Bearman 2000 about Sharp).
The folk song collectors were mostly very critical of the role of commercially published broadsides. Baring-Gould once wrote to Professor Child that he regarded them only as "bad representations of the original" because the "printers got hold of them in town". According to this ideology "the purest forms were preserved" in the country (quoted in Atkinson 1996, p. 41). Of course some collectors - like Kidson and Lucy Broadwood - "embraced a wider range of vernacular songs" (Gregory 2010, p. 27) and were somehow less doctrinaire than Baring-Gould or Cecil Sharp. But even the latter took the chance and collected in urban areas "if the material was there" (Bearman 2001, p.130).
It should be clear that the products of the folk song collectors can not be used uncritically. There are at least three important "filters" that have to be taken into account. First, many of the informants were in fact old people who had learned the songs in their youth, sometimes from parents or grandparents. What did they forget, how did the song change in the course of several decades? This is of course hard, not to say impossible to figure out. Often only a fragmentary relic has survived.
Equally important but also impossible to trace is the relationship between what the informant knew of a song, what he sang to the collector and what was then written down by the latter. Some Folklorists for example were more interested in tunes than in texts and they only noted one verse or maybe only those they hadn't heard from former informants. What was the collectors' input? Did they help out a little bit when the singers had forgotten something?
In 1952 an American song collector took down a version of our song from an informant who used as the refrain of the second line the phrase "Rosemary one time". The professional folklorist was of course familiar with many other variants of this song and he "suggested 'rosemary and thyme'". In this case the singer "rejected" this proposal and "insisted" on his own text as he had learned it (see Owens, p. 4). But this makes me wonder how often song collectors have managed to insert corrections of this kind into a song that was then passed on as the sole work of the informant. This may sound like nitpicking but it only goes to show that of course even archival sources - directly from the notebooks of the collectors - are not without its problems.
Even more problematic are of course published collections of "folk songs", especially those directed at an non-academic audience. In these kind of books the songs have nearly always been edited, sometimes more and sometimes less. It is not my point to accuse the publishers of producing "inauthentic" songs. In fact they all did what they thought they had to do. Their major aim was surely to revitalize these old songs and bring them back to the people, not primarily the poor folks from whom they had secured this treasure trove but the educated middle classes.
Much of what had been collected was not usable for such a purpose. Many texts were incomplete or only fragmentary relics and some of them were not up the the moral standards of the day. But these kind of song collections "were obliged to provide full, singable, intelligible, and grammatically-correct texts which conformed to the decencies of the time" (Bearman 2001, p. 163). So the collectors and editors did their best to repair and "improve" the texts by collating parts from different variants, they combined tunes and words from different sources and sometimes they even wrote or composed something themselves.
In fact all published versions have to be regarded as very suspicious. Often they had not much to do with what the real "folk" sang and remembered. Even small emendations or "corrections" can be misleading. Academic editions should be more reliable and and more closer to the original texts. On the other hand these collections of "folk songs" were immensely influential for the further history and development of those songs. As already noted many collectors were critical of the commercially published broadsides. But in fact they created a new industry of printed "folk songs" that became the starting point for a new canon. The folklorists have given these old songs a new life, but on their own terms.
In his article in the Newcastle Courant in 1879 John Stokoe had noted that the song discussed here was known both with and without introductory verse and wondered "if the decapitated version [was] the correct one or not". I won't discuss this here anymore as I have offered my speculations in a previous chapter. Instead I will present what the English, Scottish and Irish collectors have found and published, first the versions without a storyline - á la "Cambrick Shirt" and "Humours of Love" - and then those with an introductory stanza.
The first one to mention here is the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924; see the biographical overview by Martin Graebe on Songs of the West; also Graebe 2004; Gregory 2010, pp. 147-196). He was one of the outstanding men of letters of his time and his productivity as a writer was astounding. Besides countless articles he authored "more than 160" books (Graebe 2004, p.175), among them novels, collections of sermons and historiographical literature like The Lives of the Saints in 16 volumes, The Book of Were-Wolves, Germany, Present and Past, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, Historic Oddities and Strange Events, Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, Family Names and their Stories, The Tragedy of the Caesars and A Book of the Pyrenees, to name just a few (many are now available online at the Internet Archive).
In 1881 Baring-Gould became parson and squire in a parish in West Devon and in the late 1880s he started to collect "old songs", the kind of songs he fondly remembered from his youth:
"When I was a boy I was wont to ride round and on Dartmoor, and put up at little village taverns. There - should I be on a payday - I was sure to hear one or two men sing, and sing on hour after hour, one song following another with little intermission. But then I paid little attention to these songs. In 1888 it occurred to me that it would be well to make a collection - at all events to examine into the literary and musical value of these songs, and their melodies" (Introduction to Songs and Ballads of the West, p. vii; see also Graebe 2004, p. 175).
He received some texts from correspondents but he also went out himself on collecting expeditions where he was often accompanied by either Henry Fleetwood Sheppard or F.W.Bussell, both also clergymen. They were much more experienced musicians than Baring-Gould and wrote down the tunes for him.
Between 1889 and 1891 his first collection of songs was published in four parts. He called it Songs and Ballads of the West (available at the Internet Archive). According to the subtitle this was a "collection made from the mouths of the people". But in fact it was a very problematic work. Many of the texts and tunes were heavily edited, sometimes he even wrote something himself. He has been harshly criticized for his editorial practices but "unlike some of his contemporaries, he freely admitted to heavy bowdlerization, and to rewriting of whole texts, as well as marrying words and tunes from different sources" (Graebe 2004, p. 176). And in his eyes this was of course a completely legitimate approach.
In 1905 a new edition of this collection was published, this time under the musical editorship of Cecil Sharp. It seems that here the songs were all a little more closer to the "mouths of the people". Perhaps Sharp took care that Baring-Gould didn't go too far. There is no version of the song discussed here in the first edition. But in 1905 he included a variant with the title "The Lover's Task" (No. 48, pp. 96-7; notes, p. 14-16; tune also in Bronson I, 2.33, p. 23):
In the accompanying notes (p. 15) he claims to have taken down "the ballad and air from Philip Symonds of Jacobstow, Cornwall, also from John Hext, Two Bridges, and from James Dyer of Mawgan". One may assume that this is a composite version collated from the most usable parts of different variants. The refrain in the second line looks somehow unusual. Baring-Gould suggested that "antine" means "antienne-anthem". This seems to me a little far-fetched. The phrase "marry thee under the sun" is not known from other versions but sounds reasonable in this context.
Thankfully Sabine Baring-Gould has left behind a great number of manuscripts. They are now easily available on in the The Full English Digital Archive of the EFDSS. At first sight it all looks a little bit chaotic but with the help of Martin Graebe's Guide to the Baring-Gould Manuscripts (on Songs of the West) it is not that difficult to understand and use them. Most important and reliable among these manuscripts are at first the Rough Copy Notebooks. Here we can find some of the original tunes as collected by Baring-Gould and his partners, Mr. Bussell and the Rev. Sheppard, but occasionally also attempts at piano arrangements written later. Equally helpful is the Fair Copy Manuscript, a "collection of 202 songs, set out with all their variants of words and tunes" (Graebe, Guide) that he himself had deposited at Plymouth Library for future scholars who wanted to see the original texts and tunes of the songs published in his books.
One gets the impression that Baring-Gould was a little bit sloppy at times. In Rough Copy, Vol. 9 (SBG/3/12/6A, at The Full English) there is for example a tune with a single verse that is credited to one Mary Turnworthy:
Can you make me a cambric shirt
In the Fair Copy Manuscript the chapter No. CXXVIII is dedicated to this song family. Here this particular tune is attributed to a "Mrs. Knapman [...], as learned from her mother, a Northamptonshire woman" (SBG/3/1/637 at The Full English, also Bronson I, 2.34, p. 24). In this chapter three more tunes can be found. One by Joseph Dyer was noted in 1891 (also in Rough Copy, Vol. 10, SBG3/13/2B at The Full English; also Bronson I, 2.14, p. 10). Another one by S. Lobb was collected in 1893 (also Bronson I, 2.15, p. 16). Both were from Mawgan-in-Pyder in Cornwall. A third one - on top of the page - from the singing of J. Hext from Postbridge, Devon (1890, slightly different, with a piano arrangement in Rough Copy, Vol. 11, SBG/3/14/42C, at The Full English; see also Bronson I, 2.33, p. 23) is the one that was used for the collated version published in 1905 in Songs of the West.
Besides these tunes there is also a more or less complete text. Here we can find most of the verses used in the published version and also the strange refrain:
Thou must buy me my lady, a cambrick shirt,
According to the note underneath the text it was sent to him "from Cornwall" where it was "enacted in farm houses. A male going outside and entering the room, and a female seated is addressed by him 1-4 and she replies 5-9". The name of the informant is missing. After this text he noted some additional verses from other variants. One is from "John Dyer, Mawgan in Pyder". I presume that this was the informant who had also given him the tune mentioned above. John, Joseph and James Dyer may have all been the same person:
Pray take it up in a bottomless sack
This verse was also included in the published version. On the next page we find another fragment credited to "John Hext, Post Bridge, Oct. 1890", presumably the text belonging to Mr. Hext's tune:
O tell her to bleach it on yonder grass
The first of these two verses was also used for the composite text for Songs of the West. Interestingly this is a relic of a version with the messenger. He numbers them as verses 8 & 9 with "1-7 same as above". But it is not clear if he had a more complete text of this type. Possibly Mr. Hext knew some more verses and Baring-Gould only noted down those he hadn't heard before. Sadly there is no introductory verse and we don't know where the messenger was sent to.
