Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England

Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England. Taken down from oral recitation and transcribed from private manuscripts, rare broadsides and scarce publications. INTRODUCTION. IN 1846, the Percy Society issued to its members a volume entitled ANCIENT POEMS, BALLADS, AND SONGS OF THE PEASANTRY OF ENGLAND, edited by Mr. James Henry Dixon. The
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Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England. Taken down from oral recitation and transcribed from private manuscripts, rare broadsides and scarce publications.


IN 1846, the Percy Society issued to its members a volume entitled ANCIENT POEMS, BALLADS, AND SONGS OF THE PEASANTRY OF ENGLAND, edited by Mr. James Henry Dixon. The sources drawn upon by Mr. Dixon are intimated in the following extract from his preface:-

He who, in travelling through the rural districts of England, has made the road-side inn his resting-place, who has visited the lowly dwellings of the villagers and yeomanry, and been present at their feasts and festivals, must have observed that there are certain old poems, ballads, and songs, which are favourites with the masses, and have been said and sung from generation to generation.

This traditional, and, for the most part, unprinted literature, – cherished in remote villages, resisting everywhere the invasion of modern namby-pamby verse and jaunty melody, and possessing, in an historical point of view, especial value as a faithful record of the feeling, usages, and modes of life of the rural population, – had been almost wholly passed over amongst the antiquarian revivals which constitute one of the distinguishing features of the present age. While attention was successfully drawn to other forms of our early poetry, this peasant minstrelsy was scarcely touched, and might be considered unexplored ground. There was great difficulty in collecting materials which lay scattered so widely, and which could be procured in their genuine simplicity only from the people amongst whom they originated, and with whom they are as ‘familiar as household words.’ It was even still more difficult to find an editor who combined genial literary taste with the local knowledge of character, customs, and dialect, indispensable to the collation of such reliques; and thus, although their national interest was universally recognised, they were silently permitted to fall into comparative oblivion. To supply this manifest DESIDERATUM, Mr. Dixon compiled his volume for the Percy Society; and its pages, embracing only a selection from the rich stores he had gathered, abundantly exemplified that gentleman’s remarkable qualifications for the labour he had undertaken. After stating in his preface that contributions from various quarters had accumulated so largely on his hands as to compel him to omit many pieces he was desirous of preserving, he thus describes generally the contents of the work:-

In what we have retained will be found every variety,

‘From grave to gay, from lively to severe,’

from the moral poem and the religious dialogue, –

‘The scrolls that teach us to live and to die,’ –

to the legendary, the historical, or the domestic ballad; from the strains that enliven the harvest-home and festival, to the love- ditties which the country lass warbles, or the comic song with which the rustic sets the village hostel in a roar. In our collection are several pieces exceedingly scarce, and hitherto to be met with only in broadsides and chap-books of the utmost rarity; in addition to which we have given several others never before in print, and obtained by the editor and his friends, either from the oral recitation of the peasantry, or from manuscripts in the possession of private individuals.

The novelty of the matter, and the copious resources disclosed by the editor, acquired for the volume a popularity extending far beyond the limited circle to which it was addressed; and although the edition was necessarily restricted to the members of the Percy Society, the book was quoted not only by English writers, but by some of the most distinguished archaeologists on the continent.

It had always been my intention to form a collection of local songs, illustrative of popular festivals, customs, manners, and dialects. As the merit of having anticipated, and, in a great measure, accomplished this project belongs exclusively to Mr. Dixon, so to that gentleman I have now the pleasure of tendering my acknowledgments for the means of enriching the Annotated Edition of the English Poets with a volume which, in some respects, is the most curious and interesting of the series.

Subsequently to the publication of his collection by the Percy Society, Mr. Dixon had amassed additional materials of great value; and, conscious that the work admitted of considerable improvement, both in the way of omission and augmentation, he resolved upon the preparation of a new edition. His reasons for rejecting certain portions of the former volume are stated in the following extract from a communication with which he has obliged me, and which may be considered as his own introduction to the ensuing pages.

The editor had passed his earliest years in a romantic mountain- district in the North of England, where old customs and manners, and old songs and ballads still linger. Under the influence of these associations, he imbibed a passionate love for peasant rhymes; having little notion at that time that the simple minstrelsy which afforded him so much delight could yield hardly less pleasure to those who cultivated more artificial modes of poetry, and who knew little of the life of the peasantry. His collection was not issued without diffidence; but the result dissipated all apprehension as to the estimate in which these essentially popular productions are held. The reception of the book, indeed, far exceeded its merits; for he is bound in candour to say that it was neither so complete nor so judiciously selected as it might have been. Like almost all books issued by societies, it was got up in haste, and hurried through the press. It contained some things which were out of place in such a work, but which were inserted upon solicitations that could not have been very easily refused; and even where the matter was unexceptionable, it sometimes happened that it was printed from comparatively modern broadsides, for want of time to consult earlier editions. In the interval which has since elapsed, all these defects and short- comings have been remedied. Several pieces, which had no legitimate claims to the places they occupied, have been removed; others have been collated with more ancient copies than the editor had had access to previously; and the whole work has been considerably enlarged. In its present form it is strictly what its title-page implies – a collection of poems, ballads, and songs preserved by tradition, and in actual circulation, amongst the peasantry.


The present volume differs in many important particulars from the former, of the deficiencies of which Mr. Dixon makes so frank an avowal. It has not only undergone a careful revision, but has received additions to an extent which renders it almost a new work. Many of there accessions are taken from extremely rare originals, and others are here printed for the first time, including amongst the latter the ballad of EARL BRAND, a traditional lyric of great antiquity, long familiar to the dales of the North of England; and the DEATH OF QUEEN JANE, a relic of more than ordinary intesest. Nearly forty songs, noted down from recitation, or gathered from sources not generally accessible, have been added to the former collection, illustrative, for the most part, of historical events, country pastimes, and local customs. Not the least suggestive feature in this department are the political songs it contains, which have long outlived the occasions that gave them birth, and which still retain their popularity, although their allusions are no longer understood. Amongst this class of songs may be specially indicated JACK AND TOM, JOAN’S ALE WAS NEW, GEORGE RIDLER’S OVEN, and THE CARRION CROW. The songs of a strictly rural character, having reference to the occupations and intercourse of the people, possess an interest which cannot be adequately measured by their poetical pretensions. The very defects of art with which they are chargeable, constitute their highest claim to consideration as authentic specimens of country lore. The songs in praise of the dairy, or the plough; or in celebration of the harvest-home, or the churn-supper; or descriptive of the pleasures of the milk-maid, or the courtship in the farm-house; or those that give us glimpses of the ways of life of the waggoner, the poacher, the horse-dealer, and the boon companion of the road-side hostelrie, are no less curious for their idiomatic and primitive forms of expression, than for their pictures of rustic modes and manners. Of special interest, too, are the songs which relate to festival and customs; such as the SWORD DANCER’S SONG AND INTERLUDE, the SWEARING-IN SONG, OR RHYME, AT HIGHGATE, the CORNISH MIDSUMMER BONFIRE SONG, and the FAIRLOP FAIR SONG.

