“The Miller of Dee”


The jolly miller "worked and sang from morn till night, no lark more blythe than he." He is happy because "the bread I eat my hands have earned... in debt to none I be." Listeners are urged to follow his example


Kennedy makes rather a hash of his notes on this song, observing that it is quite close to "The Jolly Miller," which may derive from the same sources. True enouth. But "The Jolly Miller" is not "The Miller of Dee," and though Kennedy identifies the tune of the latter (correctly) with "The Budgeon It Is a Delicate Trade," "The Miller of Dee" and "The Budgeon" do *not* use the same tune as "The Jolly Miller," at least as transcribed by Kennedy.

"The Budgeon," which Chappell finds in "The Quaker's Opera" in 1728, is in the natural minor; Kennedy's "The Jolly Miller" is in Ionian (major).

Kennedy makes things worse by saying "The Budgeon" is the same tune as "All Around My Hat" -- which again is in Ionian, not natural minor. - RBW

The Bodleian attributes authorship to Isaac Bickerstaffe, though none of the broadsides have that attribution on its face. Opie-Oxford2 352: "This song, a general favourite in Scotland, and of Sir Walter Scott in particular, became well known after it was sung by John Beard in Bickerstaffe's _Love in a Village_. The music of this successful opera, performed at Covent Garden in 1762 ...."

Verse 1 of broadside Bodleian Firth b.25(278) is almost the same as verse 1 of Opie-Oxford2 352, "There was a jolly miller once" (earliest date in Opie-Oxford2 is 1762). - BS

I looked up several editions (Hoagland; RIchard Aldington, _The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World_) of the "Love in a Village" text, and it's clearly this song -- but there appears to be only one verse. So Bickerstaffe (1735?-1812?) isn't the whole story; the additional text must have come from another source.

Bickerstaffe, incidentally, is almost as confusing as the piece he wrote, because he was a real person, but shared a name (almost) with Isaac Bickerstaff, who was not. Bickerstaff was a pseudonym adopted by Jonathan Swift in a controversy with John Partridge. Bickerstaff made a claim Partridge was dead, and even wrote an elegy (1708), provoking an indignant exchange of pamphlets with the very-much-alive Partridge. This was amusing enough that Richard Steele used the Bickerstaff name for a writer of _The Tatler_ Starting 1709). Then Bickerstaffe (with an e) was born a few decades later.- RBW

Same tune

  • The Budgeon It Is a Delicate Trade (Chappell/Wooldridge II, p. 124)
  • The Jolly Grinder (File: DTjollgr)

Cross references

  • cf. "The Jolly Miller" (subject)


  • Bodleian, Firth b.25(278), "Miller of the Dee," W.S. Fortey (London), 1858-1885; also Harding B 15(200a), "Miller of the River Dee"; Harding B 15(199b), "The Miller of the Dee"


  1. Kennedy (229), "The Jolly Miller" (1 text, located in the notes)
  2. cf. Chappell/Wooldridge II, p. 124, "The Budgeon It Is a Delicate Trade" (1 tune, partial text)
  4. Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 347-348, "(Song)" (1 short text)
  5. Roud #503
  6. BI, K229A


Author: probably Isaac Bickerstaffe (see NOTES)
Earliest date: 1762 ("Love in a Village"; cf. Chappell)
Found in: Britain(Scotland)