Article MT242

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 37: Printings of John Reilly1

In England broadsides of John Reilly (it has alternative titles) do not include copy from Catnach or Pitts, which then suggests a slightly later rather than an earlier appearance in nineteenth century broadside repertoire.  But when we do encounter London printers they form a complex inclusive of inheritance from Catnach and Pitts: Elizabeth Hodges working out of Pitts' old premises, it seems, from 1844 on; Ryle with a legacy from the Catnach Press and printing between 1845 and 1859; Fortey incorporating the same legacy and whatsoever else accumulated under Annie Ryle, Paul and Ryle - but not himself active until 1860; and then, at the end of the London sequence, Such printing from the 1840s through the middle of the century (and dying in 1882).2  Elsewhere, we find Bebbington in Manchester; Harkness in Preston; Forth in Hull; Ross in Newcastle; Lindsay, M'Intosh and copy from The Poet's Box in Glasgow; and some Irish imprints (Birmingham, for instance). 

The title and the narrative line of Riley the Fisherman is shared on all London copy.  Elizabeth Hodges, who is looking likely to have been the first London printer to issue the piece, offers a story with named protagonists but with no stated historical foundation as was the case with elopement ballads elsewhere.  The form of address is somewhat primitive with 'And' as narrative link - 'And John Riley is my true love's name…', 'And my mother took me by the hand…', 'And when she got the money to Riley she did run…', 'And when Riley got the money next day he sailed away…', 'And then it's twelve months after…', 'And they found a letter…'!3

The piece begins in classic broadside fashion as follows:

As I roved out one morning down by the river sid
I heard a lonely maid complain, the tears fe
            from her eyes,
This is a cold and stormy night, all these words
            she then did say,                                 rica.
My love he's on the raging seas, bound for Ame-
Given the small lapses that the particular copy has at the ends of lines and with one or two changes in wording (one notes 'lonely' here as opposed to the 'lovely' we will find in Ryle) this is the opening stanza that all English printings bar that from Bebbingtom employ.  And we cannot pass on without remarking the final line of the first stanza given above.  It is well enough known that in Irish song, 'America' is often pronounced as 'Amerikay' but how far this was the case in England or not is more of an open question, discussed further below.4  At this stage, too, we might even think of traces of Irish ancestry in the particular story, compounded by the inclusion of a protagonist's 'Irish' name.  The involvement of America as a haven could echo a growing reliance on the promise of fulfillment for oppressed or destitute people; a feature of mid-and-late nineteenth-century life in Europe generally.  But none of this is enough to determine any genuine historical status and date for any initiation of the piece; and the pronunciation discussion becomes a matter of common-sense, as will be seen.

At any rate, 'John Riley (sic) is my true love's name' and 'he lives down by the quay' ('kay'?).  The girl's father had 'riches great' but Riley 'he was poor' although the girl loved her 'sailor dear' - so that her father 'could not me endure'.  Ryle (below) is less personal with the father apparently objecting to the liaison, not his daughter, which 'he could not endure'.

The girl's mother, though, seems to have been sympathetic and Hodges, in an odd construction and in only three lines, has:

And my mother took me by the hand, and these
            words she then did say;
If you be fond of Riley, you must leave this
For your father says he'll take his life or shun his
The girl replies, saying that wherever Riley went she must follow; and the mother offers a thousand pounds - 'Send Riley to America to purchase there some ground'.  The girl takes this course and Riley sails off carrying 'half a ring' in token of his love.  Unfortunately, 'twelve months after', the girl is walking by the sea and 'Riley he came back again and took his love away' but the ship was wrecked and the girl's father found 'Riley in her arms, and drowned upon the shore'.  Finally:
And they found a letter in her breast, and it
            being wrote with blood,
Saying cruel was my parents, that thought to
            shoot my love,                                     gay
That this may be a warning to all fair maids so
            ever to let the man they love go to America.
It looks as if an 'N' was left out at the beginning of the final line if comparison with other printings is made.  This is the kind of change - even error - found all through the London printings but the narrative is consistent. 