In the Working Notebook 3, LXXXIX (SBG/2/2/182, at The Full English) - here the song’s title is "The Wooers Tasks" - we can find another text where every verse starts with "tell her/tell him". "Words and melody" are credited to one Philip Symons from Jacobstowe, Cornwall. Also the correspondent is mentioned: "sent by Rev. F.T. Batchellor, written by the man's child". I don't think this is an original text. It seems he tried to recreate a version with the messenger á la "Whittingham Fair" which is on the opposite manuscript page. One verse from Mr. Hext's fragment is included while the rest was taken from the complete version available in the Fair Copy. But one may assume that Mr. Symons was the source for that original text and the Rev. Batchellor the one who had sent this variant and the information about the game associated with the song to Baring-Gould.
It seems this was all he had found of this song family: four tunes, one more or less complete text and some fragments. But in the Rough Copy, Vol. 2 (SBG/3/5/7, p. 2) there is still another melody with a simple piano arrangement. I can't say where he got it from. But this could be his own or Sheppard's attempt at composing a tune for this song. I am tempted to say that they should have used this one because for me it sounds better than all the four they have collected:
The Rev. Baring-Gould was in contact with Professor Child and supplied him with material for the English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Some of his texts were published there (see Atkinson 1997). For example the two fragments of "The Lover’s Tasks" he had secured from Mr. Dyer and Mr. Hext can be found in the Addenda & Corrections of Volume 5 (see Letter July 29, 1893, Baring-Gould-Child Correspondence, SBG/5/83, p. 2, at The Full English; Child V, p. 206). But already in the Addenda of the fourth volume Child had included a much more dubious version of this song that he had also received from Baring-Gould (pp. 438-9). This is clearly a composite text. The stanzas 6 - 14 are perfectly fine. It is the nearly complete variant from Cornwall that I have quoted above. But the four introductory verses as well as the last one must be treated with great caution. Here the girl is visited by her dead lover:
A fair pretty maiden she sat on her bed,
It seems that Baring-Gould himself was somehow skeptical of this very uncommon verses. In the Fair Copy Manuscript (for some reason this particular page of chapter CXXVIII is not available online, but the comment is quoted in Atkinson 2002, p. 64) he noted that it was sent to him from Cornwall together with a version of the "Lover's Tasks" but "somewhat mistrust[s] its genuineness in its present form". His other informants didn't know "this former portion". In fact it looks like a part of a completely different song and the refrains are not known from this song family.
In some of his manuscripts we see him experimenting with this text. An early version with some more verses is available in the Working Notebook 3 (LXXXIX, SBG/2/2/186) where it is credited to one "S. Penhallich, Cornwall", possibly the correspondent who had sent it to him. Two more versions can be found in the Working Notebook 4 (No. 10, SBG/2/3/26) and in the Personal Copy, Vol. 2 (CXXVIII, SBG/1/2/74). Here he had already combined the introductory verses with Mr. Symons' text. The one from the Personal Copy is more or less identical to the text he sent to Child but - as can be seen from his letter (undated, Baring-Gould-Child Correspondence, SBG/5/49, all at The Full English) - he did not "communicate the same degree of doubt" to him (Atkinson 2002, p. 64). Instead he only added the information about the game connected with the song. It is somehow surprising that Child fell for this dubious text and included it without further comment.
Thankfully Baring-Gould refrained from using this experimental version in the new edition of Songs of the West in 1905. In the notes (p. 15) he remarked that they "did obtain a ballad in Cornwall about the ghost visiting the damsel and demanding that she should keep her engagement, but the meter was not the same as that of the 'Lover's Tasks'". Of course one should always be careful when using the Rev. Baring-Gould's manuscripts. Not everything that can be found there is reliable. But nonetheless his fieldwork yielded very valuable results and he deserves much more credit for his efforts.
A decade later young composer Ralph Vaughan Williams started collecting "folk songs". In Ingrave, Essex he heard a surprisingly complete variant with twelve verses from a Mrs. Humphrys. She was more than 70 years old and had learned the song "from her father". It seems she wrote down the text herself for the collector (Palmer 1999, No. 18, pp. 31-2, notes, p. 188; also in Bronson IV, 2.42.1, p.441). While most of the verses are very close to "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland there are also some additional ones that may be relics from older versions. The "wagon with hair and lime" reminds of a line in "The Elfin Knight" ("a cart of stone and Lyme"). "Bramble bush" and "goose quill" are known from "Acre of Land", the simplified type without dialogue:
At around the same time three variants from Somerset were unearthed by Cecil Sharp. One was sent to him "by Mr. Gilbert, June 2, 1904; from his collection" (see Karpeles, Sharp Collection I, No. 1C, p. 3; Sharp Ms.: CJS2/9/306 & CJS2/10/219 at the Full English Digital Archive; also Bronson I, No. 2.16, p. 17):
O, can you make me a cambric shirt?
This is only a fragment, but interestingly the last verse includes the "butterfly's back". A very similar stanza with that particular phrase and an identical refrain had been collected by Baring-Gould in Cornwall. A verse of this kind is not known from any of the commercially printed versions. It can also be found in another variant that was published by Cecil Sharp in the third volume of his Folk Songs From Somerset ("The Lover's Tasks", No. LXIV, pp. 26-7, notes, p. 75; also Bronson I, 2.36, p. 24):
Say can you make me a cambric shirt
"Words and air" are credited to "Mr. William Huxtable, Taunton". It is not clear if he had collected this piece exactly that way. The text can not be found in his manuscripts. There is only one with some variations and two more verses that was apparently wrongly assigned by Sharp to one "Robert Pope at Rowbaiton, Taunton, Jan. 15, 1906" (CJS2/9/826 at The Full English Digital Archive) but in fact was collected from Bessie Huxtable, Minehead (see Karpeles, Sharp Collection, No. 1a, p. 1, see also Bronson I, 2.36, p. 25):
There is also a manuscript page with two very similar tunes, one credited to Bessie Huxtable and the other to William Huxtable (CJS2/10/763A at the Full English Digital Archive, see also Karpeles 1a & Bronson I, 2.36, pp. 24-5). The published tune is more closer to Mr. Huxtable's. Possibly the text in the Folk Songs From Somerset is a edited version of Mrs. Huxtable's variant. The refrains of both variants are quite different from all the others I have seen so far. "Sweet William" surely has crept in from other popular "folk songs" while the "ivy" of the published text reminds of the refrain used for the "Acre of Land" ("Sing ivy, sing ivy"). As in Mr. Gilbert's version the start of the girl's part is missing and in both texts the dialogue isn't discernible anymore. I wonder why Sharp has published this fragmentary text. It doesn't make much sense and a more complete set of lyrics wouldn't have been a bad idea.
This is all that was found of the "decapitated" form of this song. I must admit I would have expected more. One doesn't get the impression that it was widely popular at the time the collecting of "folk songs" started. It was already a song of the past, hopelessly out of date and on the way to oblivion. Baring-Gould still heard more or less complete versions and Ralph Vaughan Williams a decade later was lucky to meet an informant with an exceptionally good memory. But at the same time Sharp only found fragmentary variants that show the song in a state of decay.
Equally rare were the variants with an introductory verse. The version with the messenger seems to have died out in Scotland and by all accounts it wasn't particularly widespread in England. We only have a handful of versions of "Scarborough Fair" from Yorkshire that were published between 1883 and 1916. I will discuss them in a later chapter. Otherwise there was only the fragment collected by Baring-Gould in Devon in 1890 that I have already quoted. Why this type was only found in the North East and South West of England is beyond my understanding.
A somehow unusual variant was collected by H.E.D. Hammond early in 1907. His informant was Mrs. Marina Russell from Upway, Dorset (HAM/4/31/16, p. 4 & 5, at The Full English):
Oh! don't you remember on Newcastle Hill,
This seems to belong to the type IIb but it must be a relic of a very early version from before the introduction of the "cambric" shirt. The reference to "Newcastle Hill" suggest a northern origin for this variant. For more versions of this type we must go to Ireland where it seems to have migrated at some time. Most closely related to the text printed in the Scots Magazine in 1807 is a variant collected by Maud Houston in Coleraine, Ulster that was published in 1910 by C. M. Cox in the Journal Of The Irish Folk Song Society (Vol. 8, p. 17-8):
As I went over Bonny Moor Hill,
This is a surprisingly complete text. Even Miss Nell had survived the trip to Ireland. Interestingly here the refrain is not the list of herbs but instead the one with the rose that is known from the Scottish variant collected by the Rev. Findlay in the 1860s but also from all early versions of the type IIa.
