Article MT163

Revisiting Baring-Gould

Third part of a six part series

Part 4: Collecting, continued1

To complete this brief survey of Baring-Gould's collecting, we now turn to regard the nature of encounters with singers.  During the collecting experience the probable scenario is that Baring-Gould was present on all occasions and that, frequently, the references to Bussell or Fleetwood-Sheppard indicate whichever of them was present and took down the music, although sometimes they alone are credited with the notation of both words and music.  Certainly, Baring-Gould wrote that, after noting songs from Sally Satterley (there is a story attached to this singer's name which will be recounted at a later time), 'I turned to Mr. Sheppard and said, “We have not exhausted her store.  You must go back…” and like a zealous and conscientious collector, back he went…'.2  Bussell also, apparently, visited Mary Sacherley (the same) and 'had infinite labour' with the air of The Loyal Lover.  'She sang it to an interminable ballad “The Lady and the Apprentice,” and never sang two verses alike.  Four or five variations were taken from her lips, with much trouble, she sang so quickly, and could not be checked to meet the requirements of the notator.'3  The four or five variations could have been heard on the one occasion or during successive visits.  Were the three intrepids together in touch with Sally Satterly on more than one occasion?

Taking a minimal view of the collecting process where Baring-Gould and a colleague may have visited a singer and then one or the other had returned we note that, as a pattern, this 'doubling' of visits was a practice followed also by George Gardiner who, it seems, sent his collaborators in setting out music, Charles Guyer and Charles Gamblin, back to singers from whom he had already got text.  Gardiner arrived in an area, asked around, took down addresses, visited, noted down material - some of this can be worked out from his notebooks - and, sometimes, later asked Guyer and Gamblin to revisit his sources.4

In Baring-Gould's collecting experience as recounted in notes to songs the first observable distinction as to who was responsible for notation was made in the fourth part of the first edition of SBW.  There, referring to the Sally Satterly (sic) scenes just described, we find a version of The False Lover whose 'Words and music'…were…'taken down from old Mary Sacherley (sic) by Mr. Sheppard'.5  And, whilst one may assume that on this occasion Baring-Gould was present, there are other instances, as intimated, of songs where both words and tune - and words or tunes separately - are listed under Sheppard's name and we are left to guess the whereabouts of Baring-Gould himself.  Thus, in addition to information already given in previous articles, there are examples such as Fathom the Bowl - 'Taken down, words and air, by the Rev. H. Fleetwood Sheppard, from Robert Hard, of South Brent'; The Broken Token - 'Words and melody from Robert Hard, South Brent; noted by Rev. H. Fleetwood Sheppard from his singing'; 'The melody and a fragment of the song…' The Grey Mare, 'taken down by Mr. Sheppard from J. Hoskin, South Brent' (was this encounter during a second Sheppard visit to South Brent?);The Country Farmer's Son 'Taken down by Rev. H. Sheppard from John Woolrich (not John Woodrich), labourer, Broadwood Widger'; Down by a Riverside 'Taken down by Mr. Sheppard from the singing of Jas. Townsend, Holne'; and The Rambling Sailor 'Taken Down by Mr. Sheppard from Roger Hannaford, South Widdecombe'.  There is no reason to dispute these details although manuscript versions do not easily uphold ascriptions - Sheppard disappears from the equation at times.6  And the details do betoken scrupulousness in reference.

Yet the usual kind of ascription to either Bussell or Sheppard only indicates who it was taking down the tune - in keeping with the emphases on tunes that was Baring-Gould's over-riding motive.  As complication, no name is given in respect of notation in the notes to the first published part of the first edition of SBW.  When the fourth part was completed, then Sheppard's name appeared as having 'put the last of the original ballad' of Cold Blows the Wind 'in the major' (thus suggesting notation); in connection with the notation of a tune to Brixham Town which was supplied by John Webb to words from Jonas Coaker; and for the notation of Blow away ye Morning Breezes (the reference is to 'J. Hard' - Robert Hard).7  These three songs belong to the list as found in the first part of the first edition of SBW but as well as these in the fourth part of the first edition, other melodies appear in parts two, three and four to which Sheppard's name can be attached.  We find The Drowned Lover which sits in place in the second part; A Sweet Pretty Maiden (from James Parsons), The Forsaken Maiden (same source), Henry Martyn (sic) (from Roger Luxton), The Simple Ploughboy (from John Masters at Bradstone); and Broadbury Gibbet (from a singer, unnamed, at South Brent - one may guess either Robert Hard or John Helmore - or, perhaps, John Hoskins).8

