The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Songs and Carols Printed From A Manuscript in the Sloane Collection in the British Museum

Thomas Wright

London: William Pickering, 1836


Preface to the Songs and Carols

Source: Thomas Wright, ed., Songs and Carols Printed From A Manuscript in the Sloane Collection in the British Museum (London: William Pickering, 1836).

Long ago, the Sloane MS. No. 2593, had been pointed out by Ritson as "a singularly curious relic," and he had printed five songs from it, three of which I have reproduced in the present selection, as my object was to give twenty of what seemed to me the most important pieces it contained. Two or three errors which had found their way into Ritson's edition, and which I trust have been carefully expunged, will also perhaps palliate the crime of having given what has before been printed from the same originals.

In the catalogue by Ayscough, the contents of this volume are justly described as being "some pious, some the contrary," and I have endeavoured to give a fair sample of both; but as the former kind, the pious songs, are infinitely more numerous and on the whole of less importance as well in this manuscript as in the whole mass of Early English Poetry, I have given every specimen which occurred in it of the latter class, and have contented myself with a selection only from the other. In this I had also another object, that of showing how easily things sacred and things profane were reconciled and brought together in the minds of our uncultivated ancestors, who in the same breath could pass from the praises of 'Marie Mylde, to the merest ribaldry. The pious songs are in some instance not devoid of merit, and I should have perhaps done well to have made a larger collection; but there is a wide field for the gleaning of such productions, and should these tracts be continued, it is my intention to give a selection of pious songs, not from one, but from many manuscripts, and those of different ages.

Ritson is perhaps not far wrong in conjecturing this MS. to be of the reign of Hen. V. If anything, I think may be rather earlier, but its greatest antiquity must be included within the fifteenth century. The circumstances mentioned in the xivth song may perhaps lead to a more exact estimate of the antiquity of the songs themselves.

These songs are written in a dialect of which the most prominent characteristic are the replacing of

=> sh,

On the other hand, we have in one instance schylde, for chylde, which, however, is probably only an error of the scribe.

=> w by qu and qw, as quan, quat, qwete, quer, qwyppe.

=> e, by y or i in the terminations of the verbs: see the note on Song x.

There has not as yet been enough done in the classification of our dialects, to enable us to speak on the subject very decisively, except perhaps in one or two instances. Some of the changes above mentioned appear to have been more or less common to several dialects, but certain extracts given by Sharp (in his Essay on the Coventry Mysteries) from the registers at Coventry, bear so perfect a resemblance to the dialect of our Songs, that, if the circumstance of a manuscript having been written at a given place be considered as a proof of its being the dialect of the district, we should feel no difficulty in giving the Sloane MS. to Warwickshire, and I have sometimes thought that the Songs it contains were a collection made for the purpose of being sung in the mysteries themselves. It must be confessed, however, that the Pageant of the Sheremen and Taylers, which Mr. Sharp has printed, as well as the other short pieces which he has joined with it, contain none of the foregoing characteristic.

The initial at the head of the preface is taken from the MS. Harl. No. 2895, of the 11th century, and represents a popular topic of middle age superstition; those who will may consider it as the combat between the Saxon Beowulf and the redoutable fire-drake. The cut at the end of the preface, and that at the end of the notes, are from MS. Reg. 2, B. vii. The latter, which is described in the note on Song i, forms one of a series of drawings illustrative of scripture history, and has under it the couplet,

Icii fuyit Adam en secle tere,
Eve file pur robe fere.

While alluding to this note, it will be well to say that the Latin proverb quoted in it is found in the MS. Harl. No. 3362, fol. 7; I had quoted it from memory, but I find that it varies from the original only in the orthography of the first word, quum for cum.





Note that the text is Blackletter, which can be a bit challenging to read.

Song Burden or Chorus Verse
1 Now bething the gentil man, In the vale of Abraham
2 Alle maydenis for Gods grace worshepe ye seynt Nicholas Seynt Nicholas Was Of Gret Post
3 Wommen be bothe good and trewe Of honds and body and face arn clene
4 Synge we alle and sey we thus Quan I haue in myn purs i=now
5 Of a rose, a louely rose Lestenyt, Lordynges, Bothe Elde and 3ynge
6   I haue a gentil cook
7   Omnes gentes plaudite:
I saw myny bryddis setyn on a tre
8   I haue a 3ong suster
9   I haue a newe gardyn
10 Robynn lyth in grene wode bowndyn I herde a carpyng of a clerk
11 A, a, a, a, nunc gaudet Ecclesia Lestenytȝ, lordynges, bothe grete and smale
12 How hey, it is les, I dar not seyn, quan che sey3 pes. 3yng men, I warne 3u euerychon
13 Synge we nowe alle and sum A newe song I wil be=gynne
Of kyng Edmund that was so fre
14 Man be wys, and a=rys, Thynk man quer of thu art wrout
15 Go bet, peny, go bet, go Peny is an hardy kny3t
16 We ben chapmen ly3t of fote, We bern a=bowtyn non catts skynnys
17 Prenegard, prenegard, thus here I myn baselard Lestenit, lordyngs, I 3u be=seke
18   If I synge 3e wyl me lakke
19 Mak 3e merie, as 3e may, In Patras Ther Born He Was
The holy buschop seynt Nycholas
20 Kyrie, so kyrie, Lankyn syngyt merie, with aleyson As I went on 3ol day


Editor's Note: Wright was the editor of

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