Miller of Dee, The
DESCRIPTION: The jolly miller "worked and sang from morn till night, no lark more blythe than he." He is happy because "the bread I eat my hands have earned... in debt to none I be." Listeners are urged to follow his example
AUTHOR: probably C Jonson (see NOTES)
EARLIEST DATE: 1729 ("Village Opera" (see NOTES))
KEYWORDS: work drink nonballad miller worker
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South),Scotland)
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Williams-Thames, pp. 194-195, "The Miller of the Dee" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Ox 283)
Wiltshire-WSRO Mi 635, "Miller of the Dee" (1 text)
Kennedy (229), "The Jolly Miller" (1 text, located in the notes)
Opie-Oxford2 352, "There was a jolly miller once" (1 text)
Jack, p. 257, "The Miller of Dee" (1 text plus a later rewrite)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #1433, p. 97, "The Miller of the Dee" (1 reference)
cf. Chappell/Wooldridge II, p. 124, "The Budgeon It Is a Delicate Trade" (1 tune, partial text)
DT, MILLDEE* MILLDEE2*
ADDITIONAL: J. Woodfall Ebsworth in Notes and Queries (London, 1901 ("Digitized by Google")), Ninth Series, Vol. VIII, No. 199, Oct 19, 1901, p. 331, "[Query ]Scott Quotation ["I live by my mill, God bless her! She's parent, child and wife"]" "The Jolly Miller" ("There was a jolly miller once lived on the river Dee")
Matilda Blair, The Violet Speaker (New York, 1906 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 188-189, "The Miller of the Dees" (1 text)
Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 347-348, "(Song)" (1 short text)
Bodleian, Harding B 11(449), "There Was a Jolly Miller" ("There was a jolly miller once") , J.O. Bebbington (Manchester)], c.1850; also Bodleian, Firth b.25(278), "Miller of the Dee," W.S. Fortey (London), 1858-1885; Harding B 15(200a), "Miller of the River Dee"; Harding B 15(199b), "The Miller of the Dee"; Harding B 11(450), "There Was a Jolly Miller"
cf. "The Jolly Miller" (subject)
The Budgeon It Is a Delicate Trade (Chappell/Wooldridge II, p. 124; Scott-EnglishSB, pp. 14-15)
The Jolly Grinder (File: DTjollgr)
NOTES [1055 words]: Kennedy makes rather a hash of his notes on this song, observing that it is quite close to "The Jolly Miller," which may derive from the same sources. True enough. But "The Jolly Miller" is not "The Miller of Dee," and though Kennedy identifies the tune of the latter (correctly) with "The Budgeon It Is a Delicate Trade," "The Miller of Dee" and "The Budgeon" do *not* use the same tune as "The Jolly Miller," at least as transcribed by Kennedy. "The Budgeon," which Chappell finds in "The Quaker's Opera" in 1728, is in the natural minor; Kennedy's "The Jolly Miller" is in Ionian (major).
Kennedy makes things worse by saying "The Budgeon" is the same tune as "All Around My Hat" -- which again is in Ionian, not natural minor. - RBW
The Bodleian attributes authorship to Isaac Bickerstaffe, though none of the broadsides have that attribution on its face. Opie-Oxford2 352: "This song, a general favourite in Scotland, and of Sir Walter Scott in particular, became well known after it was sung by John Beard in Bickerstaffe's Love in a Village. The music of this successful opera, performed at Covent Garden in 1762 ...."
Verse 1 of broadside Bodleian Firth b.25(278) is almost the same as verse 1 of Opie-Oxford2 352, "There was a jolly miller once" (earliest date in Opie-Oxford2 is 1762). - BS
The Opies say that it was "Love in a Village" was first performed in 1762, "arranged and largely composed by Arne," with this song sung by John Beard. Kunitz/Haycraft: Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, Editors, British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary, H. W. Wilson, 1952 (I use the fourth printing of 1965), p. 43, give the publication date of "Love in a Village" as 1763.
I looked up several editions (Hoagland; RIchard Aldington, The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World) of the "Love in a Village" text, and it's clearly this song -- but there appears to be only one verse. So Bickerstaffe (1735?-1812?) isn't the whole story; the additional text must have come from another source.
