Silver Herring, The (Caller Herring)
DESCRIPTION: Peddler's song/street cry: "Who'll buy my silver herrings?/I cry from door to door". Verses tell different ways prepare herring, plus different names. Many enjoy eating herring; more weep for the fishermen who are lost catching them
AUTHOR: Carolina Oliphaunt, Lady Nairne ?
EARLIEST DATE: before 1800 (Nairne's publication), with the tune older; O. J. Abbott learned the traditional version c. 1890
LONG DESCRIPTION: Peddler's song/street cry: "Who'll buy my silver herrings?/I cry from door to door". Verses tell different ways to cook and eat herring, plus different names - Yarmouth bloaters or Digby kipper red. Many enjoy eating herring; many more weep for the fishermen who are lost catching them or fear for their loved ones' safety
KEYWORDS: grief death fishing work food nonballad animal sailor worker family
FOUND IN: Britain(England) Canada(Ont)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
O. J. Abbott, "The Silver Herring" (on Abbott1)
NOTES [228 words]: If, as I believe, O. J. Abbott's "The Silver Herrings" is a traditional version of Lady Nairne's "Caller Herring," it has a complicated pedigree. Lady Nairne wrote "Caller Herrin'" "toward the end of the 18th century" to help Nathaniel Gow (son of Neil Gow). Nairne set it to a harpsichord piece by the elder Gow, which itself was based on a fish-seller's call.
To make life even more complicated, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) had his own herring cry ("Herrings"; see Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), p. 324). This has lines such as, "Be not sparing. Leave off swearing. Buy my herring Fresh from Malahide, Better never was tried.... Come, sixpence a dozen, to get me some bread, Or, like my own herrings, I soon shall be dead." Possibly independent, but who knows....
Lady Nairne's version was well enough known that Charles Dodgson ("Lewis Carroll") alludes to it in a poem he sent to Clara Halyburton Cunnynghame entitled "To Hallie" (which, despite its title, I suspect of having been intended for the tune "Annie Laurie"):
A chord of "Caller Herrin";
A note of "Home sweet Home;"
A bar of Scotland's "Blue Bells;"
Will make my spirit roam.
(see Morton N. Cohen, editor, with the assistance of Roger Lancelyn Green, The Letters of Lewis Carroll, two volumes, Oxford University Press, 1979, volume I, pp. 110-112). - RBW
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