Sweet William's Ghost [Child 77]

DESCRIPTION: (Sweet William) dies while engaged. Since he has an unfulfilled commitment, his spirit cannot rest. He goes to his sweetheart, who begs him to wed her/kiss her/etc. When she learns that he is dead, she releases him from his promise
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1740 (Ramsey)
KEYWORDS: ghost promise freedom death
FOUND IN: US(NE,SE) Canada(Newf) Britain(Scotland(Bord)) Ireland
REFERENCES (27 citations):
Child 77, "Sweet William's Ghost" (8 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
Bronson 77, "Sweet William's Ghost" (11 versions+ 1 in addenda)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 77, "Sweer William's Ghost" (4 versions: #1, #3, #9, #12)
Chambers-ScottishBallads, pp. 217-219, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text)
Lyle/McAlpine/McLucas-SongRepertoireOfAmeliaAndJaneHarris, p. 170, "There cam a Ghost" (1 fragment, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
Morton-FolksongsSungInUlster 8, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text, 1 tune)
Percy/Wheatley-ReliquesOfAncientEnglishPoetry III, pp. 130-133, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text)
Rimbault-Musical IllustrationsOfBishopPercysReliques LIX, pp.98-99, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 partial text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #5}
Butterworth/Dawney-PloughboysGlory, p. 48, "Willie the Waterboy" (1 text, 1 tune, short enough that it might be Child #77 or Child #248 or a combination or perhaps independent; Roud files it with Child #248, but Dawney with Child #77)
Davis-MoreTraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 21, pp. 152-156, "" (1 text, so fragmentary that it might be some other ballad with intrusions from "Sweet William's Ghost")
Flanders/Brown-VermontFolkSongsAndBallads, pp. 240-241, "Lady Margaret and Sweet William" (1 text, taken from the Green Mountain Songster)
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland2, pp. 178-183, "Sweet William's Ghost" (2 texts, the first being the Green Mountain Songster version)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 23, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 23, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 excerpt, 1 tunes)
Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland 9, "Lady Margaret" (1 text)
Peacock, pp. 390-395, "Lady Margaret" (1 text, 6 tunes)
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 9, "Sweet William's Ghost" (2 texts, 9 tunes) {Bronson's #3}
Leach-FolkBalladsSongsOfLowerLabradorCoast 4, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 256-262, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text plus a Danish text for comparison)
Leach-HeritageBookOfBallads, pp. ix-xi, "Sweet William's Ghost (Lady Margaret)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 47, "Sweet William's Ghost" (2 texts)
Gummere-OldEnglishBallads, pp. 203-205+348-349, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text)
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishBallads, pp. 74-75, "Sweet William and May Margaret"; pp. 75-76, "Sweet William's Ghost"; pp. 76-77, "William and Marjorie" (3 texts)
HarvardClassics-EnglishPoetryChaucerToGray, pp. 78-80, "Sweet William's Ghost" (1 text)
DT 77, WILIGHOS* WILIGHO2 (GHOSWILL? -- a very worn down version that might be derived from this piece)
ADDITIONAL: David Buchan, "Sweet William's Questions," essay in Gerald Thomas and J. D. A. Widdowson, editors, _Studies in Newfoundland Folklore: Community and Process_, Breakwater Books, 1991, pp. 111-125 (3 texts, 3 tunes, all with the title "Lady Margaret," plus various excerpts and quotations)
Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #428, "Sweet William and May Margaret" (1 text)

Roud #50
Mrs. Gerald S. Doyle, "Lady Margaret" (on PeacockCDROM)
John James, "Lady Margaret" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Mike Kent, "Lady Margaret" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]; "Lady Margaret" (on MUNFLA/Leach) (2 versions)
Paddy Tunney, "Lady Margaret" (on Voice03)
Thomas Williams, "Lady Margaret" (on MUNFLA/Leach)

Bodleian, Harding B 5(1), "Sweet William's Ghost," unknown, n.d.
NOTES [256 words]: Child versions A, B, C and G end the ghost's visit with crowing cocks; in Ireland (Morton-FolksongsSungInUlster 8 and Paddy Tunney on Voice03) the cock may be replaced by the moor cock. The ghost/cock motif accounts for the connection, by some, of "Willy O!" to Child 77. - BS
David C. Fowler, A Literary History of the Popular Ballad, Duke University Press, 1968, p. 193, suggests that "Clerk Saunders" [Child 69] and "Sweet William's Ghost" [Child 77] are fragments of a single long revenant ballad, pointing to one of David Herd's texts which contains both elements. But Child split them because both items exist separately (even Herd had versions which did not combine the two). At best, I think the matter remains open.
Fowler, pp. 202-205, finds the troth-return theme in a metrical tale of no great merit called "The Childe of Bristowe."
Tom Shippey, in The Road to Middle-Earth (third edition), p. 210, notes that Herd's text of this (Child's B) mentioned "Middle-Earth" (Fowler, p. 195, points ot that this is corrupted to "mid-larf" in Herd's text), implying that this song might have been a small part of the inspiration of the world (though not the plot) created by J. R. R. Tolkien. Rather a stretch -- but interesting, the more so as Tolkien did have a strong affinity for folklore and folk song. And Shippey, pp. 214-215, notes that in the crisis of Gondor, as the Witch-King is confronting Gandalf at the gate of Minas Tirith, a cock crew -- a token of the change from the triumph of dark to the triumph of light. - RBW
Last updated in version 6.2
File: C077

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