In the arrangement of so multifarious an anthology, gathered from nearly all parts of the kingdom, the observance of chronological order, for obvious reasons, has not been attempted; but pieces which possess any kind of affinity to each other have been kept together as nearly as other considerations would permit.

The value of this volume consists in the genuineness of its contents, and the healthiness of its tone. While fashionable life was masquerading in imaginary Arcadias, and deluging theatres and concert rooms with shams, the English peasant remained true to the realities of his own experience, and produced and sang songs which faithfully reflected the actual life around him. Whatever these songs describe is true to that life. There are no fictitious raptures in them. Love here never dresses its emotions in artificial images, nor disguises itself in the mask of a Strephon or a Daphne. It is in this particular aspect that the poetry of the country possesses a permanent and moral interest.

R. B.




The plain-dealing man.
The vanities of life.
The life and age of man.
The young man’s wish.
The midnight messenger; or, a sudden call from an earthly glory to the cold grave.
A dialogue betwixt an exciseman and death. The messenger of mortality; or life and death contrasted in a dialogue betwixt death and a lady.
England’s alarm; or the pious christian’s speedy call to repentance Smoking spiritualized.
The masonic hymn.
God speed the plow, and bless the corn-mow. A dialogue between the husbandman and servingman.
A dialogue between the husbandman and the servingman. The Catholick.
The three knights.
The blind beggar of Bednall Green.


The bold pedlar and Robin Hood.
The outlandish knight.
Lord Delaware.
Lord Bateman.
The golden glove; or, the squire of tamworth. King James I. And the tinkler.
The Keach i’ the Creel.
The Merry Broomfield; or, the west country wager. Sir John Barleycorn.
Blow the winds, i-ho!
The beautiful lady of Kent; or, the seaman of Dover. The Berkshire lady’s garland.
The nobleman’s generous kindness.
The drunkard’s legacy.
The Bowes tragedy.
The crafty lover; or, the lawyer outwitted. The death of Queen Jane.
The wandering young gentlewoman; or, Catskin. The brave Earl Brand and the King of England’s Daughter. The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove; or, the old man and his three sons.
Lady Alice.
The felon sewe of rokeby and the freeres of Richmond. Arthur o’Bradley’s wedding.
The painful plough.
The useful plow; or, the plough’s praise. The farmer’s son.
The farmer’s boy.
Richard of Taunton Dean; or, dumble dum deary. Wooing song of a yeoman of Kent’s sonne. The clown’s courtship.
Harry’s courtship.
Harvest-home song.
The mow.
The barley-mow song.
The barley-mow song. (Suffolk version.) The craven churn-supper song.
The rural dance about the may-pole. The Hitchin may-day song.
The Helstone furry-day song.
Cornish midsummer bonfire song.
Suffolk harvest-home song.
The haymaker’s song.
The sword-dancers’ song.
The sword-dancers’ song and interlude. The maskers’ song.
Gloucestershire wassailers’ song.
The mummers’ song; or, the poor old horse. Fragment of the hagmena song.
The greenside wakes song.
The swearing-in song or rhyme.
Fairlop fair song.
As Tom was a-walking.
The miller and his sons.
Jack and Tom.
Joan’s ale was new.
George Ridler’s oven.
The carrion crow.
The leathern bottel.
The farmer’s old wife.
Old Wichet and his wife.
The Jolly Waggoner.
The Yorkshire horse-dealer.
The King and the countryman.
Jone o’ Greenfield’s ramble.
Thornehagh-moor woods.
The Lincolnshire poacher.
Somersetshire hunting song.
The trotting horse.
The seeds of love.
The garden-gate.
The new-mown hay.
The praise of a dairy.
The milk-maid’s life.
The milking-pail.
The summer’s morning.
Old Adam.
The Spanish Ladies.
Harry the Tailor.
Sir Arthur and Charming Mollee.
There was an old man came over the lea. Why should we quarrel for riches.
The merry fellows; or, he that will not merry, merry be. The old man’s song.
Robin Hood’s hill.
Begone dull care.
Full merrily sings the cuckoo.
Jockey to the fair.
Long Preston Peg.
The sweet nightingale; or, down in those valleys below. The old man and his three sons.
A begging we will go.


[THE oldest copy of the PLAIN DEALING MAN with which we have been able to meet is in black letter, printed by T. Vere at the sign ‘Of the Angel without Newgate.’ Vere was living in 1609.]

A CROTCHET comes into my mind
Concerning a proverb of old,
Plain dealing’s a jewel most rare,
And more precious than silver or gold: And therefore with patience give ear,
And listen to what here is penned,
These verses were written on purpose The honest man’s cause to defend.
For this I will make it appear,
And prove by experience I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

Yet some are so impudent grown,
They’ll domineer, vapour, and swagger, And say that the plain-dealing man
Was born to die a beggar:
But men that are honestly given
Do such evil actions detest,
And every one that is well-minded
Will say that plain dealing is best. For this I will make it appear,
And prove by experience I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

For my part I am a poor man,
And sometimes scarce muster a shilling, Yet to live upright in the world,
Heaven knows I am wondrous willing. Although that my clothes be threadbare,
And my calling be simple and poor,
Yet will I endeavour myself
To keep off the wolf from the door. For this I will make it appear,
And prove by experience I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

And now, to be brief in discourse,
In plain terms I’ll tell you my mind; My qualities you shall all know,
And to what my humour’s inclined:
I hate all dissembling base knaves
And pickthanks whoever they be,
And for painted-faced drabs, and such like, They shall never get penny of me.
For this I will make it appear,
And prove by experience I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

Nor can I abide any tongues
That will prattle and prate against reason, About that which doth not concern them;
Which thing is no better than treason. Wherefore I’d wish all that do hear me
Not to meddle with matters of state, Lest they be in question called for it,
And repent them when it is too late. For this I will make it appear,
And prove by experience I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

O fie upon spiteful neighbours,
Whose malicious humours are bent,
And do practise and strive every day To wrong the poor innocent.
By means of such persons as they,
There hath many a good mother’s son Been utterly brought to decay,
Their wives and their children undone. For this I will make it appear,
And prove by experience I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

O fie upon forsworn knaves,
That do no conscience make
To swear and forswear themselves
At every third word they do speak:
So they may get profit and gain,
They care not what lies they do tell; Such cursed dissemblers as they
Are worse than the devils of hell.
For this I will make it appear,
And prove by experience I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

O fie upon greedy bribe takers,
‘Tis pity they ever drew breath,
For they, like to base caterpillars, Devour up the fruits of the earth.
They’re apt to take money with both hands, On one side and also the other,
And care not what men they undo,
Though it be their own father or brother. Therefore I will make it appear,
And show very good reasons I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

O fie upon cheaters and thieves,
That liveth by fraud and deceit;
The gallows do for such blades groan, And the hangmen do for their clothes wait. Though poverty be a disgrace,
And want is a pitiful grief,
‘Tis better to go like a beggar
Than to ride in a cart like a thief. For this I will make it appear,
And prove by experience I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

And now let all honest men judge,
If such men as I have here named
For their wicked and impudent dealings, Deserveth not much to be blamed.
And now here, before I conclude,
One item to the world I will give,
Which may direct some the right way, And teach them the better to live.
For now I have made it appear,
And many men witness it can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.

