The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

How, Butler, How !

For Christmas

Words: English Traditional from the Hill Ms., Balliol College Ms. 354

Music: Not Stated

Source: E. K. Chambers and F. Sidgwick, eds., Early English Lyrics (London: A. H. Bullen, 1907), #CXXXI, p. 227-n.

How, butler, how !
Bevis a tout !
O fill the boll, jentill butler,
And let the cup rout !

Jentill butler, bellamy, 5
Fill the boll by the eye,
That we may drink by and by,
    With ' How, butler, how !
        Bevis a tout !
    Fill the boll, butler, 10
        And let the cup rout ! '

Here is mete for us all,
Both for grete and for small.
I trow we must the butler call,
    With ' How, butler, how ! ' 15

I am so dry I cannot speke ;
I am nigh choked with my mete ;
I trow the butler be aslepe.
    With ' How, butler, how ! '

Butler, butler, fill the boll, 20
Or elles I beshrewe thy noLl.
I trow we must the bell toll,
    With ' How, butler, how ! '

If the butler's name be Water,
I wold he were a galow claper ; 25
But if he bring us drink, the rather
    With ' How, butler, how ! '


2. bevis = buvez.

Notes to CXXXI, pp. 371-372.

Balliol 354. Printed Anglia, xxvi. 282.

Curious parallels to this song are afforded by several folk-rhymes, wassail-songs, and others ; cf. Ravenscroft’s Deuteromelia (1609), no. 17, Freemen's Song for four voices, an early version of the ‘cumulative' drinking-song still traditionally popular, with the refrain,

‘ Sing gentle butler balla moy';
[Ed. balla moy = bel ami? See below.]

reprinted in Rimbault, 120; also Drinking in Ravenscroft's Briefe Discourse (1614), 10, a four-part sung with refrain,

‘But still me thinks one tooth is drie’.

For a version of the folk-song, see The Athenaeum, 2 January, 1847, page 18, in an article on Worcestershire folk-lore :—

' Roll, roll,
Gentle butler, fill the bowl’, etc.

2. Cf. in a poem in Hazlitt-Ritson, 161 :—

' Bevux bien, par tutte la company'.

5. bellamy = bel ami. Cf. England and Pollard, 300, in The Deliverance of Souls, 229 :—

‘how ! thou belamy, abyde,’

Also in a poem both in Balliol 354, printed Anglia, xxvi. 135, and Bodl. Eng. Poet. e. i, printed Wright, P.S., 53, occurs the line,

‘Ffill the cuppe wel, belamye'. [Ed. In wright: "Fyl the cop wele, bealeamy"]

See also the quotation from Deuteromelia above. A remarkable corruption of the word by ‘popular etymology’ is shown by the fact that the burden of the ‘cumulative’ song is now sung :—

‘We’ll drink to the barley-mow,'

24. For the pun on Water and Walter, cf. 2 Henry VI, IV. i. 35.

Extended Citations:

Anglia, xxvi. 282
Ewald Flügel, ed., “Liedersammlungen des XVI Jahrhunderts, Besonders Aus Der Zeit Heinrichs VIII. III. 6. Die lieder des Balliol Ms. 354,” in Eugen Einenkel, ed., Anglia - Zeitschrift für englische Philologie enthaltend Beitrage zur Geschlicht der englischen Sprache und Literatur. Band XXVI. (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1903), p. 282.

Ravenscroft’s Deuteromelia (1609)
Thomas Ravenscroft, Deuteromelia (1609), no. 17, Freemen's Song for four voices, "Giue vs once a drinke for"

deut_24.gif (84689 bytes) deut_25.gif (89745 bytes)

Rimbault, 120
E. F. Rimbault, ed., A Little Book of Songs and Ballads, gathered from Ancient Musick Books, MS. and Printed (1851), Song XLII, "Sing Gentle Butler Balla Moy," pp. 120-121. Text only. Cited as from Ravenscroft Deuteromelia (1609). First line: "Giue vs once a drinke for."

Ravenscroft's Briefe Discourse (1614), 10
Thomas Ravenscroft, A Briefe Discourse of the True But Neglected Use of Charact'ring The Degrees, etc. (1614), "Trudge Away Quickly," p. 10. Sheet music:

10a-Trudge Away Quickly.jpg (98050 bytes) 10b-Trudge Away Quickly.jpg (93972 bytes)

Editor's Note:

Also found in Thomas Wright, ed., Festive Songs Principally of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (London: For the Percy Society, No. LXXVII, July 1848), Song XXXI. A Briefe Discourse, pp. 38-39. The burden (or the first verse):

Trudge away quickly and fill the black bole,
Devoutly as long as wee bide,
Now welcome, good fellowes, both strangers and all,
Let madnes and mirth set sadness aside.

