John Barleycorn's a Hero Bold
DESCRIPTION: Singer praises Barleycorn; his robes are rich and green, his head speared with prickly beard; when stricken down, he uses his blood for England's good. Chorus: "Hey John Barleycorn/Ho John Barleycorn/Old and young thy praise has sung/John Barleycorn"
EARLIEST DATE: 1859-1860 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 13(13)) [see Notes]
LONG DESCRIPTION: Singer praises John Barleycorn for his heroic qualities; his robes are rich and green, his head speared with prickly beard; when stricken down, he uses his blood for England's good. All, great and small, find his aid valuable -- he "makes weak men strong and old ones young and all men brave and bold". The singer praises ale, scorning all other drinks. Chorus: "Hey John Barleycorn/Ho John Barleycorn/Old and young thy praise has sung/John Barleycorn"
KEYWORDS: age drink nonballad
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South),Scotland)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Kennedy 277, "John Barleycorn's a Hero Bold" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ford-Vagabond, pp. 227-229, "Hey! John Barleycorn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bodleian, Harding B 20(81), "John Barleycorn" ("John Berleycorn [sic] is a hero bold"), J. Harkness (Preston), 1840-1866; also Harding B 13(13), Harding B 11(1509), Harding B 11(3188), Firth b.26(301), Firth b.26(302), Harding B 15(150a), "John Barleycorn"
LOCSinging, as111460, "John Barleycorn," W.S. Fortey (London), no date
cf. "John Barleycorn (I)" (theme: the tale of brewing) and references there
Hey John Barleycorn
NOTES: Although this shares subject matter and a few words with "John Barleycorn", it lacks the explicit death-and-resurrection plot of the latter, so I split them. - PJS
More interesting to me is the extreme similarity between the Ford and Kennedy versions. The only substantial difference might be a mishearing on Kennedy's part: He transcribes the near-nonsense "fit nigh to serve the queen" for Ford's "fit knight to serve the queen." There are other differences, but they are such as might arise simply in a singer's minor variations between sessions. I have to think there is literary dependence. - RBW
Broadside Bodleian Harding B 13(13) prints "The Great Fight Between Tom Sayers and Bob Brettle" alongside "John Barleycorn." That establishes the likely printing date within a seven month period between Sayers's fights [see the Index entry for "The Great Fight Between Tom Sayers and Bob Brettle"].
The 1840-1866 date estimate at the Bodleian site for Harkness's Harding B 20(81)) seems their standard for all Harkness broadsides.
I agree with the PJS and RBW comments.
Steve Roud's Street Literature Printers' Register for Harkness (PR79) has dates of 1841 to at least 1882 (http://www.vwml.org/search/search-street-lit?qtext=harkness&ts=1385852926917&collectionfilter=RoudBSPrinters;RoudStreetLit#
accessed 30 November 2013).
To this point we have listed eight different texts: Ford, Kennedy, and six Bodleian broadsides. No two texts are identical: not even the three Such texts, Harding B 15(1509), Firth b.26(301), and Firth b.26(302). For all the similarity between Ford and Kennedy, noted by RBW, there are more differences -- as counted below -- between those two texts than any other pair. It is not surprising -- considering the dates recorded -- that the Ford text is "closer to" each broadside than is the Kennedy text. But here's the point, supporting RBW: every one of the differences among all the texts are either typographical choices or "are such as might arise simply in a singer's minor variations between sessions." Every text has four eight-line stanzas and a chorus. Across all the texts I count 30 differences, all minor:
16 substitution of one or two words (for example: "true English cheer" vs "the English cheer"; "his head is speared" vs "his head is spread")
3 added noise words (for example: "true English cheer" vs "for true English cheer")
3 collective singular vs plural predicate (for example: "that make too free" vs. "That makes too free")
2 contraction (for example: "his head is speared" vs "his head is spear'd")
2 singular vs plural noun (for example: "in potent draught of wine" vs "in potent draughts of wine")
2 possessive vs plural (for example: "gives warmth to nature's cold" and "gives warmth to natures cold")
2 mis-spelling (for example: "John Barleycorn" vs "John Berleycorn")
My point is to emphasize how minor the differences are between the printed and collected texts.
As for PJS's point that few lines or phrases are shared between "John Barleycorn's a Hero Bold" and "John Barleycorn (I)" or its predecessors, I find only two shared pieces of text.
The title and first line are shared with a verse added by Robert Burns to "John Barleycorn" (III):
l.50 John Barleycorn was a hero bold
l.51 Of noble enterprise
James C Dick, The Songs of Robert Burns (London: Henry Frowde, 1903), #332 pp. 314-315, "There Was Three Kings Into the East"
The phrase "goodly beard" [as opposed to "prickly beard"] is only at l.15 of Bodleian Harding B 15(1509) of this song and l.44 of all our examples to date of "John Barleycorn" (I) [see, for example, Pepys 1.426].
Broadsides LOCSinging as111460 and Bodleian Harding B 11(3188) are duplicates. - BS
Last updated in version 3.2
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.