Child 293 Comment

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Child 293 John of Hazelgreen

Although he was well aware of this ballad before he embarked upon the ESPB, Child, quite rightfully in my opinion, placed it in his last volume amongst those of dubious origin. Whilst it is clearly set in southern Scotland, it has no antique features and has a very English feel to it. It is the sort of thing Ramsay was churning out at the time. There is no evidence to suggest it is any earlier than the eighteenth century. The earliest version of about 1730, Child A, from the Elizabeth Cochrane Manuscripts could easily be close to the original, from which Kinloch’s versions, Child B, C and E derive.

Child A is written completely in standard English and although Kinloch’s versions have more Scottish in them Scotifying of English ballads, and indeed Anglifying of Scots ballads, was quite common in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Child D, Peter Buchan’s ridiculous concoction, is dealt with later in more detail.

Despite its scarcity, by the time Child started to compile the ESPB, there is evidence to suggest that it had had small currency in oral tradition (Child E, the Leeds printed broadside on the text page and a fullish version collected and Scotified by Crawfurd). By the twentieth century the ballad was still scarce in Scotland in oral tradition. Gavin Greig only obtained a minimal fragment, from the prolific Bell Robertson. But it had established itself in the United States to the extent that Bronson could print 16 tunes. He actually prints 28 versions but almost half of these are versions of Scott’s poem which is a quite separate work. (See below) It is possible that most or all of these American versions derive in some way from Kinloch’s publications, subsequent reprintings and collations, or even the ESPB itself. After all there are almost as many versions of Scott’s poem in Bronson and this wasn’t set to music until 1816.

Content of the Ballad Child A sets the scene close to Biggar about 25 miles south west of Edinburgh, but Kinloch pushes it into Edinburgh itself, no doubt to increase interest and sales of the book, a ploy used frequently by broadside printers. It is perhaps significant that Biggar lies on the direct route from Newton Stewart to Edinburgh. (See later conjecture on this.)

I have already stated that the language and style of this ballad are quite modern, a fact also commented on by Bronson. The content of the ballad also complements this in that prior to the Union in 1603 southern Scotland was in an almost constant state of turmoil with either internal wars involving factions competing in power struggles or religious wars. Apart from this Biggar is not a million miles from the even more turbulent border region. Unlike most of the earlier Scottish ballads 293 contains no hint of danger or violence. The ballad commences in first person through the eyes of a Scottish landowner, perhaps even a laird, who is setting out to find his youngest son’s sweetheart in order to test her fidelity before fetching her home to his son. It is hard to believe that this would even have been attempted before the Union. Also in earlier centuries the thought of a nobleman condoning his son’s marriage to a commoner would have been unheard of, let alone taking active participation. Forceful abduction was the usual method and that only of members of one’s own social stratum. Intermarriage between clans to forge alliances was common, but between different social strata, no. However broadsides of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have this social interaction as one of the most popular subjects.

All of this is assuming the ballad was based to some extent on a real event. The name ‘Hazelgreen’ hardly evokes a picture of Scottish clans. I have searched carefully all of the obvious sources including all of the Ordnance Survey maps of southern Scotland and only one place comes near the word. A couple of miles west of Newton Stewart in Dumfries and Galloway lies the village of Hazlie Green and the same distance away to the north lies Garlies Castle, long time the seat of the Garlies Stewarts. The possibility arises here that if there is some grain of truth in the story, one of the Stewart Lairds of Garlies gave John, his youngest son, the stewardship of Hazlie Green. One of the problems in verifying this is that the Garlies Stewarts like most landed Scottish families had hundreds of Johns. Perhaps here lies an interesting piece of research for someone closer to the ground in Galloway.

Child 293 D

I intend to deal elsewhere with the problem of Peter Buchan’s ballad versions in general. Suffice it here to say that for a long time Child was completely scathing of his ballads. At one end of the scale lies the possibility that Buchan largely took earlier versions and concocted his own adding in all sorts of passages from other ballads and lots of his own composition: At the other end is the possibility that he did some collecting and stitched fragments together adding in necessary joints just as his contemporaries are known to have done.

In 293 D we have a good example of either his work or a ridiculous concoction that was passed off on him. The 10 stanzas of 293 A have been expanded to 17 with some help from Kinloch’s versions. It is not necessary to type out the whole silly piece; the second stanza and a little of the third will suffice, which remind me of something out of ;’The Walrus and the Carpenter’ if that is not too insulting to Lear. It certainly is an insult to oral tradition. 2 The sun was sinking in the west, The stars were shining clear, When thro the thickets o the wood A gentleman did appear. Says, who has done you wrong, fair maid, And left you here alane? Or who has kissed your lovely lips, That ye ca’ Hazelgreen. 3 ‘Hold your tongue, kind sir,’ she said, And do not banter so; How will ye add affliction Unto a lover’s woe? …..

The whole piece is an affront to traditional ballad lovers and it is a relief as much as an expectation that none of it entered oral tradition. The writer also introduces an old chestnut from children’s fairy stories in that the girl has never met John having only seen him in a dream! To add insult to injury, when they arrive back at Hazelgreen it turns out that John has only ever seen her in a dream! 15 …………….. I must confess this is the maid I ance saw in a dream, A walking thro a pleasant shade, As fair’s a cypress (sic) queen.

So the father has not gone out to test her fidelity, but to find a bride for his son, and has chosen someone he met on the roadside. Perhaps he had a dream as well! Some would say, ‘Of such things ballad stories are made.’ Sigh!

An earlier version of this article can be seen at Article 16. This includes links to a version sung by Packie Byrne of Donegal.

Jock of Hazeldean

I only include this here as Bronson included it in his 28 versions of 293 in 'The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads'. The Roud Index currently includes it under the same number as 293, presumably following Bronson, who presumably includes it to demonstrate the relationship of the tunes.

Sir Walter Scott based his poem on the first stanza of 293 E, a fragment of 2 stanzas obtained by Kinloch. Here the resemblance of the 2 songs ends. Scott set his poem firmly in England on the Errington Estate in Northumberland around the Roman Wall between Hexham and Newcastle. In fact Hazel Dean still stands as a ruin just to the north of the Roman Wall.

Steve Gardham