The Athenaeum, 2 January, 1847, page 18
Unable to locate a copy of the newspaper, but the custom is referred to by Brand, Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (1853). See : The Custom of Catherning.

Hazlitt-Ritson, 161.
Joseph Ritson, ed., Ancient Songs and Ballads From the Reign of King Henry the Second to the Revolution. Third Edition, revised W. Carew Hazlitt. (London: Reeves and Turner, 1877), I Am Here, Syre Christmasse, p. 161.

England and Pollard, 300
George England and Alfred William Pollard, eds., The Towneley Plays. The Early English Text Society, Extra Series, No. LXXI. (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1879), Play 25, "The Deliverance of Souls," Line 229, p. 300.

Anglia, xxvi. 135
Ewald Flügel, ed., “Liedersammlungen des XVI Jahrhunderts, Besonders Aus Der Zeit Heinrichs VIII. III. 6. Die lieder des Balliol Ms. 354,” in Eugen Einenkel, ed., Anglia - Zeitschrift für englische Philologie enthaltend Beitrage zur Geschlicht der englischen Sprache und Literatur. Band XXVI. (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1903), #CXVI, "De vine bibendo moderate," p. 135. The line in question occurs on p. 138, Line 77: "ffil the cuppe well, belamye"; the real title of the song is "A Treatise of Wyne" (fol. 101a), and it's first line is "The best tre, yf ye take entent".
        Editor's Note: Also see Roman Dyboski, ed., Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems, from the Balliol Ms. 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace-book (London: Early English Text Society, 1907), Ballad 89, "A Treatise of Wyne," p. 105, whose first line is "The best tre, yf ye take entent." The quoted line occurs in verse 20, line 77, p. 106.

Wright, P.S., 53
Thomas Wright, ed., Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (Percy Society, 1847), Song L, The best tre, if 3e tak entent, p. 53. The line in question occurs on p. 56: "Fyl the cop wele, bealeamy."  [Texts from Eng. Poet, e.1, then in Wright’s possession.]

2 Henry VI, IV. i. 35
A reference to William Shakespeare's play "Henry VI, Part 2." Act IV, Scene 1, line 35.

Eng. Poet. e. 1.
Eng. Poet. e. 1. Paper, 6 x 4 1/4. ‘Seventy six songs, religious and other, including some Christmas carols and drinking songs, presumably collected for the use of a professed minstrel’ (Madan, v. 679). Written partly in English, partly in Latin, partly in both. In several hands ; two pieces of music (facsimiles in E.B.M.). Variants of several poems in Sloane 2593. Dated 1460-80 by Madan, and ‘about 1485-90’ by Nicholson in E.B.M. Belonged in 1847 to Thomas Wright, but was then lost, and was said to have been taken away by the bookbinder to whom it was entrusted (Chappell, 43, note). It was bought for the Bodleian in 1887 at the sale of the library of Joseph Mayer, who was a patron of Wright’s. Described by Madan as above, and in E.B.M., i. xxiv. Edited complete by Wright in 1847 as No. LXXIII of the Percy Society publications (misquoted XXIII by Flügel, Fehr, and others, owing to an error in the Brit. Mus. Catalogue).

Editor's Note: The reference to "XXIII" (23) is to the Volume number published by the Percy Society's series Early English Poetry, Ballads, and Popular Literature of the Middle Ages. Wright's work was Number LXXIII (73) in their list of publications.

MS Eng. Poet. e. 1. is located in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Madan is Falconer Madan, Richard W. Hunt, et al., Summary Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library. 7 volumes in 8. (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1895-1953). E.B.M. refers to Sir John Stainer, ed., Early Bodleian Music. Sacred and Secular Songs together with other MS. Compositions in the Bodleian Library, Oxford : ranging from about a.d. 1185 to about a.d. 1505. Two volumes (vol. i, facsimiles, vol. ii, transcriptions) (London : Novello ; New York : Novello, Ewer, 1901). With an Introduction by E. W. B. Nicholson, and Transcriptions into Modern Musical Notation by J. F. R. Stainer and C. Stainer. A third volume was subsequently published.

The complete description by Madan, pp. 679-680:

29734. In English and Latin, on paper: written about A. D. 1460-80 by several hands : 6 1/4 x 4 3/4 in., in a box lined with red velvet 7 1/4 x 5 3/8 in., 64 leaves : stained and worn in parts, but repaired : binding, green morocco with gold ornament, done for mr. J. Mayer (19th cent.).

