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??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'

DigiTrad:
LORD THOMAS
LORD THOMAS AND FAIR ANNET G
LORD THOMAS AND FAIR ELENDER or THE BROWN GIRL
LORD THOMAS AND FAIR ELLENDER (3)


Related threads:
ADD: The Brown Girl (Child #73 from Hedy West) (6)
Lyr Req: Lord Thomas & Fair Annie (Child #73) (25)
Penguin: Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor (5)
Lyr/Chords Add: Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender (4)


Sorcha 07 Feb 00 - 11:29 PM
Malcolm Douglas 07 Feb 00 - 11:50 PM
Rick Fielding 07 Feb 00 - 11:57 PM
GUEST 08 Feb 00 - 12:14 AM
alison 08 Feb 00 - 02:13 AM
Callie 08 Feb 00 - 02:17 AM
tradsteve 08 Feb 00 - 03:17 AM
Frank in the swamps 08 Feb 00 - 06:10 AM
Peg 08 Feb 00 - 09:59 AM
GUEST,Philippa 08 Feb 00 - 10:13 AM
GUEST,Mbo 08 Feb 00 - 10:43 AM
Jon W. 08 Feb 00 - 10:44 AM
GUEST,Roberto 08 Feb 00 - 12:23 PM
Malcolm Douglas 08 Feb 00 - 02:57 PM
McGrath of Harlow 08 Feb 00 - 04:12 PM
GUEST,Philippa 08 Feb 00 - 07:17 PM
Uncle_DaveO 09 Feb 00 - 11:48 AM
lamarca 09 Feb 00 - 07:32 PM
GUEST,joe 31 Oct 09 - 04:05 PM
Terry McDonald 31 Oct 09 - 04:14 PM
Art Thieme 31 Oct 09 - 05:00 PM
Gweltas 31 Oct 09 - 10:01 PM
GUEST,sam larkin 08 Jun 10 - 05:56 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 08 Jun 10 - 06:22 PM
Uncle_DaveO 08 Jun 10 - 06:46 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 08 Jun 10 - 06:50 PM
Uncle_DaveO 08 Jun 10 - 07:13 PM
Charley Noble 08 Jun 10 - 08:07 PM
Howard Jones 09 Jun 10 - 09:48 AM
Reiver 2 09 Jun 10 - 01:51 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 09 Jun 10 - 03:29 PM
Art Thieme 09 Jun 10 - 05:26 PM
Art Thieme 09 Jun 10 - 05:30 PM
Steve Gardham 09 Jun 10 - 05:53 PM
Reiver 2 09 Jun 10 - 06:58 PM
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Subject: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Sorcha
Date: 07 Feb 00 - 11:29 PM

Another "Child" question--I know the story, I have several sets of lyrics, and have been to the DT. a couple things still haunt me. WHO WAS the "Brown Girl"? Why was she less desireable than Fair Ellender? Status? Money? Blondes have more fun? Does "brown" mean skin color, i.e. race (maybe Rom/Tinker?) or complexion? I am aware that the early Celts in Britain were dark complexioned, and the Saxon and Normans were lighter/blonde etc. Does this figure? HELP! PLEASE!


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 07 Feb 00 - 11:50 PM

I doubt if there's any racial issue here; a darker complexion simply meant more time spent out of doors, possibly working(!); therefore lower social status.  Fair Ellander (Eleanor, etc.) just had more money!  Aristocratic women made a point of accentuating their pallor, to the extent that Elizabeth I, for example, wore heavy white makeup with a lead base that did her no good at all in the long term!  (In her case, of course, there was also the question of concealing smallpox scars.)
There's a French song with precisely the same story, Les Tristes Noces, incidentally.

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 07 Feb 00 - 11:57 PM

Seems to be a theme in folk songs. Leadbelly sang of the "Yellow Gal" and "Black Girl". Wonder if any Ulster songs have "Orange Girls" in them? 'Course there's Gainsbourough's "Blue Boy"...but I'm thread creeping!

