The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #131251   Message #2959202
Posted By: Matthew Edwards
05-Aug-10 - 10:12 PM
Thread Name: Shepherd of the Downs (Copper Family)
Subject: RE: Shepherd of the Downs
The Copper family song 'The Shepherd of the Downs' seems such a quintessentially English song. When you listen to Bob and Ron Copper singing this together in their 1963 recording the song seems to fit their voices just like a shepherd's smock. Their rich voices blend together first in unison, then in harmony, in an utterly gorgeous texture. Many of the Copper family had been shepherds on the Sussex downs. Bob Copper wrote about these old shepherds in his book 'A Song For All Seasons' and how at the end of the working day:-

"Someone would start to sing-

'Oh the shepherd of the downs being weary of his port,
He retired to the hills where he used to resort,
In want of refreshment he laid himself down,
He wanted no riches, nor wealth from the crown,
He wanted no riches, nor wealth from the crown.'

One by one those that were capable or felt inclined joined in adding a harmony here and there or a good old bass run at the end of a line while the barn owl, squatting like a dim, grey ghost high up in the cobwebbed rafters, where the pale candlelight scarcely penetrated, blinked down on the scene and was puzzled, perhaps, at the unfamiliar sound,"

It comes as something of a shock to discover that the earliest versions of this song are in fact Scottish!

Here is the oldest known version:-
The Shepherd of Dona

The Shepherd of Dona being wearied with sport,
To find some repose, to the woods did resort;
He threw by his pipe, and he laid himself down,
He envy'd no monarch, he wished for no crown.

He drank of the brook, and did eat of the tree,
Injoying himself, from all trouble he was free;
He call'd for noe nymph, were she never soe fair,
He'd noe love, noe ambition, and therfor noe care.

But as he lay thus, in ane evening soe cleare,
A pleasant sweet voyce outreached his eare;
Which came from Arcadia, that old ancient grove,
Where the fair nymph Elfreda frequented that cove.

As he lay thus, [reposing] and found she was there,
He was quite confounded to see her soe fair;
He stood like a ston, not a foot he could move,
He knew not what ail'd him, but fear'd it was love.

the nymph she beheld him with a modest grace,
Seeing something majestick appear in his face;
Till with blushing a little to him she did say,
Oh, good shepherd what mean you, how came you this way.

With reviving of spirits unto her he said,
I was ne'er soe surpris'd at the sight of a maid;
Ay until I beheld thee of love I was free,
But now I'me ta'en captive my faire love by thee.

This is the earliest known version of the song, and it comes from a manuscript in the lecture notes of a presumably bored medical student, William Hamilton of Airdrie, made while attending the University of Glasgow in 1699-1700. However this wasn't published until 1844 when James Maidment included it in his edition A new book of old ballads. In the meantime it had passed through what Maidment considered the "barber-ous hands of Allan Ramsey" whose Tea-table Miscellany of 1723 included the song 'The Shepherd Adonis'.