There Was a Man of Double Deed

DESCRIPTION: "There was a man of double deed Sowed his garden full of seed" (or) "A man of words and not of deeds Is like a garden full of weeds." After many similes, the rhyme may well end, "When my (heart/back) began to bleed, Twas death and death and death indeed"
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1784 (Gammer Gurton's Garland), with a high probability that it is at least related to much older materials
KEYWORDS: playparty farming
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond),Scotland(Aber,High)) US Canada(Mar)
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Opie-Oxford2 322, "There Was a Man of Double Deed" (1 text)
Opie-Game, pp. 442-443, ("San-tee-ti, San-tee-ti") (1 text)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #75, p. 81, "(A man of words and not of deeds)"
ADDITIONAL: James Orchard Halliwell, The Nursery Rhymes of England (London, 1842), #166 pp. 100-101, ("A man of words and not of deeds") (1 text)
James Orchard Halliwell, "Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales" (London, 1849 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 17-18, ("Double Dee Double Day, Set a garden full of seeds") (1 text)
Robert Craig Maclagan, The Games and Diversions of Argyleshire (London, 1901 ("Digitized by Google")), p. 131, "Sandie Toy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Edward W.B. Nicholson, editor, Golspie: Contributions to its Folklore (London, 1897 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 190-192, "There Was a Man" (2 texts, including Halliwell's 1849 text)
Helen Creighton, _A Folk Tale Journey through the Maritimes_, edited by Michael Taft and Ronald Caplan, Breton Books, 1993, p. 48, "There Was a Man Who Had a Double Deed" (1 text)

Roud #2103
NOTES: The form of the song is a couplet chain. Each couplet except the first is a simile: the first line "'twas like" the second line. Either the noun following "like" or the noun object of the following prepositional phrase becomes the subject of the next simile. For example "...'Twas like a *ship* without a belt. When the *ship* began to sail ..." or ... "'Twas like a *bird* without a tail. When the *bird* began to fly ...." The chain makes no sense -- is a rigmarole -- and may end "'Twas like a stick upon my back," or may go further until the singer's heart begins to bleed; then, it may be time for him to die indeed, or the chain may continue until ..." the oil began to settle, Like our Geordie's bloody battle." Halliwell finds the text of "A man of words and not of deeds" in a 1659 collection and says -- for the version ending "Geordies bloody battle," which is the text he quotes -- it was converted in the 18th century "into a burlesque song on the battle of Culloden."
The Opie and Nicholson texts seem derived, primarily by omitting couplets, from Halliwell's 1849 text. Halliwell 1849: "The earliest copy of the saying, 'A man of words and not of deeds,' I have hitherto met with, occurs in MS. Harl. 1927, of the time of James I. Another version, written towards the close of the seventeenth century, but unfitted for publication, is preserved on the last leaf of MS. Harl. 6580." - BS
This is a complex puzzle. The Opies call it a "rhyme of strange fascination," with which I agree; it is very hard to get out of the head once one thinks of it. The Baring-Goulds call it a ball-bouncing song. Roud lists many versions under titles such as "Sandy Toy" and "The Other Side of Jordan"; I am far from convinced these are in fact all the same. And while many collected versions have tunes, the "Double Deed" versions all seem to lack them.
But what does it mean? The Opies mention many parallels with topical significance, but they are all clearly rewrites. There is a certain thematic similarity in the "A man of words and not of deeds" to the New Testament book of James, which declares (2:17) that "faith... if it has no works, is dead" and also says (3:6) that "the tongue is a fire," inflaming controversy. Yet there is no hint that the poem is quoting the Bible.
It is interesting to note that, in the reign of King Edward IV, a bit of propaganda (perhaps in ballad form?) called England "a garden full of weeds," according to the description in Charles Ross, Edward IV, 1974 (I use the 1997 paperback edition in the Yale English Monarch series with a new introduction by R. A. Griffiths), p. 300. If this is so, then the man of words and not of deeds is presumably the inept Lancastrian King Henry VI, whose government lost all English territories in France and went bankrupt along the way. On the other hand, Henry VI was overthrown in 1461, and eventually killed and his dynasty ended in 1471. That is obviously long before the first collection of the rhyme. There is no reason, other than the similarity of words and Henry VI's general ineptness, to link the poem with the events of the Wars of the Roses. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
File: OO20322

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