The Ballads of Robin Goodfellow

Robin Goodfellow

[Printed, including introduction, in The Pictoral Book of Ancient Ballad Poetry of Great Britain, Historical, Traditional, and Romantic: To Which Are Added, A Selection of Modern Imitations and Some Translations. Edited by J. S. Moore, Esq. A New Edition. London: Henry Washbourne & Co., Ivy Lane, 1853.]

  • Introduction
  • Chapter I
  • Chapter II
  • Chapter III
  • Chapter IV
  • Chapter V



    This ballad is printed from a reprint, edited by J. P. Collier, Esq., for the Percy Society, of a unique black-letter copy, in his own possession 'printed early in the seventeenth century as a chap-book.' It was originally illustrated with a woodcut upon the title-page, nearly the whole of which, however, has been torn away: with the woodcut, part of the letter-press unfortunately disappeared. The vacanies thus occasioned have been supplied by Mr. Collier from conjecture, and are inserted between brackets. With the ballad, or rather song, in Percy's 'Reliques', entitled the 'The Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow,' the reader is doubtless familiar. it is attrbuted by Peck to Ben Jonson; and it is no slight confirmation of this that Mr. Collier possessed a contemporary MS. version, to which the intials B.J. are appended. This MS. copy contains some variations from Percy's version, which was printed from 'an ancient black-letter copy in the British Museum,' and an additional stanza, which the reader will find at the end of the present ballad. With regard to the hero, the reader may consult the reprint, by Mr. Collier, for the Percy Society, of a black-letter tract (1628) in the possession of Lord Francis Egerton (now Earl of Ellesmere,) entitled 'The Mad Pranks and Merry Jests of Robin Good-fellow;' and Mr. Wright's Essay on Fairy Mythology, in the Foreign Quarterly Review, No. 35.

    Chapter I.

    Shewing his Birth, and whose Sonne he was.

    Here doe begin the merry iests
        Of Robin Good-fellow;
    I'de wish you for to reade this booke,
        If you his pranks would know.
    But first I will declare his birth,
        And what his mother was,
    And then how Robin merrily
        Did bring his knacks to passe.

    In time of old, when fayries us'd,
        To wander in the night,
    And through key-holes swiftly glide,
        Now marke my story right,
    Among these pretty fairy elves
        Was Oberon, their king,
    Who us'd to keepe them company
        Still at their revelling.

    And sundry houses they did use,
        But one, above the rest,
    Wherein a comely lasse did dwell,
        That pleas'd King Oberon best.
    This lovely damsell, neat and faire,
        So courteous, meek, and mild,
    As sayes my booke, by Oberon
        She was begot with child.

    She knew not who the father was
        But thus to all would say --
    In night-time he to her still came,
        And went away ere day,
    The midwife having better skill
        Than had this new-made mother,
    Quoth she, 'Surely some fairy 'twas
        For it can be no other.'

    And so the old wife rightly judg'd.
        For it was so indeed.
    This fairy shew'd himself most kind,
        And helpt his love at need;
    For store of linnen he provides,
        And brings her for her babies;
    With dainty cates and choised fare,
        He serv'd her like a lady.

    The Christening time then being [come,
        Most merry they [did pass;
    The gossips dra[ined a cheerful cup
        As then provided was.
    And Robin was [the infant call'd,
        So named the [gossips by;
    What pranks [he played both day and night,
        I'll tell you cer[tainly.

    Chapter II.

    Shewing how Robin Good-fellow carried himselfe, and how he run away from his Mother.

    [While yet he was a little la]d
        [And of a tender age,]
    He us'd much waggish tricks to men,
        As they at him would rage.
    Unto his mother they complain'd,
        Which grieved her to heare,
    And for these pranks she threatened him,
        He should have whipping cheare,

    If that he did not leave his tricks,
        His jeerring mocks and mowes;
    Quoth she, 'Thou vile untutor'd youth,
        These prankes no breeding shewes:
    I cannot to the market goe,
        But ere I backe returne,
    Thou scofst my neighbours in such sort,
        Which makes my heart to mourne.

    But I will make you to repent
        These things, ere I have done:
    I will no favour have on thee,
        Although thou beest my sonne.'
    Robin was griev'd to hear these words,
        Which she to him did say,
    But to prevent his punishment,
        From her he run way.