Rick


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 12:14 AM

In 17th century England, where the ballad came from, "fair" meant noble or genteel, others were black (a black then was a blackamoor) or brown (they had to work, and their suntans spelled out their low birth. Cf. modern red-neck).


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: alison
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 02:13 AM

Rick,

there's "the orange maid of Sligo" it's either in the DT or there was a thread about it in the last year....

slainte

alison


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Callie
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 02:17 AM

What about "no maid I've seen like the brown colleen that I met at the County Down"? I have heard people sing "fair" in the place of "brown". Callie


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: tradsteve
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 03:17 AM

It came out of Blondes being more desirable to Nobility. In the Library of Congress Anglo-American Ballads Volume 2 Reed Smith explains "The brown girl's role of villainess growing out of preference for blondes found in Germanic folklore". Just thought I'd pass it along.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Frank in the swamps
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 06:10 AM

Malcom is right, when common folk worked outdoors, pale skin was the sign of a leisured lady. With the advent of the industrial era, common folk began to work indoors, only the wealthy could afford to lay about in the sun and the skin preference changed..white=worker, tan=rich. In societies subject to famine, fat is still attractive.

Frank i.t.s.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Peg
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 09:59 AM

When I sing Star of the County Down (slow ballad style, not that mess by the Pogues) I usually replace "brown" colleen with"sweet" colleen... I have found that many songs whose lyrics refere to a brown girl just as frequently mean the color of her hair as of her skin (unlike "dark girl" in Lakes of Pontchartrain, in which she was indeed Creole and dark-skinned); just as "fair" frequently means "pretty. but also refers to pale skin (fair complexion) and, most often, blonde hair...pale, white skin was considered a desirable feature, all the more so if tinged with "blood red" cheeks...classical Northern Celtic colouring. Also, as mentioned before, pale skin was a feature of a woman who probably did not work outdoors and was thus a "lady" as opposed to a milkmaid... so is that "orange" girl a redhead?


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: GUEST,Philippa
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 10:13 AM

I also used to worry about about the racial implications of the "Brown Girl and Fair Ellender", but I came across an adaptation of the ballad by the Afro-American poet Countee Cullen and it didn't seem to bother him.

Maybe someone can find that poem for us and tyrp it in? I find references on the web to a 1927/28 volume of poetry by Cullen entitled "The Ballad of the Brown Girl"
Br> In the version I learned of Child #73, Thomas' mother makes it clear that the reason he sould marry the fair-skinned one is because "Ellender has house and land; the brown girl she has none."


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: GUEST,Mbo
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 10:43 AM

You can read Richard Burke and my opinions upon the whole subject in the song "The Dark and The Light" over at the Mudcat Songbook.

--Mbo


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Jon W.
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 10:44 AM

Here's a counter example: in The Two Sisters, both sisters were equally high born but "As one grew bright as was the sun/So coal black grew the elder one." I assume the colors refer to both hair and disposition.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: GUEST,Roberto
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 12:23 PM

Sorcha puts status or money in the list of the causes that could explain why the Brown Girl was less desireable than Fair Ellender/Ellander/Elinor/Ellen/Annie etc, and Malcolm Douglas says that Fair Ellender had more money: it is not so. Remember, Lord Thomas' mother wanted him to marry the Brown Girl, saying that Fair Ellender's beauty will soon be vanished away, while the richness of the Brown Girl will last longer. A verse from Ewan MacColl's beautiful Scottish version: "The Brown Girl, she's got houses and lands, Fair Annie she's got nane, And for my blessings,my son Thomas, I pray you ler her alane, I pray you ler her alane!"


