A PEPYSIAN GARLAND - online book

Black-letter Broadside Ballads Of The years 1595-1639

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It is bad jesting with a halter
Pepys, i, 440, B.L., four woodcuts, four columns. The sheet was wrinkled in the press, with the result that stanzas 1 and 2 were blurred in printing. Blurs and typographical errors are here silently corrected.
The ballad was registered on January 2, 1632 (Arber's Transcript, iv, 268). The refrain is musical, but not much can be said for Mr Guy's "merry jest," which, indeed, though it enforces an obvious moral, is rather stupid. The "jest," however, Professor Kittredge notes, is hoary with age, and he has been kind enough to give me these references to stories that illustrate the danger of playing at hanging: E. Meier, Deutsche Sagen aus Schwaben, 1, 43; Kiihnau, Schlesische Sagen, 1, 559, 572, 592; Eisel, Sagenbuck des Voigtlandes, pp. 289—290; Lincolnshire Notes and Queries, 1, 166; Grimm in Haupt's Zeitschrift, vii, 477. The oldest instance of all, he says, is the story of King Vikarr and StarkaSr in the Gautrekssaga.
Guy was a prolific ballad-writer: there are many of his signed pieces in the Roxburghe Ballads {e.g. n, 105, 164; m, 47). It can hardly be doubted that Robert Guy is referred to in the first and third of the following entries in John Parton's Some Account of the Hospital and Parish of St Giles in the Fields, Middlesex, 1822, p. 303:
1642.—Pd and given to Guy, a poore fellow      is
------. Geven to the Ballet-singing Cobler         is
1657.—Pd the collectors for a shroude for
oulde Guy, the poet                              2/6
Possibly the second entry also refers to him. It is melancholy to think of a popular ballad-writer's being buried at the expense, complete or partial, of the parish!
The tune is named from the refrain of "A Choice of Inventions. To the tune of Rock the Cradle, Sweet John" {Roxburghe Ballads, 1, 105). But Rock the Cradle, Sweet John and the tune given by Chappell {Popular Music, 1, 189) as the equivalent of Rock the Cradle, John (see the ballad in Roxburghe Ballads, vn, 162) are evidently different tunes.
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