Seventy-six songs, religious and other, including some Christmas carols and drinking songs, presumably collected for the use of a professed minstrel : a few have the music as well as the words (foll. 40v , 41v , 50v).

This valuable MS. was edited for the Percy Society (vol. 23) in 1847, see also W. Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855-7), i. 41. Most of the songs are in English or mixed English and Latin, a few in Latin alone.

In 1847 this volume was owned by Thomas Wright, who edited it : he subsequently lost it, and it was bought by the Bodleian at the Joseph Mayer sale (lot 42) on July 19, 1887, for £16.

[On this MS. see further 'Early Bodleian music' i. p. xxiv and plates 99-100 (where I have ascribed the date 'about 1485-90'), ii. pp. 182-4. E. W. B. N.]

Now MS. Eng. poet. e. 1.

Source: Falconer Madan, A summary catalogue of Western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford which have not hitherto been catalogued in the quarto series with references to the Oriental and other manuscripts. Vol. V: Collections received during the second half of the 19th century and miscellaneous MSS. acquired between 1695 and 1890. Nos. 24331-31000. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 679-80.

In the Preface to Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, Thomas Wright wrote:

The following very curious collection of old English Songs and Carols is printed verbatim from a manuscript at present in the possession of the Editor. It appears by the writing and language to have been written in the latter half of the fifteenth century, probably during the period intervening between the latter end of the reign of Henry VI [1421-1471], and the beginning of that of Henry VII [1457-1509]; a date which is confirmed by the fact that the few other copies of songs in this collection that occur elsewhere, are invariably found in manuscripts of the reign of Henry VI or of the age immediately following.

This manuscript has in all probability belonged to a professed minstrel, who sang at festivals and merry makings, and it has therefore been thought to merit publication entire, as giving a general view of the classes of poetry then popular. A rather large proportion of its contents consists of carols and religious songs, such as were sung at Christmas, and perhaps at some other of the great festivals of the church; and these are interesting illustrations of the manners and customs of the age.

Another class of productions, in which this manuscript is for its date peculiarly rich, consists of drinking songs, some of which are singular in their form and not wanting in spirit. The collection also contains a number of those satirical songs against the fair sex, which were so common in the middle ages, and which have a certain degree of importance as showing the condition of private society among our forefathers. In addition to these three classes, the manuscript contains a few short moral poems, which also are not without their peculiar interest.

Manuscript collections of songs like the present, of so early a date, are of great rarity. The only one with which I am acquainted, which may be considered of exactly the same character, is the MS. Sloane, No 2593, in the British Museum, which has generally been ascribed to the reign of Henry VI.

See: Songs and Carols Printed From A Manuscript in the Sloane Collection in the British Museum (London: William Pickering, 1836); twenty songs and carols from Sloane MS 2593, and Songs and Carols from a Manuscript in the British Museum of the Fifteenth Century (The Warton Club, 1856); the complete Sloane MS 2593.

Balliol 354.
Balliol 354. Paper, 11 1/2 x 4. Commonplace book of Richard Hill, who describes himself as ‘seruant with Mr. Wyngar, alderman of London.' John Wyngar, grocer, was alderman in 1493, mayor 1504, and died 1505. Richard Hill married in 1518 Margaret, daughter of Harry Wyngar, haberdasher, 'dwellyng in bowe parishe in London,' and the births of his seven children are recorded in the MS. from 1518 to 1526. The MS. is a miscellany of the widest character, English, French, and Latin, poems, romances, fabliaux, extracts from Gower and Sir Thomas More, receipts, legal notes, London customs, etc. Some pieces, signed by Hill, must be in his own hand ; so probably is most of the MS. The latest date in it is 1535, but part must have been written before 1504. Rimbault, 120, refers apparently to the MS. in 1851, (see notes on CXXXI), and said he intended to print it entire. Chappell (1855-59), 50, notes that this MS. had been 'recently found in the library . . . , where it had been accidentally concealed, behind a bookcase, during a great number of years.' Extracts printed by Flugel, W.L., in 1894; and thence by Pollard, 1903 ; also in Flugel, N.L. Edited, almost complete, with full table of contents, by Flugel in Anglia, xxvi, 94, printing 126 items. Source: Notes, p. 307-308.


Editor's Note:

See also

Balliol Ms. 354 is available on-line at Early Manuscripts at Oxford University; see Balliol Ms. 354.

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