1. I’ th’ first place I’d wish you beware What company you come in,
For those that are wicked themselves May quickly tempt others to sin.

2. If youths be induced with wealth,
And have plenty of silver and gold, I’d wish them keep something in store,
To comfort them when they are old.

3. I have known many young prodigals, Which have wasted their money so fast,
That they have been driven in want, And were forced to beg at the last.

4. I’d wish all men bear a good conscience, And in all their actions be just;
For he’s a false varlet indeed
That will not be true to his trust.

And now to conclude my new song,
And draw to a perfect conclusion,
I have told you what is in my mind, And what is my [firm] resolution.
For this I have made it appear,
And prove by experience I can,
‘Tis the excellen’st thing in the world To be a plain-dealing man.


[THE following verses were copied by John Clare, the Northamptonshire peasant, from a MS. on the fly-leaves of an old book in the possession of a poor man, entitled THE WORLD’S BEST WEALTH; A COLLECTION OF CHOICE COUNCILS IN VERSE AND PROSE. PRINTED FOR A. BETTESWORTH, AT THE RED LION IN PATERNOSTER-ROW, 1720. They were written in a ‘crabbed, quaint hand, and difficult to decipher.’ Clare remitted the poem (along with the original MS.) to Montgomery, the author of THE WORLD BEFORE THE FLOOD, &c. &c., by whom it was published in the SHEFFIELD IRIS. Montgomery’s criticism is as follows:- ‘Long as the poem appears to the eye, it will abundantly repay the trouble of perusal, being full of condensed and admirable thought, as well as diversified with exuberant imagery, and embellished with peculiar felicity of language: the moral points in the closing couplets of the stanzas are often powerfully enforced.’ Most readers will agree in the justice of these remarks. The poem was, probably, as Clare supposes, written about the commencement of the 18th century; and the unknown author appears to have been deeply imbued with the spirit of the popular devotional writers of the preceding century, as Herbert, Quarles, &c., but seems to have modelled his smoother and more elegant versification after that of the poetic school of his own times.]

‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ – SOLOMON.

WHAT are life’s joys and gains?
What pleasures crowd its ways,
That man should take such pains
To seek them all his days?
Sift this untoward strife
On which thy mind is bent,
See if this chaff of life
Is worth the trouble spent.

Is pride thy heart’s desire?
Is power thy climbing aim?
Is love thy folly’s fire?
Is wealth thy restless game?
Pride, power, love, wealth and all, Time’s touchstone shall destroy,
And, like base coin, prove all
Vain substitutes for joy.

Dost think that pride exalts
Thyself in other’s eyes,
And hides thy folly’s faults,
Which reason will despise?
Dost strut, and turn, and stride,
Like walking weathercocks?
The shadow by thy side
Becomes thy ape, and mocks.

Dost think that power’s disguise
Can make thee mighty seem?
It may in folly’s eyes,
But not in worth’s esteem:
When all that thou canst ask,
And all that she can give,
Is but a paltry mask
Which tyants wear and live.

Go, let thy fancies range
And ramble where they may;
View power in every change,
And what is the display?
– The country magistrate,
The lowest shade in power,
To rulers of the state,
The meteors of an hour: –

View all, and mark the end
Of every proud extreme,
Where flattery turns a friend,
And counterfeits esteem;
Where worth is aped in show,
That doth her name purloin,
Like toys of golden glow
That’s sold for copper coin.

Ambition’s haughty nod,
With fancies may deceive,
Nay, tell thee thou’rt a god, –
And wilt thou such believe?
Go, bid the seas be dry,
Go, hold earth like a ball,
Or throw her fancies by,
For God can do it all.

Dost thou possess the dower
Of laws to spare or kill?
Call it not heav’nly power
When but a tyrant’s will;
Know what a God will do,
And know thyself a fool,
Nor tyrant-like pursue
Where He alone should rule.

Dost think, when wealth is won,
Thy heart has its desire?
Hold ice up to the sun,
And wax before the fire;
Nor triumph o’er the reign
Which they so soon resign;
In this world weigh the gain,
Insurance safe is thine.

Dost think life’s peace secure
In houses and in land?
Go, read the fairy lure
To twist a cord of sand;
Lodge stones upon the sky,
Hold water in a sieve,
Nor give such tales the lie,
And still thine own believe.

Whoso with riches deals,
And thinks peace bought and sold,
Will find them slippery eels,
That slide the firmest hold:
Though sweet as sleep with health,
Thy lulling luck may be,
Pride may o’erstride thy wealth,
And check prosperity.

Dost think that beauty’s power,
Life’s sweetest pleasure gives?
Go, pluck the summer flower,
And see how long it lives:
Behold, the rays glide on,
Along the summer plain,
Ere thou canst say, they’re gone, – And measure beauty’s reign.

Look on the brightest eye,
Nor teach it to be proud,
But view the clearest sky
And thou shalt find a cloud;
Nor call each face ye meet
An angel’s, ’cause it’s fair,
But look beneath your feet,
And think of what ye are.

Who thinks that love doth live
In beauty’s tempting show,
Shall find his hopes ungive,
And melt in reason’s thaw;
Who thinks that pleasure lies
In every fairy bower,
Shall oft, to his surprise,
Find poison in the flower.

Dost lawless pleasures grasp?
Judge not thou deal’st in joy;
Its flowers but hide the asp,
Thy revels to destroy:
Who trusts a harlot’s smile,
And by her wiles is led,
Plays with a sword the while,
Hung dropping o’er his head.

Dost doubt my warning song?
Then doubt the sun gives light,
Doubt truth to teach thee wrong,
And wrong alone as right;
And live as lives the knave,
Intrigue’s deceiving guest,
Be tyrant, or be slave,
As suits thy ends the best.

Or pause amid thy toils,
For visions won and lost,
And count the fancied spoils,
If e’er they quit the cost;
And if they still possess
Thy mind, as worthy things,
Pick straws with Bedlam Bess,
And call them diamond rings.

Thy folly’s past advice,
Thy heart’s already won,
Thy fall’s above all price,
So go, and be undone;
For all who thus prefer
The seeming great for small,
Shall make wine vinegar,
And sweetest honey gall.

Wouldst heed the truths I sing,
To profit wherewithal,
Clip folly’s wanton wing,
And keep her within call:
I’ve little else to give,
What thou canst easy try,
The lesson how to live,
Is but to learn to die.


[FROM one of Thackeray’s Catalogues, preserved in the British Museum, it appears that THE LIFE AND AGE OF MAN was one of the productions printed by him at the ‘Angel in Duck Lane, London.’ Thackeray’s imprint is found attached to broadsides published between 1672 and 1688, and he probably commenced printing soon after the accession of Charles II. The present reprint, the correctness of which is very questionable, is taken from a modern broadside, the editor not having been fortunate enough to meet with any earlier edition. This old poem is said to have been a great favourite with the father of Robert Burns.]

