Child Ballads

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For the album, see Child Ballads (album).
Illustration by Arthur Rackham
of Child Ballad 26, "The Twa Corbies"

The Child Ballads are 305 traditional ballads from England and Scotland and their American variants, collected by Francis James Child during the second half of the 19th century. Their lyrics and Child's studies of them were published as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, a work of 2,500 pages. The tunes of most of the ballads were collected and published by Bertrand Harris Bronson in and around the 1960s.

Nature of the ballads[edit]

Child's collection was not the first of its kind; there had been many less scholarly collections of English and Scottish ballads, particularly from Bishop Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) onwards.[1] There were also "comprehensive" ballad collections from other countries. Child modelled his work on Svend Grundtvig's Danmarks gamle Folkeviser, classifying and numbering the ballads and noting different versions, which were placed side by side to aid comparison.[2] As a result, one Child number may cover several ballads, which Child considered variants of the same story, although they may differ in many ways (as in "James Hatley"). Conversely, ballads classified separately may contain turns of phrase, and even entire verses, that are identical.

Illustration by Vernon Hill
of Child Ballad 2, The Elfin Knight

The ballads vary in age; for instance, the manuscript of "Judas" dates to the thirteenth century and a version of "A Gest of Robyn Hode" was printed in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century.[2] The majority of the ballads, however, date to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although some probably have very ancient influences,[citation needed] only a handful can be definitively traced to before 1600. Moreover, few of the tunes collected are as old as the words. Nevertheless, Child's collection was far more comprehensive than any previous collection of ballads in English.

Many of Child's ballads were obtained from printed broadsides, but he generally distinguished the "traditional" ballads that interested him from later broadside ballads. Unfortunately, since Child died before writing a commentary on his work, it is uncertain exactly how and why he selected some ballads and discounted others.[3]

Child Ballads are generally heavier and darker than is usual for ballads. Some of the topics and other features characteristic enough of Child Ballads to be considered Child Ballad motifs are these: romance, enchantment, devotion, determination, obsession, jealousy, forbidden love, insanity, hallucination, uncertainty of one's sanity, the ease with which the truth can be suppressed temporarily, supernatural experiences, supernatural deeds, half-human creatures, teenagers, family strife, the boldness of outlaws, abuse of authority, betting, lust, death, karma, punishment, sin, morality, vanity, folly, dignity, nobility, honor, loyalty, dishonor, riddles, historical events, omens, fate, trust, shock, deception, disguise, treachery, disappointment, revenge, violence, murder, cruelty, combat, courage, escape, exile, rescue, forgiveness, being tested, human weaknesses, and folk heroes.

On one extreme, some Child Ballads recount identifiable historical people, in known events, embellished for dramatic effect.[4] On the other, some differ from fairy tales solely by their being songs and in verse; some have been recast in prose form as fairy tales. A large part of the collection is about Robin Hood; some are about King Arthur. A few of the ballads are rather bawdy.[5]

Modern recordings[edit]

Illustration by Katherine Cameron of a retelling of the story of Child Ballad 37, Thomas Rymer and Queen of Elfland

For a century after Child started publishing the lyrics of old ballads in 1857, most Child ballads remained unknown outside of traditional communities that were insulated from the spread of contemporary urban entertainment (communities in which the ballads were known independent of Child's publications), except in academic, cultural and political circles in which folk music was valued. The "folk music revival" of the mid-20th century brought Child ballads to the attention of the general public again.

Many Child Ballads have subsequently appeared in contemporary music recordings. Burl Ives's 1949 album, The Return of the Wayfaring Stranger, for example, includes two: "Lord Randall" and " The Divil and the Farmer".

In 1956 four albums (consisting of eight LPs) of 72 Child Ballads sung by Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd were released: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Vols. 1-4.[6]

In 1960 John Jacob Niles published The Ballad Book of John Jacob Niles, in which he connects folk songs which he collected throughout the southern United States and Appalachia in the early 20th century to the Child Ballads. Many of the songs he published were revived in the Folk music revival, for example "The Riddle Song" ("I gave my love a Cherry"), which he connects with Child No. 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded".

Popular folk revival singer Joan Baez included the Child ballads "Matty Groves" (81), "Geordie" (209) and "The House Carpenter" (243) on this Vanguard Records LP issued in 1962.