According to Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, p. 42, "Love in a Village" was based on ideas produced by others: "The plot, as was often the case with Bickerstaffe's dramas, was derivative, put together from Charles Johnson's Village Opera, Wycherley's Dancing Master, and Marivaux's Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard."
Bickerstaffe, incidentally, is almost as confusing as the piece he wrote, because he was a real person, but shared a name (almost) with Isaac Bickerstaff, who was not. There was also an actor with a name something like this (Kunitz/Haycraft, p. 42).
Bickerstaff (no e on the end) was a pseudonym adopted by Jonathan Swift in a controversy with John Partridge. Bickerstaff made a claim Partridge was dead, and even wrote an elegy (1708), provoking an indignant exchange of pamphlets with the very-much-alive Partridge. This was amusing enough that Richard Steele used the Bickerstaff name for a writer of The Tatler Starting 1709). Then Bickerstaffe (with an e) was born a few decades later.- RBW
Ebsworth, successor to William Chappell as editor of The Roxburghe Ballads, gives a history of this song in Notes and Queries, cited above. He writes that "the foundation [of Bickerstaff's song] was C Jonson's 'Village Opera,' 1729. ... There was a jolly miller once lived on the river Dee; He work'd and sang from morn till night, no lark more blithe than he; And this the burthen of his song for ever used to be, 'I care for nobody, no, not I, if nobody cares for me. I live by my mill, God bless her! she's kindred, child, and wife; I would not change my station for any other in life: No lawyer, surgeon, or doctor e'er had a groat from me: I care for nobody, no, not I, if nobody cares for me.' This is the entire genuine song, but two other stanzas were afterwards added, unnecessarily, by inferior hands, printed in 'The Convivial Songster,' 1782, p. 334, and 'Edinburgh Musical Miscellany,' 1793, p. 209, commencing:-- When Spring begins his merry career, oh, how my heart grows gay! and Thus like the miller, bold and free, let us rejoice and sing.... Let me add that a fraudulent modern version was sent by an Islington correspondent, 'Pallas,' to the Illustrated London News, circa 1856, and printed therein, as if from a flyleaf MS. It gave the genuine first stanza, omitted the second, 'I live by my mill,' &c., and added three stanzas of no value, viz., 'The reason why he was so blithe,' 'A coin or two I've in my purse,' and 'So let us his example take, and be from malice free,' &c. It was not trustworthy, but good-natured William Chappell gave it renewed currency on p. 667 of his 'Popular Music of the Olden Time'; but on p. 668, in giving the music notes, he utterly 'sophisticated' the second verse and turned it into a drinking song" [compare W. Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time (London, n.d. [1859 per Internet Archive]), Vol II, pp. 666-668; incidentally, Chappell re Bickerstaff: "he appropriated so many songs from other sources, without acknowledgement, that this [The Jolly Miller] may also have been introduced."].
The Wiltshire-WSRO text is the four-verse version Ebsworth has in the 1782 The Convivial Songster.
Common to all texts are lines to the effect, "I envy nobody, no, not I, Nor ..." something close, in 1762 in "Love in a Village." That is indeed all there is in "Love in a Village" in 1791 (source: Isaac Bickerstaff, Love in a Village (London, 1791 ("Digitized by Google", bound with and linked as John Milton, Comus, a Mask (London, 1791))), p. 19); Hoagland quotes this one verse. The description above goes with the text in Kennedy's note and with DT MILLDEE, a 1782 text, and DT MILLDEE2, possibly an earlier text than Bickerstaff. There are two sets of Bodleian broadsides from the mid-19th century: The "Miller of Dee" set adds a conversation between the miller and "old King Hal" in which the miller explains his happiness and the king concludes "Thy mealy cup is worth my crown"; the "There Was a Jolly Miller" set has a noble lord ask miller Ralph how to be happy and Ralph would have the lord "leave pomp and pageantry aside, be from ambition free." Williams-Thames is an "old King Hal" version. The claimant as author of "old King Hal" is Charles Mackay (1814-1889), according to Blair. - BS
Last updated in version 3.5
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 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.