Child is Born Among Men, A (Honnd by Honnd)
DESCRIPTION: "Honnd by honnd we schulle ous take, And joy and blisse schulle we make....." "A child is boren amoges man, And in that child was no wam [blemish], That child ys God, that child is man...." "Com to Crist, thy peys ys told."
EARLIEST DATE: Not later than the fifteenth century (Bodleian MS. Bodley 26, folio 202 verso)
KEYWORDS: religious Jesus nonballad MiddleEnglish
FOUND IN: Britain(England)
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Greene-TheEarlyEnglishCarols, #12, pp. 9-10, "(A child is boren amo[n]ges man)" (1 text with variants)
Hirsh-MedievalLyric-MiddleEnglishLyricsBalladsCarols #25, "(Honnd by hnnd we schule ous take)" (1 text)
Stevick-OneHundredMiddleEnglishLyrics 41, "(Hond by Hond we shullen us take)" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: E. K. Chambers, _English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages_, Oxford, 1945, 1947, pp. 80-81 (no title)
Richard Greene, editor, _A Selection of English Carols_, Clarendon Medieval and Tudor Series, Oxford/Clarendon Press, 1962, #6, p. 59, "(Honnd by honnd we schulle ous take)" (1 text)
Carleton Brown, editor, _English Lyrics of the XIVth Century_, Oxford University Press, 1924, #88, pp. 110-111, Hand by Hand We Shall Us Take" (1 text)
MANUSCRIPT: Oxford, Bodley MS. 26 (Bodleian 1871), folio 202
MANUSCRIPT: London, University of London MS. 657 (formerly Helmington Hall LJ.1.7), folio 140 (1 verse only)
NOTES [423 words]: This item has never been collected in oral tradition, and perhaps should not be included in the Index. But J. G. Davies, The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (originally published in Britain as A New Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship), Westminster, 1986, p. 148, cites it as one of the earliest carols: "The opening words of one of the earliest surviving burdens (c. 1350) describe the singers joining hands in a ring-dance, 'Honnd by honnd we schulle us take....'"
Similarly Greene, p. 189, who calls it "the earliest Nativity carol yet discovered." Because of irregularities in the form, Greene suspects it is composite.
Edward Bliss Reed, editor, Christmas Carols Printed in the Sixteenth Century: Including Kele's Cristmas carolles newely Inprynted, Harvard University Press, 1932, pp. xix-xx, explicitly declares it "The earliest English Christmas carol."
Certainly the line about going "honnde by honnde" indicates a carol; the earliest carols seem to have been the musical accompaniment to ring dances where all held hands.
The only complete copy is found as part of a sermon. This is the version found on folio 202v of Bodleian MS Bodley 26. The date is slightly uncertain. Chambers includes it in his chapter "Fifteenth-Century Lyric" but dates the poem itself c. 1350. This is also the date given by Stevick and by Greene. Brown dates the hand "hardly later than 1350" and believes the writer a Franciscan. The notes that accompany the piece in the manuscript are in Latin.
Brown on p. 272 explains the context: "The homily in which these verses occur begins on fol[io] 201b with an exposition of the four locks by which the heart of the sinner is closed, of the several keys which will open these locks, and then of the banquet which Christ offers to those who will open the door to him." A section of the Latin follows, which quotes Rev. 19:9 ("Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" -- although the Latin in Brown omits the word "marriage," which is in the Vulgate Latin text; this is a fairly significant distortion of the sense).
There is a copy of the third verse of the Bodleian text in University of London MS. 657 (Helmington Hall LJ.1.7). Neither manuscript contains very much poetry, and little of what they do have shows much evidence of being traditional.
Digging around trying to find a facsimile of the text, to try to see the handwriting, I didn't find the manuscript, but I found several "Communitarian" web sites which cited it. Whatever that tells you. - RBW
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