Another Irish variant of the same type was collected by Lucy Broadwood - one of the mainstays of the Folk-Song Society (see De Val 2011) - in Co. Waterford in 1906 and then published in 1907 in the Journal (p. 12-3). She heard it from Miss Bridget Geary, the daughter of a popular local singer who herself also had a "reputation as both a singer and composer of songs (De Val, p. 109). The introductory verse looks a little bit different and Miss Nell must have been lost somewhere but this text clearly belongs to the same type as the one from Coleraine:
As I roved out by the sea side,
Patrick Weston Joyce, the celebrated expert for Irish music, published a fragmentary variant in his Old Irish Folk Music And Songs in 1909 (No. 117, pp. 59-60; also Bronson I, 2.27, p. 21). The refrain is similar to the two versions mentioned above. Apparently in Ireland they had to do without the herbs. Joyce, born in 1827, notes that he "often heard this song sung" by a servant in his childhood but could only remember two verses and the air:
Choose when you can an acre of land-
It seems that this type has also survived in Scotland at least until the 1930s. Between 1928 and 1935 James Madison Carpenter from Harvard collected songs in Britain in a highly professional manner (see Bishop 1998 and The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue). In 1931/32 he was in Scotland where he still found people who remembered songs from this family. Unfortunately his massive collection hasn't been published yet and I have not been able to see the complete texts but only the songs' first lines in the relevant entries of the Online Catalogue. Two variants start with "As I went over yon bonnie high hill" and one with "As I was a walkin early one day" (JMCC-OC, Ballad Index and Texts 1, pp. 06898, 06899, 06902) and they may belong to this particular type. Two more variants mention a "cambric shirt" or "camerin sark" in the first stanza and another one only an unspecified "sark" (dto., pp. 06900, 06903 & 06896). They may be fragmentary relics of this type or possibly the only available Scottish versions of the "decapitated" form of this song.
Interestingly Carpenter also collected the most unusual variant of this song so far. Jim Thomas from Cornwall, aged over 80 years and formerly one of Cecil Sharp's informants, supplied him with what looks like a prose version. Here a little child meets with old King Ethelred. How this variant came into being is not known. Apparently Mr. Thomas didn't tell the collector where or when he had learned this piece or if he had created it himself. It would be interesting to know if it was derived from "Cambrick Shirt" or if it represents a completely different line of tradition (text here quoted from Atkinson 1998, p. 436, see also p. 438, see also JMCC-OC, Ballad Index and Texts 1, pp. 06911):
"Good morning, fair maid"
Besides this strange version and all the variants of the second type - both with and without introductory verse - remnants of the other two known types of this song were also collected by British song hunters. As mentioned above the earliest variants of the simplified form usually titled "Acre of Land" were first published in 1853 both in Halliwell's book of nursery rhymes and in the magazine Notes & Queries. But around the turn of the century the collectors secured some more versions.
One with 14 verses - much more than the two printed texts - was noted by W. P. Merrick in 1899 from the singing of Henry Hills of Shepperton who claimed that he had heard it sung "by a little boy at Petworth, Sussex, about fifty or sixty years ago". Here it is not the father but the mother who gave the "acre of land". This variant was published in 1912 in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society (p. 83):
My mother she gave me an acre of land,
Two more variants were collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1904 in Wiltshire (see Williams 1906, p. 212; also Bronson I, 2.53, p. 32 & Palmer, No. 116, p. 177) and by George Gardiner in 1906 in Easton, near Winchester (see Gardiner 1909, p. 274-5, also Bronson I, 2.55, p. 32). Frank Kidson and Alfred Moffat included a version in their Children's Songs of Long Ago (1905, p. 48; also Bronson I, 2.54, p. 32; tune also in Williams 1906, p. 213).
When James Madison Carpenter collected in England in the late 20s and early 30s he apparently only found this type. Judging from the song titles and first lines all the five variants listed in the Online Catalogue for his collection seem to belong to this group. The longest version has 21 stanzas but most interesting should be the one that starts with "My father he keepit a team o rats" (see JMCC-OC, pp. 06905, 06906, 06907-8, 06910, 08196-7). It seems that this simplified type at that time had superseded and replaced the songs belonging to the older group, perhaps because it was more flexible and and also easier to learn and to keep in memory.
Interestingly in Scotland - not in England - even variants of the oldest type of this ballad survived until the 20th century. But I have some doubts if this was purely oral tradition. "The Elfin Knght" had become a kind of "book ballad" and was regularly reprinted in collections of "old ballads". It can be found for example in Aytoun's Ballads Of Scotland (Vol.2, 2nd Ed, 1859, pp. 16-18), Gardner's Ballad Minstrelsy of Scotland 1871, pp. 181-4) and in Ballads: Scottish And English, a book published by William P. Nimmo in Edinburgh, ca.1878 (pp. 416-8). These were usually composite texts that combined parts from different variants. Gardner's was the most comprehensive. He even used all three old refrains.
One variant from oral tradition was published by Child in the fifth volume of his English and Scottish Popular Ballads: "Communicated by Mr Walker, of Aberdeen, as sung, 1893, by John Walker, Portlethen; learned by him from his father, above fifty years before" (Child 5, pp. 205-6):
There was a knight on the head o yon hill
William Walker (1840-1931) from Aberdeen was a successful self-made man. But he also had become an expert for local poetry and Folklore. In 1887 he published a book called The Bards of Bon-Accord, 1357-1860 (available at the Internet Archive). Since 1890 Walker was one of Child's most helpful and most trusted correspondents (see Brown 2000 & 2001). In summer 1893 he spent some time in Porthlethen, a small town some miles south of Aberdeen. There he came upon John Walker, no relative but a ballad-singing "old man", who supplied him with some songs that he then faithfully forwarded to Professor Child (Letter to F. J.Child, Feb. 3,1894, Brown 2001, p. 53). He later also supported Scottish collector Gavin Greig and sent him the same text (Greig-Duncan, Vol. 2, No. 329 E, p. 485; see also Vol .8, p. 478).
This particular variant is unusual in some respects. The verses only consist of three lines instead of four, the refrain from the second line is moved to the third. This refrain is more or less like the one we know from Peter Buchan's published version while the first verse is very similar to the one from Kinloch's text. But on the other hand the main part with the "camrick sark" seems to be derived from a more modern version. Walker claims that his old man was "innocent of booklore" (Brown 2001, p.53). But for me it looks as if at some point someone has added some elements of the old ballad to a version of "Cambrick Shirt". "Fifty years" ago Buchan's and Kinloch's books were already available.
After the turn of the century Gavin Greig and the Rev. Duncan also managed to collect some variants of the old type of the ballad. Miss Bell Robertson, one of her best and most competent informants, supplied them in 1908 with a very long text of 16 stanzas. She had heard the song "for the first and only time at a meal and ale when I was about fourteen" [i. e. 1855] from a "young blacksmith" (Greig-Duncan II, No. 329 C, p. 484; notes, p.580, first printed - without the last verse - in the Buchan Observer, 1909, see Greig, Folk-Song of the North-East, No.100):
The elphin knight stands on yon hill
Another major informant, Alexander Robb of New Deer, Aberdeenshire, gave the collectors an even more interesting variant called "The Laird o'Elfin" with 13 stanzas and a tune (Greig Duncan II, No. 329 A, p. 483, also Bronson I, 2.1, p. 11). Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger combined this tune with Bell Robertson's text for their version of "Elfin Knight" (1959, on Classic Scots Ballads, Tradition TLP 1015 LP; also available on YouTube):
This song family was known in the USA at least since the 1820s, but most likely much earlier. The people who emigrated to North America of course brought their songs with them. The first printed version, the songsheet with "Love-Letter & Answer", is from around 1830. Halliwell's great collection was published in the USA as The Book of Nursery Rhymes Complete. From The Creation Of The World To The Present Time in 1846 (No.333, pp. 165-6). According to Phillips Barry (1905, p. 214) an abbreviated version with the title "Love's Impossibilities" was included in a book from the 1840s called Songs For The Million. I haven't been able to check this publication but I presume it was The Book of 1001 songs; or, Songs for the Million (published by W. H. Murphy, New York, see the entry in the catalogue of the LoC).
The systematic collection of "folk songs" started in the USA much later than in Britain. But from the early years we have scattered variants that were published in the Journal of American Folklore. From the 1920s onwards many more texts and tunes were collected all over the USA. For example 15 variants from the '30s and '40s can be found in the first volume of Helen Hartness Flanders' Ancient Ballads Traditionally Sung In New England (1960, pp. 51-81). Others like Vance Randolph, Frank Brown and Paul Brewster were successful, too. In the USA we can find basically the same sub-groups or types as in Britain although it seems that some became more popular here than in the old homeland. Apparently the "Elfin Knight" or other knights or trumpeters didn't make it to North America, or perhaps they have died out before the collectors could get hold of them. But occasionally relics of this ancient ballad were retained.