IN prime of years, when I was young,
I took delight in youthful ways,
Not knowing then what did belong
Unto the pleasures of those days.
At seven years old I was a child,
And subject then to be beguiled.

At two times seven I went to learn
What discipline is taught at school: When good from ill I could discern,
I thought myself no more a fool:
My parents were contriving than,
How I might live when I were man.

At three times seven I waxed wild,
When manhood led me to be bold;
I thought myself no more a child,
My own conceit it so me told:
Then did I venture far and near,
To buy delight at price full dear.

At four times seven I take a wife,
And leave off all my wanton ways,
Thinking thereby perhaps to thrive, And save myself from sad disgrace.
So farewell my companions all,
For other business doth me call.

At five times seven I must hard strive, What I could gain by mighty skill;
But still against the stream I drive, And bowl up stones against the hill;
The more I laboured might and main, The more I strove against the stream.

At six times seven all covetise
Began to harbour in my breast;
My mind still then contriving was
How I might gain this worldly wealth; To purchase lands and live on them,
So make my children mighty men.

At seven times seven all worldly thought Began to harbour in my brain;
Then did I drink a heavy draught
Of water of experience plain;
There none so ready was as I,
To purchase bargains, sell, or buy.

At eight times seven I waxed old,
And took myself unto my rest,
Neighbours then sought my counsel bold, And I was held in great request;
But age did so abate my strength,
That I was forced to yield at length.

At nine times seven take my leave
Of former vain delights must I;
It then full sorely did me grieve – I fetched many a heavy sigh;
To rise up early, and sit up late,
My former life, I loathe and hate.

At ten times seven my glass is run,
And I poor silly man must die;
I looked up, and saw the sun
Had overcome the crystal sky.
So now I must this world forsake,
Another man my place must take.

Now you may see, as in a glass,
The whole estate of mortal men;
How they from seven to seven do pass, Until they are threescore and ten;
And when their glass is fully run,
They must leave off as they begun.


[FROM an old copy, without printer’s name; probably one from the Aldermary Church-yard press. Poems in triplets were very popular during the reign of Charles I., and are frequently to be met with during the Interregnum, and the reign of Charles II.]

IF I could but attain my wish,
I’d have each day one wholesome dish, Of plain meat, or fowl, or fish.

A glass of port, with good old beer,
In winter time a fire burnt clear,
Tobacco, pipes, an easy chair.

In some clean town a snug retreat,
A little garden ‘fore my gate,
With thousand pounds a year estate.

After my house expense was clear,
Whatever I could have to spare,
The neighbouring poor should freely share.

To keep content and peace through life, I’d have a prudent cleanly wife,
Stranger to noise, and eke to strife.

Then I, when blest with such estate,
With such a house, and such a mate, Would envy not the worldly great.

Let them for noisy honours try,
Let them seek worldly praise, while I Unnoticed would live and die.

But since dame Fortune’s not thought fit To place me in affluence, yet
I’ll be content with what I get.

He’s happiest far whose humble mind,
Is unto Providence resigned,
And thinketh fortune always kind.

Then I will strive to bound my wish,
And take, instead of fowl and fish, Whate’er is thrown into my dish.

Instead of wealth and fortune great,
Garden and house and loving mate,
I’ll rest content in servile state.

I’ll from each folly strive to fly,
Each virtue to attain I’ll try,
And live as I would wish to die.


In a Dialogue between Death and a Rich Man; who, in the midst of all his Wealth, received the tidings of his Last Day, to his unspeakable and sorrowful Lamentation.

To the tune of AIM NOT TOO HIGH, (1) &c.

[THE following poem, and the two that immediately follow, belong to a class of publications which have always been peculiar favourites with the peasantry, in whose cottages they may be frequently seen, neatly framed and glazed, and suspended from the white-washed walls. They belong to the school of Quarles, and can be traced to the time when that writer was in the height of his popularity. These religious dialogues are numerous, but the majority of them are very namby-pamby productions, and unworthy of a reprint. The modern editions preserve the old form of the broadside of the seventeenth century, and are adorned with rude woodcuts, probably copies of ruder originals –

– ‘wooden cuts
Strange, and uncouth; dire faces, figures dire, Sharp-kneed, sharp-elbowed, and lean-ankled too, With long and ghostly shanks, forms which once seen, Can never be forgotten!’ – WORDSWORTH’S EXCURSION.]


THOU wealthy man of large possessions here, Amounting to some thousand pounds a year, Extorted by oppression from the poor,
The time is come that thou shalt be no more; Thy house therefore in order set with speed, And call to mind how you your life do lead. Let true repentance be thy chiefest care, And for another world now, NOW prepare.
For notwithstanding all your heaps of gold, Your lands and lofty buildings manifold, Take notice you must die this very day;
And therefore kiss your bags and come away.


[He started straight and turned his head aside, Where seeing pale-faced Death, aloud he cried], Lean famished slave! why do you threaten so, Whence come you, pray, and whither must I go?


I come from ranging round the universe, Through courts and kingdoms far and near I pass, Where rich and poor, distressed, bond and free, Fall soon or late a sacrifice to me.
From crowned kings to captives bound in chains My power reaches, sir; the longest reigns That ever were, I put a period to;
And now I’m come in fine to conquer you.


I can’t nor won’t believe that you, pale Death, Were sent this day to stop my vital breath, By reason I in perfect health remain,
Free from diseases, sorrow, grief, and pain; No heavy heart, nor fainting fits have I, And do you say that I am drawing nigh
The latter minute? sure it cannot be; Depart, therefore, you are not sent for me!


Yes, yes, I am, for did you never know, The tender grass and pleasant flowers that grow Perhaps one minute, are the next cut down? And so is man, though famed with high renown. Have you not heard the doleful passing bell Ring out for those that were alive and well The other day, in health and pleasure too, And had as little thoughts of death as you? For let me tell you, when my warrant’s sealed, The sweetest beauty that the earth doth yield At my approach shall turn as pale as lead; ‘Tis I that lay them on their dying bed.

I kill with dropsy, phthisic, stone, and gout; But when my raging fevers fly about,
I strike the man, perhaps, but over-night, Who hardly lives to see the morning light; I’m sent each hour, like to a nimble page, To infant, hoary heads, and middle age;
Time after time I sweep the world quite through; Then it’s in vain to think I’ll favour you.


Proud Death, you see what awful sway I bear, For when I frown none of my servants dare Approach my presence, but in corners hide Until I am appeased and pacified.
Nay, men of greater rank I keep in awe Nor did I ever fear the force of law,
But ever did my enemies subdue,
And must I after all submit to you?


‘Tis very true, for why thy daring soul, Which never could endure the least control, I’ll thrust thee from this earthly tenement, And thou shalt to another world be sent.


What! must I die and leave a vast estate, Which, with my gold, I purchased but of late? Besides what I had many years ago? –
What! must my wealth and I be parted so? If you your darts and arrows must let fly, Go search the jails, where mourning debtors lie; Release them from their sorrow, grief, and woe, For I am rich and therefore loth to go.


