This article was originally intended for publication in English Dance and Song, but appears here instead.

The Distressed Maid

Roud 564 and 1414, Laws P18

A major problem in the study of those folk songs that lie in the Lamenting Maid genre is the fact that they often share tunes, utilize a wide range of commonplace stanzas, and much cross pollination has taken place over at least four centuries.  Whilst this makes them difficult to categorise it also puts them amongst the most intriguing and challenging to study.  There are numerous examples of these songs, but perhaps the three groups that have evolved into the widest varieties are:

  1. The Died for Love family mainly represented by Roud 60, Laws P25, The Brisk Young Sailor (which I am currently researching for a much longer article).
  2. Deep in Love / Down in the Meadows / Must I go Bound, Roud 18829.
  3. The Distressed Maid, Roud 564, False-hearted William, Roud 1414, and The Lily-white Hand, the subject of this article.
Before examining the three songs that comprise this last family, it is enlightening to look at an early ancestor from the 17th century.  In the Bodleian Library there is a black-letter ballad, Rawlinson Ballads, 566 (24), printed by J Hose, over against the King's Arms near Holborn Bridge, c.1670.

Text A 

The Forsaken Damosel: Or, The Deluded Maid

A Young Man woo'd this Maid unto her sorrow
And thus her chiefest Jewel he did borrow,
With flattering speeches he did her delude,
And all was for a Maiden-head he su'd,
Which having got he basely cast her off,
For all the world at her to jeer and scoff.

To a pleasant new tune: Or, A Shepherds daughter once there was.

Abroad as I of late did walk,
under a green-wood side,
I heard two Lovers freely talk,
which caus'd me there to abide.
Before he did the Maid espy,
he heard her sing full sweet,
Which caused him for to draw nigh,
and thus he did her greet.
God speed, God speed, you pretty Maid,     
in singing of your song,
Sweet wilt thou be my Bride, he said,
kind sir I am too young.
The younger that thou art sweeteheart,
The fitter for my bed
That I may say another day,
I Married with a Maid.
O stay (quoth she) it may not be,
therein there may be danger,
|For me so quickly to agree,
to marry with a stranger,

The second part
I am but fifteen years of age,
though I be something tall,
Therefore I dare not yet engage,
least I should catch a fall. 
O fie sweet-heart, you're old enough,
for I have heard them say,
Make use of time and gather up
your rose-buds whilst you may. 
Time being lost, cannot be gain'd,
and beauty it will fade,
Then be not coy my only joy,
thou stayst too long a Maid. 
He took her by the lilly white hand
and he kist her wantonly,
He brought her in that merry mood,
all night with him to lye. 
Where all the forepart of the night,
they did both sport and play,
Whilst Cupid laught to see them fight
in such an amorous fray.

But when the morning did appear
this Damsel blushing said
The young man he start up for fear
That they should be betraid.
Sweet-heart (quoth he) I must away
since you have been so kind
To let me have your maiden-head,
pray keep me in your mind.
Now I have lain with you, kind sir,
and pleas'd you to the life,
And will you not your promise keep
and marry me for your wife.
If I did promise you sweet-heart,
it was in a merry mood,
I never mean to marry one
That is so quickly woo'd.
But if you be with child sweet-heart,
as I perceive you be,
Your petticoat needs no tucking up,
it's lin'd with taffety.
O false disloyal man she said
can you find in your heart
To leave a poor deluded maid,
and in disdain to part.
Whilst others they do walk abroad
to hear the small birds sing,
Hereafter I must stay at home,
to rock the cradle and spin.
But if I were a maid again,
as I was yesternight,
I would not change my Maiden-head,
for Lord, Duke, Squire nor Knight.
My belly shews I plainly see,
that he hath done me wrong,
I wish it may a warning be,
To maids that hear this song.
That others may a warning take,
to be more nice and coy,
for flatering young-men strive to make
Maids have a Baby Boy.
Printed for J.  Hose over against the King's Arms near Holbourn bridge.

By the early 19th century the ballad had become The Distressed Maid as printed by Pitts of London, both Wheeler and Swindells of Manchester and Forth of Hull.  (This title was also used for several other ballads which have entered oral tradition.) Whilst most oral versions follow the B text fairly closely there is enough evidence to suggest that the A text either continued in oral tradition or at least one other intermediate broadside text existed, as a few versions found in oral tradition contain phraseology in common with the A text not found in versions of the B text.