Joan Baez sang ten Child ballads distributed among her first five albums, the liner notes of which identified them as such.[7] Those albums sold in large numbers in English-speaking countries and abroad.

British electric folk groups such as Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Steeleye Span drew heavily on the Child Ballads in their repertoires, and many other recording artists have recorded individual ballads. Harry Smith included a number of them into his Anthology of American Folk Music.

Child ballads also occasionally occur in the work of musical groups not usually associated with folk material, such as Ween's recording of "The Unquiet Grave" (Child 78) under the title "Cold Blows the Wind" and versions of "Barbara Allen" (Child 84) recorded by the Everly Brothers, Art Garfunkel, and (on the soundtrack of the 2004 film A Love Song for Bobby Long) John Travolta. In 2009, Fleet Foxes included "The Fause Knight Upon the Road" as the b-side to the 7" release of "Mykonos" (as "False Knight on the Road"). In 2013 US singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer released Child Ballads comprising seven songs from the Francis James Child collection.

Print and electronic editions of Child's two collections[edit]

The two collections have about 200 ballads in common. Each of the two collections includes about a hundred ballads that the other does not.[8]

Illustration by George Wharton Edwards of Child Ballad 155, The Jew's Daughter

His early collection[edit]

  • English and Scottish Ballads, eight volumes (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1857–58)
This is not the collection (of 1882-98) whose ballads are commonly called "(the) Child Ballads" and numbered 1 to 305. Compared to the 1882-98 collection, this one has fewer versions of each ballad, much less scholarly commentary on each one and a much shorter glossary.
  • English and Scottish Ballads, eight volumes, second edition (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1860)
  • Scans at Project Gutenberg of the 1860 edition of English and Scottish Ballads:
    Volume 1 supernatural beings and happenings and legendary heroes; and a bibliography
    Volume 2 tragic love
    Volume 3 tragic, other than love
    Volume 4 love, other than tragic
    Volume 5 Robin Hood
    Volume 6 other outlaws
    Volume 7 historical
    Volume 8 humorous, satirical, bawdy, moral, biblical and miscellaneous; and an index of the eight volumes
    Each of those eight volumes

His major collection[edit]