I’ll search no jails, but the right mark I’ll hit; And though you are unwilling to submit,
Yet die you must, no other friend can do, – Prepare yourself to go, I’m come for you. If you had all the world and ten times more, Yet die you must, – there’s millions gone before; The greatest kings on earth yield and obey, And at my feet their crowns and sceptres lay: If crowned heads and right renowned peers Die in the prime and blossoms of their years, Can you suppose to gain a longer space?
No! I will send you to another place.


Oh! stay thy hand and be not so severe, I have a hopeful son and daughter dear,
All that I beg is but to let me live That I may them in lawful marriage give: They being young when I am laid in the grave, I fear they will be wronged of what they have: Although of me you will no pity take,
Yet spare me for my little infants’ sake.


If such a vain excuse as this might do, It would be long ere mortals would go through The shades of death; for every man would find Something to say that he might stay behind. Yet, if ten thousand arguments they’d use, The destiny of dying to excuse,
They’ll find it is in vain with me to strive, For why, I part the dearest friends alive; Poor parents die, and leave their children small With nothing to support them here withal, But the kind hand of gracious Providence, Who is their father, friend, and sole defence. Though I have held you long in disrepute, Yet after all here with a sharp salute
I’ll put a period to your days and years, Causing your eyes to flow with dying tears.


[Then with a groan he made this sad complaint]: My heart is dying, and my spirits faint; To my close chamber let me be conveyed;
Farewell, false world, for thou hast me betrayed. Would I had never wronged the fatherless, Nor mourning widows when in sad distress; Would I had ne’er been guilty of that sin, Would I had never known what gold had been; For by the same my heart was drawn away
To search for gold: but now this very day, I find it is but like a slender reed,
Which fails me most when most I stand in need; For, woe is me! the time is come at last, Now I am on a bed of sorrow cast,
Where in lamenting tears I weeping lie, Because my sins make me afraid to die:
Oh! Death, be pleased to spare me yet awhile, That I to God myself may reconcile,
For true repentance some small time allow; I never feared a future state till now!
My bags of gold and land I’d freely give, For to obtain the favour here to live,
Until I have a sure foundation laid. Let me not die before my peace be made!


Thou hast not many minutes here to stay, Lift up your heart to God without delay, Implore his pardon now for what is past, Who knows but He may save your soul at last?


I’ll water now with tears my dying bed, Before the Lord my sad complaint I’ll spread, And if He will vouchsafe to pardon me,
To die and leave this world I could be free. False world! false world, farewell! farewell! adieu! I find, I find, there is no trust in you! For when upon a dying bed we lie,
Your gilded baits are nought but misery. My youthful son and loving daughter dear, Take warning by your dying father here;
Let not the world deceive you at this rate, For fear a sad repentance comes too late. Sweet babes, I little thought the other day, I should so suddenly be snatched away
By Death, and leave you weeping here behind; But life’s a most uncertain thing, I find. When in the grave my head is lain full low, Pray let not folly prove your overthrow; Serve ye the Lord, obey his holy will,
That he may have a blessing for you still. [Having saluted them, he turned aside,
These were the very words before he died]:

A painful life I ready am to leave,
Wherefore, in mercy, Lord, my soul receive.


[TRANSCRIBED from a copy in the British Museum, printed in London by J. C[larke]., 1659. The idea of Death being employed to execute a writ, recalls an epitaph which we remember to have seen in a village church-yard at the foot of the Wrekin, in Shropshire, commencing thus:-

‘The King of Heaven a warrant got,
And sealed it without delay,
And he did give the same to Death,
For him to serve straightway,’ &c.]

UPON a time when Titan’s steeds were driven To drench themselves beneath the western heaven; And sable Morpheus had his curtains spread, And silent night had laid the world to bed; ‘Mongst other night-birds which did seek for prey, A blunt exciseman, which abhorred the day, Was rambling forth to seek himself a booty ‘Mongst merchant’s goods which had not paid the duty; But walking all alone, Death chanced to meet him, And in this manner did begin to greet him.


Stand, who comes here? what means this knave to peep And skulk abroad, when honest men should sleep? Speak, what’s thy name? and quickly tell me this, Whither thou goest, and what thy business is?


Whate’er my business is, thou foul-mouthed scold, I’d have you know I scorn to be controlled By any man that lives; much less by thou, Who blurtest out thou know’st not what, nor how; I go about my lawful business; and
I’ll make you smart for bidding of me stand.


Imperious coxcomb! is your stomach vexed? Pray slack your rage, and hearken what comes next: I have a writ to take you up; therefore, To chafe your blood, I bid you stand, once more.


A writ to take ME up! excuse me, sir, You do mistake, I am an officer
In public service, for my private wealth; My business is, if any seek by stealth
To undermine the state, I do discover Their falsehood; therefore hold your hand, – give over.


Nay, fair and soft! ’tis not so quickly done As you conceive it is: I am not gone
A jot the sooner for your hasty chat, Nor bragging language; for I tell you flat ‘Tis more than so, though fortune seem to thwart us, Such easy terms I don’t intend shall part us. With this impartial arm I’ll make you feel My fingers first, and with this shaft of steel I’ll peck thy bones! AS THOU ALIVE WERT HATED, SO DEAD, TO DOGS THOU SHALT BE SEGREGATED.


I’d laugh at that; I would thou didst but dare To lay thy fingers on me; I’d not spare
To hack thy carcass till my sword was broken, I’d make thee eat the words which thou hast spoken; All men should warning take by thy transgression, How they molested men of my profession.
My service to the State is so well known, That should I but complain, they’d quickly own My public grievances; and give me right
To cut your ears, before tomorrow night.


Well said, indeed! but bootless all, for I Am well acquainted with thy villany;
I know thy office, and thy trade is such, Thy service little, and thy gains are much: Thy brags are many; but ’tis vain to swagger, And think to fight me with thy gilded dagger: AS I ABHOR THY PERSON, PLACE, AND THREAT, So now I’ll bring thee to the judgment-seat.


The judgment-seat! I must confess that word Doth cut my heart, like any sharpened sword: What! come t’ account! methinks the dreadful sound Of every word doth make a mortal wound,
Which sticks not only in my outward skin, But penetrates my very soul within.
‘Twas least of all my thoughts that ever Death Would once attempt to stop excisemen’s breath. But since ’tis so, that now I do perceive You are in earnest, then I must relieve
Myself another way: come, we’ll be friends; If I have wronged thee, I’ll make th’ amends. Let’s join together; I’ll pass my word this night Shall yield us grub, before the morning light. Or otherwise (to mitigate my sorrow),
Stay here, I’ll bring you gold enough to-morrow.


To-morrow’s gold I will not have; and thou Shalt have no gold upon to-morrow: now
My final writ shall to th’ execution have thee, All earthly treasure cannot help or save thee.