It can be seen that there is a strong element of melodrama in some of the components of the narrative.  Parental opposition to marriage is itself a familiar enough theme in broadside balladry; and stories with a broken token appear in several guises (shades of Caroline and her young sailor bold and Farewell Nancy) let alone in what can be seen as elopement or abduction ballads already discussed on this site; but the coincidence of an exact, twelve month absence and the subsequent tragedy - very convenient for the tale - and discovery of a bloodstained letter may be thought to be wholly imaginative. 

We can trace the essential elements of the piece as found in Hodges in Ryle copy also and he evidently printed the piece more than once.5  On one copy, in his second stanza, he begins (my italics) with 'So John Riley is my true love's name…' rather than 'And John Riley is my true love's name…' in other Ryle printings and as it appears in Hodges copy discussed above.  Ryle, it should be said, has 'all washed up on the shore' as opposed to 'drowned' in Hodges.  At the very end of the same copy Ryle has 'Ne'er neglect the man they love go to America'.  (my italics) as opposed to 'Never to let the man they love go to America' in other copy (Such has this too).

Fortey copy parallels Hodges and Ryle in many details.6  Layout in the first stanza is very slightly altered, with fewer indentations and a hyphen before 'tears' instead of a comma…hardly drastic change.  Other than this, 'drown'd' offers an alternative to 'drowned' in Ryle.  This particular way of wording exposes a broadside convention and makes no difference except where the 'ed' may have been pronounced, not a factor here.  This convention was also adopted by song collectors and examples are given below.

In the final line, Fortey has 'Ne'er to neglect…' as opposed to 'Ne'er neglect…' in one Ryle copy discussed above and 'ever' (presumably 'Never') in Hodges copy.

Such copy7 runs parallel to other London printings except where 'a thousand pounds' is transmogrified into '£1000' and where the father 'found Riley in her arms, & dead upon the shore' (note the ampersand); and punctuation and layout are very similar except where in line two 'her eyes' is further indented - all mere orthographic tinkering.  Overall, Such appears to have followed precedent.

London printers, then, issued a consistent form of the John Reilly story and during quite a period of time; perhaps through the 1840s and certainly into the 1860s.  But there is no record of any southern English printers outside London adopting the ballad.

Outside London, in a more northerly environment, some slightly more radical differences appear.  It would be unwise to lump northern printings together since this involves a scattered body ranging from Manchester up to Glasgow.  It is perhaps better to consider printing changes as the result of individual endeavour although the narrative impulse is the same and certain features common to more than one printing can be found.  This obtains, too, when comparing northern printings with those from London.

Bebbington, as a prime example8, calls the piece Riley's Farewell and it begins, 'one evening fair' when 'It is a cold and stormy night'; but echoes London printings when describing how, of the 'lovely maid', the tears 'fell from here eyes' - this is not the same phrase appearing in other northern printings (below).  In stanza two we find that 'My love he was a sailor bold his age was scarce sixteen'.  Whilst this given age can be found echoed by 'eighteen' in Irish copy of this ballad the rest of the stanza is as it was in London copy.  Bebbington's third stanza is oddly put together with its first line, despite one change in wording - 'sea' for 'quay' - more familiar as part of a second stanza in London printings and the fourth line compressing elements:

Riley was my true love's name - he lived down by
            the sea, [she did say,
My mother took me by the hand and these words
If you be fond of Riley let him leave this country
Your father says he'll take his life or shun his com-
The narrative in the ballad thereafter parallels the London course of events.  There are, though, small changes in the final stanza.  Thus 'Let this be a warning' where Ryle and Such have 'So let…' and Hodges 'That this may be…' and, the last line, the advice is 'Never to send the man they love upon the raging sea'; all pretty much in line with the kinds of minor changes already encountered in a different printers' renderings.

