295: The Brown Girl

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The Brown Girl Child 295A

Roud Number-pending

Versions in Child 1 Bronson 0

The Cruel Nymph. A new Song. No imprint. C1790

Source: Madden Collection, VWML microfilms 71 / 418, slip songs A-G.


I Am as brown as brown can be,

And my eyes as black as a sloe;

I am as brisk as a nightingale,

And as wild as any doe.


My love sent me a letter,

Far from yonders town;

He could not fancy me,

Because I was so brown.


I sent his letter back again,

His love I value not;

Whether he could fancy me,

Or whether he could not.


My love sent me another letter,

That he lay dangerous sick,

And I must needs go presently.

To give my love physick.


But now you shall hear what a love I had,

And a love for that sick man;

That I was a whole summer’s day,

One mile a going on.


When I came to my love’s bed side,

Where he lay dangerous sick,

I could not then for laughing stand

Upright upon my feet.


I set me down on his bed-side,

And laid a white wand on his breast,

And then cry’d I, since you’re so well,

I hope your soul’s at rest.


No sooner I had spoke these words,

He lifted up his eyes;

But since you see how bad I am,

‘Tis you your love denys.


I’ll do as much for my true love,

As any pretty maiden may,

I’ll sing and dance upon your grave,

For a twelvemonth and a day.


When I have done what I can do,

I’ll sit me down and cry,

And every tear that I do shed,

I’ll hang them up to dry.

The Inconstant Couple No imprint but with others printed in Newcastle, c1800

Source: Madden Collection, VWML microfilms 83 / Country printers

Roud 180, Versions in Child 0 Bronson 49


A pretty young sailor from Dover there came,

He courted pretty Sally pretty Sally was her name,

But she was so lofty, and her portion was so high,

That she on a Sailor would scarce cast an eye.


O Sally, O Sally, O Sally, says he.

I fear that your hard heart will my ruin be.

Unless that your hatred should turn into love

I’m afraid that your hard heart will my ruin prove.


Sir, my hatred is not to you nor any other man,

But to say that I love you is more than I can;

So keep your intentions and hold your discourse,

For I never intend to marry you without I am forced.


When seven long weeks were over and past,

This pretty fair maid fell sick at the last;

Entangled in love, and she knew not for why

So she sent for the Sailor whom she did deny.


O am I a Doctor that you have sent for me,

Pray don’t you remember how once you slighted me,

O yes you’re the doctor that can kill or cure,

The pain that I feel Love is hard to indure.


O Sally, O Sally, O Sally says he,

Pray don’t you remember how once you slighted me,

How you have slighted me and treated me with scorn,

So now I’ll reward you for what you have done.


For what is past and gone my love, forget forgive,

And grant me a little while longer to live,

O no my dearest Sally, for as long as I breathe,

I will rejoice upon the tomb that you lie underneath.


She took rings from her fingers by one, two three,

Saying here dearest Billy, in remembrance of me,

In remembrance of me, my love, when I’m dead and gone,

Perhaps you may be sorry for what you have done,


So adieu to my father, my mother, and my friends,

And adieu to the sailor, for he will make no mends,

Likewise to my sweet William, for he will not pity me,

Ten thousand times over, my folly I do see.


So all pretty maidens a warning take by me,

And see how I am served for my cruelty,

So well I am rewarded for what I have done,

And so of a young sailor do not make your fun.

As can be seen these two quite different ballads, though on a common subject, have no text in common and have quite different metres. Not an easy task to marry the two together to make Child 295B as Baring Gould has done.

Roud 180 is a very common ballad on broadsides under mostly titles such as ‘The Dover Sailor’ and ‘Sally and her True Love Billy’ and in oral tradition. Child 295A is very rare having only the 2 known versions both in stall copies. As Child quite rightly states it is largely made up of bits and pieces from older traditional ballads. The common ballad is typical of its sort as a warning and relates an easy to follow narrative in dialogue form. The other is untypical and awkward as though it had been quickly thrown together without much thought. Had it survived in oral tradition it might have become an interesting ballad worth preserving.

Had Child had more information at the time I think he would have placed it in an appendix, perhaps to 78, ‘The Unquiet Grave’, from which it borrows a stanza. As a late eighteenth century broadside hack’s concoction accompanied by a late nineteenth century concoction it hardly merits a place in the canon.