A version called "Blow, ye Winds, Blow" includes one of the ancient refrains. It was first published in 1899 in a little collection of "Family Songs" compiled by one Rosa S. Allen "in whose family it has been traditional for many generations" and then reprinted by Phillips Barry in the Journal of American Folklore (1905, pp. 49 & 212). The same variant can also be found in Linscott's Folk Songs of Old New England. She had it from another member of that family, Lucy Allen of West Newton, Mass. "who remembers as a child hearing it from her uncle [...] in the 1870's" (1939, pp. 169-71):
You must make me a fine Holland shirt,
Even the old "plaid" survived at least until 1941, as can be seen from a variant supplied by a Mrs. Richards from New Hampshire. According to the collector she was "from one of the singing families of New England whose songs for the most part were brought from the British Isles by her immigrant ancestors" (Flanders 1960, No.2L, p. 73-4):
I want you to make me a wrap or shirt,
Even though the refrains are rather old the rest of the text is more up to date. It seems the song was at some point modernized with elements from "Cambric Shirt". Even shorter and more to the point is a related fragment from New Hampshire (Flanders 1960, No. 2P, pp. 77-8):
I want you to plant me an acre of corn
But otherwise no more traces of the oldest versions of this ballad seem to have survived in the USA, at least judging from the available body of texts. Much more important and much more common were the "decapitated" variants derived from or related to the text of "Cambrick Shirt". One nearly complete version from Providence, Rhode Island was published by Phillips Barry in 1905 in the Journal of American Folklore (p. 213). His informant had "recorded" this song "about 1875 [...] from the singing of an aged man, born in the year 1800":
I want you to make me a cambric shirt,
Another text from Barry's article (pp. 213-4) was "contributed March, 1904, by I. L. M., Vineland, N.J., formerly of Lynn, Mass." It has a different refrain but also belongs to this subgroup:
You go and make me a cambric shirt,
As early as 1890 a surprisingly complete text was used by American writer Jane G. Austin in her novel Dr. Le Baron And His Daughter (p. 314-5). It is very similar to "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland. There are only very few textual variations and the refrain is slightly different. But this particular variant had not been printed before. She must have heard it somewhere and I presume it was taken directly from oral tradition. But of course I would not exclude the possibility that it was edited a little bit before publication.
The novel is set in Plymouth during the Revolutionary War. One Simeon Samson comes home and meets his Deborah "spinning the yarn for his winter stockings on a great wheel whose sharp whir mingled pleasantly with her contralto voice as she sang a ditty of her day":
"Well done, dame! Where did you get that ballad?" demanded Samson, pulling open the door and disclosing a pretty picture [...] "Learned it, Sim? Why, I always knew it," replied she.
This is of course a more romantic than authentic scenery but it shows that in the 1890s the song was already treated very respectfully as an old ballad. But of course we have also versions with more interesting variations. Very amusing is one secured by Henry Belden from one "Fred Wilkinson, West Plains, Missouri" who found the text in "his grandmother's manuscript collection of ballads made in her youth at Brownington, Vermont" (Belden 1910, p. 430).
Can you make me a cambric shirt
Here we have to do without the herbs and the "true love of mine" or any other possibly more meaningful lines. Instead we get a nonsense refrain similar to the one in Bishop Huntington's text (Child 2J). Also the "fool" in the last verse appears again. It seems that the girls in North America were sometimes a little less polite than her English sisters. The refrain in this version was not a one-off, it can also be found in fragment of two verses from North Carolina (1923, in Brown II, No. 1C, p. 14-5). But otherwise American singers had a lot of fantasy and varied these lines with much success.
Not everybody had enough patience to sing the whole song in its original form. In one case the male and female parts were both condensed down to one verse each. This text from Massachusetts was collected by Helen Hartness Flanders in 1939. First the man "sings something about making a cambric shirt and sewing it up with a needle or thread". Then the woman responds (Flanders 1960, No. 2O, p. 77):
If you will find me ten acres of land
But there are also versions of this song where - similar to the development in Britain - the dialogue is abandoned and the singer simply recites the series of tasks. In one text recorded in the early 1930s in Vermont most of the verses start with "They told me [...]" (Flanders 1960, No. 2N,. 76) while in another variant from Indiana 1936 the mother is asked to do all the work (Brewster 1940, No. 1D, pp. 27-8):
"Mother, make me a cambric shirt,
Besides all these variants of the type without introductory verses the two subgroups where a background story is added to the song can also be found in North America. I will start with what I have called type IIb. That is the one represented by the text printed in the Scots Magazine in 1807, the variant collected by the Rev. Findlay in Scotland in the 1860s as well as the two Irish versions unearthed by Maud Houston and Lucy Broadwood. It must have migrated to the USA either directly from Scotland or via Ireland. First, we must take note that Miss Nell - most likely the original heroine of this particular subgroup - has also survived the trip across the ocean. She appears again in a version published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1894 that was "contributed by Miss Gertrude Decrow, of Boston, in whose family the song has been traditional" (American Versions, pp. 228-9):
As I walked out in yonder dell,
But Nell got lost somewhere in North America and other variants of this type have a slightly different introductory verse, for example this one from San Antonio, Texas that - according to the informant - had come "from Ireland (Dublin or thereabout)" (Kittredge 1913, p. 174):
As I roved out through a green bank's side,
Another variant form of the first verse can be found in a text from Vermont. The singer had learned it from his father, born 1839 (Flanders 1960, No. 2F, pp. 63-4):
As I walked out in a shady grove,
In both introductory verses the last words of the first and third line do not rhyme. This suggests that they were not the original stanzas but secondary additions. A text from Maine has a different opening verse. Here the rhymes look much better (from Barry et al. 1929, p. 4):
As I rode out one morning in May,
This particular first verse must have been quite popular. It can also be found in a fragment - "sung by an old servant" - that was printed in the Boston Evening Transcript in 1923 (quoted in Barry et al. 1928, p. 9):
I walked out one mornin' in May,
A related text from Michigan is available in Gardner's and Chickering's collection (pp .137-8):
As I went out walking one morning in May,
Still another variant form of the first verse can be seen in a version published by Kittredge in 1917 in the Journal of American Folklore (pp. 284-5). It was "communicated by Mr. E. Russell Davis, as remembered by his mother and himself from the singing of his grandfather, Mr. William Henry Banks (born 1834), a vessel-owner of Maine".
As I was a -walking up Strawberry Lane,
A very similar text was included by Shoemaker in his North Pennsylvania Minstrelsy (1919, No. 62, pp. 113-4). But for some reason both standard refrain lines are used here. This looks suspiciously like a composite version:
As I went walking up Strawberry Lane,
The "Strawberry Lane" also made it into a popular songbook published by radio star Elmore Vincent in 1932. He even included a yodel part (Bronson I, 2.35, p. 24). In a variant from the state of New York first published in 1941 in a local magazine the two prospective lovers meet on "Petticoat Lane" (Cazden et al., 1982, p. 164):
As I walked out in Petticoat Lane,
In these introductory verses with the Strawberry or Petticoat Lane the rhymes also leave a lot to be desired. It is not unreasonable to assume that this particular subtype migrated to the USA with Miss Nell still on board but then the original first verse was subsequently replaced by others for reasons that are difficult to fathom. It should also be noted that in nearly all these versions the refrain in the second line is "Every rose grows merry in time" or a variant thereof. It seems that the list of herbs was very uncommon in this group.
The other popular subtype is the one where the messenger is shuttling between the two protagonists. Here the "cambric shirt" was missing at first. The songsheet printed in Boston circa 1830 belongs to this group but it is surely older. It seems that this line of tradition was then stabilized and perpetuated by the printed text. A version with 15 stanzas - more than on the songsheet - was recorded by Ms. Flanders in 1931 from members of the Perkins family of Vermont. Their "ancestors [...] were of Scotch descent. The family established itself in New Hampshire and Vermont about the time of the American Revolution" (Flanders 1960, No. 2A, pp. 53-56):
Seven more variants of this type can be found in the Flanders collection. Another one from Vermont was contributed in 1931 by one Mrs. Gray who had learned the song from her mother and grandmother (Flanders 1960, No. 2C, pp. 59-61):
"Oh where are you going?" "I’m going to Lynn,"
Here we find again the nonsense refrain that seems to have been so popular in America. Interestingly the "cambric shirt" can be seen infiltrating the song. But for some reason it found itself in the "wrong place". In the text on the songsheet the stanzas 2 and 3 looked that way:
Tell her to weave me a yard of cloth,
These two verses were sometimes contracted to one. In the variant 2A quoted above only an unspecified "fine shirt" was requested but here it has become: "make me a cambric shirt thereof". This particular phrase can also be found in other variants from the Flanders collection (see Nos. 2B, p. 8; 2D; p. 61; 2G, p .65) but in one case the correct shirt was even reinstated into the "right" place (No. 2I, p. 69):
Cape Ann and Lynn are towns in Massachusetts and it is clear that texts naming these two towns only made sense in that area. In one variant sung by "Aunt Fannie" Parker from Carthage, Maine and then published by Lyle Ring in 1937 in a collection of New England Folk Songs (here from Bronson I, 2.4, p. 13) the girl lives in Selin. I found no town of that name so maybe this is a corrupted form of "Lynn" or it was simply made up to save the rhyme with "therein". In this case a second town was not necessary. The singer started the second part with "do you know the way back again?":
Oh, say do you know the way to Selin?
But it was also a good idea to drop the place names altogether. In a variant collected in 1945 the messenger is sent to a fair. The informant was one Miss Genders of Newport, Rhode Island and she reported that the song was "sung to her as a child by members of her family, who were early Rhode Island settlers" (Flanders No. 2H, pp.67-8):
Where are you going? Are you going to the fair?"