Illustration by Arthur Rackham
of Child Ballad 53, Young Beichan
Illustration by Arthur Rackham
of Child Ballad 53, Young Beichan
Illustration by Vernon Hill
of Child Ballad 73,
Lord Thomas and Fair Annet
  • The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, ten volumes (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1882–98)
    This work includes encyclopedic commentary on each of 305 ballads (comparing a ballad's different versions and relating a ballad to other ballads and prose stories from, altogether, thirty languages), the lyrics of an average of five versions of each ballad, a glossary of the ballads' 5,500 archaic and Scottish words and long lists of sources.
    (Although the ten volumes were published about two years apart, Child and the publisher referred to them as five volumes each having two parts, a terminology that has been followed by most people who write about them. The pagination of their even-numbered volumes was a continuation of the previous volume's.)
    How Child's selecting of ballads for this second collection differed from his selecting for the 1857-58 collection is one of the five topics of the 1906 article "Professor Child and the Ballad" by Walter Morris Hart.[9]
  • The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, five volumes (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.,1898). A re-bound reissue of the ten-volume 1882-98 publication
  • The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, five volumes (New York: Folklore Press, 1956. New York: Dover Publications, 1965. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2003). Three facsimile reissues of the five-volume 1898 edition
  • Corrected edition of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, five volumes (Northfield, Minnesota: Loomis House Press, 2002-2011). Not counting reissues of the 1882-98 publication, this is its second edition. It incorporates, where they apply, the additional lyrics, additional commentary, corrections and music scores that Child included in appendixes in his subsequent volumes. It includes music scores (from sources that Child cited) for many ballads for which the 1882-1898 edition did not include one.
  • Scans of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Child's 1882-98 publication) at Google Books:
    Part 1 a.k.a. Vol. 1, Part 1 (1882) Ballads 1-28
    Part 2 a.k.a. Vol. 1, Part 2 (1884) Ballads 29-53
    Part 3 a.k.a. Vol. 2, Part 1 (1885) Ballads 54-82
    Part 4 a.k.a. Vol. 2, Part 2 (1886) Ballads 83-113
    Part 5 a.k.a. Vol. 3, Part 1 (1888) Ballads 114-155
    Part 6 a.k.a. Vol. 3, Part 2 (1889) Ballads 156-188
    Part 7 a.k.a. Vol. 4, Part 1 (1890) Ballads 189-225
    Part 8 a.k.a. Vol. 4, Part 2 (1892) Ballads 226-265
    Part 9 a.k.a. Vol. 5, Part 1 (1894) Ballads 266-305
    Part 10 a.k.a. Vol. 5, Part 2 (1898) N/A. See following list of Internet Archive links.
  • Scans of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Child's 1882-98 publication) at the Internet Archive:
    Part 1 a.k.a. Vol. 1, Part 1 (1882) Ballads 1-28
    Part 2 a.k.a. Vol. 1, Part 2 (1884) Ballads 29-53
    Part 3 a.k.a. Vol. 2, Part 1 (1885) Ballads 54-82
    Part 4 a.k.a. Vol. 2, Part 2 (1886) Ballads 83-113
    Part 5 a.k.a. Vol. 3, Part 1 (1888) Ballads 114-155
    Part 6 a.k.a. Vol. 3, Part 2 (1889) Ballads 156-188
    Part 7 a.k.a. Vol. 4, Part 1 (1890) Ballads 189-225
    Part 8 a.k.a. Vol. 4, Part 2 (1892) Ballads 226-265
    Part 9 a.k.a. Vol. 5, Part 1 (1894) Ballads 266-305
    Part 10 a.k.a. Vol. 5, Part 2 (1898) Supplements for Parts 1-9 (glossary, indexes, notes, bibliography, sources, additions and corrections) and music scores of 46[10] of the 305 ballads
  • Navigable e-text of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Child's 1882-98 publication). A reader can click to display any section of each ballad's chapter (or its music score if it is one of the 46 ballads for which a music score was included in the print edition).
  • "The English and Scottish Popular Ballads: digital edition" (New York: Heritage Muse, 2002). This CD-ROM is currently (in 2013) not being sold, pending the release of an upgraded version compatible with current Windows and Macintosh operating systems. It enables searches of the full text of the 1882-98 publication; includes links from the index to the text, links in both directions between the glossary and the lyrics, links in both directions between the text and Child's appended additions and corrections, links in both directions between the lyrics and a gazetteer of all their place names and links in both directions between interactive maps and the gazetteer; and plays the audio of the 55 music scores that were included in the print edition.

Abridgment[edit]

  • English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.,1904). A one-volume abridgment of Child's 1882-98 publication that consists of about one quarter of that publication's text, with fewer versions of each ballad, a much shorter commentary on each ballad, no music scores and the omission of Ballads 33, 279, 281, 290 and 299; edited by Helen Child Sargent (Child's daughter) and George Lyman Kittredge (the literary executor he chose)
  • Scan of English and Scottish Popular Ballads (that 1904 abridgment) at Google Books

The tunes in print and electronic editions[edit]

Illustration of an Arthurian legend that is retold in Child Ballad 18, Sir Lionel
  • Child's 1882-1898 publication includes, in its final volume's second half, 55 music scores for 46 (of the 305) ballads.[10]
  • Bronson, Bertrand Harris. The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads: With Their Texts, According to the Extant Records of Great Britain and North America, four volumes (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1959-72. Northfield, Minnesota: Loomis House Press, 2009 reissue)
    A grand total of 4,120 music scores for 208 (of the 305) ballads are included in the four volumes.[11]
    In the introduction to Volume 1 and in many ballads' chapters, Bronson traced the evolution of the tunes, grouping them into tune families.
    For many of the ballads that Bronson covered, he included versions of lyrics that Child didn't include. For almost all the ballads that Bronson covered, he included almost all of the versions of lyrics that Child included.
    One of Bronson's indexes is the names of approximately 1,800 singers from the British Isles and North America, an indication of the tune(s) for which each singer was Bronson's oral source (or was the oral source of Bronson's source in the case of tunes that Bronson found already notated, which was the case for most of the tunes) and what part of each singer's country the singer was from. This information was included also in Bronson's introduction to each tune.
  • Bronson, Bertrand Harris. The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1976. Northfield, Minnesota: Loomis House Press, 2009 reissue)
    This is a one-volume abridgment by Bronson of his above-listed four-volume publication, with music scores for 164 (of the 305) ballads[12] and far fewer music scores for each included ballad than were in the four-volume edition.
  • The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads: Digital Edition (New York: Camsco Music, 2009) is a CD-R of a scan of Bronson's above-listed four-volume publication. Being a single file (a PDF), it makes the contents of all four volumes searchable in a single search.