Harkness has a different title altogether - Lamentation of Rilley and Mary Campbell.9  Why on earth he should choose to adopt such a title is difficult to fathom unless he had some other ballad in mind.  Apart from in the title, there is no other mention of any Mary Campbell…It is, in fact, the girl who tells the story in its familiar guise - is, as it were, her lamentation…We note how 'the tears fell down from her eyes' (as in Bebbington but not as in other northern copy); and there is the one odd compression of lines in the last line of stanza three that was found in Bebbington copy:

John Rilley was my true love's name, he lived down by the sea,
My mother took me by the hand and these words she did say -
If you be fond of Rilley let him leave this country,
Your father says he'll take his life, or shun his company.
Otherwise, there are but two obvious deviations - the first (my italics) when 'Rilley' came back to take his love away and the ship was wrecked and then 'She got Rilley in her arms and they drowned upon the shore'; and, finally, after the finding of the letter 'wrote in blood' the warning is given - 'Never send the man you love upon the raging seas', this line having also given rise to variants in London printings.

Forth10, in Hull, printed Young Riley The Fisherman, with a strangely crafted first stanza:

As I went out one evening clear, down by the sea
I overheard a fair maid, the tears rolling down did
This is a cold stormy night, these words I heard her
My love is on the ocean wide bound for America…
The italicised phrase in the second line here is beginning to turn out to be a feature of northern printings (and this includes Scotland) other than in Bebbington and Harkness. 

Equally as strangely as in his first stanza, Forth follows with a different sort of opening to his second stanza:

John Riley they do call him, reared near the town of
He is a nice young man as ever my eyes did see…
And he continues to make up the narrative with such variations in phrasing, although gradually assuming the textual guise with which we are more familiar and certainly including all the known elements of the tale.  The introduction of 'Hull' as a location has obvious local resonance but is more important in that reveals such a naming not found in London printings but, as will be seen, featuring more prominently in other northern printings and in sung versions.  In Forth, his Riley came 'home again' after three months 'and took his love away'.  There follows the shipwreck and the finding of the two bodies 'drownded (sic) on the shore'; and then the discovery of the letter 'wrote with blood' and the warning 'to all fair maidens gay', again as a variant phrase, 'Never let the boy you love sail to America'.

Forth began printing in the 1870s and his piece sits alongside Playmates!, a mawkish tale.  The printer, one would have thought, had precedents available for the piece; but, as an illustration of an individual, late and somewhat slapdash re-issue, this is a good example. 

Ross, in Newcastle11, has the same striking image (my italics) in his first stanza as was found in Forth:

As I went out one evening clear down by yon river side,
I ever heard a fair maid - the tears rolling down did glide,
This is a cold and stormy night, these words I heard her say,
My love is on the ocean wide bound for America.
He follows this with a by now clear locational feature of printings from outside London, the named protagonist, in this case 'John Reily' (sic), being 'reared near the town of Rea'; and, in the same stanza three that has changed from its London form in Bebbington and Forth, has another rather peculiar construction:
My mother took me by the hand, and this to me did say -
Your father says he'll have his life - so shun his company;
If you be fond of Reily let him leave this country,
For your father says he'll have his life so take advice from me.
Most other known elements all appear with slight changes in wording - when Reily was embarking, for example, 'He hadn't got his foot on board' before he broke the ring in half; and when the father 'got Reily in her arms drowned on the shore'.

Lindsay (printing in Glasgow from the 1850s on), calling his piece John Reilly12, has the same opening stanza as does Ross with the same striking image in it (my italics again):

As I walked out one evening clear down by yon river side,
I overheard a fair maid - the tears rolling down did glide
The phrase in italics here, we remind ourselves, contrasts with that in London copy and Bebbington where 'the tears fell from her eyes'. 

Importantly, too, where the second stanza opens with 'John Reilly they do call him reared near the town of Rea', a town reference that emerged in Forth copy.  Apart from in Forth and in Lindsay such a reference appears in M'Intosh; and then in one sung version as 'Rea', in another as 'Lee', in yet another as 'Ree' (below); and then in Birmingham's printing and in O'Lochlainn's sung version as 'Bray'.  The slight inconsistency here may reflect an unsettled standing for the ballad, somewhat akin to broadsides where a gap might be left for the printer in order for the 'reader' to insert an individual name.  The naming process itself becomes characteristic.