Then woe is me! ah! how was I befooled! I thought that gold (which answereth all things) could Have stood my friend at any time to bail me! But grief grows great, and now my trust doth fail me. Oh! that my conscience were but clear within, Which now is racked with my former sin;
With horror I behold my secret stealing, My bribes, oppression, and my graceless dealing; My office-sins, which I had clean forgotten, Will gnaw my soul when all my bones are rotten: I must confess it, very grief doth force me, Dead or alive, both God and man doth curse me. LET ALL EXCISEMEN hereby warning take,
To shun their practice for their conscience sake.


[ONE of Charles Lamb’s most beautiful and plaintive poems was suggested by this old dialogue. The tune is given in Chappell’s POPULAR MUSIC, p. 167. In Carey’s MUSICAL CENTURY, 1738, it is called the ‘Old tune of DEATH AND THE LADY.’ The four concluding lines of the present copy of DEATH AND THE LADY are found inscribed on tomb-stones in village church-yards in every part of England. They are not contained, however, in the broadside with which our reprint has been carefully collated.]


FAIR lady, lay your costly robes aside, No longer may you glory in your pride;
Take leave of all your carnal vain delight, I’m come to summon you away this night!


What bold attempt is this? pray let me know From whence you come, and whither I must go? Must I, who am a lady, stoop or bow
To such a pale-faced visage? Who art thou?


Do you not know me? well! I tell thee, then, It’s I that conquer all the sons of men! No pitch of honour from my dart is free; My name is Death! have you not heard of me?


Yes! I have heard of thee time after time, But being in the glory of my prime,
I did not think you would have called so soon. Why must my morning sun go down at noon?


Talk not of noon! you may as well be mute; This is no time at all for to dispute:
Your riches, garments, gold, and jewels brave, Houses and lands must all new owners have; Though thy vain heart to riches was inclined, Yet thou must die and leave them all behind.


My heart is cold; I tremble at the news; There’s bags of gold, if thou wilt me excuse, And seize on them, and finish thou the strife Of those that are aweary of their life.
Are there not many bound in prison strong, In bitter grief of soul have languished long, Who could but find the grave a place of rest, From all the grief in which they are oppressed? Besides, there’s many with a hoary head, And palsy joints, by which their joys are fled; Release thou them whose sorrows are so great, But spare my life to have a longer date.


Though some by age be full of grief and pain, Yet their appointed time they must remain: I come to none before their warrant’s sealed, And when it is, they must submit and yield. I take no bribe, believe me, this is true; Prepare yourself to go; I’m come for you.


Death, be not so severe, let me obtain A little longer time to live and reign!
Fain would I stay if thou my life will spare; I have a daughter beautiful and fair,
I’d live to see her wed whom I adore: Grant me but this and I will ask no more.


This is a slender frivolous excuse;
I have you fast, and will not let you loose; Leave her to Providence, for you must go Along with me, whether you will or no;
I, Death, command the King to leave his crown, And at my feet he lays his sceptre down! Then if to kings I don’t this favour give, But cut them off, can you expect to live Beyond the limits of your time and space! No! I must send you to another place.


You learned doctors, now express your skill, And let not Death of me obtain his will; Prepare your cordials, let me comfort find, My gold shall fly like chaff before the wind.


Forbear to call, their skill will never do, They are but mortals here as well as you: I give the fatal wound, my dart is sure, And far beyond the doctor’s skill to cure. How freely can you let your riches fly
To purchase life, rather than yield to die! But while you flourish here with all your store, You will not give one penny to the poor; Though in God’s name their suit to you they make, You would not spare one penny for His sake! The Lord beheld wherein you did amiss,
And calls you hence to give account for this!


Oh! heavy news! must I no longer stay? How shall I stand in the great judgment-day? [Down from her eyes the crystal tears did flow: She said], None knows what I do undergo: Upon my bed of sorrow here I lie;
My carnal life makes me afraid to die. My sins, alas! are many, gross and foul, Oh, righteous Lord! have mercy on my soul! And though I do deserve thy righteous frown, Yet pardon, Lord, and pour a blessing down. [Then with a dying sigh her heart did break, And did the pleasures of this world forsake.]

Thus may we see the high and mighty fall, For cruel Death shows no respect at all
To any one of high or low degree
Great men submit to Death as well as we. Though they are gay, their life is but a span – A lump of clay – so vile a creature’s man. Then happy those whom Christ has made his care, Who die in the Lord, and ever blessed are. The grave’s the market-place where all men meet, Both rich and poor, as well as small and great. If life were merchandise that gold could buy, The rich would live, the poor alone would die.


For the many aggravating sins too much practised in our present mournful times: as Pride, Drunkenness, Blasphemous Swearing, together with the Profanation of the Sabbath; concluding with the sin of wantonness and disobedience; that upon our hearty sorrow and forsaking the same the Lord may save us for his mercy’s sake.

[FROM the cluster of ‘ornaments’ alluded to in the ninth verse of the following poem, we are inclined to fix the date about 1653. The present reprint is from an old broadside, without printer’s name or date, in possession of Mr. J. R. Smith.]

YOU sober-minded christians now draw near, Labour to learn these pious lessons here; For by the same you will be taught to know What is the cause of all our grief and woe.

We have a God who sits enthroned above; He sends us many tokens of his love:
Yet we, like disobedient children, still Deny to yield submission to His will.

The just command which He upon us lays, We must confess we have ten thousand ways Transgressed; for see how men their sins pursue, As if they did not fear what God could do.

Behold the wretched sinner void of shame, He values not how he blasphemes the name Of that good God who gave him life and breath, And who can strike him with the darts of death!

The very little children which we meet, Amongst the sports and pastimes in the street, We very often hear them curse and swear, Before they’ve learned a word of any prayer.

‘Tis much to be lamented, for I fear
The same they learn from what they daily hear; Be careful then, and don’t instruct them so, For fear you prove their dismal overthrow.

Both young and old, that dreadful sin forbear; The tongue of man was never made to swear, But to adore and praise the blessed name, By whom alone our dear salvation came.

Pride is another reigning sin likewise; Let us behold in what a strange disguise Young damsels do appear, both rich and poor; The like was ne’er in any age before.

What artificial ornaments they wear,
Black patches, paint, and locks of powdered hair; Likewise in lofty hoops they are arrayed, As if they would correct what God had made.

Yet let ’em know, for all those youthful charms, They must lie down in death’s cold frozen arms! Oh think on this, and raise your thoughts above The sin of pride, which you so dearly love.

Likewise, the wilful sinners that transgress The righteous laws of God by drunkenness, They do abuse the creatures which were sent Purely for man’s refreshing nourishment.

Many diseases doth that sin attend,
But what is worst of all, the fatal end: Let not the pleasures of a quaffing bowl Destroy and stupify thy active soul.

Perhaps the jovial drunkard over night, May seem to reap the pleasures of delight, While for his wine he doth in plenty call; But oh! the sting of conscience, after all,

Is like a gnawing worm upon the mind. Then if you would the peace of conscience find, A sober conversation learn with speed,
For that’s the sweetest life that man can lead.

Be careful that thou art not drawn away, By foolishness, to break the Sabbath-day; Be constant at the pious house of prayer, That thou mayst learn the christian duties there.

For tell me, wherefore should we carp and care For what we eat and drink, and what we wear; And the meanwhile our fainting souls exclude From that refreshing sweet celestial food?

