Twenty Years Ago (Forty Years Ago)
DESCRIPTION: "I wandered to the village, Tom, and sat beneath the tree... That sheltered you and me... But none were left to greet me, Tom... Who played with us upon the green Just (twenty/forty) years ago." The singer tells how the people have changed with the years
EARLIEST DATE: 1879 (McGuffey's Fifth Reader)
KEYWORDS: age home courting
FOUND IN: US(SE,So) Canada(Mar)
REFERENCES (9 citations):
BrownIII 335, "Twenty (Forty, Sixty) Years Ago" (4 texts)
BrownSchinhanV 335, "Twenty (Forty, Sixty) Years Ago" (2 tunes plus text excerpts)
Randolph 869, "Forty Years Ago" (1 text plus an excerpt, 1 tune)
Randolph/Cohen, pp. 481-484, "Forty Years Ago" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 869A)
High, pp. 29-30, "Time Has Changed in 20 Years" (1 text)
Moore-Southwest 172, "Twenty Years Ago" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ives-DullCare, pp. 196-197,256, "Twenty Years Ago" (1 text, 1 tune)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #2380, p. 160, "Twenty Years Ago" (1 reference)
ADDITIONAL: Martin Gardner, editor, _Famous Poems from Bygone Days_, Dover, 1995, pp. 9-10, "Twenty Years Ago" (1 text)
ST R869 (Partial)
cf. "The Good Old Days of Adam and Eve" (theme) and references there
cf. "Merchants of the Bay" (tune)
cf. "Fifteen Years Ago" (theme)
Who Has Managed (File: Wels063)
Dixie's Sunny Land or, The Cruelty to Our Union Prisoners (WolfAmericanSongSheets p. 33)
NOTES: The earliest datable text of this that I've seen is from 1879, but it is likely that it dates from the Civil War or earlier; Edwin Wolf 2nd, American Song Sheets, Slip Ballads, and Political Broadsides 1850-1870, Library Company of Philadelphia, 1963, p. 160, lists a broadside published by Wrigley from that period.
Randolph lists many possible authors for this piece: Dill Armor Smith and Frances Huston are credited with the words, and William Willing with the tune. No solid evidence seems to be forthcoming, though Hazel Felleman's The Best Loved Poems of the American People also credits the song to Smith. Cohen notes that several people stepped forward to claim the song (on behalf of others) and explain the internal references.
The texts in Brown are clearly the same song, despite the difference in time period covered, and also the changes described in that time. Randoph's and Felleman's texts make little mention of technology; they're mostly about aging. The other texts are different. Several mention the first cooking stove, and how women wore (woolen/homespun) dresses and boys wore pants of tow.
Brown's "D" text concludes, "Oxen answered well for teams, but now they're rather slow. But people didn't live so fast some sixty years ago." I'd love to know the author's reaction, had he lived to see it, to a modern freeway....
It appears this sentiment dates back well before this song. Joel Levy, Newton's Notebook: The Life, Times, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, Running Press, 2009, p. 15, quotes a pamphlet of 1647 which includes the lines "For England hath no likelihood or show O what it wa but sevnty years ago; Religion, manners, life, and shapes of men, Are much unlike the people that were then." - RBW
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