These are examples of Sheppard's appearance, then, although, as we are seeing - in footnotes here - the manuscript evidence is not always handy in its reinforcement of procedure.  As regards Bussell: whilst at the end of the notes to the 'original' first part, Baring-Gould acknowledged the help given by Bussell in taking down airs9, nowhere in that first part is Bussell's name given in specific connection with a particular song-tune.  One recalls, too, that the frontispiece includes Sheppard's but not Bussell's name (contrast the 1928 edition where Bussell's name was included).  It is not until we encounter The Golden Vanity - in effect, in the third part of that first edition of SBW - that Bussell's name appears in specific conjunction.  His name then also appeared as having noted down one air to On a May Morning So Early (Sheppard already, apparently, having noted down an air from Roger Huggins at Lydford); and he noted the melody of Midsummer Carol in Chagford, The Drunken Maidens, from Edmond (sic) Fry, Lydford, and Hunting the Hare (from 'Old Capul').10  Sheppard, on the other hand, as we have seen, is credited with the notation of a dozen other songs.  Maybe there is more to be said for Bussell's involvement but, as we have the details, they may all suggest that Bussell was not responsible for setting out tunes for publication even if he assisted in their initial notation which, in turn, emphasises the prominence given to Sheppard's name on the title page and his important part in the earliest collecting processes.  Hence the value of pinpointing Sheppard's first visits to South Brent as discussed in the previous piece in this series.

Often there is no distinction - as happened in the 'original' first part to the first edition.  It is simply recorded that the words and air were taken down from a particular singer…and these are the occasions during which we must suppose that Baring-Gould was involved but which may have been when either one or the other or even both of his collaborators were also present.  We find, for instance, that Upon a Sunday Morning was got from Robert Hard; In My Garden Grew Plenty of Thyme, from James Parsons; Green Broom, from John Woodrich; The Chimney Sweep, from John Helmore;11 and The Squire and the Fair Maid:

Taken down, words and music, from J. Hoskin, labourer, South Brent, also from James Parsons, John Woodrich, in fragments, very full from John Masters, Bradstone, an old man of 80.  Another very full from H. Smith, Post Bridge, Dartmoor.12
Similarly, The Green Cockade came from 'Edmund Fry, thatcher, Lydford, but a native of Lezant, Cornwall'; The Warson Hunt was 'taken down from James Parsons, Edmond (sic) Fry, Richard Horne, a miller; and others.  Nancy came from 'William Friend, of Lydford, James Parsons, and Robert Hard.'  Furze Bloom was 'Taken down from Roger Luxton, of Halwell (sic)'; Fair Girl Mind This from James Parsons; The Dukes Head from James Olver, Launceston; Cupid, the Ploughboy from 'J. Watts, Alder-quarry, Thrushelton'; A Single and a Married Life from Henry Bickle of Bridestowe; The Saucy Ploughboy 'from Will Setter, labourer, Two Bridges, Dartmoor'; and Dead Maid's Land from Joseph Paddon, Holcombe Burnell…13

These examples help reveal the expanding list of singers' names.  We should bear in mind, too, the strong possibility that Baring-Gould, with or without his two collaborators, did go back to some singers.  We know that this happened with James Parsons and the evidence that can be accumulated from all sources reinforces the notion of there having been more than one visit in some other cases, the Satterly visits included; the South Brent meetings being a prime example as pointed out in the last piece in this series.  By the same token it is not possible to say, unequivocally, that this was the most regular occurrence and some of the inherent danger in this practice were rehearsed in a previous piece in this series.  We have to be content to note that methodology is, at least in part, illustrated.  Accepting, too, the complications found in manuscript details - and, as footnotes show here, there are many such - we can hardly suppose that Baring-Gould made any deliberate attempt to obfuscate the issue of collecting (but for more apparent confusion see paragraph immediately below).

