Wife of Usher's Well, The [Child 79]

DESCRIPTION: A mother sends her sons away to school, where they die. She swears not to believe in God until they return to her. Later, they do return, but as ghosts. At last they convince her (perhaps by means of the roasted cock crowing) to let them rest
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1802 (Scott)
KEYWORDS: ghost death mourning magic
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MW,NE,SE,So,SW) Britain(England(West,South),Scotland)
REFERENCES (53 citations):
Child 79, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (3 texts)
Bronson 79, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (58 versions)
BronsonSinging 79, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (8 versions: #1, #3, #5, #20, #30, #43, #48, #54)
Leather, pp. 198-199, "There Was a Lady in Merry Scotland" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #3}
SharpAp 22 "The Wife of Usher's Well" (8 texts plus 9 fragments, 18 tunes) {Bronson's #23, #18, #49, #20, #47, #4, #9, #50, #31, #5, #32, #43, #39, #40, #13, #14, #51, #7}
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 17, "The Three Little Babes (The Wife of Usher's Well)" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #18}
Reeves-Sharp 112, "Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
Wells, pp. 155-156, "The Lady Gay" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #40}
BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 449-451, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts derived from Cox)
Belden, pp. 55-57, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts)
Randolph 19, "The Three Little Babes" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #10, #8}
Randolph/Cohen, pp. 39, "The Three Little Babes" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 19B) {Bronson's #8}
High, pp. 48-49, "The Ladie Who Lived in the West" (1 text)
AbrahamsRiddle, pp. 114-116, "Lady Gay" (1 text, 1 tune)
Arnold, #56, "Three Babes" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #6}
Eddy 14, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #24}
Flanders-Ancient2, pp. 187-194, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts, 2 tunes; the first version has textual but not melodic variants; the tunes are effectively the same, but the "B" text, while it starts with "Usher's Well" lyrics, is clearlly a rewrite; the boys go off to sea, return, and one marries a servant girl) {A=Bronson's #58}
Flanders/Olney, pp. 64-66, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #58}
Davis-Ballads 22, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (11 texts plus 1 fragment, 2 tunes entitled "The Three Little Babes," "Lady Gay"; 1 more version mentioned in Appendix A) {Bronson's #48, #33}
Davis-More 23, pp. 161-169, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (5 texts, 4 tunes)
BrownII 25, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (4 text plus 3 excerpts and mention of 2 more)
BrownSchinhanIV 25, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (7 excerpts, 7 tunes; Schinhan notes that most of the tunes are very like "Barbara Allen")
Morris, #160, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (3 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #17}
Hudson 14, pp. 93-95, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts)
HudsonTunes 17, "The Three Little Babes" (1 fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #15}
Moore-Southwest 22A, "The Three Little Babes"; 22B, "A Knight and a Lady Bride" (1 text plus 1 fragment, 2 tunes)
Owens-1ed, pp. 33-34, "The Three Little Babes" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #16}
Owens-2ed, pp. 21-23, "The Three Little Babes" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bronner-Eskin1 13, "Three Little Babes" (1 text, 1 tune)
Boswell/Wilfe 4, pp. 9-11, "Lady Gay (The Wife of Usher's Well)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 167-169, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text, locally titled "There Was a Lady, and a Lady Was She"; tune on p. 402) {Bronson's #57}
Ritchie-Southern, p. 69, "The Miracle of Usher's Well" (1 text, 1 tune)
Brewster 14, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
Leach, pp. 263-265, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 52-53, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
McNeil-SFB2, pp. 134-135, "Mary Hebrew" (1 text, 1 tune)
OBB 32, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 34, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (3 texts)
PBB 24, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
Niles 33, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (4 texts, 4 tunes)
Gummere, pp. 195-196+346-347, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
Fuson, pp. 59-60, "The Cruel Mother (Or Three Children)" (1 text)
Lomax-FSNA 91, "Lady Gay" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #30, though in 4/4 where Bronson marks 3/2!}
Chase, pp. 116-118, "Lady Gay" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hodgart, p. 58, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
JHCox 14, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (5 texts plus mention of 2 more)
Gainer, pp. 51-52, "The Three Little Babes" (1 text, 1 tune)
LPound-ABS, 7, pp. 18-19, "Children's Song"; pp. 20-21, "Three Little Babes" (2 texts)
Whitelaw-Ballads, pp. 177-178, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
Darling-NAS, pp. 32-33, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts)
HarvClass-EP1, pp. 80-81, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
DT 79, LADYGAY* USHERWEL USHRWEL2*
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #429, "The Wif of Usher's Well" (1 text)

Roud #196
RECORDINGS:
Texas Gladden, "Three Little Babes" (on LomaxCD1702); "The Three Babes" (AFS, 1941; on LC58)
Seena Helms, "Lady Bride and Three Babes" (on HandMeDown1)
Buell Kazee, "Lady Gay" (Brunswick 212, 1928) {Bronson's #30}
Jean Ritchie, "The Wife of Usher's Wells" (on JRitchie02)
Pete Seeger, "Lady Gay" (on PeteSeeger25)

CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Saint Stephen and Herod" [Child 22] (plot)
cf. "The Carnal and the Crane" [Child 55] (plot)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
The Dead Little Boys
The Wife of the Free
The Fine Lady Gay
The Cartin Wife
A Moravian Song
The Lady and the Children Three
The Three Pore Little Children
The Lone Widow
NOTES: Bronson makes the interesting observation that there is one Scottish tune for this song, unrelated to any other; two English tunes, related only to each other, and dozens of American collections, most of which (43 of them) have tunes related to each other but not to the Scottish or English forms.
It's hard to know what to do with Lena Bourne Fish's version (the "B" version in Flanders-Ancient2). The first lines are clearly part of this song; the ending is not. It belongs to the romances about a noble marrying a commoner. The tune is shared with Phyllis Burditt's version of "The Wife of Usher's Well," but Bronson finds that tune to be unique.
I'm lumping the two because there is still kinship, and I don't recognize the second half of Fish's song -- but I wouldn't be surprised if she has combined two songs.
The notion that excessive mourning (usually meaning mourning for more than a year and a day) results in the ghost being unable to rest is at least hinted at in several other songs, the most noteworthy being "The Unquiet Grave" [Child 78].
For the vexed question of the origin of the legend of the roasted cock, see the notes to "The Carnal and the Crane" [Child 55].
- RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
File: C079

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