“Lady Alice”

Alternate titles: “Earl Colvin”; “Young Collins”; “George Coleman”; “Dame Alice was Sitting on Widow's Walk”; “George Collum”; “George Promer”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1810
Keywords: death corpse love burial flowers
Found in: Britain(England(South)) US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,SE,So,SW) Canada(Newf)

Description

Lady Alice sees a beautiful corpse being carried by and learns it is her lover. She bids the bearers leave it; she will herself be dead by the next evening. They are buried apart but roses from his grave grow to reach her breast until severed by a priest.

Supplemental text

Lady Alice [Child 85]
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

George Collins

As recorded by Roy Harvey and the North Carolina Ramblers, in Ashland,
Kentucky, February 16, 1928 (Brunswick 250). Transcribed by Lyle Lofgren.

George Collins rode home one cold winter night,
George Collins rode home so fine,
George Collins rode home one cold winter night,
Was taken sick and died.

Dear little sweet Nell in yonders room
Was sewing her silks so fine,
But when she heard that George was dead,
She laid her silk aside.

She followed him up, she followed him down,
She followed him to the grave;
And there she sat on a cold, cold stone,
She wept, she mourned, she prayed.

"Set down the coffin, take off the lid,
Lay back the linens so fine,
And let me kiss his cold, pale cheeks,
For I know he'll never kiss mine."

"O daughter, dear daughter, why do you weep so?
There's more young men than one."
"O mother, O mother, George has my heart,
His day on earth is done."

"Look up and down that lonesome road,
Hang down your head and cry;
The best of friend is bound to part,
And why not you and I."

"O, don't you see that lonesome dove,
There, flyin' from pine to pine;
He's mournin' for his own true love,
Just like I mourn for mine."

Notes

A number of scholars (including Coffin and Lloyd, with some support from Bronson) believe that "Lady Alice" is a fragment of a larger ballad (called "George Collins" or the like). The first half is found in "Clerk Colville" [Child 42]; "Lady Alice" forms the second half. Lloyd writes, "Either these are two separate songs which have been combined to form George Collins or (which seems more likely) they are two fragments of the completer ballad."

Paul Stamler provides this description of the composite ballad:

George Collins, out walking, kisses a pretty maid, who warns him he won't live long. He kisses her, goes home and dies. His lover kisses his corpse goodbye; she dies too. In the last verse, it's said that six pretty maids died in one night for his sake. Many have interpreted the "pretty maid" as a water-fairy whom Collins has been trysting with; when she finds he's been betrothed, she gives him a poisoned kiss. - RBW, PJS

The supernatural explanation seems reasonable. But sudden death transmitted by a kiss -- has no one suggested communicable disease?

The ballad is found throughout western Europe, including a manuscript poem from Germany dated c. 1310. - PJS

[For discussions of the question of whether this is one ballad], see Barbara Craster in the _Journal of the Folk-Song Society_ 2:4 (15) (1910) pp. 106-109 (comparisons) and in Coffin, _Brit. Trad. Ballad in N. America_ (1977 edn.) p. 51 and pp. 86-88, 241 - JM

[Ewan] MacColl in The Long Harvest... feels there is little left to doubt and combines them. He cites S.P. Bayard, "No two ballads in English are more closely allied." Harbison Parker gives much detail and together, says MacColl, "make an almost watertight for the two Child ballads as springing from one and the same source. - AS

In general I have followed the policy of listing "George Collins" versions here, without further notes, as the "Lady Alice" portion is more integral to the story. - RBW

A curious thing is that Sharp calls the ballad "Giles Collins", but the protagonist is "George" in 5 of his 6 examples, and "Charles" in the sixth.

Again this [Silber's version] is fragmentary; George Collins, driving home, is taken sick and dies. His Nell opens his coffin to kiss him goodbye, then laments his passing. That's it; nothing else happens. Nothing to connect it to Lady A. except George's name. Arghh. - PJS

Recordings

References

  1. Child 85, "Lady Alice" (4 texts)
  2. Bronson 85, "George Collins (Lady Alice)" (43 versions)
  3. SharpAp 25 "Giles Collins" (6 short texts, 6 tunes){Bronson's #13, #15, #14, #28, #5, #42}
  4. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 452-453, "Lady Alice" (notes plus a text derived from Child C)
  5. Peacock, pp. 738-739, "Young Collins Green" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Karpeles-Newfoundland 12, "George Collins" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Creighton-Maritime, p. 85, "George Collins" (1 text)
  8. Randolph 22, "George Collins" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #27}
  9. Davis-Ballads 25, "Lady Alice" (7 texts apart from the appendix, 5 tunes entitled "Johnny Collins," "George Collins"; 10 more versions mentioned in Appendix A)
  10. Davis-More 26, pp. 199-206, "Lady Alice" (3 texts plus a fragment, 4 tunes -- but the fourth, fragmentary, text and tune could as well be "Fare You Well, My Own True Love" or something similar) {Bronson's #41, #32, #31, #29, #2}
  11. BrownII 28, "Lady Alice" (8 texts plus 2 excerpts, a fragment, and mentions of 4 more)
  12. Chappell-FSRA 14, "Georgie Collins" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #18}
  13. Hudson 16, pp. 107-111, "Lady Alice" (4 texts)
  14. MHenry-Appalachians, p. 47, "George Collins" (1 short text)
  15. Cambiaire, p. 76, "George Collins" (1 short text)
  16. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 117-122, "Lady Alice," with individual texts titled "George Collins," "George Collins," (no title), "George Collins," (no title), "George Allien" (4 texts plus 2 excerpts, 4 tunes on pp. 393-394) {Bronson's #22, #19, #1, #11}
  17. OBB 154, "Lady Alice" (1 text)
  18. Warner 96, "George Collins" (1 text, 1 tune)
  19. Niles 37, "Lady Alice" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  20. Copper-SoBreeze, pp. 246-247, "George Collins" (1 text, 1 tune)
  21. Cohen/Seeger/Wood, p. 32, "George Collins" (1 text, 1 tune)
  22. JHCox 17, "Lady Alice" (5 texts)
  23. Silber-FSWB, p. 151, "George Collins" (1 text)
  24. DT 85, GEOCLLNS* GEOCOL2 GEOCLLN3
  25. ST C085 (Full)
  26. Roud #147
  27. BI, C085