The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

As I Walked By A Forest Side

A Hunting Song For Christmas

Words and Music: Middle English Carol prior to the 16th Century
From Richard Hill's Common-place Book, Manuscript 354,
folio. 178, pp. 374-375.
Compare: As I Came By A Grene Forest Syde - 1801 from Haslewood

Source: James Anthony Froude, 'The Commonplace Book of Richard Hilles,' in Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, August 1858, Vol. LVIII, No. CCCXLIV, page 131.

As I walked by a forest side
I met with a forester: he bade me abide

At a place where he me set—
He bade me what time an hart I met
That I should let slip and say go bett;
With Hay go bett, Hay go bett, Hay go bett,
How we shall have game and sport enow.

I had not stand there but a while,
Yea, not the maintenance of a mile,
But a great hart came running without any guile;
With there he goeth—there he goeth—there he goeth;
Now we shall have game and sport enow.

I had no sooner my hounds let go
But the hart was overthrow;
Then every man began to blow,
With trororo—trororo—trororo,
How we shall have game and sport enow.

Note:

This carol is considered by Richard Leighton Greene and others as being the older of the two known versions. The other version was printed by Wynkyn de Worde in his Christmasse Carolles Newly Enprinted, 1521. See: As I Came By A Grene Forest Syde - 1801.

The phrase "not the montenance of a myle" is understood to be "not the time it takes to go a mile." See Chambers & Sidgwick, Early English Lyrics (1907), the note on p. 370 to Carol CXXVI, 'Lord, how shall I me complain.'

This article was reprinted in The Living Age, Volume 58, No. 748, September 25, 1858, Enlarged Series, No. 26, page 965. Wynkyn de Worde's version, "As I came by a grene forest syde" (1521), was not printed in Froude's article.

This is the first reprinting of Hill's version of this carol that I've found. versions on this site include:

Padelford, Dyboski, Flügel, and Greene carry both carols.

The reading of Hill's handwriting can be a bit of a challenge – remember, this is the early 16th century. In addition to earlier spellings of words, there were a number of individual letters that are different now. This has led to a differing perceptions in the 4th line of the second stanza:

The differing transcriptions arise from the use of the “ž” character (the thorne) which looked exactly like the letter 'y.' This, by the way, is how we get 'ye old tea shoppe' -- the 'y' was originally a “ž,” and should have been rendered as 'th,' which would give us the correct rendering of: 'the old tea shoppe.'

Here is a recreation of Hill's manuscript copy of 'As I walked by a fforest side' using the font 'Junius Rough' (created by Peter S. Baker):

The manuscript is on-line in the Balliol College Library, Manuscript 354, folio. 178, pp. 374-375.

Dr. Edith Rickert writes that "Hey go bet" is a hunting cry. Although she does not include this song as a Christmas-tide song, the substantially similar version of the carol, "As I came by a grene forest syde," was reproduced in Wynkyn de Worde's Christmasse Carolles (1521). From this we can conclude that this was a song sung during the Christmas-tide. Note that at one time, the hunting season for the wild boar was from Christmas Day to Candlemas (February 2).

Froude article, 'The Commonplace Book of Richard Hilles,' was the first mention of the Hill Manuscript that I've found so far. Dyboski's Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems was the first to give us a reprinting of the Christmas songs and similar content in the Hill Manuscript.

Several antiquarians played a part in locating and reproducing this and other carols from Richard Hill, Wynkyn de Worde, and others:

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