Clerk Colvill [Child 42]

DESCRIPTION: (Clerk Colvill) is warned (by his mother/lover) not to be too free with women. He refuses the advice; "Did I neer see a fair woman, But I wad sin with her body?" A woman gives him a fatal headache and turns into a mermaid to avoid being killed by him
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1769 (Herd)
KEYWORDS: sex sin courting infidelity magic death
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Child 42, "Clerk Colvill" (3 texts, 2 tunes)
Bronson 42, "Clerk Colvill" (1 version)
BronsonSinging 42, "Clerk Colvill" (1 version)
GordonBrown/Rieuwerts, pp. 216-217, "Clark Colven" (1 text, plus a copy of the transcribed tune and a modern reprint for clarity; there are two tune reconstructions on pp. 293-294)
Leach, pp. 149-150, "Clerk Colville" (1 text)
OBB 29, "Clerk Colven" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 30, "Clerk Colvill" (1 text, which includes textual interpolations heretofore unpublished)
Gummere, pp. 197-199+347-348, "Clerk Colven" (1 text)
Hodgart, p. 39, "Clerk Colvill" (1 text)
DT 42, CLRKCLVL

Roud #147
NOTES [317 words]: A number of scholars (Coffin, Lloyd, Bronson) have speculated that "Clerk Colvill" is actually a fragment of a longer ballad, "George Collins," with "Lady Alice" [Child 85] forming the rest. See the discussion in the notes to "Lady Alice."
Bertrand Harris Bronson, The Ballad as Song (essays on ballads), University of California Press, 1969, p. 42, studying the text and tune of this, suggests that the tune collected from Mrs. Brown must have had an internal refrain, the text of which was not taken down. This apparently was a habit of the transcriber; he omitted the internal refrains of "Clerk Colvill," "Gil Brenton," and "Willie's Lady."
J. R. R. Tolkien fans may be interested to note that Tolkien's fascinating modern recreation of a Breton Lay, "The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun" (which I think his best writing other than The Lord of the Rings, although it did not reach book form until decades after his death) also involves commerce with a non-human magic-worker; Itroun is barren, so her husband Aotrou seeks out a "Corrigan" to find obtain a potion to make her fertile. The Corrigan agrees but says she will not name her price until the children are born. Once they are, she appears to Aotrou and demands that he make love to her. He refuses; she says that he will die shortly. He does, and Itroun dies soon after. It was suggested by Jessica Yates that Tolkien"wanted to write a version of the 'Clerk Colvill' story about a young man and a water nymph [and] was intrigued by the translations he found of the analogous Breton 'Lord Nann' ballad [found in Child]." (See Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond, The J. R. R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader's Guide, Houghton Mifflin, 2006, p. 487). This hypothesis does not seem to have attracted much support, but it is not unlikely that Tolkien -- who knew a lot about folklore -- was aware of the Clerk Colville/Lady Alice story. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.5
File: C042

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 2019 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.