Baring-Gould and his fellow-collectors were not, as may be supposed, in everyday contact with singers.  Sheppard and Bussell could only manage irregular forays into Devon as Baring-Gould himself made clear.  Sheppard, Baring-Gould wrote in his notes when the fourth part of SBW was published, because he lived in Yorkshire, had not been able 'to make more than one or two visits to the South-west in the year song-hunting, and these songs have to be taken down when opportunity offers.'14  Once again, though, Baring-Gould's recollections throw up a problem.  Startlingly, in his Introductory essay on English folk-music included in the seventh volume of English Minstrelsie, he wrote that Sheppard had to be persuaded to come south because he felt, initially, that any yield might not be worthwhile and that it was not until Baring-Gould furnished Sheppard with songs taken down during the winter of 1888-1889 that Sheppard acceded to requests and came from Yorkshire during the summer of 1889.15  This plainly contradicts the details given in manuscripts and in notes to the songs in SBW.  Sheppard, according to these sources and as emphasised in the last piece in this series, was at South Brent in the autumn of 1888.  This may even reinforce the notion that songs were got during 1887 and that Baring-Gould later mistook the dates.  In the end, one begins to wonder at the precariousness of memory and to regret the uncertainty located in manuscripts and notes.

Baring-Gould also wrote that during the Christmas and Long Vacations he could 'calculate on the assistance of F. W. Bussell of Brasenose College, Oxford, whose mother and sister had taken the Cottage on the Ramps that I had built'.16  Again, if hesitantly, one takes the combined evidence of manuscript and notes to songs as indicator of Bussell's involvement.  As example, and to some extent going over ground, the Fair Copy and Personal Copy manuscripts reveal (should one write 'make claim'?) that Bussell visited Edmund Fry at Lydford at some time in 1888 (for Why Should We Be Dullards?) and in 1889 (for I Rode My Little Horse); and John Helmore in August and September 1888 (for The Chimney Sweep and The Sailor's Farewell) - one returns to the dilemma in South Brent dating already discussed; William Friend at Lydford in January 1889 (for Nancy of Yarmouth and Adieu to Old England); Matthew Baker at Lewdown in September 1890 (for Henry Martyn); Sam Fone in December 1892 (for A Maiden Sweet In May), February 1893 (for The Bold Trooper) and March 1893 (for High Germany), in October of 1894 (for Bonny Irish Boy - amongst other songs) and, then, again, in July 1897 (for I'm A Man That Have Injured My Parents)… a pretty intense use of time though not yet capable of reinforcement with the fullest detail.17

Some of Sheppard's activity has already been revealed but it can be added as further examples that he noted a tune for Farewell to Kingsbridge from Roger Luxton in 1889, a tune for The Mallard from John Masters in 1889, a tune for Joan's Ale Was New from John Helmore in 1890, a tune for Down by a Riverside from Roger Hannaford dated 1890 in Fair Copy, both text and tune for The Siege of St Malo from James Peake (the text is dated May 27th 1891), and a tune for Ormond the Brave from James Peake on May 2th and May 28th 1891.  There are other examples but the complications attendant on shuffling and revising are legion as footnotes here reveal.  Perhaps specific dates gain credibility.18

It was mostly Bussell who was involved with both John Woodrich and then Sam Fone, noting Mother and Daughter from the former in 1887 as described in the previous piece in this series and I'm Ninety-Five in 1891, for instance,19 and thus encompassing the period of John Woodrich's prominence before he disappeared from the scene.  Sheppard is credited with getting Green Broom from John Woodrich in 1888 20 but, thereafter, seems not to have been involved…and with Sam Fone only on August 24th and 25th 1895, when he took down some songs including Sweet Susan and Stutter and Stammer21

We cannot usually tell whether the collecting occasions themselves were sustained in duration, though the laborious method of notation with pencil and manuscript could well have prolonged matters and set up, one supposes, a particular dynamic between singer and collector(s).  One recalls, too, the amount of time on one specific occasion that Baring-Gould spent with Robert Hard, as noted above and in the piece immediately previous to this one, although this appears to have been an exception.  And Baring-Gould's anxiety over collecting songs from Sally Satterley might just suggest an extended session next time round for Sheppard.