Text B, Bodleian Library Ballads website, 2806 c17 (101), c.1837.

Distressed Maid

J Wheeler, Printer.  Manchester.

As I walked out one May morning down by a river side,
I heard a couple discoursing which fill'd my heart with pride,
May the Heavens bless you fair maid sing me another song,
I wish you was my bride he said, kind sir, I am too young.

The younger that you are my love, the better you are for me,
For I will vow and do declare I'll wed no woman but thee,
He took her by the lilly white hand he kist her cheek and chin,
Then took her to his marriage room to sit awhile with him.

It was the beginning of that night they had both sport and play,
And all the better part of the night close in her arms did lay,
The night being gone & day coming on the morning shone so clear,
This young man rose and put on his clothes saying fare-you-well my dear.

Is that the promise you made to me down by a river side,
You promis'd to marry me and make me your lawful bride,
If I promised to marry you its more than I will do,
I never will wed with any one so easy found as you.

Go home to your father's garden sit down and cry your fill,
And when you think on what you've done you may blame your own good will,
There is an herb in your father's garden and some will call it rue,
When fishes fly and swallows dive young men will prove true.

I wish I was a maid again as I was this time last night,
I would not change my portion for either lords or knights,
Nor either lords or knights said she or those of high degree,
Then happy would that young (man) be who stole a kiss from me.

There are other farmers daughters to market they do go,
But I poor girl must stay at home to rock the cradle O,
To rock the cradle o'er and o'er, & sing lullaby,
Was there e'er a maid in all this town so great in love as me.

Ten of the twenty stanzas in text A have recognizable equivalents in the seven double stanzas in text B.  Stanzas 1 and 3 of A form stanza 1 of B, 4 and 9 of A equal stanza 2 of B, 10 and 11 of A equal stanza 3 of B, 13 and 14 of A equal stanza 4 of B, 18 of A is the first half of stanza 6 in B, and 17 of a is the first half of stanza 7 in B.  Also stanza 6 of A is found in later oral versions but not in text B.

Oral versions are quite common and go under a wide variety of titles, usually based on the first line, e.g.  Abroad as I was walking.  No frequently used or obvious oral title has emerged so I have chosen in my Master Titles Index to retain the broadside title The Distressed Maid.  Commonplace stanzas are often found in oral versions and in Mrs Overd's much reprinted version as collected by Sharp (See Reeves' The Idiom of the People, p.106) three stanzas have been borrowed from The Shannon Side (Roud 1453).  A fairly full version can be found in Purslow's The Wanton Seed, p.6 and a Scoticised version in the recently remaindered Crawfurd's Collection, Volume 2, p.13, edited by Emily Lisle.  A fragmentary version usually titled Blackwater Side has been collected in Scotland and Ireland (See Paddy Tunny's The Stone Fiddle, p.108) and there are fragments in volume 5 (p144) and volume 6 (p292) of The Greig Duncan Collection.  Though seemingly scarce in America, under the title Pretty Little Miss, Sharp collected two versions in the Appalachians and Maud Karpeles collected a very full Newfoundland version which follows the broadside closely (Folk Songs from Newfoundland, 1971, p.208).

The other ballad (Roud 1414) which is a member of this family first appears on a broadside printed by Mayne of Belfast in the mid 19th century, under the title of The Dublin Tragedy (Collection of The Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland).  Mayne's hacks seem to have been well adapted to the tradition of composing new ballads from bits of older ones, taken to new and greater levels in Northern Ireland if Sam Henry's Songs of the People is anything to go by.

Text C
Sold wholesale by Alex.  Mayne, High-Street, Belfast.

The Dublin Tragedy

In Leinster dwells a damsel most fair in beauty bright
O many come to court this maid by day and then by night,
At last their(sic) came to court her a wealthy farmers son
Grant me your love dear Molly or distracted I will run.
Don't say so dear Jamie, speak sensibly I pray,
For my small share of beauty, don't throw yourself away
If you be mocking truly, away from me depart
For there is nothing surer than you'll break a fair maid's heart.
Five or six months after this maid she proved with child
And going to see Jamie dear, she says both meek and mild
These six long months and better I am with child by thee
O won't you see me righted prove kind and marry me.
To marry you, dear Molly, is a thing I'll never do
I own I did deceive you and proved a false young man
So go your way dear Molly, and do the best you can.
O may you never prosper, O may you never thrive.
That every thing you take in hands goes contrary to your mind,
May the ground you walk upon refuse the grass to grow
You were the first beginning of all my grief and woe.
Molly will not hang herself, her parents to disgrace.
But she's away to drown herself unto a lonesome place
A going to a river clear her body to destroy
Adieu to all false lovers, farewell my darling boy.
As Jamie he was walking down by the river side.
He saw his own dear Molly come floating with the tide.
On taking up her lily hand he found that it was cold
The Lord have mercy on you, for me you pledged your soul.
Its Jamie took of his small clothes and them threw on the sand.
Let neither friends nor parents, nor no one look for me,
For in these cold beds of sand, I lie with you my dear Molly.

