Drunkard's Legacy, The

DESCRIPTION: A dying father has his drinking son make a deathbed promise that involves a trick: when the son has lost everything and is desperate enough to commit suicide, it will provide him the means to win back his land and convince him to stay sober.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1765 (according to Percy); 1846 (Dixon-Peasantry)
LONG DESCRIPTION: A father builds a cottage on "a waste plot" as part of a plan to save his drinking son from ruin. On his deathbed he makes his son promise that -- when he has lost all his friends, money and other land -- he will go to that cottage "to find something thy grief to end." The son loses everything, pawns his land for little price to a tavern-owner, and spends that money as well. "Then [he] thought it was high time for he his father's legacy to see." He goes to the cottage hoping to find money but finds "a gibbet and a rope" instead. He decides his father was showing him his only way out, prays God for forgiveness, puts the rope around his neck and jumps. The gibbet breaks and one thousand pounds in gold falls around him. He blesses his father and swears never to drink again. He returns to the tavern, challenges the owner who would kick him out but says, in jest, that he would return the drunkard's land for 100 pounds the next day. The drunkard insists the tavern owner put his offer in writing. The next day he returns, with a witness, pays the fee and claims his land. The tavern owner, fearing his customers will laugh at his foolishness, commits suicide. The ex-drunkard "lives sober and [does] his lands possess, and warns others against drunkenness."
KEYWORDS: money gambling drink poverty bargaining promise trick death suicide gold father
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Child 267 Appendix, "The Drunkard's Legacy (1 text)
Dixon-Peasantry, Ballad #21, pp. 151-159, "The Drunkard's Legacy" (1 text)
Bell-Combined, pp. 320-326, "The Drunkard's Legacy" (1 text)

cf. "The Heir of Linne" (II) (derived from this song)
NOTES [213 words]: The only reason I have for including this song in the Index is that Percy used it as a source for completing his version of "The Heir of Linne" [see "The Heir of Linne" (II)]. Percy described it as "a modern" ballad when he was writing in 1765. We have Dixon's text "taken from an old chap-book, without date or printer's name," and Child's slightly different text "from a Broadside among Percy's Papers" with the imprint "Printed and sold in Bow-Church-Yard, London."
Also see John Ashton, Chap-Books of the Eighteenth Century (Chatto and Windus: Picadilly, 1882 ("Digitized by Lyrasis")) pp. 455-457 for the heading and woodcuts from "The Drunkard's Legacy" chapbook "Printed by Dicey and Co. in Aldermary Church Yard." Unfortunately Ashton does not print the text: "As the title is so voluminous and exhaustive, it is unnecessary to reproduce any of the text." Nevertheless, it is clear from the title, that this is our song. "St Mary Aldermary is an Anglican church in Bow Lane in the City of London" [Wikipedia, "St Mary Aldermary," accessed 15 Dec 2013] and "Bow Church is the parish church of St Mary and Holy Trinity, Stratford, Bow.[1] It is located on an island site in Bow Road" [Wikipedia, "Bow Church"]; both imprints were used by the Diceys after 1736. - BS
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