In total, the details of collecting sometimes seem to be incomplete, sometimes contradictory and even misleading - this is not meant to denigrate Baring-Gould's efforts for the songs are palpably there to be considered (Baring-Gould did not invent them all); but, rather, to try to re-enter the collecting processes and to discover not just everyday detail but some of the thought behind both collecting and editing for publication, the way in which Baring-Gould found his material and the adequacy or otherwise of current methodology in its application for the purposes of presenting that material to a public.  To be fair, we can usually get near to actuality but there are often enough some nagging doubts about full accuracy.

To conclude this look at the collecting processes, we can begin with noting how a modest total of 25 songs in the first part of SBW expanded into a comprehensive total of 106 in all four parts (the number changes in successive editions to 110 (1895), 121 (1905 and 1928)22).  Such intense activity, it must be re-emphasised, cannot be gainsaid in its totality.  However (and here come the doubts again), it is still necessary to consider some apparent muddle and misrepresentation of dates of collecting and to make qualification, not least in looking at the proportion of songs contributed by friends or correspondents - those 29 occasions as indicated in a previous piece in this series.  We then find, in notes to songs in this case, some clear acknowledgement, sometimes a less clear ascription and, on one or two occasions, perhaps, a little disingenuousness.

The following are representative examples: in the Preface to the first part of the first edition of SBW, Baring-Gould refers to a W Crossing of South Brent by whom 'some songs were taken down from moor-men on Dartmoor in or about 1868…' and, again, who took down The Bold Dragoon 'from a labouring man on Dartmoor, now dead'23.  We learn of a version of The Bonny Bunch of Roses, taken down 'by his Schoolmaster, Sth Brent, Sept. 1888'; and Don't You Go a Rushing 'Taken down …by an old schoolmaster… S. Brent'.24

The words of Sweet Nightingale came from Bell's Songs of the Peasantry:

Unfortunately, Mr. Bell does not give the tune.  Through the courtesy of the Editors of the “Western Morning News,” and “Western Daily Mercury,” I was able to appeal to their columns to readers who might remember the melody.  This elicited an answer from E. F. Stevens, Esq., of Terrace, St. Ives, who wrote that the melody “had run in his head any time these eight and thirty years.”25
The words of the song, Cold Blows the Wind, published in the first part of the first edition 'were taken down by Mrs. Gibbons, daughter of the late Sir. W. L. Trelawney, Bart., from an old woman, Elizabeth Doidge, who was, sixty years before, in the service of her father…'.26

Then there is a T S Cayzer who noted Trinity Sunday from 'a moor man' at Post Bridge in 1849.  The description of the occasion is worth setting out as recalling something of singing style:

