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Ballad about a baby tossed into a well?

06 Mar 11 - 02:28 AM (#3107918)
Subject: Ballad about a baby tossed into a well?
From: darkriver


it's been a while since I posted here.

Someone asked me if I knew of a song (a ballad?) about a baby being tossed down a well. I don't.

This topic does however sound like it could be some broadside or Childe ballad or Appalachian take-warning-from-me kind of thing, so I thought I'd ask the collective wisdom of Mudcat.

And yes, I've searched in a number of places including this forum and the DT.



06 Mar 11 - 02:44 AM (#3107921)
Subject: RE: Ballad about a baby tossed into a well?
From: Jim Carroll

Sir Hugh (The Jew's Daughter) (Child 155)
Often linked to the supposed ritual murder of (St) Hugh of Lincoln
Information from British Traditional Ballads in North America, Tristam Potter Coffin.
Jim Carroll

Local Titles: Ballad, The Blue Drum Boy, Fair Scotland, Hugh of Lincoln, It Rained a Mist, The Jeweler's Daughter, The Jew's Daughter, The Jew's Garden, The Jew's Lady, Little Boy and the Ball, A Little Boy Lost His Ball, A Little Boy Threw His Ball (Boss) So High, Little Harry Hughes (Huston), Little Saloo (Sir Hugh), The Queen's Garden, Once in the Month of May, Sir Hugh (of Lincoln), The Two Playmates, Water Birch.

Story Types:
A: Some little boys are playing ball, usually in the rain. One tosses the ball into the Jew's garden where no one dares go. However, the Jew's daughter invites the scared boy in. After enticing him to accept her invitation with a red apple, cherry, etc., she takes him to a remote part of the house. There she sticks him with pins, stabs him like a sheep, etc.
Sometimes, he sees his nurse inside the house picking a chicken, but she pays no attention to his plight. In some endings the "the Bible-at-the-head and prayer book-at-the-feet" motif appears, and the boy requests that his mother be told he is asleep and his playmates be told that he is dead. In certain texts, the body is thrown in a well.
Belden (A); Cox (A); Davis, Trad Ballads Va (A).
B: The story is similar to that of Type A. However, the mother sets out to find her missing boy in the end of these ballads. She locates his body in the well, talks to him miraculously, and sometimes has his body even more miraculously returned to her.
Examples: Child (G, N); JAF, 1939, 43; SharpK (B,F).
C: The story is similar to that of Type A. However, the dialogue between the Jew's daughter and the boy is left out, and the youth volunteers to climb the wall. There is no woman, only "they".
Examples: Belden (B).
D: A little boy is called away from playing ball by his mother with whom he evidently does not live. Knowing her evil intentions, he goes reluctantly. She kills her son and disposes of the body in a well in an attempt to pro¬tect herself and save her family's reputation. Scheming further to protect herself, she pretends to search for her overdue son and is confounded when the corpse miraculously speaks and predicts her damnation. Examples: JAF, 1958, 16.
E: The murderess is a spiteful aunt, who simply slays her nephew and throws his body in a well. There is no religious prejudice at all. Examples: JAF, 1951, 47.

06 Mar 11 - 05:56 AM (#3107971)
Subject: RE: Ballad about a baby tossed into a well?
From: Jack Campin

Google "Kathy Fiscus".

06 Mar 11 - 05:31 PM (#3108406)
Subject: RE: Ballad about a baby tossed into a well?
From: darkriver

Thanks, Jim & Jack. I did think of the Hugh of Lincoln connection, but my correspondent specifically mentioned a baby or infant, and that is was thrown into, not fallen into, a well. Ugh.

He also mentioned that it had a beautiful melody.



06 Mar 11 - 05:56 PM (#3108431)
Subject: RE: Ballad about a baby tossed into a well?
From: Joe_F

Oddly, the *real* Mary Hamilton, on whom the Child ballad was almost certainly not based, did throw her baby into a well (in Russia, in 1718).

07 Mar 11 - 10:33 AM (#3108930)
Subject: RE: Ballad about a baby tossed into a well?
From: GUEST, Tom Bliss

You're sure it was a well, not in fact a mine shaft?

Apart perhaps from the 'beautiful melody' bit, could it have been...

Another Mary ?