Trivia[edit]

Illustration by Alexander George Fraser
of Child Ballad 275, Get Up and Bar the Door
  • In Peter Beagle's novel The Last Unicorn, the character Captain Cully, a robber chief, sets out to make himself another Robin Hood by immortalizing himself in ballads. He misidentifies another character as "Mr. Child" and tries to get him to collect the songs, and tells him that writing them himself is legitimate.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

Illustration by Vernon Hill
of Child Ballad 113,
The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry
Illustration by Pavel Svedomskiy
of a Russian version of the story
of Child Ballad 173, Mary Hamilton
  1. ^ B. Sweers, Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music (Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 45.
  2. ^ a b A. N. Bold, The Ballad (Routledge, 1979), p. 5.
  3. ^ T. A. Green, Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art (ABC-CLIO, 1997), p. 352.
  4. ^ "ballad". Encyclopædia Britannica. The minstrels manipulate the story with coarse explicitness. 
  5. ^ J. E. Housman, British Popular Ballads (1952, Ayer Publishing, 1969).
  6. ^ "Ewan MacColl & A.L. Lloyd: The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume I". Ewan MacColl's Discography. Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  7. ^ Baez's first, second, third and fifth albums (released in 1960-64) included these ten Child ballads, in this order: 173, 250, 54, 84, 113, 81, 209, 243, 78, 170.
  8. ^ In the first collection there are 115 ballads that are not in the second collection. In the second collection there are 90 ballads that are not in the first collection. The first collection has 369 ballads (219 plus 150 that come under the eight volumes' "Appendix" heading). The number of ballads in the second collection is nominally 305 but actually much higher because hundreds of the ballads that Child presented as versions of another ballad (because their story is basically the same or similar) are very different from that other ballad, in many cases sharing not even one stanza.
  9. ^ Hart, Walter Morris. "Professor Child and the Ballad". Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 21 (4): 755–807.  The article's section about the changes in Child's criteria for selecting ballads starts on p. 792. The article was reprinted in Vol. 5 of Dover Publication's 2003 reissue of Child's second collection, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.
  10. ^ a b Which ballads are the 46 for which a tune was included in the 1882-1898 publication (The English and Scottish Popular Ballads) is indicated in this footnote's list of numbers, which are Child's index numbers for those 46. The number of occurrences of a ballad's index number in this list is the number of music scores included for it in that publication. The referents of the index numbers (the title that Child selected to be each ballad's main title) are listed in the List of the Child Ballads. Ballads 3, 9, 10, 10, 10, 11, 12, 12, 17, 20, 40, 42, 42, 46, 47, 53, 58, 61, 63, 68, 75, 77, 84, 89, 95, 97, 98, 99, 99, 100, 106, 114, 157, 161, 163, 164, 164, 169, 169, 173, 182, 222, 226, 228, 235, 247, 247, 250, 256, 258, 278, 281, 286, 286, 299.
  11. ^ The Child index numbers of the 97 ballads for which no tune was included in Bronson's four-volume edition: 8, 15, 23, 28, 29, 30, 35, 36, 48, 50, 59, 60, 70, 71, 80, 82, 87, 91, 104, 107, 108, 109, 111, 115, 118, 119, 121, 122, 127, 128, 130, 133, 135, 136, 137, 138, 142, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 158, 159, 160, 165, 166, 168, 171, 172, 174, 175, 176, 177, 179, 180, 184, 189, 190, 194, 197, 198, 202, 205, 207, 220, 224, 230, 234, 242, 244, 249, 259, 261, 262, 263, 264, 268, 271, 290, 291, 292, 294, 296, 297, 300, 301, 302, 303, 304, 305
  12. ^ The Child index numbers of the 141 ballads for which no tune was included in Bronson's one-volume abridged edition are the 97 numbers in the above footnote's list of ballads for which no tune was included in the four-volume edition and these 44 others: 6, 22, 27, 31, 33, 38, 57, 66, 67, 72, 89, 90, 94, 96, 97, 98, 101, 102, 103, 116, 117, 123, 124, 129, 131, 134, 183, 186, 195, 225, 239, 246, 247, 253, 254, 255, 256, 257, 258, 260, 265, 266, 270, 298.