It is not clear if this particular fair is related to those we know from England. But I don't think so. This word is a good rhyme for "there" in the third line. I only wonder why it wasn't used more often. Outside of New England - the circle of influence of the Boston songsheet - we can find other ways to start the song. In Ohio, Georgia or somewhere else it didn't make sense to send the messenger to Lynn and Cape Ann. In a variant published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1906 (pp. 130-1) this problem was not solved in a satisfactory manner. The text was from Mrs. R. F. Herrick from Eureka, California and she noted that the song was "traditional in the writer's family. They were learned by her from her father, who was born in 1807":
As I was a-walking in yonder green field
Here the protagonist himself goes out for a walk and it is not apparent why he then asks a messenger to deliver the tasks. The phrase "yonder green field" can also be found in a variant collected by Cecil Sharp in North Carolina in 1918 where it was used with a better result (Karpeles, Appalachians, No. 1B, p. 2):
I saw a young lady a-walking all out,
The use of the phrase "yonder" suggests a possible relationship with the Scottish-Irish type IIb. The text published in the Scots Magazine in 1807 started with "As I gaed up to yonder hill". But of course the songs from this subtype usually didn't have a messenger. The male protagonist himself went out for walk to meet the girl. But here the two types seem to have converged. At least these two texts quoted above may represent a third subgroup that is slightly different to the other two. The typical ingredients are a phrase including the word "yonder" in the first verse, the "cambric shirt" in the second verse, a messenger who is traveling between the two protagonists and often - but not always - a refrain for the second line that is made up of a list of herbs or similar sounding variant forms. One should remember that nearly all texts of both subtypes had a refrain based on the phrase "Every rose grows merry in time". The only exception was the version from the Scots Magazine with "Saffron, sage, rue, myrrh, and thyme". This new group - of course I will call it IIc - is in fact a mixture of elements from the other two. It is not clear if it was created in Britain or in North America nor if and how it is related to "Whittingham Fair" and "Scarborough Fair" from England.
There are some more American variants that seem to belong to this subtype. They all use a phrase like "yonder town" or variations respectively corrupted forms thereof. A text from Georgia was published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1900 (Newell 1900, pp. 121-2):
As you go up to yonders town,
Another text recorded in Indiana in 1936 has retained the "rose" in the refrain (Brewster 1940, No. 1B, pp. 24-5):
As you go out to yonders town ,
Brewster's variant C (pp. 25-6) looks a little bit different and also includes the nonsense refrain:
"If you go up to town tonight,
Two more related versions were published in 1939 by Mary O. Eddy in her Ballads and Songs from Ohio (see Bronson I, 2.39 & 2.43, pp. 26-8). In both of them the messenger is about to go to "yonder town" and the refrain is either "Rosemary and thyme" or "Rose Mary in time". Here is one variant where the male protagonist has only one wish while the girl is much more demanding:
"As you go down to yonder town,
Other variants of this type were collected in the Ozarks in 1940 and 1941 (Randolph I, No. 1 A & B, pp. 38-40), in Oklahoma in the early 50s (see Moore 1964, 2 A & D, pp. 7, 8, 10), in Texas in 1952 (Owens 1976, pp. 4-6) and in Arkansas in the early 1960s (quoted in Toelken 1966, p. 7-8). One fragment from the Moores' collection even refers to "yonder hill" and a "noble knight". Two versions from North Carolina (Brown II, No.1A & B, pp. 13-4; Brown IV, No. 1A & B, pp. 3-4) should also be mentioned. Variant B - a fragment collected in 1936 - has the very strange refrain "Rose de Marian Time". The one used in variant A (1941) is even more unusual: "Arose Mary in Time":
As I went through Wichander's town,
"Wichander's town" is surely a variant form of "yonder town". Most interesting here is the penultimate stanza. It can also be found in the text from Ohio quoted above and in the variant from Texas (Owens, p. 6):
Tell him to thrash it against the wall,
Randolph's variant A (p. 38-9, "As you go through Yandro's town") includes a very similar stanza:
Go tell him to thresh it against the wall,
A verse of this kind was not used in any of the commercially published versions of this song. Apparently it was added to the song at an unknown date. This particular stanza is only associated with texts of this subgroup. It can't be found in those from the types IIa and IIb. Interestingly the only other version with this verse is "Whittingham Fair" in Thomas Hepple's manuscript:
Tell him to thrash it on yonder wall,
This looks as if these American variants are descendants of an earlier undocumented English version of this song that in turn was also a kind of precursor to Mr. Hepple's "Whittingham Fair". How the hypothetical key version originally looked like is of course impossible to find out. But at least this particular verse was of great help to uncover another line of tradition and it is reasonable to assume that this third subtype was conceived somewhere in Britain and then crossed the ocean and established itself in North America.
This song family remained surprisingly stable for a long time although it seems that in Britain it was already in decay at the time collecting started. The song's core, the dialogue between the two protagonists was usually made up of a standard set of verses. Most of them can also be found in the commercially printed versions. But there are also some that were obviously only transmitted orally. For example the one with the "butterfly's back" has survived in some English versions while the verse about threshing the corn "against the wall" had also made it to North America.
The influence of printed texts on oral tradition is clearly evident although not always at first glance. Apparently only very few of the collected variants were derived directly from books or broadsides. Instead these published versions like "Humours of Love", "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland and the Boston songsheet had a more indirect effect. One one hand they helped to stabilize the tradition. For example the American versions of the type IIa were no straight copies of "Love-Letter And Answer". But the songsheet's existence seems to have perpetuated the life span of this particular subgroup in North America. In Britain it was never codified in print and one may assume this was the reason it had died out there.
On the other hand it seems that especially the text from Gammer Gurton's Garland had - either directly or indirectly - a modernizing influence: some elements from the printed text like the "cambric shirt" were introduced into orally circulating versions and then stood beside relics retained from earlier stages of the song's development. This is what I have called the process of stepwise or partial modernization. In fact written and oral tradition are never mutually exclusive, they always complement each other.
Two points need to be addressed more thoroughly, first the tunes and then the refrain. Bronson (I, p. 9) notes that two kinds of tunes are associated with this song family. Melodies ""in duple rhythm" were used for variants belonging to the earliest type of this song like Mr. Robb's "Laird O' Elfin" and those from America that have a refrain like "Blow, Ye Winds Blow" (see Musical Examples 18, 20, 21). One should remember that "Over the Hills And Far Away" also was in common time although of course there is no melodic relationship to the tunes of the above mentioned variants.
On the other hand nearly all the more modern versions have a tune in triple time, mostly in 6/8. It seems that with the creation of this new type also a new and different melody was introduced for the song. Of course we don't know how that tune looked like. Those collected since the end of the 19th century are so different from each other that it is impossible to use them as a basis for speculations about its original shape. But in some cases a tune of the older type - in duple rhythm - has survived even though the text was of a more modern form. An interesting example is a version published by Barry et al. in their British Ballads from Maine in 1929 (pp. 3-4; also Bronson I, 2.3, p.12). They had received it from one Mrs. Young from Brewer, Maine who reported that she had learned this song in 1882.
[He:] I want you to make me a cambric shirt,
This variant has preserved some elements from the oldest type: a tune in duple rhythm and the nonsense refrain. But there are also more recent additions, especially the "cambric shirt". Equally interesting as an illustrative example for the process of partial modernization is a fragment of five verses from New York. It was collected in 1944 and the informant remembered her parents singing this song. The tune is also in common time and Bronson (IV, 2.3.2, p. 439) has classified it among those of the old style. Additionally this variant not only includes the nonsense refrain that was so popular in North America but has also retained the "holland shirt", a phrase much older than the "cambric shirt" (Flanders 1960, No. 2K, pp. 71-3):
"Tell her to make me a holland shirt."
The refrain in the second line is the most unstable element in the songs from this family. Many different variant forms can be found in the variants collected from oral tradition. It seems that nowadays "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" is regarded as the original form of this refrain. Already in 1907 Lucy Broadwood called the phrase "Every rose grows merry in time" in Bridget Geary's version an "oddly-corrupted burden" (pp.14-15):
"[...] more often the burden is 'Parsley (or Savory') sage, rosemary and thyme' [...]. On studying this type of riddle-ballads one cannot fail to be struck by the extraordinary frequency with which 'plant-burden' occur in them. Both abroad and on the British Isles one meets still with so many instances of plants being used as charms against demons, that I venture to suggest that these 'plant-burdens,' otherwise so nonsensical, are the survival of an incantation used against the demon-suitor [...] Every one of the plants mentioned in the burdens above quoted is, as a matter of fact, known to folk-lorists and students of the mythology of plants, as 'magical'."
Anne Geddes Gilchrist in an article in the Journal of The Folk-Song Society in 1930 (pp. 240-1) also claimed that "Every rose grows merry in time" and similar lines were a "corrupted" form of the refrain originally consisting of the list of herbs. Moreover she saw this kind of "herb refrain" as an "indication of a more than human combat" between the two protagonists of this song. Albert Friedman in the Penguin Book Of Folk Ballads of the English-Speaking world (1956, p. 7) took a similar approach when discussing the text of Miss Gertrude Decrow’s version that was printed in the Journal of American Folklore in 1895 (American Versions, pp. 228-9). He noted that in "modern tradition [...] the supernatural element" is rejected and the elfin knight has been turned into a "flirtatious lover" but still insists on the primacy of the herbs refrain:
"[...] 'Let ev'ry rose grow merry in time,' is a corruption of 'rosemary and thyme.' Both these herbs have magical properties for lovers: 'Rosemary,' as Ophelia says in her mad scene, 'that's for remembrance'; thyme represents sexual vigor or the strength that comes with abstinence".