08 Mar 11 - 10:34 AM (#3109639)
Subject: RE: Ballad about a baby tossed into a well?
From: Jim Carroll

"He also mentioned that it had a beautiful melody."
MacColl's Scots version on The Long Harvest certainly came with a breathtaking melody - Peggy used it later for one of her own songs, 'The Dead Men'.
I know Ewan was uneasy about including it on the series because of its anti-Semitic associations, but in an academic context, it worked.
For me, it presents the same problems as would staging The Merchant of Venice, which, I believe Al Pacino pulled of superbly with his film version of the play a few years ago.
Below are MacColl's full notes for the ballad from The Long Harvest.
Jim Carroll

Alternative Titles
Hugh of Lincoln; Little Harry Hughes and the Duke's Daughter; The Jew's Garden; Walter Birch; The Fatal Flower Garden; It rained a Mist; Little Saloo; etc.
The Story
Some little (school) boys are playing ball, usually in the rain. One boy tosses his ball into a garden, or through the window, of a forbidden house. Out comes, usually, the Jew's daughter, (the Jew, a jeweller's daughter, King's daughter, Duke's daughter, aunt and sometimes even the child's mother !) to entice the child in with a scries of desirable objects. She takes him to a remote part of the house where his murder, almost ritual in character, takes place. Great emphasis is laid upon the bleeding of the child and the exit of his heart's blood. The child requests the placing of the Bible and Testament at his head and feet and/or is entombed in a sheet or cake of lead and thrown into a well. In the more complete versions, the mother comes looking for her child and holds a conversation with him from the top of the well (as in version A). The child instructs her where and when to meet him, to bring his winding-sheet and to bury him decently.
Child gives eighteen versions, seven Scots, eight English and three North American. Bronson gives sixty-six versions, sixty of which were collected during the present century. Of this number, two are Scots, six are English, one Irish and fifty-one North American. The oldest of Child's texts would seem to be that from Percy's Reliques (BIB 56, 1-32), in 1765. Child gives excellent notes on the 'historical' background, but very Utile about the modernisation or transmission of the ballad. It is generally held to be the ' folk form ' of an old European tale, the ' artistic form ' finding its highest expression the 'Prioresse's Tale' of Chaucer. E. K. Wells (BIB 61, p. 309) suggests that if the two forms are not related they at least stem from a common source.
The universally accepted location of the event in this ballad is nearly always Lincoln, although it is frequently referred to as Mirryland, Merry Land Town, Merry Scotland, etc. Even in a related piece which turned up in 1459 among Spanish Franciscans was entitled ' Alfonsus of Lincoln '. The ballad is supposed to be founded on the following incident which may have occurred in 1255, which was documented in the Annals of Waverley by a contemporay writer:
'A boy in Lincoln, named Hugh, was crucified by the Jews in contempt of Christ, with various preliminary tortures. To conceal the act from the Christians, the body, when taken from the cross, was thrown into a running stream; but the water would not endure the wrong done its maker and immediately ejected it upon dry land. The body was then buried in the earth but was found above dry ground the next day. The guilty parties were now very much frightened and quite at their wits end; as a last resort they threw the corpse into a drinking well. The body was seen floating on the water, and, upon its being drawn up, the hands and feet were found to be pierced, the head had, as it were, a crown of bloody points and there were various other wounds; from all which it was plain that this was the work of the abominable Jews. A blind woman, touching the bier on which the blessed martyr's corpse was carrying to the church, received her sight, and many other miracles follow. Eighteen Jews, convicted of the crime, and confessing it with their own mouth, were hanged .
Another chronicle of the time actually named the murderer, one Copin, who (it is said) confessed that the Jews crucified one boy each year. The child was interred in Lincoln Cathedral as a martyr and was entered in Christian hagiology as ' Little Saint Hugh ' on the tablet above his tomb and the registers of the Cathedral. The tablet was strongly anti-Semitic and has recently been taken down due to public protest, being replaced by the following inscription:
'Trumped-up stories of Ritual murders" of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral. . . . Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom and so we pray,
Child has an excellent passage in which he virtually dismisses the ballad as a piece of religious witch-hunting :