Further reading[edit]

Illustration by Vernon Hill
of Child Ballad 35, Allison Gross

External links[edit]

Illustration by J. Shaw Crompton of the four Marys who figure in Child Ballad 173, Mary Hamilton
Child Ballad #84. Recorded in a women's dormitory of Florida State Prison, 1939

Problems playing this file? See media help.
  • Discography of the Child ballads that lists 10,000 commercially released recordings of them. The Child Ballad Database
  • Tunes of 82 Child ballads played by an audio synthesizer, information about each of them and, for many of them, links to information (not written with the ballad in mind) on the historical background of the ballad's story or on another relevant topic. Contemplator's Child Ballad Website
  • Amateur audio of amateur solo singing of Child ballads, mostly unaccompanied, from 1956 to 1976 in Arkansas, Missouri and thereabouts: 137 recordings of 43 ballads by 69 singers, with each recording's version of the lyrics displayed on that recording's webpage. The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection of the Ozark Mountains
  • Audio and video recordings of many Child ballads are at YouTube, findable there by typing "child ballad OR ballads" or a ballad's title in the search-box.
  • All the lyrics (and only the lyrics, omitting Child's commentary on each ballad) in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Child's ten-volume 1882-98 publication); and the bibliography of the 1860 edition of English and Scottish Ballads (Child's eight-volume publication). Internet Sacred Text Archive
  • The title of each version of each Child ballad, listed under Child's index number (one of 1 through 305) for that ballad; all 305 lists in one list. Each version's title is the one given in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, which was the title given by the source (published, manuscript or oral) from which Child received that version. Each title in this list is a link to the lyrics (in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads) of that version. Child's commentary on each ballad is omitted. The University of Sydney's English Poetry Fulltext Database
  • Alternative titles of Child ballads not mentioned by Child in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads are included in a list, mixed with the version titles mentioned there by Child for that ballad. All 305 lists are in one list. Some of the version titles mentioned by Child are not included. Ed de Moel
  • Concordance to the Child ballads. An alphabetical list of every word in the ballads, showing (and citing the source of) the few words before and after every occurrence of it in any of the ballads. To use the concordance on a Macintosh computer, its four PDF files need to be downloaded to a Windows PC, then de-compressed on a Windows PC and then copied to a Macintosh. Cathy Lynn Preston
  • Motifs that are common in Child ballads: An alphabetical list of 65 (e.g., Abhorrent Admirer, Secret Test of Character, The Pardon) is under the heading "Tropes common in the Child Ballads" there. Each of the 65 is a link to a description of it and to examples of it in ballads and other genres of entertainment and literature. (Far fewer examples of the ballads in which a listed motif/trope occurs are given there than are given in the book Motif Index of the Child Corpus: The English and Scottish Popular Ballad, which is described in the "Further reading" section of this Wikipedia article.) TV Tropes (a wiki that is editable by any user)
  • Paintings, generally surrealistic, of Child Ballads by 13 artists in an exhibit presented in 2011. The Child index number of the ballad that is illustrated by each of the 13 paintings, starting at the top of that webpage and moving down: 26, 22, 10, 13, 68, 278, 90, 4, 77, 53, 209, 81, 200. Rotating History Project
  • Video of a gradually scrolling panorama of illustrations of Child Ballad 53 ("Lord Bateman" a.k.a. "Young Beichan") that arrive inside a stationary frame when the lyrics that they illustrate are sung by the operator of the scrolling device, which is called a Crankie Box and resembles a puppet theater. This entertainment medium was invented in the 19th century, when it was known as a moving panorama. Anna and Elizabeth
  • Lists of Child's research materials (his correspondence and other archived papers) for his two ballad collections. Harvard University's Houghton Library