> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > George Collins
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> Frankie Armstrong > Songs > Clerk Colven
> Tony Rose > Songs > George Collins

Clerk Colvill / Clerk Colven / George Collins

[ Roud 147 ; Child 42 / 85 ; Ballad Index C042 , C085 ; trad.]

George Gardiner collected George Collins in 1906 from Henry Stansbridge, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, and Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd published this version in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. A.L. Lloyd sang it on the Riverside series of 1956, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume II, and in 1960 on his LP A Selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Like all tracks from this LP it was reissued in 2003 on the CD England & Her Traditional Songs. Lloyd wrote in the album's sleeve notes:

This song means more than it says. Other variants make it clear that the vivid girl with the fatal kiss is a water-fairy, jilted and out for revenge. The theme has spread throughout Europe and has reached America, but there the meaning is lost, and the supernatural lover and the girl who mourns for Collins become one person, making the story banal. Our set, obtained by George Gardiner from Henry Stansbridge of Lyndhurst, Hamps, represents a halfway stage in the song's life. The mystery is there but some clues are missing, and the story is all the more dreamlike in consequence.

Bob Copper collected George Collins from Enos White of Axford, Hampshire, on July 25, 1955. This recording was included in 1977 on the Topic album Songs and Southern Breezes and printed in Bob Copper's book of the same title in 1973. It was also included in the anthologies The Child Ballads 1 (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 4, Caedmon 1961, Topic 1968) and O’er His Grave the Grass Grew Green (The Voice of the People Series Volume 3, Topic 1998). Bob Copper's own version can be found on the Veteran CD of 1995, When the May Is All in Bloom.

Shirley Collins recorded George Collins in 1967 for her LP The Sweet Primeroses. She commented in the sleeve notes:

Of all the ballads I have heard, none has really chilled me like this one. Originally it concerned a mortal man who became a lover of a water-sprite. He leaves her, and in revenge she kills him with a poisoned kiss. Several girls die of sorrow. The effectiveness of the ballad comes partly from the matter-of-fact manner in which the characters accept their fate, and the way the death of six girls hints at George Collins' great attractiveness. [Bob Copper, not Peter Kennedy] had this from Enos White in [Hampshire].

This recording was also included in the Topic sampler Folk Songs: A Collection of Ballads & Broadsides and on her anthologies Fountain of Snow and Within Sound. A version recorded live in Dublin in 1978 is on the CD Harking Back.

Hedy West sang George Collins in 1967 on her Topic LP Ballads. She and A.L. Lloyd commented in the sleeve notes:

Literally poisonous girls are a strong feature of folklore, and this ballad originally involved one of them, a water-fairy in love with a mortal, made pregnant by him, and eventually jilted. She takes a farewell kiss of him, and the kiss kills him. His mortal sweetheart dies of grief. In America, as so often happened, the supernatural elements dropped out of the story, and more matter-of-fact circumstances replaced them. So matter-of-fact indeed, that versions of this once-powerful piece of Scandinavian-Shetland-Scottish seal-and- mermaid folklore became a comic stage burlesque under the title of Giles Scroggins. The present version comes from A.K. Davis’s Traditional Ballads of Virginia. Davis pays special tribute to the fine poignant tune, and quotes another collector who reports he “frequently heard it sung in the Dismal Swamp region of Virginia”. Says Davis: “It would be appropriate to that region.”

Tom Gilfellon sang George Collins in 1972 on his Trailer LP Loving Mad Tom.

Dave Burland sang George Collins in 1974 on the charity album The First Folk Review Record.

John Faulkner and Sandra Kerr sang George Collins in 1969 on their Argo duo album John & Sandra, and Sandra and Nancy Kerr did in in 1996 on their Fellside CD Neat and Complete. The former album's sleeve notes commented:

The three main incidents in George Collins form exactly the main plot of the ballad referred to by Professor Child under the heading of Clerk Colvill. A young man meets a maid by the stream. She is evidently of a supernatural nature for, as a result of his contact with her, the young man returns home and dies. His sweetheart recognises him in his coffin and also dies, along with five other maidens who have loved the young man. The ballad Giles Collins is probably better known than George Gollins, although in fact it leaves the listener quite mystified as to why the young man should die, for it omits the first incident altogether. The text given here is based on the Hampshire version sung by Philip Taylor of Minstead, and it is set to a favourite Mixolydian ballad air collected in Southampton.