The Lindsay piece continues by telling how Riley he 'is' poor and how 'Because I loved a sailor they could not me endure'.  The next stanza echoes Ross:

My mother took me by the hand and this to me did say,
Your father says he'll have his life - so shun his company:
If you are fond of Reilly let him leave this country,
For your father says he'll have his life so take advice from me.
But the narrative is from then on as it was found in London printings until:
In the course of three months after she was walking on the quay
When Reilly he came home again and stole his love away…
In a final stanza the note was found saying 'And cruel was my father that went to shoot my love'.  In the last line of all, we find 'Never to let the boy you love sail to America'.

Within the overall pattern, Lindsay has not altered the progress of the narrative outline.  And there is one other feature where, referring to Reilly, the text my italics) says:

As soon as he got the money, next day he sail'd away,
He hadn't got a foot on board when she these words did say,
Here is a token of true love, and we'll break it in two,
You have my heart and half my ring until I find out you.

The onus has obviously changed.

M'Intosh, printing between 1849 and 1889 according to the Bodleian Allegro archive, appears to have exactly the same text as Lindsay - copy is difficult to read but all the Lindsay idiosyncracies appear.13

Poet's Box material is always good value, offering a commentary that, in this case, talking about 'one of those good songs' of past times, the 'Poet' says

Any criticism of these remarks must be tempered by taking account the date of issue, probably during the 1850s, when public sentiment was much removed from our own perspectives on life and literature - and, if one takes thought, the drift of the commentary may not then seem too far removed from what successive generations found attractive in such narrative ballads.

All the constituent elements discovered thus far are included in the Poet's Box printing and in much the same pattern as in previously discussed printings with - equally - one or two expected changes.  It begins with 'As I went out one evening clear down by yon river side…' and continues with the characteristic northern phrase when referring to the 'fair maid', that 'the tears rolling down did glide'.  Reilly, we find, was reared ne'er (sic) the town of Ree', this naming process now, surely, established as a common aspect in northern printings… The mother warns the girl of her father's intentions and offers no less than 'five thousand pounds' for Reilly to purchase ground in America - the money turns out to be 'in gold'.  Reilly returns 'In the course of three months after' he sailed away and the rest of the copy is as expected, ending with 'Never let the lad ye love sail to America'.

An air is prescribed: 'The land we live in'…

There is nothing at all startling in this copy.  It certainly bears out the popularity of the piece in an accustomed guise.

Birmingham, printing in Dublin from the late 1840s up into the 1860s15 and, it seems, issuing successive printings, entitled his piece The True Lover's Lamentation with the narrative is as it is found in English copy but, as might be expected, with various changes in phraseology and layout: the ballad appears in one copy without being divided into stanzas, for example; and Reilly - be it said, 'a tall young man' - is aged but 'eighteen'.  One wonders if Birmingham paid much attention to existing copy or even singers for, given small changes, what can excuse the following change of name unless other ballads - say, that of Willie Reilly - came to the printer's mind?  'My father he has riches great, and Willy he is poor' but, previously:

John Reilly is my true love's name, reared
            near the town of Bray…
Bray, just to the south of Dublin, makes sense in an Irish context as a localising factor as did Forth's 'Hull'.  Birmingham also has 'Reilly' return from his exile but 'three days after', hardly believable, to take his love away.  Otherwise the piece is in the vein of all others.

Copy without imprint located in the National Library of Ireland16 has the same title as that of Birmingham and very much the same text - including the 'Willy' and 'John' mix-up but a different header block: if anything, then, probably indicating further Birmingham issue.

The ballad as broadside, in the end, looks to have been issued first after the impact of Catnach and Pitts.  In its make-up one wonders how much conventional broadside imagery and phraseology is drawn on in order to make up a tale, how many of the ideas in the piece came from other similar ballads and how much news of specific abduction cases intruded…given that Willie Reilly can be dated back to events in the 1790s and that Charming Mary Neill and Sally Munro have historical foundation during the 1830s.  Overall, the story would seem to hover around the memory of a historical phenomenon, though this is never referenced; and features material long worked for its appeal.  The relative paucity of ballad material in printed form might suggest that the subject-matter was not universally intriguing.

Roly Brown - 1.5.10
Oradour sur Vayres, France,


Article MT242

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