In 1966 American Folklorist Barre Toelken stressed in an article about riddle songs that the "herbs mentioned in the refrain are traditional funerary herbs in Britain" and that they were "also used in divining and influencing lovers" (pp.8-9). Norman Cazden et al. surprisingly claimed in their Folk Songs of the Catskills (1983, p. 162) that Lucy Broadwood had shown "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" to be the "originally sensible refrain line" of this song and also pointed out that this list of herbs may serve as "a recipe for a love potion". Recently David Atkinson in an otherwise excellent discussion of revenant ballads (2002, pp. 39-73) noted that "the herbs commonly iterated in the refrain to 'The Elfin Knight' [...] are customarily linked both with love and death, and with the presence of and resistance against evil" (p. 58).
In fact all these theories and proposals are not convincing. There is simply no conclusive evidence that this particular list of herbs was the "original" refrain line nor that these plants' "magical" properties ever played a role in this song. At first it is important to remember that herbs or any other kind of plants never were used in the early versions of this song where sometimes - but not always - a supernatural suitor like the "elfin knight" or the devil confronted the girl. By all accounts they were only introduced for the new type with "true love of mine" as the refrain in the fourth line. At this point the song was completely secularized and the male protagonist had become a mere mortal.
Toelken (p. 9) pointed out that "yonders town" is an "euphemism for the graveyard in the southern United States". But I am skeptical if this also applies to the variants of the song where this phrase is used, for example the one from Arkansas that is quoted in his article (p. 7-8):
As you go up to yonders town,
Here it doesn't make much sense. Who is the revenant, the "young lady" or the "young man"? Why do they both send the messenger to "yonders town"? I think he reads a little too much into this simple ditty. But nonetheless it could be worth discussing if similar phrases in older variants perhaps suggest a meeting on the graveyard. Could it be that "as I gaed up to yonder hill," in the text from the Scots Magazine, "as I went up to the top o yon hill" in the version collected in Scotland in the 1860s by the Rev. Findlay or "as I went over Bonny Moor Hill" in Maud Houston's Irish variant denote a walk to the cemetery? Was Miss Nell originally the revenant, the dead girl who rose from the grave to meet her lover? That is not entirely unreasonable but if so it must have been quickly forgotten and otherwise these texts offer no more evidence for such an assumption.
The next question is course: was the list of herbs the original refrain of the modern form of this song? It is not even clear which herbs were used first. In the three earliest printed texts we find three different lists, in fact a whole garden: "Sweet savory grows, rosemary and thyme" (in "Humours of Love"), "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" (in "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland) and "Saffron, sage, rue, myrrh, and thyme" (in the Scots Magazine 1807). It looks as if "thyme" was the most important of these herbs, but apparently not because of any magical or other properties but because it rhymed with "mine" in the fourth line. Of course it is not a perfect rhyme but works tolerably well.
One should also take into account that "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" is used as the refrain only in very few of the numerous variants collected from oral tradition. There are two from North America: one is the version from Providence published by Barry in his article in the Journal of American Folklore in 1905 (p. 213) and the other is a fragment of "Love-Letter & Answer" that was quoted in the Journal in 1894. It was "contributed by Mrs. Sarah Bridge Farmer, as learned from an elderly lady born in Beverly, Mass." (American Versions, p. 229):
Can't you show me the way to Cape Ann?
In Britain this refrain was equally rare. It can only be found in a single version of "Scarborough Fair" from Yorkshire that was collected by Cecil Sharp in 1913 (Karpeles, Sharp Collection I, No. 1B, p. 2). Some more refrains have "savoury" instead of "parsley" and in a few others only a half of the phrase is used ("Rosemary and thyme", see f. ex. Newell 1900, p. 122) but the rest looks more or less different.
Many of them are much closer to "Every rose grows merry and fine", for example "Sober and grave grows merry in time" (Mary Barr, Child 2F), "Rivers and seas are merry in time" (Brewster 1940, No.1A, pp. 23-4), "Every leaf grows many a time", (Karpeles, Sharp Collection I, No. 1 C), "Every rose grows bonny in time" (Cox 1910), "As every plant grows merry in time" (Joyce 1909). Some are curious mixtures of both types of the refrain: "Parsley sage grow merry in time" in Thomas Hepple's "Whittingham Fair", "So sav'ry was said come marry in time" (Karpeles, Appalachians, No. 1B, p.2), "Parsley and sage grow ripe in time" (in Austen's Dr. Le Baron And His Daughters), "Every rose grows merry wi' thyme" (Child 2H). Not at least these kind of refrains as well as the "true love of mine" in the fourth line were also often enough replaced by nonsense phrases like "Slum-a-lum-a nay-cree, slo-mun-nil".
The idea that all these informants and singers had forgotten the original refrain and instead were only singing "corrupted" forms of "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" seems to me both outrageous and absurd. Many of them had been able to memorize complete songs for several decades. Why then should they fail to keep in mind this particular phrase which is in fact a catchy formula that should be easy to remember. Sadly the collectors rarely asked their informants about this refrain. I have already mentioned that Mr. Drake from Texas in 1952 "insisted on 'rosemary one time'" although collector William A. Owens had "suggested 'Rosemary and thyme' [...] He had never heard of thyme" (Owens, p. 4). In one variant published by Barry et al. in their British Ballads from Maine (1929, p. 4-5) we can even find two variant forms of the refrain: "Let every rose grow merry in time" was used for the man's part while the woman sang "Let every rose grow merry and fine". The authors correctly concluded that "this seems intentional".
John Stokoe in his article about "Whittingham Fair" in the Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend (1889, p. 7) reported that when they "once heard the ballad the singer achieved a still higher pitch of absurdity by solemnly chanting 'Parsley, sage, grows merry in time,' as the correct burden". He also understood perfectly well that this phrase, no matter if it was "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" or something else, should be regarded as a nonsense line because it had "no connection with the subject" of the ballad. Stokoe offered an interesting explanation:
"[...] the metrical construction of 'Whittingham Fair' is of a duolinear form. common to many ballads which have descended to us from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These compositions were generally of a rude and simple kind, consisting of verses of two lines only, with an interval of rest at the end of each, which the minstrel made use of to play a symphony (either to lengthen the ballad or to display his musical skill). vocalist, when singing such ballads without instrumental accompaniment, it may be easily inferred, would introduce some burden to replace the symphony of the minstrel. some of these burdens consisted of short proverbial expressions [...].Others were mere nonsense lines that went glibly off the tongue, giving the accent of the music, but having no connection with the subject of the ballad" (dto.).
In fact it seems that "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" had as much or better as little meaning as "Oh, me rose, be married in time", "Every globe goes merry in time" or Baring-Gould's "Whilst every grove rings with a merry antine". They were all variant forms of a wordplay based on a particular sound sequence. Its most important feature was surely that it rhymed with "true lover of mine" in the fourth line. Of course the original form of this phrase is not known but it is not unreasonable to assume that it was at first something like "Every rose grows merry and fine": the word "fine" is a perfect rhyme for "mine" and any reasonably talented poet or songwriter would have preferred it to "thyme" or "time". But because this refrain had nothing to do with the song's content it could easily be replaced with similar-sounding lines.
I wouldn't exclude the possibility that the list of herbs was eventually introduced into this song to turn a basically meaningless phrase into something that made a little more sense. But in fact the real promoters of "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" were not the "folk" who only used it very rarely but the song collectors and publishers. "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland later became something like an authoritative text for folklorists because it was the oldest available printed variant and this particular refrain looked much better and more meaningful than the seemingly "corrupted" forms of this line that they heard from their informants.
Now is the time to return to "Scarborough Fair". The earliest known text of this localized version was unearthed in 1883 by Frank Kidson (1855-1926) from Leeds, a "reclusive antiquarian" (De Val, p. 51) who would later become one of the most respected authorities on old English songs (for more about him see Palmer 1986; Francmanis 2004; Gregory 2010, pp. 197-236 & 432-459). At that time he was already a regular contributor to the "Local Notes and Queries" in the Leeds Mercury. On August 18 he asked for a song called "The Lover's Test":
"There is or was in existence a ballad, current in the north of Yorkshire, of which I unfortunately remember but one verse, though many years ago I knew more. It used to be sung through the streets of Malton by an old man - a wandering ballad singer - who used to be famed for this particular ballad. The song, as I remember it, described, in perhaps a dozen or more verses, a series of seemingly impossible tasks, which were to be done by a lover to win favour for his mistress" (Leeds Mercury, 18.8.1883, Local Notes And Queries CCXL, available at BNCN, Gale DocNr.BC3201777497).
Kidson only remembered one verse:
And tell him [sic!] to wash it in yonder dry well,
Only a week later an informative answer by one Mr. Samuel Stather from Beverly was published. He had heard "some twenty years ago, an old man named Sam Hayes singing this ballad in Whitby streets" and could even remember most of the text (Leeds Mercury, 25.8.1883, Local Notes and Queries CCXLI, available at BNCN, Gale DocNr. BC3201777770):
Oh when are you going to Scarbro Fair,
Here the girl's part starts with the repetition of the opening verse. This doesn't make much sense. If they are both at "Scarbro' Fair" why then send a messenger? The rest of the song is very similar to "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland and "Humours of Love" although it doesn't look as if it was derived directly from these published versions. The phrase "and married we’ll be" is a little unusual but a similar promise - "I'll take thee & marry thee under the sun" is known from a variant collected by Baring-Gould.
