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Watts's Cradle Hymn / Dunstan Lullaby

[ Roud 8885 ; Ballad Index Grim100A ; VWML RVW2/3/184 ; words Isaac Watts (1674-1748), tune USA early 19th Century]

Watts's Cradle Hymn in printed in The New Oxford Book of Carols, no.  115, p. 410, together with the comment:

Watts's Cradle-Hymn was first published in his Moral Songs (1706), at the end of what he called ‘these Songs for Children’. In our verse 3 he gives ‘nurse that’ as an alternative for ‘mother’, with the note “Here you may use the words, Brother, Sister, Neighbour, Friend, etc.” We include ten of the fourteen four-line stanzas, omitting verse 8 as both anti-Semitic and absurd, and 12 (with its ‘burning flame’ ‘bitter groans’, and ‘endless crying’) as less than suitable for a tiny infant.

Although the hymn has appeared in several carol-books, the lack of a good tune denied it the popularity it deserves until Elizabeth Poston, in The Second Penguin Book of Christmas Carols (1970), married it to the tune that form our bars 1-16. This was one of the most popular shape-note melodies, and may ultimately derive from an European folk tune.

Roy Palmer printed Lullaby in his 1983 book Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams. He noted:

Traditional lullabies are rare in English, though they still flourish in Gaelic-speaking parts of Britain and also in Europe. Oddly enough, the anti-soporific dandling song is much less uncommon in England. This lullaby came in 1906 from a Mr Thompson of Dunstan, Northumberland [ VWML RVW2/3/184 ] , who had learned it from his mother fifty years previously. It was still sung by the mothers of Dunstan to their children. I wonder if it still is.

Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band sang Isaac Watts's Cradle Song on their 1991 CD Carols and Capers, on their live CD from 1998, Carols at Christmas, and live at Oxford Town Hall on their 2005 CD and DVD An Evening of Carols and Capers.

Coope Boyes Simpson sang Hush My Babe (The Dunstan Lullaby) in 1998 on their No Masters CD A Garland of Carols. This track was also included in the following year on their anthology What We Sing. They returned to this song on their 1999 CD with Wereldkoor Wak Maar Proper, Christmas Truce Kerstbestand, and on their 2008 CD with Michael Morpurgo, On Angel Wings.

Finest Kind sang The Cradle Carol (Watts' Cradle Hymn) on their 2004 Christmas album Feasts & Spirits. They noted:

Watts published this hymn in 1706, with 14 stanzas in serious need of pruning (one, for instance, is downright anti-Semitic). Most modern renditions stick to the quite tender lines focusing on the child. Ann [Downey] learned her version from the singing of Maddy Prior; the melody comes from the old shape note hymn, Restoration (312b in The Sacred Harp—“Come Thou Fount of every blessing…”).

The Askew Sisters sang Lullaby as a bonus track on their 2007 WildGoose CD All in a Garden Green. They noted:

Traditional lullabies are rarely found in English, but we discovered this one, which was collected by Vaughan Williams in Dunstan, Northumberland [ VWML RVW2/3/184 ] .

Jez Lowe & The Bad Pennies sang Dunstan Lullaby in 2015 on their CD Cauld Feet Again Pet!.

Lyrics

Watts's Cradle Hymn in The New Oxford Book of Carols

Hush! my dear, lie still and slumber,
Holy angels guard thy bed!
Heav'nly blessings without number
Gently falling on thy head.
Sleep, my babe; thy food and raiment,
House and home, thy friends provide;
All without thy care or payment:
All thy wants are well supplied.

How much better thou'rt attended
Than the Son of God could be,
When from heaven He descended
And became a child like thee!
Soft and easy is thy cradle:
Coarse and hard thy Saviour lay,
When his birthplace was a stable
And his softest bed was hay.

Was there nothing but a manger
Cursèd sinners could afford
To receive the heav'nly stranger?
Did they thus affront their Lord?
Soft, my child: I did not chide thee,
Though my song might sound too hard;
'Tis thy mother sits beside thee,
And her arms shall be thy guard.

See the kindly shepherds round Him,
Telling wonders from the sky!
Where they sought Him, there they found Him,
With His Virgin mother nigh.
See the lovely babe addressing;
Lovely infant, how he smiled!
When he wept, the mother's blessing
Soothed and hushed the Holy Child.

Lo! he slumbers in his manger,
Where the hornèd oxen fed:
Peace, my darling; here's no danger,
Here's no ox a-near thy bed.
May'st thou live to know and fear him,
Trust and love him all thy days;
Then go dwell for ever near him,
See his face, and sing his praise!

Maddy Prior sings Cradle Song

Hush my dear, lie still and slumber,
Holy angels guard thy bed.
Heavenly blessings without number
Gently falling on thy head.

Sleep my babe; thy food and raiment,
House and home, thy friends provide;
All without thy care and payment,
All thy wants are well supplied.

How much better thou art attended
Than the Son of God could be
When from heaven he descended
And became a child like thee.

Soft and easy is thy cradle;
Coarse and hard thy Saviour lay,
When his birthplace was a stable
And his softest bed was hay.

Lo, he slumbers in his manger,
Where the horned oxen fed;
Peace, my darling, here's no danger,
Here's no ox a-near thy bed.

May'st thou live to know and fear him,
Trust and love him all thy days;
Then go dwell for ever near him,
See his face and sing his praise.

The Askew Sisters sing Lullaby

Hush my babe lie sweet in slumber
Holy angels guard thy bed
Sweetest blessings without number
Gently fall upon thy head

Hush my babe lie sweet in slumber
Cold and hard thy Savior lay
When his birthplace was a stable
And his softest bed was clay