Yet so it is, we, by experience, find Many young wanton gallants seldom mind
The church of God, but scornfully deride That sacred word by which they must be tried.

A tavern, or an alehouse, they adore, And will not come within the church before They’re brought to lodge under a silent tomb, And then who knows how dismal is their doom!

Though for awhile, perhaps, they flourish here, And seem to scorn the very thoughts of fear, Yet when they’re summoned to resign their breath, They can’t outbrave the bitter stroke of death!

Consider this, young gallants, whilst you may, Swift-winged time and tide for none will stay; And therefore let it be your christian care, To serve the Lord, and for your death prepare.

There is another crying sin likewise: Behold young gallants cast their wanton eyes On painted harlots, which they often meet At every creek and corner of the street,

By whom they are like dismal captives led To their destruction; grace and fear is fled, Till at the length they find themselves betrayed, And for that sin most sad examples made.

Then, then, perhaps, in bitter tears they’ll cry, With wringing hands, against their company, Which did betray them to that dismal state! Consider this before it is too late.

Likewise, sons and daughters, far and near, Honour your loving friends, and parents dear; Let not your disobedience grieve them so, Nor cause their aged eyes with tears to flow.

What a heart-breaking sorrow it must be, To dear indulgent parents, when they see Their stubborn children wilfully run on
Against the wholesome laws of God and man!

Oh! let these things a deep impression make Upon your hearts, with speed your sins forsake; For, true it is, the Lord will never bless Those children that do wilfully transgress.

Now, to conclude, both young and old I pray, Reform your sinful lives this very day,
That God in mercy may his love extend, And bring the nation’s troubles to an end.


[THE following old poem was long ascribed, on apparently sufficient grounds, to the Rev. Ralph Erskine, or, as he designated himself, ‘Ralph Erskine, V.D.M.’ The peasantry throughout the north of England always call it ‘Erskine’s song,’ and not only is his name given as the author in numerous chap-books, but in his own volume of GOSPEL SONNETS, from an early copy of which our version is transcribed. The discovery however, by Mr. Collier, of the First Part in a MS. temp. Jac. I., with the initials G. W. affixed to it, has disposed of Erskine’s claim to the honour of the entire authorship. G. W. is supposed to be George Withers; but this is purely conjectural; and it is not at all improbable that G. W. really stands for W. G., as it was a common practice amongst anonymous writers to reverse their initials. The history, then, of the poem, seems to be this: that the First Part, as it is now printed, originally constituted the whole production, being complete in itself; that the Second Part was afterwards added by the Rev. Ralph Erskine; and that both parts came subsequently to be ascribed to him, as his was the only name published in connexion with the song. The Rev. Ralph Erskine was born at Monilaws, Northumberland, on the 15th March, 1685. He was one of the thirty- three children of Ralph Erskine of Shieldfield, a family of repute descended from the ancient house of Marr. He was educated at the college in Edinburgh, obtained his licence to preach in June, 1709, and was ordained, on an unanimous invitation, over the church at Dunfermline in August, 1711. He was twice married: in 1714 to Margaret Dewar, daughter of the Laird of Lassodie, by whom he had five sons and five daughters, all of whom died in the prime of life; and in 1732 to Margaret, daughter of Mr. Simson of Edinburgh, by whom he had four sons, one of whom, with his wife, survived him. He died in November, 1752. Erskine was the author of a great number of SERMONS; A PARAPHRASE ON THE CANTICLES; SCRIPTURE SONGS; A TREATISE ON MENTAL IMAGES; and GOSPEL SONNETS.

SMOKING SPIRITUALIZED is, at the present day, a standard publication with modern ballad-printers, but their copies are exceedingly corrupt. Many versions and paraphrases of the song exist. Several are referred to in NOTES AND QUERIES, and, amongst them, a broadside of the date of 1670, and another dated 1672 (both printed before Erskine was born), presenting different readings of the First Part, or original poem. In both these the burthen, or refrain, differs from that of our copy by the employment of the expression ‘DRINK tobacco,’ instead of ‘SMOKE tobacco.’ The former was the ancient term for drawing in the smoke, swallowing it, and emitting it through the nostrils. A correspondent of NOTES AND QUERIES says, that the natives of India to this day use the phrase ‘hooka peue,’ to DRINK the hooka.]


THIS Indian weed, now withered quite, Though green at noon, cut down at night, Shows thy decay;
All flesh is hay:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The pipe so lily-like and weak,
Does thus thy mortal state bespeak; Thou art e’en such, –
Gone with a touch:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high,
Then thou behold’st the vanity
Of worldly stuff,
Gone with a puff:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the pipe grows foul within,
Think on thy soul defiled with sin; For then the fire
It does require:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And seest the ashes cast away,
Then to thyself thou mayest say,
That to the dust
Return thou must.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.


Was this small plant for thee cut down? So was the plant of great renown,
Which Mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what’s the power
Of Jesse’s flower?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys,
What virtue flows
From Sharon’s rose.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

In vain the unlighted pipe you blow,
Your pains in outward means are so, Till heavenly fire
Your heart inspire.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The smoke, like burning incense, towers, So should a praying heart of yours,
With ardent cries,
Surmount the skies.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.


[THIS is a very ancient production, though given from a modern copy; it has always been popular amongst the poor ‘brethren of the mystic tie.’ The late Henry O’Brien, A.B., quotes the seventh verse in his essay ON THE ROUND TOWERS OF IRELAND. He generally had a common copy of the hymn in his pocket, and on meeting with any of his antiquarian friends who were not Masons, was in the habit of thrusting it into their hands, and telling them that if they understood the mystic allusions it contained, they would be in possession of a key which would unlock the pyramids of Egypt! The tune to the hymn is peculiar to it, and is of a plaintive and solemn character.]

COME all you freemasons that dwell around the globe, That wear the badge of innocence, I mean the royal robe, Which Noah he did wear when in the ark he stood, When the world was destroyed by a deluging flood.

Noah he was virtuous in the sight of the Lord, He loved a freemason that kept the secret word; For he built the ark, and he planted the first vine, Now his soul in heaven like an angel doth shine.

Once I was blind, and could not see the light, Then up to Jerusalem I took my flight,
I was led by the evangelist through a wilderness of care, You may see by the sign and the badge that I wear.

On the 13th rose the ark, let us join hand in hand, For the Lord spake to Moses by water and by land, Unto the pleasant river where by Eden it did rin, And Eve tempted Adam by the serpent of sin.

When I think of Moses it makes me to blush, All on mount Horeb where I saw the burning bush; My shoes I’ll throw off, and my staff I’ll cast away, And I’ll wander like a pilgrim unto my dying day.

When I think of Aaron it makes me to weep, Likewise of the Virgin Mary who lay at our Saviour’s feet; ‘Twas in the garden of Gethsemane where he had the bloody sweat; Repent, my dearest brethren, before it is too late.

I thought I saw twelve dazzling lights, which put me in surprise, And gazing all around me I heard a dismal noise; The serpent passed by me which fell unto the ground, With great joy and comfort the secret word I found.