The scene was a lonely one (I think Two Bridges, but it may have been Post Bridge).  It had been raining all day.  There was not a book in the house, nor musical instrument of any mind, except two hungry pigs and a baby that was being weaned.  Towards nightfall there dropped in several miners and shepherds, and I well remember how the appearance of these Gentiles (sic) cheered us.  We soon got up a glorious fire - such a fire as peat only can make, and drew the benches and settles round.  By the friendly aid of sundry quarts of cyder I, before long, gained the confidence of the whole circle, and got a song from each in turn; and noted down two that were quite new to me: no easy matter, considering that they were performed in a strange mixture of double bass and falsetto.  The action with which they accompanied the singing was extremely appropriate.  They always sang standing. 27
Further, a Mary O'Bryan, from Cahir, Tipperary, sent Baring-Gould a version of The Trees they Are So High.28  A version of The Widow was 'Sent me by W. Weare'.29  A Mr Hansford Worth sent in a copy of The Two Cruisers, taken down from a Moses Houghton of Charlestown, St Austell, 'aet 87' - no date of notation was given.30  We find, too, that where versions of Widdecombe Fair and of The Dilly Song, got through newspaper appeal, are concerned, of Widdecombe Fair, Baring-Gould wrote that 'The tune and words first came to me from W. F. Collier, Esq., of Woodtown, Horrabridge…  A slight variant has been published by Mr. W. Davies of Kingsbridge'.31  Jan's Courtship has several sources which indicate that the song was sent in.  Thus, 'Words and air from Mr. R. Rowe, Longabrook, Milton Abbot.  Another set, words and air, but slightly varied, from W,. Crossing, Esq., South Brent; another, practically identical, from Mr. Chowen, Of Burnville, Brentor…Other tunes to the same words have been sent to me'.32  Did Baring-Gould actually collect a version himself? In addition to the songs mentioned above, a version of The Seasons was 'sent from Stratton in Cornwall'.33  Again, a version of By Chance It Was 'was obtained from Bruce Tyndall, Esq., of Exmouth, who learned it from a Devonshire cook in 1839 or 1840'.  Was this heard of Bruce Tyndall or sent?  Bruce Tyndall sent another song in addition to the one mentioned above, from his Devonshire cook: a version of Green Brooms34  Then there is a version of Parson Hogg, a song sung by Baring-Gould's great uncle, Thomas Snow, and 'given me by my cousin, Edmund Snow'.  He went on: 'Another version I obtained from Mr. H. Whitfield, Brushmaker, Market Alley, Plymouth; his father had sung it…'.35  The suspicion is that the song was sent in (no opprobrium is attached), a supposition given weight by another reference where Baring-Gould wrote that a version of the melody of The Drowned Lover 'was sent me by Mr. H. Whitfield, of Plymouth, as sung by his father'36.  Again, a version of Brixham Town ' was given me by the Hon. And Rev. A. F. Northcote, who took it down from an itinerant pedlar of 90 years at Buckingham'.37  A version of As Johnny Walked Out was 'taken down in 1849 at Post Bridge by Mr. T. S. Cayzer to go with a version from James Parsons.38  Of Childe the Hunter, Baring-Gould wrote that 'The melody given is that to which the Misses Phillips, who were born and reared at Shaw, on Dartmoor, informed me they had heard it sung fifty years ago')39.

And we have to take Baring-Gould on trust - there is absolutely no reason not to…except for certain qualifications.  Thus, of a somewhat different order to the apparently straightforward phenomenon of songs sent to Baring-Gould as described above, there is a reference, dated November 9th1889, to a Rev Sackville H Berkeley, vicar in Heavitree, Exeter, who sent in a copy of Three Gypsies which he had got from a Ringers supper in north Devon.40  The singer concerned was a Peter Cheriton, a shoemaker, of Oakford, near to Tiverton and Rev Berkeley suggested that the style of singing 'seemed clearly of an old ballad kind', a touchstone that Baring-Gould used frequently during his earliest collecting days (as we have seen, he claimed, for instance, to have noted some twenty-five such 'ballad'-style songs from James Parsons).  One wonders if Rev Berkeley took his cue about the nature of the singing style in some way from Baring-Gould or had formed his own opinion.  This, after all, is a reference predating the appearance of Baring-Gould's first volume, Kidson's Traditional Tunes, Lucy Broadwood's English County Songs and Barrett's English Folk Song; but Child's collections were available and may, as they seem to have done in Baring-Gould's own case, have influenced opinion.  Mr Cheriton, at any rate, 'had never seen the song in print or even in writing but only knew it orally'.  Strangely, perhaps, Rev Berkeley forwarded only a '1st verse' but added, a little surprisingly, that he could get not only the rest but the tune as well if Baring-Gould wished (my italics).  The lines of song that Peter Cheriton sang found their way into Baring-Gould's own offering of The Gipsy Countess - apparently his own name for the song (there are several titles to the song - frequently known as The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies and, in Child, as Gypsy Laddie) - which was exercising his attention at length at the time…  It can be found in the manuscripts along with other versions, credited to 'Peter Cherton [sic], an old shoemaker…'.  There is a familiar juggling in Baring-Gould's view of The Gypsy Countess as it is eventually found in the fourth part of the first edition of SBW where he wrote of Peter Cheriton's contribution that it was, simply, one of several 'Versions' whereas, in its truncated form as sent by Rev Berkeley, this was simply not the case: it was intended as a fragment and, according to Fair Copy text, was just that (a dozen lines).41  We should also note the spelling of the name of the singer which, though it could have been the result of listening to local pronunciation or perhaps of a printer's error, appeared as 'Cherton' in the 1905 revised edition of SBW.  And from where did Baring-Gould get the adjective, 'old'?  Rev Berkeley never used it when he sent the song in question.