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 02:57 PM

Roberto is of course right; I had the two characters the wrong way round, though it's worth mentioning that Ewan MacColl collected a version in which the Brown Girl was the heroine, and the Fair Girl had the money. The singer in that case was a Traveller, incidentally: that version is in the Database, here. To revise my original post, then:

Fair Ellender (Eleanor), who has no property, appears to conform to the then-current ideal of (aristocratic) beauty; the "Brown Girl" does not, but she does come with "houses and land". This looks, then, like a case of the nobility marrying into a nouveau-riche family in order to restore decayed fortunes -a common enough thing. The song goes back at least to the 17th century; A.L.Lloyd & Ralph Vaughan Williams observe, in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, "...most of the English versions, and all the numerous American ones, obviously derive from a broadside text published during the reign of Charles II and often reprinted."

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 04:12 PM

It's not just with women tghat coolour comes into it:

"Some say he's black, I say he's bonny
fairest of them all is my handsome young love Johnny."

I always take that to be hair, though I suppose it might be temperament - after all he is "fairest" in the next line - but I think that's just another way of saying he's bonny. The expression "Black Irish" is primarily hair, but again can be temperament. And now it can mean colour as well, I'm glad to say.

But the Star of the County Down I'm sure should be "brown colleen". "Sweet" and "fair" sound like they might be anyone, "brown" tells you it's a particular girl he's singing about. And I'd take it to be brown hair together with an outdoor complexion, like the Nut Brown Maiden.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: GUEST,Philippa
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 07:17 PM

And I am RED... Roberto is right; "The Brown Girl she has house and land. Fair Ellender has none. Therefore I advise you Thomas my son, Go fetch the Brown Girl home"

The bit, in this version that might sound racist is when Ellender comes to the wedding and tells Thomas, "Your bride is wonderful brown. You once could have had as fair a maiden as ever the sun shone on." I sing "lovely and brown" as it makes the line sound more as if both women are equally pretty.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 11:48 AM

Two matters:

When the Angles and the Saxons conquered what is now England, they (and thus the new upper crust) were as a group much blonder than the preexisting population. Thus was born the equation Fair = nobility = beautiful and of course brown/dark = lower or working class = unlovely.

Mama tells sonny: "Therefore I charge you, on my blessing, go bring the brown girl home!" This is not a request; this is not advice. This is an order. If sonny expects to inherit rather than be disowned, he'd better bring the brown girl (and the bacon, as it were) home.

This text is from the great Folkways set of LPs featuring A.L. Lloyd and Ewan McColl, back in the 50s, titled The English and Scottish Popular Ballds. Alas, Smithsonian-Folkways today only has the McColl half of this set, for some reason unknown to me.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: lamarca
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 07:32 PM

There is another "Brown Girl" song that starts

"I am as brown as brown can be" - it's in the DT as Brown Girl 2

It appears to be the story of Barb'ry Allen told from her point of view. The "true" lover at first scorns her because she is so brown; upon discovering that he is perishing for the love of her he comes back to beg her pardon. She tells him to get lost, saying she will "dance on his grave".

There are some who hypothesize that "Barb'ry" = Barbary, or a dark-complected woman; if Barbara Allen was a Romany, it adds a twist to the story. Martin Carthy talks a bit about this in the liner notes for the latest "Waterson:Carthy" album, Broken Ground.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: GUEST,joe
Date: 31 Oct 09 - 04:05 PM

Is it possible that "Brown" was her last name?


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Terry McDonald
Date: 31 Oct 09 - 04:14 PM

No.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 31 Oct 09 - 05:00 PM

A version I had was "Lord Thomas and Sara Brown" ! I've marked it as a southern Illinois version -- but nothing else. I think I may have put it in a thread a long while back.

Art


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Gweltas
Date: 31 Oct 09 - 10:01 PM

Going slightly off-thread, but still on the subject of brown .............In Co.Kerry, Ireland ( where my family moved to from a neighbouring county, when I was 13) it was quite normal to hear people referring to a woman with red/auburn hair as being a "brown haired woman"! I do not recollect ever hearing of a man with red/auburn hair being described as "brown haired". I was quite puzzled by this oddity when I first encountered it and queried it, because my own hair was brown, saying "and what do you call MY colour hair ?" ...........the response being "you are a DARK haired girl !!"
I don't know if describing females with red/auburn hair as "brown haired" was unique to the North Kerry area, or more widespread, but I personally never encountered it anywhere else, either in Ireland, or further afield.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: GUEST,sam larkin
Date: 08 Jun 10 - 05:56 PM

the brown girl had the surname "Brown".