Not as common as text B and its oral descendants, either in print or in oral tradition, Sharp found three versions in Somerset and it has been found in Berkshire and Oxfordshire (See Folk Music Journal 5, 1969, p309 and p326).  A version titled Kilmarnock Town was found in Whitby (Printed on a 1975 broadside by John Crane).  The only American version I have In Camden Town was collected in Southern New Brunswick by Helen Creighton (Folk Songs from Southern New Brunswick, p.119).  Four Scots versions can be found in The Greig Duncan Folk Song Collection, Volume 6, p.217.  No title appears more than once so I have adopted the Master Title False-hearted William from the Berkshire version as being the most appropriate description of content.  Notice stanza 5 appears to have been borrowed from the popular broadside ballad The White/Blue Cockade (Roud 191).

The third member of the family is something of a hybrid of the other two.  Its most common title and therefore my Master Title is The Lily-white Hand from the oft-repeated line 'He took her by the lily-white hand'.  I have assigned it temporary Roud number 564a.  It does not occur on broadsides in its hybrid form and none of the versions I have access to can be dated prior to WWII, although Harry Cox's The Grand Hotel version recorded in 1967 may prove to be earlier (See Topic Double CD The Bonny Labouring Boy 2, track 5, TSCD512D).

Text D

The Lily-white Hand

(Gardham, An East Riding Songster, 1982, p.35)

Sung by William Reed of Sutton on Hull, 1979.

I was out the other day,
Down by the riverside,
I overheard a maiden say,
'Kind sir, I'm quite too young.'
'Oh, the younger you are, the better for me,'
The young man he replied.
'I promise I will marry you
And you'll be my blushing bride.'
So he took her by her lily-white hand,
He kissed both cheek and chin,
He took her to a large hotel,
To spend the night within.
Now the night was long, the day came on,
The sun rose bright and clear,
The man arose, put on his clothes,
And said, 'Good-bye, my dear.'
'But that is not what you promised me,'
The maiden fair she cried,
'You promised you would marry me,
And I'd be your blushing bride.'
'And is that what I promised you?
'Tis more than I could do,
For I never thought of marrying one,
So easily led as you.'
So he took her by her lily-white hand,
He kissed both cheek and chin,
He took her to the riverside,
And gently pushed her in.
See there she goes, see there she goes,
She's floating with the tide,
Instead of having a watery grave,
She should have been a bride.

After stanza 6 some versions
have the following stanza:

"Do you think I could go to my parents again,
And bring them shame and disgrace?
I'd rather go and drown myself,
In some poor lonely place."

Also some versions have the following
two stanzas added on the end.

And now I'll go to a country far,
Another girl to find,
And no one will know the deed I've done,
Nor the crime I've left behind.

Now all young maidens take a warning from me,
And never build a nest in a tree,
For the flowers may wither and the leaves may die,
And the love of a young man will soon fade away.

(These three stanzas appear as stanzas 7,10 and 11 in Chris Marsom's Bedfordshire version in Fred Hamer's Garners Gay, p.38.)

The first six stanzas of text D appear to have derived directly from the first five double stanzas of text B and these are followed in most versions by the first stanza given above from the Bedfordshire version which appears to derive from the first half of stanza 6 in text C.  The other four stanzas are a recrystallization of the ending of text C with the main difference being, instead of drowning herself and her lover finding her body, he actually pushes her in.  This rather absurd, almost burlesque ending suggests to me that a singer has recollected the start of a typical text B, confused it with a half remembered ending of text C and refashioned the ending from half remembered events and phrases from it.  This effectively new ballad has then circulated orally until versions turned up in Bedfordshire, Dorset, Sussex, Kent, Norfolk and Yorkshire.

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