Kelly's 1893 street directory of Oakford referred to Peter Cheriton; boot-maker and census details eke this reference out.  The 1891 schedules, actually referring to 'Oakfield', record a Peter Cheriton, Head of Household (his age is, frustratingly, only partly legible but is thirty-something), a Boot and Shoemaker, born in Cruwys Morchard, living with his wife, Mary Jane (43, born Chulmleigh) and children - Oswald (8), Ann (5), Ethel (4) and Frank John (1), all born in Oakfield.  Child's notes to Gypsy Laddie, presumably following Baring-Gould's lead, refer to a contribution from Baring-Gould as having been acquired from 'an old shoemaker of Tiverton'42; but Peter Cheriton, as we have seen, was not 'old'.  We might even have a case here where Baring-Gould was creating something of a stereotype.  The word 'old' figures frequently in his published writings but the epithet, as the example of Harry Westaway given in the second piece in this survey demonstrates, cannot always be substantiated.

Finally, where Mr Cheriton's fragment is concerned, there is no suggestion in the manuscripts or notes to the song that it was sent to Baring-Gould.  It is as if we were meant to suppose that he himself had gathered it.

We may take just one more example of not only contributions from others but, more intriguingly, of another apparent absence of the fullest accuracy in Baring-Gould's descriptions of his work as, in this case, he cited a Miss Bidder who was referred to briefly above.  There are varying accounts of their acquaintance but all are to do with women singers.  Baring-Gould wrote, for example, that 'Miss Bidder, of Stoke Flemming (sic), most kindly searched her neighbourhood for old women who knew ancient songs, and sent me what she obtained'.43  This is repeated later: 'One lady, Miss Bidder, the daughter of Mr. G. Parker Bidder, the celebrated engineer and friend of Stevenson… discovered a couple of singers in her neighbourhood, from whom she was able to take down - just what I had failed hithertoo to get - the songs of the women.  To her energy and ability is due the presence in this volume of the charming songs - “As lovely Nancy sore lamenting,” “Some at eighteen.”'44  In fact, as noted before during this survey, Baring-Gould had got songs from his own nurse, Anne Bickle (My Ladye's Coach, Lullaby) and from Sally Satterly (Deep In Love, The Loyal Lover, The False Lover) and from an Anne Roberts at Scobbeder, Widecombe (also The Loyal Lover)45 but the general point is not without foundation.  Much later, in Miss Bidder's case, there is further acknowledgement but, true to form when re-using anecdotes, Baring-Gould altered the reference, in this case, it seems, to appear to make himself more prominent: 'At Dartmouth I made the acquaintance of Miss Bidder of Stoke Fleming, daughter of the “Calculating Boy”.  She introduced me to a number of old women who had their songs, and as she was an accomplished musician, she was able to take down the melodies.'46  The same Miss Bidder's name is found in connection with a version (noted in 1893), from Mary Langworthy, of The Trees They Are So High, mentioned earlier in this survey (February 1893).47  Although, as has been pointed out in a previous article any visit by Baring-Gould to Miss Bidder, there is a hint in another reference to Miss Bidder that Baring-Gould did do just that.  She had apparently written to him 'and she asked me to visit her' in order to seek out some women singers.  'I did so…'.48  In any case, it is difficult to believe a determined, deliberate attempt to steal thunder; for in the Personal Copy manuscripts (for instance) Baring-Gould made his acknowledgement as follows in connection with a version of Flora, the Lily of the West: 'Taken down from Mary Langworthy by Miss. Bidder, Stoke Flemming (sic), 1895'.49  Not for the first time we find a haze resting over circumstances.

Such usage of contributions from correspondents was, of course, common enough amongst the collectors: there is plenty of evidence in the work of Kidson, Gardiner, the Hammonds, Carey - through Dorothy Marshall - and Vaughan Williams.  Many of Lucy Broadwood's songs were got from informants in this way.