Some say it is lost, but surely it is found, And so is our Saviour, it is known to all around; Search all the Scriptures over, and there it will be shown; The tree that will bear no fruit must be cut down.

Abraham was a man well beloved by the Lord, He was true to be found in great Jehovah’s word, He stretched forth his hand, and took a knife to slay his son, An angel appearing said, The Lord’s will be done!

O, Abraham! O, Abraham! lay no hand upon the lad, He sent him unto thee to make thy heart glad; Thy seed shall increase like stars in the sky, And thy soul into heaven like Gabriel shall fly.

O, never, O, never will I hear an orphan cry, Nor yet a gentle virgin until the day I die; You wandering Jews that travel the wide world round, May knock at the door where truth is to be found.

Often against the Turks and Infidels we fight, To let the wandering world know we’re in the right, For in heaven there’s a lodge, and St. Peter keeps the door, And none can enter in but those that are pure.

St. Peter he opened, and so we entered in, Into the holy seat secure, which is all free from sin; St. Peter he opened, and so we entered there, And the glory of the temple no man can compare.



[THIS ancient dialogue, though in a somewhat altered form (see the ensuing poem), has long been used at country merry-makings. It is transcribed from a black-letter copy in the third volume of the Roxburgh collection, apparently one of the imprints of Peter Brooksby, which would make the composition at least as old as the close of the fifteenth century. There are several dialogues of a similar character.]


The servingman the plowman would invite To leave his calling and to take delight; But he to that by no means will agree,
Lest he thereby should come to beggary. He makes it plain appear a country life
Doth far excel: and so they end the strife.

MY noble friends give ear, if mirth you love to hear, I’ll tell you as fast as I can,
A story very true, then mark what doth ensue, Concerning of a husbandman.
A servingman did meet a husbandman in the street, And thus unto him began:


I pray you tell to me of what calling you be, Or if you be a servingman?


Quoth he, my brother dear, the coast I mean to clear, And the truth you shall understand:
I do no one disdain, but this I tell you plain, I am an honest husbandman.


If a husbandman you be, then come along with me, I’ll help you as soon as I can
Unto a gallant place, where in a little space, You shall be a servingman.


Sir, for your diligence I give you many thanks, These things I receive at your hand;
I pray you to me show, whereby that I might know, What pleasures hath a servingman?


A servingman hath pleasure, which passeth time and measure, When the hawk on his fist doth stand;
His hood, and his verrils brave, and other things, we have, Which yield joy to a servingman.


My pleasure’s more than that to see my oxen fat, And to prosper well under my hand;
And therefore I do mean, with my horse, and with my team, To keep myself a husbandman.


O ’tis a gallant thing in the prime time of the spring, To hear the huntsman now and than
His bugle for to blow, and the hounds run all a row: This is pleasure for a servingman!
To hear the beagle cry, and to see the falcon fly, And the hare trip over the plain,
And the huntsmen and the hound make hill and dale rebound: This is pleasure for a servingman!


‘Tis pleasure, too, you know, to see the corn to grow, And to grow so well on the land;
The plowing and the sowing, the reaping and the mowing, Yield pleasure to the husbandman.


At our table you may eat all sorts of dainty meat, Pig, cony, goose, capon, and swan;
And with lords and ladies fine, you may drink beer, ale, and wine! This is pleasure for a servingman.


While you eat goose and capon, I’ll feed on beef and bacon, And piece of hard cheese now and than;
We pudding have, and souse, always ready in the house, Which contents the honest husbandman.


At the court you may have your garments fine and brave, And cloak with gold lace laid upon,
A shirt as white as milk, and wrought with finest silk: That’s pleasure for a servingman!


Such proud and costly gear is not for us to wear; Amongst the briers and brambles many a one, A good strong russet coat, and at your need a groat, Will suffice the husbandman.
A proverb here I tell, which likes my humour well, And remember it well I can,
If a courtier be too bold, he’ll want when he is old. Then farewell the servingman.


It needs must be confest that your calling is the best, No longer discourse with you I can;
But henceforth I will pray, by night and by day, Heaven bless the honest husbandman.


[THIS traditional version of the preceding ancient dialogue has long been popular at country festivals. At a harvest-home feast at Selborne, in Hampshire, in 1836, we heard it recited by two countrymen, who gave it with considerable humour, and dramatic effect. It was delivered in a sort of chant, or recitative. Davies Gilbert published a very similar copy in his ANCIENT CHRISTMAS CAROLS. In the modern printed editions, which are almost identical with ours, the term ‘servantman’ has been substituted for the more ancient designation.]


WELL met, my brother friend, all at this highway end, So simple all alone, as you can,
I pray you tell to me, what may your calling be, Are you not a servingman?


No, no, my brother dear, what makes you to inquire Of any such a thing at my hand?
Indeed I shall not feign, but I will tell you plain, I am a downright husbandman.


If a husbandman you be, then go along with me, And quickly you shall see out of hand,
How in a little space I will help you to a place, Where you may be a servingman.


Kind sir! I ‘turn you thanks for your intelligence, These things I receive at your hand;
But something pray now show, that first I may plainly know The pleasures of a servingman.


Why a servingman has pleasure beyond all sort of measure, With his hawk on his fist, as he does stand; For the game that he does kill, and the meat that does him fill, Are pleasures for the servingman.


And my pleasure’s more than that, to see my oxen fat, And a good stock of hay by them stand;
My plowing and my sowing, my reaping and my mowing, Are pleasures for the husbandman.


Why it is a gallant thing to ride out with a king, With a lord, duke, or any such man;
To hear the horns to blow, and see the hounds all in a row, That is pleasure for the servingman.


But my pleasure’s more I know, to see my corn to grow, So thriving all over my land;
And, therefore, I do mean, with my plowing with my team, To keep myself a husbandman.


Why the diet that we eat is the choicest of all meat, Such as pig, goose, capon, and swan;
Our pastry is so fine, we drink sugar in our wine, That is living for the servingman.


Talk not of goose nor capon, give me good beef or bacon, And good bread and cheese, now at hand;
With pudding, brawn, and souse, all in a farmer’s house, That is living for the husbandman.


Why the clothing that we wear is delicate and rare, With our coat, lace, buckles, and band;
Our shirts are white as milk, and our stockings they are silk, That is clothing for a servingman.


But I value not a hair your delicate fine wear, Such as gold is laced upon;
Give me a good grey coat, and in my purse a groat, That is clothing for the husbandman.


Kind sir! it would be bad if none could be had Those tables for to wait upon;
There is no lord, duke, nor squire, nor member for the shire, Can do without a servingman.


But, Jack! it would be worse if there was none of us To follow the plowing of the land;
There is neither king, lord, nor squire, nor member for the shire, Can do without the husbandman.


Kind sir! I must confess’t, and I humbly protest I will give you the uppermost hand;
Although your labour’s painful, and mine it is so very gainful, I wish I were a husbandman.


So come now, let us all, both great as well as small, Pray for the grain of our land;
And let us, whatsoever, do all our best endeavour, For to maintain the good husbandman.