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Four and Twenty Fiddlers

[ Roud 20211 ; Ballad Index ReCi045 ; VWML HAM/4/21/9 ; Bodleian Roud 20211 ; trad.]

Four and Twenty Fiddlers is a nonsense cumulative song printed in Thomas d'Urfey's Wit and Mirth, or, Pills to Purge Melancholy (London, 1719), and much later in Roy Palmer's book Room for Company (Cambridge University Press, 1971). Roy Palmer noted:

This song was sung “with Universal Applause, by Mr EDWIN, at the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden”, probably about 1800. It pokes fun at some of the trades and professions it mentions but, as usual, the tailor comes off worst: “Nine tailors make a man,” says the proverb. The tailor's goose was a pressing iron, so called because of the elongated S shape of the neck.

[ That’s not a proverb, though, and has nothing to do originally with makers of suits. Dorothy L. Sayers refers in her Lord Peter Wimsey novel The Nine Tailors (Victor Gollancz, 1934) to the custom of ringing the bell in the Fen village church when there was a death:

Toll-toll-toll; and a pause; toll-toll-toll; and a pause; toll-toll-toll; the nine tailors, or teller-strokes, that mark the passing of a man.

… while the bell was rung three times to indicate that it was a child who had died, and six times for a woman, ‘telling’ the villagers by the number. So ‘tellers’ has become ‘tailors’ over time, as people have forgotten the custom. ]

H.E.D. Hammond collected Four and Twenty Fiddlers in June 1906 from John Hallett of Mosterton, Dorset. This version was printed in James Reeves' book The Everlasting Circle who laconically noted:

A ribald cumulative song of whose origin I know nothing—nor can I discover any other text.

The Dovetail Trio sang Four and Twenty Fiddlers in a live recording on their 2019 CD Bold Champions. This video shows them at Barnsley Acoustic Roots Day on March 30, 2014:

Lyrics

John Hallett sings Four and Twenty Fiddlers The Dovetail Trio sing Four and Twenty Fiddlers

𝄆 Four and twenty fiddlers all of a row 𝄇
Fiddle fiddle faddle, semi semi quaver down below
It is my lady's holiday, so let the lass be merry

𝄆 Four and twenty fiddlers all of a row 𝄇
Fiddle fiddle faddle, semidemiquavers down below
𝄆 It is my lady's holiday, so let the lass be merry 𝄇

𝄆 Four and twenty tinkers all of a row 𝄇
Hoo rub-a-dub! hey rub-a-dub!
Fiddle fiddle faddle …

𝄆 Four and twenty tinkers all of a row 𝄇
Hoo rub-a-dub! hey rub-a-dub!
Fiddle fiddle faddle, semidemiquavers down below
𝄆 It is my lady's holiday, so let the lass be merry 𝄇

𝄆 Four and twenty huntsmen all of a row 𝄇
Tantararo tantararo
Hoo rub-a-dub! …

𝄆 Four and twenty cobblers all of a row 𝄇
Cobbler, cobbler stab awl
Hoo rub-a-dub! …

𝄆 Four and twenty cobblers all of a row 𝄇
Cobbler, cobbler stab awl
Tantararo tantararo …

𝄆 Four and twenty tailors all of a row 𝄇
One caught a louse, t'other let him loose,
T'other cried, “Knock him down with a goose!”
Cobbler, cobbler …

𝄆 Four and twenty tailors all of a row 𝄇
One caught a louse, t'other let him loose,
T'other cried, “Knock him down with a goose!”
Cobbler, cobbler …

𝄆 Four and twenty pensioners all of a row 𝄇
Push dirk cut a-cross
One caught a louse …

𝄆 Four and twenty fencing masters all of a row 𝄇
Push dirk cut a-cross
One caught a louse …

𝄆 Four and twenty priesties all of a row 𝄇
Two ruffles to every shirt
Push dirk …

𝄆 Four and twenty priests all of a row 𝄇
Two ruffles to every shirt
Push dirk …

𝄆 Four and twenty barbers all of a row 𝄇
Devilish hard times, shave twice for one one penny
Two ruffles to every shirt …

𝄆 Four and twenty barbers all of a row 𝄇
Dev'lish hard times, two shaves one penny
Two ruffles to every shirt …

𝄆 Four and twenty apostles all of a row 𝄇
Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob,
Jacob begat the twelve tribes of Israel
Devilish hard times …

𝄆 Four and twenty apostles all of a row 𝄇
Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob,
Jacob begat the twelve tribes of Israel
Dev'lish hard times, two shaves one penny
Two ruffles to every shirt
Push dirk cut a-cross
One caught a louse, t'other let him loose,
T'other cried, “Knock him down with a goose!”
Cobbler, cobbler stab awl
Tantararo tantararo
Hoo rub a dub hey rub a dub
Fiddle fiddle faddle, semidemiquavers down below
𝄆 It is my lady's holiday, so let the lass be merry 𝄇

Acknowledgements and Links

Thanks to Garry Gillard for pointing out the tellers/tailors dichtomy.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Semi demi quaver.