' . . . murders like that of Hugh of Lincoln have been imputed to ihe Jews for at least 750 years and the charge, which there is reason to suppose may still from time to time be renewed, has brought upon the accused every calamity that the hand of man can inflict: pillage, confiscation, banishment, torture and death, and this in huge proportions. The process of these murders has often been described as a parody of the crucifixion of Jesus. The motive . . . the obtaining of blood for use in the Paschal rites—a most unhappily devised slander, in stark contradiction with Jewish precept and practice. . . . And these pretended child-murders, with their horrible consequences, are only a part of a persecution which, with all moderation, may be rubricated as the most disgraceful chapter in the history of the human race.
Indeed, the chronicling of the Hugh of Lincoln murder suggests considerable confusion. There are so many similar events, many of which have the same name for the little victim, taking place in cities all over the Christian world, and happening from the early 1200's up until the present century, that one can only regard the theme of the ballad as a kind of recurring social and economic (rather than religious) catharsis. This century, in 1928, a charge of ritual murder was brought against the Jews of Massena, New York; and the unbelievable atrocities of World War II, to which whole populations in Europe were eye-witness and hence in part responsible, were only logical accumulation of the centuries and centuries of the type of superstition and panic behind the story of little Sir Hugh. It is significant that in several American versions the Jew has become a gypsy, a people also regarded with fear, superstition and ignorance by the settled populations: a people also often accused of child-stealing and persecuted up to modern times in much the same manner as the Jews.
In the mid-1300's, there was a 92-verse Anglo-French ballad, laying heavy emphasis on the role of the Virgin in the song. A miracle versified from an earlier source by Gautier de Coincy some thirty or forty years BEFORE the death of little Hugh, would suggest that parts of the ballad are pure Christian myth. Several scholars make the point that the ballad is an excellent vehicle for the miracle of Our Lady and that the essential religious character of the Jew or Jewess has gradually been excised out, The boy is often found, in the older version, with the wounds of Christ upon him and he triumphantly cheats death, is raised from the well. Very rarely is the murderer ever punished in the ballad—the ballad ends usually with the boy's instructions to lay him out with the Bible adjacent, or with the miracle of his resurrection.
In the most common American versions, even though the Jew's daughter is the murderess, there are no religious overtones. After all, in the early years of settlement in America Jewry was not persecuted— at least no more than the Indians or the Mormons, and other minorities. In some areas, Appalachia, most parts of New England, Jewry was not even represented in noticeable numbers. New social scapegoats or aristocratic substitutions, such as the * gypsy lady/ or the * Duke's daughter,' took the place of the Jewess. Or else the murder became purely a family affair, or a fragment of a song, as in our versions C and D. In that wonderful l re-creation ' of the ballad, entitled * Water Birch,' the murderess is the child's mother. Or just they,' as in a Missouri text.
Belden believes that ' what has kept the ballad alive in America is probably not, however, racial or religious animosity but the simple pathos of the little schoolboy's death \ The religious significance both of the Jewish murderess and the Christian miracles have both been played down. James Wooddal, on the other hand, suggests (Southern Folklore Quarterly, 1955, pp. 77-84) that sex and mystery, not anti-Semitism, make the ballad and allow it to survive.
Mystery there certainly is—and many superstitions which have dominated European balladry and mythology for centuries before little Sir Hugh met his unfoUunate end. Fur instance, the ritual nature of the murder, the laying of the boy on a table, 'sticking him like a sheep' and catching his blood in a basin; the ritual of rolling the child in lead and throwing him down a well; the ' ritual' of the conversation between the corpse and its loving mother—these are all variations on stock-in-trade features that so characterise violence in our balladry.
A.        SIR HUGH (or The Jew's Daughter), printed in BIB 50, Vol. VI,
p. 602. The tune is printed in Stenhouse's notes in BIB 50, but it is
an English air, taken from Mr. Smith's MUSICA ANTIQUA, Vol. I,
folio 65.
B.        THE FATAL FLOWER GARDEN, from the singing of Nelstone's
Hawaiins (Victor V-401938). This text resembles Child G & K.
C.        LITTLE SALOO, from the singing of Mrs. Mabel Overson, Leaming¬
ton, Utah, 1948. (Printed in BIB 49, p. 24.)
D.        IT RAINED A MIST, learned in childhood. A Virginia version.
(Printed in BIB 57, p. 68.)