Mudcat Café message #3242050 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #87026   Message #3242050
Posted By: Mick Pearce (MCP)
20-Oct-11 - 03:07 PM
Thread Name: Barbara Allen earliest version?
Subject: RE: Barbara Allen earliest version?
Bronson does have a lot to say about how the ballad altered Barabara Allen's attitude as time went on:

"It is pertinent to observe, as it seems not to have been observed, that tradition has gradually but surely transformed the character of the heroine. In the earliest of our texts (on broadsides), unexplained obduracy was her characterizing trait, as reflected in the song-title "Barbara Allen's Cruelty". It has been a main effect of transmission to rationalize and minimize this quality. The popular sensibility has been unable to stomach her stony-heartedness, and has gone to work on motivation. In the blackletter broadside of Pepys's day, she had stopped the funeral procession to look at her victim:

  With scornful eye she looked downe,
  Her cheeks with laughter swellin.

Only later is she suddenly struck with remorse. But the popular mind has recoiled from such coldness. Fifty years later, in the earliest Scottish text, that of Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany, she is not cold but filled with vindictive sentiment. She leaves the death-bed with a sigh of reluctance, and goes home to forecast her imminent death. Thereafter, in many American copies, occur verses like the following:

  The more she looked, the more she grieved,
  She busted out to crying.
  "I might have saved this young man's life
  And kept him from his dying".

Sometimes self-reproach changes to self-exculpation:

  "O mother dear, yuo caused all this;
  You would not let me have him"

Little by little, and partly through simple abridgement and condensation - as by omission of her anticipative refusal to soften, before she leaves the dwelling - a kindlier, more sympathetic image has replaced the cruel one that gave the original point to the object lesson. If, as Phillips Barry, believed Barbara was once a "real person", a historic character, she has unquestionably mellowed with age."

He also initially describes the song thus:

"This little song of a spineless lover who gives up the ghost without a struggle, and of his spirited beloved who repents too late..."

It may be any attempt to explain her attitude now is just a symptom of the mellowing which historical progression seems to want apply to her original attitude.