Louis Killen sang George Collins unaccompanied in 1975 on his and Sally Killen's LP Bright Shining Morning. Louis Killen commented in the album's sleeve notes:

I first heard this ballad sung by A.L. Lloyd and learned it later from his Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. The song's story is based on an ancient legend, found all across Europe in various forms. The female watersprite, Undine (von Hohenheim [a.k.a. Paracelsus], 1493-1541), believes she can earn a soul if she marries a mortal and bears his child. She falls in love with such a mortal who deceives her by becoming betrothed to a fellow human. When the watersprite discovers the deception she takes revenge by poisoning her lover with a kiss. The human bride-to-be also dies of a broken heart. Lloyd suggests that two ballads in Child's collection, #42 Clerk Colvill and #85 Lady Alice, are the fist and second parts of a more complete ballad from which George Collins is descended.

Jean Redpath sang Clerk Colven in 1976 on her Trailer album There Were Minstrels. She commented in her liner notes:

1769 seems to have been the earliest printed version of this supernatural tale. Starting from Ewan MacColl's version, I think what I have here is a slightly altered text (unconscious) and the addition of a chorus (conscious) which I found in Bronson's Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads.

Jacquey Gabriel of Wichcomb, Gloucestershire, sang Giles Collins in 1978 to Mike Yates. This recording was included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs and music from the Mike Yates collection, Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike Yates commented in the album's booklet:

According to Professor Child, “This little ballad, which is said to be still of the regular stock of the stalls, is a sort of counterpart to Lord Lovel”. Other scholars have suggested that it is quite an ancient piece, and that the “fair pretty maid/washing her fine silken shrift” is no other than a supernatural mistress who threatens Giles (or George, as he is often called) with death, should he leave her. If this is the case, and it does seem possible, then the ballad is probably linked with another piece, Clerk Colville (Child 42).

Jacquey learnt her version of the ballad from her father, sometime before her 14th birthday, having heard him sing it in pubs around Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. A version collected by Bob Copper from Enos White, of Axford in Hampshire, can be heard on [The Child Ballads 1], while an American version, collected by Anne & Frank Warner, can be heard sung by Nathan & Rena Hicks, of Beech Mountain, NC, on Nothing Seems Better to Me (Appleseed CD 1036) and another, by Roy Harvey & The North Carolina Ramblers (1928 recording) has been reissued on Document (DOCD-8051).

The great majority of Roud's 172 entries are from the USA, and most of the English ones are from central southern areas—none at all from Suffolk, though there was a c.1935 sighting in Norfolk.

Frankie Armstrong sang Clerk Colven on her 1997 Fellside CD Till the Grass O'ergrew the Corn. She commented in her liner notes:

Clerk Colven is a two-timer: his wife suspects as much, but his mermaid lover is quite sure of it and acts accordingly. In these islands, the ballad has only ever been collected in Scotland, although the closely related George Collins has been found often in America and occasionally in England in the present century. Child cites numerous European analogues, in most of which the supernatural lover is an elf rather than a mermaid. Harbison Parker suggests that the Scottish versions were derived from a similar Faeroese ballad via Orkney and Shetland, islands where elves are rare, but merfolk common. There cannot be a more unpleasant macho couplet in balladry than Colven's sneering boast to his wife that

“I never saw a fair woman
But with her body I could sin.”

This level of hubris ensures his inevitable and well-merited demise. The mermaid is not one to forgive and forget and, says Frankie, while not a wholly desirable role model from a marriage counsellor's point of view, she is very satisfying to sing about. The tune is Frankie's variation on Mrs Brown of Falkirk's air, the only one ever found for this ballad.

Tony Rose sang George Collins in 1999 on his last CD, Bare Bones. His (uncredited) source seems to be The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Barry Lister learned George Collins from Lloyd's book too, and sang it in 2006 on his WildGoose CD, Ghosts & Greasepaint.

Gavin Davinport sang George Collins in 2010 on his Hallamshire Traditions CD, Brief Lives. He noted:

Remembered from memory, but leaning heavily on versions from Cordelia's Dad and Hedy West, this “Died for Love” fragment is part of a much longer ballad. Here, George seems like a standard ballad tragic figure, rather than the doom-bringing philanderer of the full version!

