Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Folklorist Francis James Child (1825-1896) spent the last half of the nineteenth century collected English and Scottish ballads and their American variants.   As a professor of rhetoric at Harvard University, Child supervised the publication of a massive 130-volume collection of British poetry, some of which he also edited; a number of these volumes brought some poets to the general reading public for the first time.  In 1876, Child had an offer to become a research professor at the newly created Johns Hopkins University; in order to retain him at Harvard a new position  -- Professor of English -- was created for Child, freeing him from many mundane duties and allowing him to devote his time to collecting and researching English ballads, their origins, and their variants over the years. In the end, he published 305 ballads in the ten volume The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898; the last being published posthumously), citing some thirty different language sources.

The Child Ballads soon became popular with both American and English folk singers and many of them have been recorded many times.  Their themes of love, sex, persecution, and murder have resonated well over a century after they were first published, not only with traditional folk singers but with popular British and American performers such as Fairport Convention, Pentagle, Steeleye Span, The Everley Brothers, Art Garfunkel, Fleet Foxes, among others.

This link takes you to such artists as Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, Pete Seeger, Jean Ritchie, Shirley Collins, Rick Lee, and Moira Craig performing over three dozen songs (with some repeats):

And this link brings you to some of "the most disturbing Child Ballads" from Jean Hewson, Steeleye Span, Matty Groves, Joan Baez, The Wainwright Sisters, Abner Jay, Jerry Garcia & David Grisman, Harry Belafonte (whoops, this one is blocked), and Tom Waits, among others:


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