Tunes (pp. 42 and 172); Northumbrian Minstrelsy (p. 79); Folk Songs from Somerset (No. 64); Journal of the Folk-Song Society (volume 1, p. 83; volume ii, p. 212; volume iii, p. 274), etc.
This is one of the ancient Riddle Songs, a good example of which occurs in the Wanderer scene in the first act of Wagner’s Siegfried. In its usual form, one person imposes a task upon his adversary, who, however, evades it by setting another task of equal difficulty, which, according to the rules of the game, must be performed first. In the version given here, the replies are omitted. For an exhaustive exposition of the subject, see Child’s “Elfin Knight,” and “Riddles wisely expounded,” in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads. See, also, Kinloch’s Ancient Scottish Ballads (p. 145); Motherwell’s Minstrelsy (Appendix, p. 1 ); Buchan’s Ancient Ballads of the North of Scotland (volume ii, p. 296); Gesta Romanorum (pp. xl, 124, and 233, Bohn ed.); Gammer Gurton’s Garland; and Halliwell’s Nursery Rhymes. Mr. Baring-Gould’s note to the song in Songs of the West should also be consulted.
The tune is in the Dorian mode, except for the final and very unusual cadence. The words have been supplemented from those of other traditional versions which I have collected.
No. 75. Brimbledon Fair, or Young Ramble-Away
Mr. Kidson prints a major version of this song in his Traditional Tunes (p. 150), under the heading “Brocklesby Fair.” The words are on a broadside, “Young Ramble Away,” by Jackson of Birmingham. The tune is in the Dorian mode.
No. 76. Bridgwater Fair
St. Matthew’s Fair at Bridgwater is a very ancient one, and is still a local event of some importance, although it has seen its best days. The tune, which is partly Mixolydian, is a variant of “Gently, Johnny, my Jingalo” (No. 65), and also of “Bibberly Town” (Songs of the West, No. 110, 2d ed.). I have only one other variant of this, from which, however, some of the lines in the text have been taken.
No. 77. The Crabfish
A Scottish version of this curious song, “The Crab,” is given in A Ballad Book by C. K. Sharpe and Edmund Goldsmid (volume ii, p. 10), published in 1824. The footnote states that the song is founded upon a story in Le Moyen de Parvenir. Some of the words have been altered.
The tune is in the Mixolydian mode, and was sung to me very excitedly and at break-neck speed, the singer punctuating the rhythm of the refrain with blows of her fist upon the table at which she was sitting.
No. 78. The Beggar
The words of the refrain of this song are very nearly identical with the chorus of “I cannot eat but little meat,” the well-known drinking-song in Gammer Gurton’s Needle. This play was printed in 1575 and, until the discovery of Royster Doyster, was considered to be the earliest English comedy. Its author was John Still, afterwards, that is, 1592, Bishop of Bath and Wells. The song, however, was not written by him, for Chappell points out that “the Rev. Alex. Dyce has given a copy of double length from a manuscript in his possession and certainly of an earlier date than the play.” Chappell furthermore calls attention to the custom of singing old songs or playing old tunes at the commencement, and at the end, of the acts of early dramas. “I cannot eat” has been called “the first drinking-song of any merit in our language.”
The words of this Exmoor song, excluding the chorus, are quite different from the version in Gammer Gurton’s Needle. It appears that under the title of “The Beggar and the Queen,” they were published in the form of a song not more than a century ago (see A Collection of English Ballads from beginning of Eighteenth Century, volume vii, Brit. Mus.). The tune, which is quite different from the one given here, is clearly the invention of a contemporary composer, but there is no evidence to show whether or not the words were the production of a contemporary writer; they may have been traditional verses which happened to attract the attention of some musician.