R[ossetti], D[ante] G[abriel]. "Miscellanea." Letter to the editor. Athenaeum 1295 (21 Aug. 1852), 901-902.

full text

The Surtees Ballads,–In your second notice of the ‘Memoirs of Mr. Surtees,’ and therefore doubtless in the Memoir itself, some stanzas commencing–

Is there any room at your head, Emma,

are given as the original production of that gentleman.– Some of your readers, however, will probably have recognized them as being, in their chief idea, and in whatever beauty they contain, a pretty close transcript from ‘Clerk Saunders,’ an old ballad published in the ‘Border Minstrelsy.’ and I believe, of undisputed authenticity. The passage, which occurs toward the close of the ballad, is as follows:–

Is there ony room at your head, Saunders,

Is there ony room at your feet,

Or ony room at your side, Saunders,

Where fain fain I wad sleep?

There’s nae room at my head, Marg’ret,

There’s nae room at my feet,

My bed it is full lowly now,–

Amang the hungry worms I sleep.

Cauld mould is my covering now,

But and my winding sheet;

The dew it falls nae sooner down

Than my resting place is weet.

But plait a wand o’ bonny birk,

And lay it on my breast,

And shed a tear upon my grave,

And wish my saul gude rest.

And fair Marg’ret, and rare Marg’ret,

And Marg’ret o’ veritie,

Gin e’er ye love another man,

Ne’er love him as ye did me.

I am sure that I have seen somewhere, though I cannot now recollect where, another version of this ballad. I am uncertain whether the names are the same in both; but the first two stanzas of the above quotation keep running in my mind, with the following variation in the latter half of each.–

Is there ony room at your side,–

Wherein that I may creep?

There’s nae room at my side,–

My coffin is made sae meet.

As the ballad of ‘Clerk Saunders’ has long been with me a peculiar favourite, it is but a debt of gratitude on my part to help the unknown writer in claiming his own, even from so equitable a double-dealer as Mr. Surtees,–who, no doubt, has given to this branch of literature as much as he took, or more. Let us render back to their author the admirable poems of ‘Bartram’s Dirge’ and ‘Featherstonhaugh,’–but also to the old ballad-maker that which is his; and here, assuredly, the living image is his altogether, though Mr. Surtees has added the superscription.

I am, &c., D. G. R.

\ It is very difficult, amid the sort of what our Correspondent calls "double-dealing" in respect of alleged old ballads, to decide what is old and what new–what genuine and what spurious. In the ballad above referred to, it is pretty certain that a portion was adopted from an old one:–but the version referred to by our Correspondent has evidently been modernized from the old rude original,–and as it stands in the ‘Border Minstrelsy,’ it bears evident marks of the "fine Roman hand" that wrote ‘Bartram’s Dirge.’ It is well known that even the genuine old ballads in that collection have been improved by modern fingers.

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1998 Thomas J. Tobin.

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