Three years later the same text was published by Professor Child in the second volume of his English and Scottish Popular Ballads as "another variety [...] communicated by Mr. Frank Kidson; 1884, from tradition" (pp. 495-6; also in Bronson I, No. 2.17, p. 17, from Child's manuscripts). It seems that Kidson sent this variant to Child without any reference to his source and without Mr. Stather's information about the singer. For some reason the first line was slightly edited:
"Oh where are you going"? "To Scarbro fair, [...]"
Child had also received from Kidson a fragment of four verses "remembered by another person" and published the variant lines and a complete verse (dto., p. 496; here quoted from Bronson I, No. 2.17, p. 17-8, stanzas 11-14):
Oh are you going to Scarbro Fair
The last verse is identical to the one quoted by Kidson in his inquiry in the Leeds Mercury except that "his" has been changed to "her". It looks as if in this case he himself had been his own informant and in the meantime had managed to remember some more lines. Bronson also found in Child's manuscripts two tunes sent by Kidson together with these texts (Bronson I, 2.17, p. 17 & 2.19, p. 18). Unfortunately it is not known where he had collected them. I wonder if he had managed to contact Mr. Stather and ask him for the melody used by that old street singer from Whitby:
The second tune is very similar to the first:
In 1891 Kidson included two versions of "Scarborough Fair" in his Traditional Tunes, an important and influential "Collection of Ballad Airs, Chiefly Obtained in Yorkshire And The South Of Scotland; Together with Their Appropriate Words From Broadsides And From Oral Tradition". This book only "appeared in a subscription edition of only two hundred copies" (Palmer 1986, p. 151). He noted that the first variant, "including the tune, used to be sung by a ballad singer in Whitby streets twenty or thirty years ago, and is still remembered in the district" (pp. 42-4). Here he simply reported the information made available by Mr. Stather in the Leeds Mercury eight years ago but for some reason he failed to give him appropriate credit and - once again - didn't even mention the name the singer. Kidson was "often vague when writing of informants" (Palmer 1986, p. 160) and in this case the reason may have been the simple fact that the text had first been printed in a newspaper:
"Oh where are you going?" "To Scarborough fair,"
Both tune and text were clearly edited by Frank Kidson before publication. The tune is for the most part identical to the first of the two he had sent to Professor Child in 1884 (Bronson I, 2.17). The text is based on the one supplied by Mr. Stather. But Kidson surely used "Whittingham Fair" from Stokoe's and Bruce's Northumbrian Minstrelsy as the basis for his corrections. This can easily be seen from the use of the phrase "true love of mine" instead of "true lover of mine" in the first four verses. The latter was common in all available variants of this song family. The "true love" can only be found in the text published in that book. Some other phrases - for example in verses 2 and 4 - are also closer to "Whittingham Fair" and in turn to "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland. That text had been of help to Stokoe and Bruce when they were correcting Thomas Hepple's original words but one may assume that Kidson knew it, too.
Other verses of Kidson's text show the influence of his own four-verse fragment, especially "tie" instead of "bind" in stanza 7 and the line "never be a true lover of mine". He also dropped the verses 5 and 6 of Mr. Stather's original text. The waiving of the latter was a good idea because the use of the messenger only makes sense when the two protagonists are in different places so that he can shuttle between them. But on the other hand Kidson really disimproved the whole song by introducing a big blunder into the text. In the second part the girl is speaking not to the messenger but directly to her suitor: "O, will you" [...]" is used instead of "Tell him [...]". Perhaps the poor guy had arrived at the fair immediately after his spokesperson to hear the girl's answers himself. But I assume that he tried to create a text representing both common variants, in the first half the one with the messenger and in the second half the "decapitated" version á la "Cambrick Shirt".
In fact this way of conflating these two types of the song is completely misleading and "inauthentic". No traditional singer would have done that. But strangely, Ewan MacColl later borrowed the whole text - including this irritating blunder - for his own version of "Scarborough Fair", the one that he claimed to have collected from old Mr. Anderson from Middleton-in-Teasedale, Yorkshire. He only replaced "savoury" with "parsley" to get the standard refrain. It seems it wasn't much he had learned from his informant, perhaps a tune and fragmentary words. Why MacColl then relied on Kidson's doctored text is a little difficult to understand but I presume he thought it was genuine. Even Professor Child believed that. In the the Additions and Corrections of Volume 4 of his English and Scottish Popular Ballads (p. 440) he points out accurately all the differences between the text in Traditional Tunes and the earlier variant sent to him by Mr. Kidson. But in fact what he lists there are only Kidson's own editorial changes.
The problem here is not that Kidson has doctored the text. It is well known that he was "much more interested in the melodies" of the songs (Gregory 2010, p. 222, also p. 234) but on the other hand often very critical or even dismissive about the words. In the Traditional Tunes they were regularly censored, sometimes because he thought them indecent or other times because he simply didn't like what his informants had sung (see f. ex. pp. 60, 72, 117, 139,152). But in case of "Scarborough Fair" he not only indulged in sloppy editing but also failed to note that he had changed the original words and deliberately obscured his original source.
A second version of this song - a tune with only one verse - can be found in the Appendix of Kidson's collection. He had obtained it from Allen Wardill, a railwayman from Goathland who was one of his best informants (see Gregory 2010, p. 215). The melody is different from the others and "rue" has replaced "sage" in the list of herbs in the refrain:
Another version of "Scarborough Fair" was included in 1893 in English County Songs, an interesting and important collection of "traditional songs of different periods and styles, all - or nearly all - of which are still current among the people" (Preface, p. iii) edited by J. A. Fuller Maitland and Lucy Broadwood. Fuller Maitland was a music critic and scholar who also showed great interest in so-called "folk songs". Lucy Broadwood - I have already mentioned her - became a key figure of the English folk scene (see Gregory 2010, p. 307; De Val 2011). This publication, not a regional collection but an attempt at covering songs from all over England, was "aimed at the drawing room market" (Gregory 2010, p. 351). Therefore piano arrangements were included. Most of the pieces included here were not collected by the two editors but mostly sent in by local correspondents. "Scarborough Fair" had been "taken down by H. M. Bower, Esq., in December, 1891, from William Moat, a Whitby fisherman" (pp. 12-3):
Is any of you going to Scarborough Fair?
Herbert Bower, an "amateur folklorist" from Ripon, Yorkshire (Gregory 2010, p. 312, also p. 309) and a friend of Fuller Maitland, had obviously spent some time in Whitby. This version is interesting for different reasons. It is somehow unusual that it includes two tunes in two different keys. The first was sung with verses 1 and 6, the other with verses 2-5 and 7-10. Apparently the editors felt a little uneasy about this arrangement and noted that "the application of the two tunes" wasn't "at all certain" (p. 13). For me it looks suspiciously like a composite version collated from two different variants. This can also be seen from the fact that both commonly usually used as the beginning of the second part are included: the repeat of the first stanza - "Is any of you going to Scarborough Fair" - as well as the one starting with "I have answered you questions three [...]".
For some reason this particular version doesn't include one of the common refrains. Instead the third line is also sung as the second. Also the girl's tasks for the man are used as the first part. But on the other hand the words are often very close to "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland. This strongly suggests that at some point some corrections were inserted into the text. In the Preface the editors claimed that "[..] the words have been left absolutely unaltered, and the melodies have in no instance been tampered with" (Preface, p. v) but of course they had to rely on their correspondents. It is easily possible that Mr. Bower had doctored the song before he sent it to Fuller Maitland.
Nothing more was heard of "Scarborough Fair" for the next two decades. Only in 1915 Clive Carey published another version - also with piano arrangement - in his small collection Ten English Folk-Songs (p. 20-22):
To Scarborough Fair are you going?
Carey (1883-1968, see Wikipedia) was a singer and composer but also a "folk song" enthusiast. He had joined the Folk-Song Society and also spent some time collecting songs, "usually in the wake of Sharp" (Bearman 2001, p. 219). The original version can be found among his manuscripts (CC/1/370 & CC/1/109, at the Full English Digital Archive). Carey had collected this piece in 1911 in Stoupe Brow, Yorkshire - a place halfway between Whitby and Scarborough - from one Robert Beadle. The tune has been edited a little bit but is still close enough to what he had written down in his notebook. The published text is more or less identical to the words in manuscript but on the bottom of p. 31 he duly notes that the refrain was "originally sung 'Parcil, sedge, romary and thyme'". As can be seen from the manuscript page of the tunebook Carey was familiar with the version in Gammer Gurton's Garland and therefore changed it to "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme".
Where are you going? To Scarborough Fair?
Sharp had collected a tune with three verses in 1913 from Richard Hutton, aged 65, Goathland, Yorkshire (Karpeles, Sharp Collection I, No 1B, p. 2; Sharp Ms.: CJS2/10/2868 at the Full English Digital Archive; also Bronson I, 2.21):
Where are you going to Scarboro' Fair?