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 08 Jun 10 - 06:22 PM

Fascinating song!

From first listening it *seemed* clear to me that the 'brown girl' was a foreign woman with loads of dosh. Doesn't he have to fetch her from over the sea? 'Brown' is clearly commonly deemed a crude and ugly feature, compared to the fairness of Ellendor who indeed comments on how lovely she herself is compared to the brown bride! I always imagined the brown girl to be 'wondrous brown' as a consequence of her race, rather than simply having a white woman's suntan. Though it could equally be a wealthy suntanned white woman, born abroad and now repatriating to England - a member of the new money made via some trade.

The thing I find most interesting though, is the evident bias of the time - which I think (hope) we today do not share. Ellendor is presented as lovely - purely because she is extremely pale and for no other quality, and indeed so too she thinks likewise. But she's merely a self conceited snob to contemporary eyes - albeit one who was dumped by a self-serving money grabbing fella who clearly loved money more than he did her.

Anyway, a great story about the Machiavellian cynicism, superficiality, snobbery, arrogance and cruelty of the toffs! Not to mention callously using people, slagging them orf, murdering them and indeed abusing their corpses to boot!


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 08 Jun 10 - 06:46 PM

Crow Sister said:

It could equally be a wealthy suntanned white woman, born abroad and now repatriating to England

Why foreign? Why "born abroad"? I've heard nothing in any version I've heard that suggested foreignness. I have heard nothing that suggests "repatriating".


A well-to-do girl of common or peasant origins answers the scenario I've always heard. Whereas "fair Eleanor/Ellender/Elinor" etc. sounds to me like a girl of genteel origins, who does no work in the open, as a matter of status, even though her family has seen better days.

That's a perfectly good reading, in case you don't like the Celts vs Saxons/Normans interpretation.

In any case, Mama says, "Sonny, add to the wealth of our family: Get riches by marrying the brown girl, and let impoverished gentility (however good looking) alone, or I'll cut you off!"

There's nothing in any version I've ever heard that suggests what we usually mean by a racial distinction.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 08 Jun 10 - 06:50 PM

Yes Uncle, I think I misremembered the lyrics. I always thought he was bringing her home from overseas. But in retrospect there doesn't seem to be anything in the lyrics which suggest that.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 08 Jun 10 - 07:13 PM

Crow Sister:

Could your impression have come from "Go bring the brown girl home"?

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Charley Noble
Date: 08 Jun 10 - 08:07 PM

Sir Thomas was the dumb one that felt he had to invite Fair Eleanor to the wedding, and then proved dumber still in welcoming her proclaiming that "She was the flower of all." Certainly a senseless tragedy but a fine ballad.

I certainly took the lesson to heart and never publicly compared my bride to any of my past loves, real or imagined, at my wedding. And we've lived happily ever after!

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Howard Jones
Date: 09 Jun 10 - 09:48 AM

It is easy to apply our own preconceptions and attitudes. I very much doubt that this is a racial reference.

The multicultural society which we now take for granted is largely a product of the last half-century. Before that, non-white faces would have been an unusual sight (as they still are outside the cities and larger towns). Whilst there have always been immigrants of all races to Britain, and especially to seaport towns, I suspect that at the time of the ballad they would have been sufficiently unusual to have been described more specifically, as a Turk or Moor or whatever, rather than by the rather vague expression "brown girl". Likewise, Gypsies in folk song are usually identified as such.

However, the fact that she is referred to throughout as the "brown girl" rather than being identified by her name perhaps suggests that this description carries some significance.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Reiver 2
Date: 09 Jun 10 - 01:51 PM

It would seem that there were many "brown girls" and also "brown men" in old English ballads. In "English and Scottish Popular Ballads" [edited from Child's ballads] there is one [#295] called "The Brown Girl." There are two versions that are very similar except that version B is twice as long [16 verses]. It begins:

I am as brown as brown can be,
   And my eyes as black as sloe;
I am as brisk as brisk can be,
   And wild as forest doe.

