Roud 1570, ODNR 128
That upwards of 95% of what we nowadays call folk songs can be found on 19th century broadsides is a well-known fact. One only has to browse through the large collections of broadsides in the Bodleian or the Madden collections to see that this is true. What is more surprising, however, is the number (approx. 12%) that can be found on 17th century and earlier broadsides, and here the top two collections have to be the Roxburghe and the Pepys collections.
A few of these 17th century ballads seem to have survived in the oral tradition to the present day without having been printed in the two following centuries. One of these is the ballad c.1690 titled The Maulster's daughter of Malborough, here printed. Remnants of stanzas 1, 5, 6 and 7 can be found in the modern English version, stanzas 1,2,6 and 7 in the Scottish version, and 1 and 3 in the Irish version of Whistle, Daughter, Whistle.
Our modern day song seems to be a splicing of two separate songs, the 17th century ballad given here and the Whistle, Daughter, Whistle stanzas which can be found independently in various 18th and 19th century collections. An English version of this first appeared in a 1740 Wiltshire manuscript, but the basic idea occurs in Flemish and French songs of the 15th century and it also recalls a well-known German folk song. In the 19th century, versions were found in Berkshire, Yorkshire and Perthshire, mostly in collections of children's rhymes. Here is the 1740 version reprinted in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes:
I prithee, Molly, whistle, and you shall have a cow,The well-known English version sung on the folk scene derives from Sharp's Somerset version, the original of which can be found in James Reeves' The Idiom of the People p.223. In oral tradition the modern version is in fact quite scarce, one notable version surfacing in each of England, Scotland and Ireland. Coincidentally the English and Scottish versions were collected within a year of each other (1905 & 1906), the Scottish version by James Duncan (Greig-Duncan folk Song Collection, Vol 7, p.124). The Irish version from Tom Lenihan of Miltown Malbay (1977) can be heard on The Voice of the People CD Vol 15. They vary sufficiently from each other to suggest all three derive from a much older version, very likely at least as old as the 18th century, which married together the two hitherto unconnected songs.
I fear I cannot whistle, I cannot whistle now.
I prithee, Molly, whistle, and you shall have a man,
I fear I cannot whistle, but I'll whistle as I can.
The Maulster's Daughter of Malborough
Containing a pleasant discourse between her mother and she about the weary burthen of a troublesome maiden-head: Concluding with the mother's consent to the daughter's satisfaction.
Mother let me marry, I long to be a bride,|
And have a lusty young man to dally by my side,
For I think it is well known, that I am a woman grown,
Therefore 'tis pity one so pritty e'er should lye alone;
Do not deny me therefore I pray,
Consider I am young and may chance to go astray,
My maiden head, I'll swear, does fill my heart with care,
The burthen, burthen, oh! the burthen's more than I can bear.
Why art thou so eager to be a marry'd wife?
The greatest joy and pleasure is in a single life.
Daughter, now you live at ease, and can ramble where you please,
But if you marry, you must tarry, sorrows will you seize.
House-keeping's chargable, my dear child,
But Nanny she reply'd, Mother I am almost wild; & Co.
Am I not a beauty, and in my blooming prime?
Then let me have a husband, for sure it is high time;
Let me have my heart's delight, tho' I labour day and night,
It would be pleasure out of measure, mother, if I might
Have all the riches that e'er I saw,
Without a loving man I'd not value of a straw; & Co.
Daughter, don't provoke me, but hold your idle tongue,
And talk no more of man, you are seven years too young.
Mother, pray what do you mean? Am I not above fifteen?
Let gallants try me, don't deny me, thousands I have seen,
Who has been marry'd before my age,
And if I longer stay, you'll put me in a rage; & Co.
Daughter I was nineteen before I e'er did wed,
Yet was not over-burthen'd with my dear maiden-head.
Loving mother, that may be, but it's otherwise with me
That's brisk and airy, therefore weary of virginity,
Cupid has gave me a fatal wound,
Therefore a man I'll have if he above the ground; & Co.
If you are so pomper'd, I'll pull your courage down
By hard and painful labour, strip off your silken gown,
With your toppings rich and gay, to the field this very day
I'll send you packing, cloath'd in sacking, then perhaps you may
Leave off your longing for a young man.
No, no, I never shall, then reply'd her daughter Nan; & Co.
Mother, if you send me to labour in the field,
Young Batchelors will tempt me, and I perhaps may yield
To the thing I will not name, therefore never lay the blame
Upon your daughter, if hereafter I should play the game;
For I am certain it will be so,
A man I needs must have whether mother will or no; & Co.
If you are resolved to play at Hoppers-hide,
There's honest frank the farmer for you I will provide,
He is lusty, tall and trim, and has courage to the brim.
I thank you, mother, there's no other that I love like him;
Now for the torment which I endure,
I make no other doubt but to have a speedy cure.
My maiden-head, I'll swear, does fill my heart with care,
Now, not much longer, not much longer I'll that burthen bear.
One of the better made ballads printed on broadsides. From Pepys Collection vol 3, p.70.