James Findlay sang George Collins in 2011 on his Fellside CD Sport and Play. He commented in his liner notes:

The text of this song is taken from A.L. Lloyd's version and the tune from Tony Rose's. George Collins is the offspring of Lady Alice (Child 85) and Clerk Colvill (Child 42), with his grandparents definitely being of European origin. Looking at the roots of this song gives a clearer insight into the story, showing the ‘fair pretty main’ who he meets by the river ‘washing her marble stone’ (as was all the rage at that time), as a water fairy. After discovering he is engaged to a mortal, she poisons him with a kiss. What a bummer!

Stephanie Hladowski sang George Collins, accompanied by Chris Joynes, in 2012 on their CD The Wild Wild Berry. Sam Lee sang The Ballad of George Collins and sang it in 2012 on his CD Ground of Its Own. Andy Turner sang George Collins as the May 13, 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. All three credit Enos White's version as their source.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings George Collins Enos White sings George Collins

George Collins walked out one May morning
When May was all in bloom.
There he espied a fair pretty maid
A-washing her marble stone.

George Collins walked out one May morning,
When May was all in bloom,
And there he saw a fair pretty maid,
A-washing a white marble stone.

She whooped, she hollered, she highered her voice,
She held up her lily-white hand.
“Come hither to me, George Collins,” she said,
“For your life shall not last you long.”

She whooped, she hollered, she called so loud,
And waved her lily-white hand;
“Come hither to me, George Collins,” cried she,
“For your life it won't last you long.”

He put his foot on the broad water side,
And over the lea sprung he.
And he embraced her around the middle so small,
And kissed her red rosy cheeks.

He put his benbow down on the bank side,
And over the river he sprang,
He clipped his hands round her middle so small,
And kissed her red rosy cheeks.

George Collins rode home to his father's own gate,
“Rise, mother, and make my bed,
And I will trouble my dear sister
For a napkin to tie around my head.”

George Collins rode home to his father's own house,
And knocked at the ring;
“Arise, arise, dear father,” he cried,
“Arise and let me in.”

“Arise, arise, dear mother,” he cried,
Arise and shake up my bed,
Arise, arise, dear sister,” he cried,
“Get a napkin to tie round my head.”

“And if I should chance to die this night,
As I suppose I shall,
Bury me under that marble stone
That's against fair Eleanor's hall.”

“For if I should die this night,
As I suppose I shall,
You bury me under that white marble stone,
That lays in fair Eleander's hall.”

Fair Eleanor sat in her room so fine,
Working her silken skein.
And she saw the fairest corpse a-coming
That ever the sun shone on.

Fair Eleander sat in her hall one day
A-weaving her silk so fine,
She saw the finest corpse a-coming
That ever her eyes shone on.

She said unto her Irish maid:
“Whose corpse is this so fine?”
“This is George Collins' corpse a-coming,
That once was a true lover of thine.”

Fair Eleander said unto her head maid,
“Whose corpse is this so fine?”
She made a reply, “George Collins' corpse,
An old true lover of thine.”

“Come put him down, my six pretty lads,
And open his coffin so fine,
That I might kiss his lily-white lip,
For ten thousand times he has kissed mine.”

“O, put him down my little brave boys
And open his coffin so wide
That I may kiss George Collins' cheeks,
For ten thousand times he has kissed mine.”

“You go upstairs and fetch me the sheet
That's wove with the silver twine,
And hang that over George Collins' head.
Tomorrow it shall hang over mine.”

The news was carried to London town,
And wrote on London gate,
That six pretty maids died all of one night,
And all for George Collins' sake.

This news was carried to fair London town
And wrote on London Gate,
There was six pretty maids died all in one night
All for George Collins' sake.

Shirley Collins sings George Collins Tony Rose sings George Collins

George Collins rode out on a May morning
When May was all in bloom.
And there he saw a pretty fair maid
A-washing her white marble stone.

George Collins walked out on a May morning
When May was all in bloom;
There he espied a fair pretty maid
Washing her marble stone.

She called, she hollered, she highered her voice,
She waved her lily-white hand.
“Come hither to me, George Collins,” she cried,
“For your life it won't last you long.”

O she's whooped and she's hollered, she's highered her voice,
Held up her lily-white hands,
“Come hither to me, George Collins,” she said,
“For your life shall not last you long.”

