Swapping Boy, The
DESCRIPTION: The Swapping Boy (sets out for London to get a wife. He swaps wife, or the wheelbarrow he took her home in, for a) horse, which he swaps for a cow, and so forth, for a cheaper animal each time, until he ends with a mole which "went straight to its hole"
EARLIEST DATE: 1810 (_Gammer Gurton's Garland: or, The Nursery Parnassus_, according to Opie-Oxford2)
KEYWORDS: animal humorous commerce
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MW,NE,SE,So) Britain(England(North),Scotland(Aber)) Ireland Canada(Mar)
REFERENCES (28 citations):
Sturgis/Hughes, pp. 15-17, "Posey Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Eddy 93, "The Swapping Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph 256, "Went to the River" (1 text, 1 tune, a much degraded form with a different chorus and some floating verses)
BrownII 196, "Swapping Songs" (4 text plus 2 excerpts, but "E" and "F" are "Hush Little Baby"; the "C" excerpt is unidentifiable from the description)
BrownSchinhanIV 196, "Swapping Songs" (2 excerpts, 2 tunes; the "A" version is "The Swapping Boy"; the "E" version is "Hush Little Baby")
BrownIII 131, "When I Was a Little Boy" (1 text plus mention of 2 more, with only the first verses about fetching the wife from London)
JHCoxIIB, #19A-B, pp. 166-169, "The Foolish Boy," "Johnny Bobeens" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Wyman-Brockway II, p. 10, "The Swapping Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cambiaire, pp. 78-79, "The Swapping Song" (1 text)
SharpAp 217, "The Foolish Boy" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 72, "The Swapping Song (The Foolish Boy)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ritchie-Southern, p. 1, "The Swapping Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton/Senior, pp. 243, "Down by the Brook" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chase, pp. 174-175, "The Swapping Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gilbert, pp. 44-45, "Wing Wang Waddle" (1 text)
Abrahams/Foss, pp. 70-71, "Foolish Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
SHenry H732, p. 57, "My Grandfather Died" (1 text, 1 tune)
Reeves-Circle 43, "The Foolish Boy" (1 text)
Williams-Thames, p. 48, "The Bugle Played for Me" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 374)
RoudBishop #107, "The Foolish Boy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kennedy 312, "Wim-Wam-Waddles" (1 text, 1 tune)
Greig #43, p. 2, ("My fader deed an' left me") (1 text)
GreigDuncan8 1696, "I Sell't the Horse an' I Bocht a Coo" (2 texts)
Opie-Oxford2 156, "My Father He Died, But I Can't Tell You How" (1 text)
Opie-Oxford2 71, "When I was a little boy I lived by myself" (2 texts); 156, "My father he died, but I can't tell you how" (1 text)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #7, pp. 29-30, "(When I was a little boy)"; #115, p. 96, "(My father he died, but I can't tell you how)"
Montgomerie-ScottishNR 23, "(His father died)" (1 short text); 163, "O, when I was a wee thing" (1 short text, with only the verses about "When I was a wee thing" and the fetching home of a wife in a wheelbarrow)
ADDITIONAL: Roger deV. Renwick, _Recentering Anglo/American Folksong: Sea Crabs and Wicked Youths_, University Press of Mississippi, 2001, p. 70, "The Foolish Boy" (1 text)
ST E093 (Full)
Anne, Judy & Zeke Canova, "The Poor Little Thing Cried Mammy" (Oriole 8044/Perfect 12685/Regal 10299, 1931); as the "Three Georgia Crackers," "Poor Little Thing Cried Mammy" (Columbia 15653-D, 1931; rec. 1930; on CrowTold01)
Harry Greening & chorus of Dorsetshire Mummers, "The Foolish Boy" (on FSB10)
Bradley Kincaid, "The Swapping Song" (Champion 15466 [as Dan Hughey]/Silvertone 5188/Supertone 9209, 1928)
cf. "Little Brown Dog"
cf. "Mary Mack (I)" (plot)
cf. "Old John Wallis" (lyrics)
cf. "Pirn-Taed Jockie" (theme: bad bargains)
cf. "My Father Died a Month Ago" (theme)
NOTES: Eddy writes of this song, "Most texts are like the above in blending two separate songs, 'When I Was a Little Boy' and 'Swapping Song.' The first story, based, in all likelihood, upon Wat Tyler's Rebellion of 1381 in England, continues through four stanzas."
That two songs are combined here is very likely; Kennedy's version and others (including versions back to Gammer Gurton's Garland) omit the trip to London to fetch a wife, while we find a youth setting out for London to find a wife as a separate item in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, Volume II, of c. 1744. But whether this should be tied to the Kentish rebellion of 1381 can be questioned. The Opies, while quoting the first half, make no mention of Wat Tyler, and say it uses the tune of "John Anderson my Jo," which could hardly go back to an English event of 1381. - RBW
Perhaps "The Swapping Boy" should be split between the Opie-Oxford2 71/Eddy/BrownIII 131 ("When I was a little boy I lived by myself") songs and the Opie-Oxford2 156/Henry H732("My father he died, but I can't tell you how") songs. The description for "My Father Died" might be: Singer inherits his grandfather's horses. He sells the horses to buy a cow and sells and buys the cow, a calf, a pig, a dog, and a cat that runs off after a rat. "My grandfather left me all he did own, And I don't know how it is, but I'm here by my lone." The end of Opie-Oxford2 156 is more disastrous: "I sold my cat and bought me a mouse, But she fired her tail and burnt down my house." - BS
In the light of the above, I suppose I should separate these two songs -- but the result would be an even worse mess than lumping them, because the combination clearly exists as a song in its own right. Since it is possible that it's one song that split, and not two that coalesced, I'm keeping them together until we can find some clearer evidence of the history. With full acknowledgment that there are two highly independent parts.
We should also note that there is a fairly precise parallel to the swapping story in German. The Grimm tale of "Lucky Hans" [#83, "Hans im Gluck," from 1818] tells of a young man who, after completing an apprenticeship, is given a nugget of gold by his master. It is heavy enough that he trades it for a horse. The horse throws him, so he trades it for a cow. The cow gives no milk, so he trades it for a pig. The pig is said to be stolen, so he trades it for a goose. He trades that for a slightly used grindstone/whetstone, hoping thereby to gain wealth -- then drops the stone in the well and gives up and goes home.
Hans Christian Anderson also had something similar, but I know of no reason to think that it is traditional. The tale is usually translated under a title such as "What the Old Man Does Is Always Right." The gimmick is the same -- the old man goes out to sell his horse, and makes a series of trades. But, except that in the first trade, the man exchanges his horse for a cow, there is little other similarity; he ends up with a collection of withered apples. And the emphasis of the tale is not on the trading but on the psychology of the man and his wife.
In English, we find a swapping tale called "Mr. Vinegar," found on pp. 28-32 of Joseph Jacobs, collector, English Fairy Tales, originally published 1890; revised edition 1898 (I use the 1967 Dover paperback reprint) and derived from Halliwell. In this case, Mr. Vinegar recovers some money from robbers whom he frightens, but then trades it all away.
There is also at least one other English swapping rhyme, found in Peter and Iona Opie, I Saw Esau: Traditional Rhymes of Youth, #58, beginning, "I went downtown To meet Mrs. Brown, She gave me a nickel to buy a pickle. The pickle was sour; I bought me a flower." And so forth. - RBW
Williams-Thames has the original inheritance coming from grandmother; Wiltshire-WSRO has it from grandfather. - BS
Last updated in version 4.1
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.