Cecil Sharp's Note 08 (1916)

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No. 8. Little Sir Hugh

Versions of this ballad, with tunes, may be found in Miss Mason’s Nursery Rhymes (p. 46); Motherwell’s Minstrelsy (p. 51, tune No. 7); Journal of the Folk-Song Society (volume i, p. 264); and in Rimbault’s Musical Illustrations of Percy’s Reliques (pp. 3 and 46). For versions without tunes, see Percy’s Reliques (volume i, p. 27); Herd’s Scottish Songs (volume i, p. 157); Jamieson’s Popular Ballads (volume i, p. 151); Notes and Queries (Series 1); and Child’s English and Scottish Ballads (No. 155). The story of this ballad is closely connected with that of the carols “The Bitter Withy” and “The Holy Well” (see the Journal of the Folk-Song Society, volume iv, pp. 35–46).

The events narrated in this ballad were supposed to have taken place in the 13th century. The story is told by a contemporary writer in the Annals of Waverley, under the year 1255. Little Sir Hugh was crucified by the Jews in contempt of Christ with various preliminary tortures. To conceal the act from the Christians, the body was thrown into a running stream, but the water immediately ejected it upon dry land. It was then buried, but was found above ground the next day. As a last resource the body was thrown into a drinking-well; whereupon, the whole place was filled with so brilliant a light and so sweet an odor that it was clear to everybody that there must be something holy in the well. The body was seen floating on the water and, upon its recovery, it was found that the hands and feet were pierced with wounds, the forehead lacerated, etc. The unfortunate Jews were suspected. The King ordered an inquiry. Eighteen Jews confessed, were convicted, and eventually hanged.

A similar tale is told by Matthew Paris (ob. 1259), and in the Annals of Burton (13th or 14th century). Halliwell, in his Ballads and Poems respecting Hugh of Lincoln, prints an Anglo-French ballad, consisting of ninety-two stanzas, which is believed to have been written at the time of, or soon after, the event. No English ballad has been recovered earlier than the middle of the 18th century.

Bishop Percy rightly concludes “the whole charge to be groundless and malicious.” Murders of this sort have been imputed to the Jews for seven hundred and fifty years or more; and similar accusations have been made in Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe even in the 19th century—and as late as 1883. Child sums up the whole matter by saying, “These pretended child-murders, with their horrible consequences, are only a part of a persecution which, with all its moderation, may be rubricated as the most disgraceful chapter in the history of the human race.”

I have discovered three other versions of this ballad besides the one in this volume. The words in the text have been compiled from these sources. The singer learned the ballad from her mother, who always sang the first two lines as follows:

⁠Do rain, do rain, American corn,
⁠Do rain both great and small.

Clearly, “American corn” is a corruption of “In merry Lincoln;” and I hazard the guess that the “Mirry-land toune” in Percy’s version is but another corruption of the same words.

The tune in the text is a close variant of “Tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day” (Chappell’s Popular Music, p. 227).