Percy's Reliques - The Children in the Wood.

The Children in the Wood.

            The subject of this very popular ballad (which has been set in so favourable a light by the Spectator, No. 85.) seems to be taken from an old play, intitled, "Two lamentable Tragedies; the one of the murder of Maister Beech, a chandler in Thames-streete, &c. The other of a young child murthered in a wood by two ruffians, with the consent of his unkle. By Rob. Yarrington, 1601, 4to."

Our ballad-maker has strictly followed the play in the description of the father and mother's dying charge; in the uncle's promise to take care of their issue; his hiring two ruffians to destroy his ward, under pretence of sending him to school; their choosing a wood to perpetrate the murder in; one of the ruffians relenting, and a battle ensuing, &c. In other respects he has departed from the play. In the latter the scene is laid in Padua; there is but one child, which is murdered by a sudden stab of the unrelenting ruffian; he is slain himself by his less bloody companion; but ere he dies gives the other a mortal wound; the latter living just long enough to impeach the uncle, who, in consequence of this impeachment, is arraigned and executed by the hand of justice, &c. Whoever compares the play with the ballad will have no doubt but the former is the original; the language is far more obsolete, and such a vein of simplicity runs through the whole performance, that, had the ballad been written first, there is no doubt but every circumstance of it would have been received into the drama; whereas this was probably built on some Italian novel.

            Printed from two ancient copies, one of them in black-letter in the Pepys Collection. Its title at large is,--"The Children in the Wood; or, The Norfolk Gentleman's Last Will and Testament. To the tune of Rogero, &c."

Now ponder well, you parents deare,
These wordes which I shall write;
A doleful story you shall heare,
In time brought forth to light.
A gentleman of good account
In Norfolke dwelt of late,
Who did in honour far surmount
Most men of his estate.

Sore sicke he was, and like to dye,
No helpe his life could save;
His wife by him as sicke did lye,
And both possest one grave.
No love between these two was lost,
Each was to other kinde;
In love they liv'd, in love they dyed,
And left two babes behinde:

The one a fine and prettye boy,
Not passing three years olde;
The other a girl more young than he,
And fram'd in beautyes molde.
The father left his little son,
As plainlye doth appeare,
When he to perfect age should come,
Three hundred poundes a year.

And to his little daughter Jane
Five hundred poundes in gold,
To be paid downe on marriage-day,
Which might not be controll'd:
But if the children chance to dye,
Ere they to age should come,
Their uncle should possesse their wealth;
For so the wille did run.

"Now, brother," said the dying man,
"Look to my children deare;
Be good unto my boy and girl,
No friendes else have they here:
To God and you I recommend
My children deare this daye;
But little while be sure we have
Within this world to staye.

"You must be father and mother both,
And uncle all in one;
God knowes what will become of them,
When I am dead and gone."
With that bespake their mother deare,
"O brother kinde, quoth shee,
You are the man must bring our babes
To wealth or miserie:

"And if you keep them carefully,
Then God will you reward;
But if you otherwise should deal,
God will your deedes regard."
With lippes as cold as any stone,
They kist their children small:
"God bless you both, my children deare;"
With that the teares did fall.

These speeches then their brother spake
To this sick couple there,
"The keeping of your little ones
Sweet sister, do not feare:
God never prosper me nor mine,
Nor aught else that I have,
If I do wrong your children deare,
When you are layd in grave."

The parents being dead and gone,
The children home he takes,
And brings them straite unto his house,
Where much of them he makes.
He had not kept these pretty babes
A twelvemonth and a daye,
But, for their wealth, he did devise
To make them both awaye.

He bargain'd with two ruffians strong,
Which were of furious mood,
That they should take these children young,
And slaye them in a wood.
He told his wife an artful tale,
He would the children send
To be brought up in faire London,
With one that was his friend.

Away then went those pretty babes,
Rejoycing at that tide,
Rejoycing with a merry minde,
They should on cock-horse ride.
They prate and prattle pleasantly,
As they rode on the waye,
To those that should their butchers be,
And work their lives decaye:

So that the pretty speech they had,
Made Murder's heart relent;
And they that undertooke the deed,
Full sore did now repent.
Yet one of them more hard of heart,
Did vowe to do his charge,
Because the wretch, that hired him,
Had paid him very large.

The other won't agree thereto,
So here they fall to strife;
With one another they did fight
About the childrens life:
And he that was of mildest mood,
Did slaye the other there,
Within an unfrequented wood;
The babes did quake for feare!

He took the children by the hand,
Teares standing in their eye,
And bad them straitwaye follow him,
And looke they did not crye:
And two long miles he ledd them on,
While they for food complaine:
"Staye here," quoth he, "I'll bring you bread,
When I come back againe."

These pretty babes, with hand in hand,
Went wandering up and downe;
But never more could see the man
Approaching from the town:
Their prettye lippes with black-berries,
Were all besmear'd and dyed,
And when they save the darksome night,
They sat them downe and cryed.

Thus wandered these poore innocents,
Till deathe did end their grief,
In one anothers arms they dyed,
As wanting due relief:
No burial this pretty pair
Of any man receives,
Till Robin-red-breast piously
Did cover them with leaves.

And now the heavy wrathe of God
Upon their uncle fell;
Yea, fearfull fiends did haunt his house,
His conscience felt an hell
His Barnes were fir'd, his goodes consum'd,
His landes were barren made,
His cattle dyed within the field,
And nothing with him stayd.

And in a voyage to Portugal
Two of his sonnes did dye;
And to conclude, himselfe was brought
To want and miserye:
He pawn'd and mortgaged all his land
Ere seven yeares came about.
And now at length this wicked act
Did by this meanes come out:

The fellowe that did take in hand
These children for to kill,
Was for a robbery judg'd to dye,
Such was God's blessed will:
Who did confess the very truth,
As here hath been display'd:
Their uncle having dyed in gaol,
Where he for debt was layd.

You that executors be made,
And overseers eke
Of children that be fatherless,
And infants mild and meek;
Take you example by this thing,
And yield to each his right,
Lest God with such like miserye
Your wicked minds requite.

 

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