1] In 1765, Thomas Percy, later Bishop of Dromore, published in three volumes his collection of "old heroic ballads, songs and other pieces of our earlier poets together with some few of later date," under the title Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, The edition contained, in addition to a dedication to the Countess of Northumberland and a preface, an "Essay on the Ancient English Minstrels" which was, in part, responsible for the increasing interest in the ballad and minstrel literature of the past. It encouraged one poet at least, James Beattie (1735-1803), to write one of the century's best poems in the Spenserian stanza, The Minstrel (1771-74). Percy collected his materials from old manuscripts, from English and Scottish correspondents, from earlier printings of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ballads, from the archives of various antiquarian societies, and from earlier collections of ballads, especially the Pepys collection, "near 2000 in number, which he has left pasted in five volumes in folio," in the Library of Magdalen College, Cambridge. "Given, with some corrections, from an old black letter copy, entitled Barbara Allen's Cruelty, or the young man's tragedy (Percy's note). In an essay Goldsmith writes: "The music of the finest singer is dissonance to what I felt when our diary maid sung me into tears with Johnny Armstrong's Last Good Night, or the Cruelty of Barbara Allen."
Scarlet towne. "Carlisle town" has been suggested as the correct reading, but in some printed copies "Reading town" appears. It may be supposed that a pun was intended.
3] wel-awaye: a traditional plaint uttered by a mediaeval lover.
12] Giff: if.
14] ore: o'er.
Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department
of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.
Original text: Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). 3rd. edn. (London: J. Dodsley, 1775). B-11 6294 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1765
RPO poem editor: G. G. Falle
RP edition: 3RP 2.233.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10
Other poems by Thomas Percy