My love he was so high and proud,
   His fortune too so high,
He for another fair pretty maid
   Me left and passed me by.

Me did he send a love-letter,
   He sent it from the town,
Saying no more he loved me,
For that I was so brown.

In the same book, #97 is called "Brown Robin." It tells of a king's daughter who has her "e'e on Brown Robin." Her father disapproves of Brown Robin, who is a commoner, but she manages to run off with him and "never came back again, her auld father to see." There is also #98 entitled "Brown Adam" who is identified in the ballad as "Brown Adam the Smith."

It would appear in all of these ballads that the appellation of the term "brown" is used to denote a person who is a "commoner" as opposed to persons of the upper class or aristocracy. It's possible that the term could also refer to persons whose complection is browned from outdoor living or an occupation such as that of a blacksmith. I would think it likely that other references in early ballads and songs to "Brown Girls" are also references to "class" rather than to race, nationality or ethnicity, or hair color. Just my "two cents worth."

Reiver 2


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 09 Jun 10 - 03:29 PM

"Could your impression have come from "Go bring the brown girl home"?

Yep, like Howard says it was no doubt a preconception of my own, arising from the image of Sir T having to go off 'somewhere' to bring her home. But that somewhere was more likely to be the next county than overseas. I'll take care not to read more into the text than is there in future.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 09 Jun 10 - 05:26 PM

In the version I liked best she was Sara Brown. No mention of the brown girl at all.

Art


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Art Thieme
Date: 09 Jun 10 - 05:30 PM

Sorry for not recalling I'd posted to this topic before.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 09 Jun 10 - 05:53 PM

I'm sure I read fairly recently in some learned tome that in the 17th and 18th centuries these sort of terms simply referred to hair colour, but the outdoor skin coloration sounds very plausible.
We speak of a redhead even today and some quite offensive equivalents.

Child 295 only dates from the late 18thc and is largely a collection of stanzas from other ballads, but it certainly seems to refer to skin colour rather than hair colour. In the broadside A version 'he could not fancy me because I was so brown' could hardly refer to hair colour.


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Subject: RE: ??Who WAS the 'Brown Girl'
From: Reiver 2
Date: 09 Jun 10 - 06:58 PM

My source dates Child #295, version A, of 'The Brown Girl' as 'before 1788.' And version B as 'taken down about 1894... from a blacksmith, parish of Thrushleton, Devon.' No date is given for 'Brown Robin,' and 'Brown Adam' is listed as 'No. 14 of the 15 ballads furnished William Tyler by Mrs. Brown [!] in 1783.' There is a fragment of a version B called 'Broun Edom,' also a smith, with no date given.

In version A of 'Brown Adam' he has gone 'to the good greenwood to hunt some venison.' In his absence, his lady is approached by a 'fa'se knight' who offers her 'a gay gold ring' if she will grant him 'love for love.' She replies:

'I loo Brown Adam well,' she says,
    I wot sae he does me;
   An' I woud na gi' Brown Adam's love
    Foe nae fa'se knight I see.'

A persistent bloke, the false kinght offers her "a purse of gold, Was a' fu' to the string." She tells him:

'I loo Brown Adam well,' she says,
    'An I ken sae does he me;
An I wouldna be your light leman
    Formair than ye coud gie.'

The false knight draws his 'lang, lang bran' and threatens to run her through with it if she won't submit. She worries that 'Brown Adam tarrys lang, but suddenly he appears and orders the kinght to put down his sword and also his bow or he'll require 'a better pledge, Four fingers o' his right han'.' Fortunately, for the faint of heart, the song ends abruptly at that point and we're left to wonder if the threat is carried out, while the ballad retains its PG rating.


Reiver 2


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