Nor should we dismiss the numbers of songs sent or brought from others by singers themselves - as exemplified throughout the Revival.  In Baring-Gould's case, Will Huggins of Lydford, 'had been zealously engaged … in going among his ancient musical friends collecting old songs for me.'50  There is also an intriguing anecdote about John Woodrich which suggests that he was, perhaps unwittingly, an agent for Baring-Gould's collecting.  Evidently, he was at one time employed 'wheeling earth' during the construction of a railway line and fell in with another man who sang.  As they passed each other they swapped songs.  'I got my little man to pick the brains and take to himself the repertoire of this other earth-wheeler, as well as of fellow-navvies on the line'.  In Further Reminiscences Baring-Gould confirmed that he got songs through John Woodrich - but there is no suggestion that this was a deliberate ploy.51  To be quite fair, too, the number of songs that Baring-Gould got in this way is, comparatively, low.  Songs and Ballads of the West is proclaimed, primarily, as noted above, to contain songs directly 'from the mouths of the people'.

Finally, we have to remark the fact that some thirty songs in the four parts of the first edition of SBW have elements of re-writing in them.  Examples were given in previous pieces in this survey to which are added a representative selection of the remainder…Of The Old Singing Men, from Will Huggins, Lydford, Baring-Gould wrote that:

The words he gave were “The little Girl down the Lane,” and were of no merit, and much more modern than the air to which he sang them.  I have therefore discarded them, and written fresh words…52
For My Ladye's Coach, 'I have added verses 4, 5, and part of 6…'.  For An Evening so Clear, 'I have thought it best to write a fresh copy of verses…'.  As for The Grey Mare - since Baring-Gould's informants sang only fragments, 'I have … had to reconstruct it'.  Of The Orchestra 'I ventured to write fresh words…'.  Of The Bold Dragoon, 'I have condensed it…'.  Of The Mallard, 'I have…written fresh words to the tune…'.  For The Blackbird, 'In order to preserve the charming old air it was necessary to write another ballad.'  'The words', Baring-Gould wrote, 'of Fair Susan Slumbered, 'were too utterly worthless to be given here, and Mr. Sheppard has written a fresh copy of verses to the melody.'  For All in a Garden, 'The words follow so closely “The Broken Token”…, that we have thought it advisable to give the melody a fresh copy of words.'53

Such treatment of material might well engender a sharp intake of breath and cause us to wonder just how reliable Baring-Gould's collecting is in terms of his claim that the songs came from 'the mouths of the people' and in respect of assembling traditional canons.  The alterations and insertions were not, it is clear, all to do with Bowdlerisation; and the whole process is too major a point to ignore.  The best that we can do for the moment is, perhaps, to compare his versions with others available as Baring-Gould himself did in Personal Copy in order to 'correct' misapprehensions gleaned through his selections..

At the end of it all, we may now quibble with some of the collecting methods - we may even concur with Lucy Broadwood's suggestion that Baring-Gould's approach was somewhat cavalier, as the extent of re-writing demonstrates.  Lewis Jones recounts some of the details of Lucy Broadwood's acquaintance with Baring-Gould, describing how she had read one of his books, wrote to him (14th December 1889), thus initiating correspondence, and visited between 4th and 22nd September 1893.  Mr Jones suggests that she became critical of what she considered to be Baring-Gould's 'rather cavalier methods of collecting and editing folk songs'.54

And we may, as usual, bemoan the absence of detail of the lives of the singers which might otherwise offer clues about transmission and might reconstitute or lift off the supposed idyllic, rural, unlettered covering which has been thrown over them to an extent.

Ultimately, there is a need to fathom the anomalies revealed above in order to do proper justice to Baring-Gould and to his singers.  At the moment there are too many misleading details for reliable propositions to be advanced about the full nature and value of his collections.  We would, nonetheless, need to set this task against the comprehensive catalogue of songs got by Baring-Gould's especially from his four principal singers, James Parsons, John Woodrich, Robert Hard and Sam Fone which alone represent a major achievement, itself underlining the extent and character of the collecting process.

Roly Brown - 9.9.05
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT163

Top Home Page MT Records Articles Reviews News Editorial Map

Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services   Updated: 9.9.05