He kept Mr. Hutton's tune more or less intact for publication, there were only some minor adjustments. But the original text was of course a little bit too short and he added four verses from "other traditional versions" (Sharp 1916, Notes, p. pxxxvii). In fact there were borrowed from Mr. Huxtables version of "The Lover's Tasks" - published by Sharp in 1906 in the third volume of the Folk Songs From Somerset (No. LXIV, pp. 26-7) - and then reworked to fit the others. But for some reason he refrained from reviving the dialogue between the two protagonists. Instead all stanzas start with "Tell her" and to be true it sounds a little strange when the girl is asked to "plough me an acre of land". This kind of sloppy editing simply makes no sense. Sharp only turned a short fragment into a longer fragment without taking into account what the song was all about. But of course it is known that he - just like Kidson - was more fond of the tunes than the words.
That's all that was found of "Scarborough Fair". By all accounts it was only known in a very small geographic area in the northeast of Yorkshire. Whitby, Goathland and Malton are all close to the town of Scarborough. Unfortunately the available evidence doesn't allow any speculations about the song's antiquity or its relationship to "Whittingham Fair". It seems that Thomas Hepple had learned his variant in his youth - possibly the '20s or '30s - while "Scarborough Fair" can only traced back to the '50s. There used to be a great and important fair in the town of Scarborough since the Middle Ages that "finally ended in 1788" (see Wikipedia) but there is no reason to assume that the song refers to this event or that it was created at the time of its existence. There were still fairs there throughout the 19th century, although surely on a much smaller scale (see for example Ipswich Journal, Dec 10, 1808, p.2; York Herald, Nov 28, 1846, p.6; July 20, 1872,p. 5; July 21, 1883, p.14, all available at BNA).
The only thing we know for sure is that this song was very popular in a part of Yorkshire in the 1850s and 1860s. But at the time the collecting started it was clearly out of date. Already in the early '80s Frank Kidson had at first serious problems obtaining a complete text and was only saved by Mr. Stather who happened to remember the words. Thirty years later Cecil Sharp only found a short fragment. But at this point the songhunters had taken care of "Scarborough Fair", saved it from oblivion and gave it a new life. By 1916 different versions of this song - all more or less doctored - were available in four collections of "folk songs" and one may say that it was more popular among the connoisseurs of "folk music" than among the "folk".
Interestingly it was at first Frank Kidson's variant from Traditional Tunes that became more widely known. It was included in Folk-songs of the North-Countrie (1927), a posthumous collection edited by Kidson's niece but this time with piano arrangements by Alfred Moffatt. Two decades later Margaret Boni used an abbreviated version with only five verses for her Fireside Book of Folk Songs (New York 1947). This very popular collection was reprinted regularly and must have served as an introduction to "folk songs" for many Americans. In 1954 Gordon Heath & Lee Payant - an American duo that ran a club in Paris - recorded Kidson's "Scarborough fair" for their second LP, Encores From The Abbaye (see the discography at wirz.de & Arnold Ruypens' The Originals). This was to my knowledge the very first commercial recording of a song from this family. Two years later A. L. Lloyd also sang this variant for the fourth volume of The English And Scottish Popular Ballads (Riverside RLP 12-627/628, 1956), a massive project put together by Lloyd and Ewan MacColl.
But soon "Scarborough Fair" á la Kidson was superseded by MacColl's own variant, the one that he claimed to have collected in 1947 from Mr. Anderson, the old lead miner from Yorkshire. But, as already noted, he can't have collected much more than a tune and a fragmentary text because he felt it necessary to borrow nearly the complete lyrics from Mr. Kidson. To put it the other way: it was more or less Kidson's "Scarborough Fair", only with a slightly edited refrain and a new melody. I must admit that I sometimes wonder if MacColl perhaps had written the tune himself and then passed it off as a result of his fieldwork. On the other hand: if he really had learned the melody from said Mr. Anderson why did his informant never get appropriate credit? Sure, MacColl has named him as his source. But later many people made a lot of money with this song while the possible originator has been completely forgotten. This looks to me like some kind of folkloristic expropriation. The tune itself is in fact quite good and for me it is among the best of those associated with this song family. It is clearly very different from most of the others. Bronson (IV, 2.21.1,p. 439) has grouped it with Sharp's "Scarborough Fair" but for me the closest relative seems to be the melody used by Thomas Hepple for "Whittingham Fair.
It is important to note that Ewan MacColl has changed the song's character and mood. By all accounts it had always been more humorous than serious. One American informant once called it a "jolly little song" (Flanders 1960, p. 71). Peggy Seeger's "Cambric Shirt" - also included on the LP Matching Songs - is much closer to the its real spirit (available at YouTube). MacColl (YouTube) has slowed it down and sang the piece with a kind of pathos and seriousness that was very unusual for this family of songs. In fact it was a completely new interpretation that became decisive for other singers who later tried their hand at "Scarborough Fair".
MacColl wasn't the first to record his own version. Already in 1956 young American singer Audrey Coppard included it on her album English Folk Songs (Folkways FW 6917). According to the liner notes (pdf available at Smithsonian Folkways) she was in London in the early 1950s and played at club concerts "organized by A. L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl, to whom she is indebted for introducing her to several of the songs in this collection". I assume that she learned "Scarborough Fair" from MacColl during that time. But she only sang an abbreviated text consisting only of the girl's part but with some minor variations, especially in the last verse:
Oh, are ye going to Scarborough Fair
In 1959 English singer Shirley Collins also recorded the song for the LP False True Lovers (Folkways FW03564; also available at YouTube). Her version was later published in a collection called 124 Folk Songs (1965, p. 86):
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
She sang the first five verses of MacColl's version and completely abandoned the dialogue. Here only the girl is sending the tasks to the man via the anonymous messenger. It sounds a little strange when she asks him to make her a cambric shirt and then to "wash it" and to "hang it on yonder thorn". It is good to see that emancipation has been so successful. Later Martin Carthy also put the dialog between the two protagonists to rest for his foreshortened version where the man is asking the girl not only to make him the cambric shirt but also to "plough" the land. In fact the modern "Scarborough Fair" has not much to do with what the songs from this family were all about. Their defining element always used to be the wit combat between the man and the woman. This "discourse" now fell apart and what remained was an list of tasks without any inner coherence.
As already noted Cecil Sharp had done the same to the "Scarborough Fair" published in his One Hundred English Folk Songs in 1916 but it seems that was more a result of sloppiness and lack of interest for the lyrics of the song. A similar process of decay was also responsible for the development of the simplified type á la "My Father Gave Me An Acre Of Land" where the dialog was replaced by an arbitrary list of unsolvable tasks. In case of the modern "Scarborough Fair" sloppiness and the process of decay surely also played a role. But more important was a shift in meaning. MacColl in his notes to the song in The Singing Island already emphasized the possible "magical significance" of the refrain (p. 14). Carthy in the liner notes for his first LP (here quoted from his website) also refers to the song's supernatural aspects:
"Folklorists and students of plant mythology are well aware that certain herbs were held to have magical significance - that they were used by sorcerers in their spells and conversely as counter-spells by those that wished to outwit them. The herbs mentioned in the refrain of Scarborough Fair (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) are all known to have been closely associated with death and also as charms against the evil eye. The characters in the Elfin Knight (of which Scarboro' Fair is a version) are a demon and a maid. The demon sets impossible tasks and on the maid's replies depends whether she will fall into his clutches or not. Child believed that elf to be an interloper from another ballad (Lady Isobel and the Elf Knight) and that he should rightly be mortal, but as Ann Gilchrist points out "why the use of the herb refrain except as an indication of something more than mortal combat?" Sir Walter Scott in his notes to Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border recalled hearing a ballad of “a fiend ... paying his addresses to a maid but being disconcerted by the holy herbs she wore in her bosom” and Lucy Broadwood goes as far as to suggest that the refrain might be the survival of an incantation against such a suitor."
I presume the affirmation of old-fashioned gender roles with the help of a dialog between the two protagonists was a little out of date in the 1960s. The second important point was the song's purported antiquity. Both MacColl and Carthy mention the "Elfin Knight" but Alan Lomax in the liner notes to Shirley Collins' LP explicitly stresses the song's connection to a long gone past:
"Scarborough Fair [...] is a fragment of an extremely ancient ballad (Child No. 2, The Elfin Knight), common in all areas of Britain and North America. In the original song a girl hears the far-off blast of he elfin knight's horn and wishes he were in her bedroom. He straightaway appears, but will not consent to be her lover until she answers a series of riddles. This trait of test-by-riddle is a heritage from remote antiquity. The survival of this ancient piece of folklore is assured by the fact that all the couplets in this song contain gentle, but evocative erotic symbols" (from pdf of the liner notes to FW03564, online available at Smithsonian Folkways).
By all academic standards the modern "Scarborough Fair" is - to use this dangerous word - completely "inauthentic". The influence of printed texts on oral tradition is often difficult to determine. But here we can see how the collectors and publishers of "folk songs" themselves have used those printed variants to "improve" the original texts. First Stokoe and Bruce have edited Mr. Hepple's "Whittingham Fair" with the help of "Cambrick Shirt" from Gammer Gurton's Garland. Frank Kidson then used their corrected text to "correct" Mr. Stather's "Scarborough Fair". Ewan MacColl borrowed most of Kidson's work for his own version and in the end both Shirley Collins and Martin Carthy took over this text but then reduced it to a mere fragment. Nonetheless the song has retained its claim to "authenticity" even though there is not much "folk" in it anymore. What has remained is a mutilated relic of an old ballad that has won a new audience mostly because of its anachronistic ingredients and because it is regarded as an "old folk song".
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Written by Jürgen Kloss