He put his foot on the broad water side,
Over the lea sprung he.
He embraced her around the middle so small,
And kissed her red rosy cheeks.

He set his foot on the broad water side,
O'er the lea sprung he;
He embraced her 'round the middle so small,
Kissed her red ruby cheeks.

George Collins rode home to his father's door,
He pulled on the bell and it rang.
“Rise up, mother, to make my bed,
Rise, sister, and let me in.”

George Collins rode home to his father's own gate,
“Rise, mother, and make my bed,
And I will trouble my dear sister
For a napkin to tie 'round my head.

“For if I should die this night,
As I suppose I shall,
Bury me by the marble stone
That's against Lady Eleanor's hall.”

For if I should chance to die this night
As I suppose I shall,
Bury me under the marble stone
That's against fair Eleanor's hall.”

Lady Eleanor sat in her castle door,
Weaving her silken skein.
She saw the fairest corpse a-coming
That ever her eyes shone on.

Fair Eleanor sat in her room so fine
Working her silken skein.
She saw the finest corpse a-coming
That ever the sun shone on.

She said unto her serving maid:
“Whose corpse is that so fine?”
The girl replied, “It's George Collins's corpse,
An olden true lover of thine.”

And she said unto her Irish maid,
“Whose corpse is this so fine?”
“That is George Collins's corpse a-coming,
That once was a true love of thine.”

“Come set him down, my six pretty maids,
Throw open the coffin so fine,
That I might kiss them clay-cold lips,
Ten thousand times they have met mine.”

“O come lower him down, my six pretty lads,
And open the coffin so fine
That I might kiss those lily-white lips;
Ten thousand times they have kissed mine.

“You go upstairs and fetch me the sheet
That's wove of the silk so fine,
And hang it over George Collins's corpse.
But tomorrow shall hang over mine.”

And go you upstairs and fetch me the sheet
That's wove with the silken twine.
Hang it over George Collins's head,
Tomorrow it'll hang over mine.”

Now the news been carried to London town,
And hung upon London's gates,
That six pretty maids died all of one night,
And all for George Collins's sake.

And the news was carried to fair London town,
Wrote on London's gate:
Six pretty maids died all in one night,
And all for George Collins's sake.

Frankie Armstrong sings Clerk Colven

Clerk Colven and his gay lady
Were walking in yon garden green,
A belt around her middle so small
Which cost Clerk Colven crowns fifteen.

“O harken to me, my lord,” she says,
“O, harken well to what I do say:
If you go to the walls of Stream,
Be sure you touch no well fair'd maid.”

“O, hold your tongue,” Clerk Colven said,
“And do not vex me with din.
I never saw a fair woman
But with her body I could sin.”

He's mounted on his berry-brown steed
And merrily merrily rode he on,
Until he came to the walls of Stream,
And there he spied the mermaiden.

“You wash, you wash, you mermaiden,
O, I will wash your sark of the silk.”
“It's all for you, my gentle knight,
My skin is whiter than the milk.”

He's taken her by the milk white hand
And likewise by the grass-green sleeve,
he's laid her down all on the grass,
Nor of his lady need he ask leave.

“Alas! Alas!” says Clerk Colven,
“For oh so sore is grown my head.”
Merrily laughed the mermaiden,
“Aye, even on, till you be dead.”

“But you pull out your little pen-knife,
And from my sark you shear a gore,
And bind it round your lovely head,
And you shall feel the pain no more.”

So he's took out his little pen-knife,
And from her sark he sheared a gore,
He's bound it round his lovely head;
But the pain it grew ten-times more.

“Alas! Alas!” cries Clerk Colven,
“For now so sore is grown my head.”
Merrily laughed the mermaiden,
“'twill I be away and you'll be dead.”

So he's pulled out his trusty sword,
And thought with it to spill her blood;
But she's turned to a fish again
And merrily sprang into the flood.

He's mounted on his berry-brown steed,
And drear and dowie rode he home,
Until he's come to his lady's bower
And heavily he's lighted down.

“O, mother, mother, make my bed,
O, gentle lady, lay me down;
O brother, brother, unbend my bow,
It'll ne'er be bent by me again.”

His mother she has made his bed,
His gentle lady laid him down,
His brother he unbent his bow,
It ne'er was bent by him again.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café threads Penguin: George Collins, Lyr Req: Shirley Collis George Collins and Lyr Req: Tony Rose's George Collins.