    And travelling long upon the way,
        His hunger being great,
    Unto a taylor's house he came,
        And did entreat some meat:
    The taylor tooke compassion then
        Upon this pretty youth,
    And tooke him for his prentice straight,
        As I have heard in truth.

    Chapter III.

    How Robin Good-fellow left his Master, and also how Oberon told him he should be turned into what shape he could wish or desire.

    Now Robin Good-fellow, being plac't
        With a taylor, as you heare,
    He grew a workman in short space,
        So well he ply'd his geare.
    He had a gowne which must be made,
        Even with all haste and speed,
    The maid must have't against next day
        To be her wedding weed.

    The taylor he did labour hard
        Till twelve a clock at night;
    Betweene him and his servant then
        They finished aright
    The gowne, but putting on the sleeves:
        Quoth he unto his man,
    'He goe to bed; whip on the sleeve
        As fast as ere you can.'

    So Robin straightway takes the gowne
        And hangs it on a pin,
    Then takes the sleeves and whips the gowne,
        Till day he nere did lin.
    His master rising in the morne,
        As seeing what he did,
    Begun to chide; quoth Robin then,
        'I doe as I was bid.'

    His Master then the gowne did take,
        And to his worke did fall:
    By that time he had done the same,
        The maid for it did call.
    Quoth he to Robin, 'Goe thy wayes
        And fetch the remnants hither,
    That yesterday we left,' said he,
        'Wee'l breake our fasts together.'

    Then Robin hies him up the staires
        And brings the remnants downe,
    Which he did know his master sav'd
        Out of the woman's gowne.
    The taylor he was vext at this;
        He meant remnants of meat,
    That this good woman, ere she went,
        Might there her breakfast eate.

    Quote she, 'This is a breakfast good,
        I tell you, friend, indeed;
    And to requite your love, I will
        Send for some drinke with speed.'
    And Robin he must goe for it
        With all the speed he may:
    He takes the pot and money too,
        And runnes from thence away.

    When he had wandred all the day,
        A good way from the towne,
    Unto a foreste then he came;
        To sleepe he laid him downe.
    Then Oberon came, with all his elves,
        And danc'd about his sonne,
    With musick pleasing to the eare;
        And, when that it was done,

    King Oberon layes a scroule by him,
        That he might understand
    Whose sonne he was, and how hee'd grant
        Whate'er he did demand:
    To any forme that he did please
        Himselfe he would translate;
    And how one day hee'd send for him
        To see his fairy state.

    Then Robin longs to know the truth
        Of this mysterious skill,
    And turnes himselfe into what shape
        He thinks upon or will.
    Sometimes a neighing horse was he,
        Sometimes a gruntling hog,
    Sometimes a bird, sometimes a crow,
        Sometimes a snarling dog.

    Chapter IV.

    How Robin Good-fellow was merry at the Bridehouse.

    Now Robin having got this art,
        He oft would make a good sport,
    And hearing of a wedding day,
        He makes him ready for't.
    Most like a joviall fidler then
        He drest himselfe most gay,
    And goes to the wedding house,
        There on his crowd to play.

    He welcome was unto this feast,
        And merry they were all;
    He play'd and sung sweet songs all day,
        At night to sports did fall.
    He first did put the candles out,
        And being in the dark,
    Some would he strike, and some would pinch,
        And then sing like a lark.

    The candles being light againe,
        And things well and quiet,
    A goodly posset was brought in
        To med their former diet.
    Then Robin for to have the same
        Did turn him to a beare;
    Straight at that sight the people all
        Did run away for feare.

    Then Robin did the posset eate,
        And having serv'd them so,
    Away goes Robin with all haste,
        Then laughing hoe, hoe, hoe!

    Chapter V.

    Declaring how Robin Good-fellow served an old lecherous Man.

    There was am old man had a neece,
        A very beauteous maid;
    To wicked lust her unkle sought
        This faire one to perswade.

    But she a young man lov'd too deare
        To give consent thereto;
    'Twas Robin's chance upon a time
        To heare their grievous woe.
    'Content yourselfe,' then Robin saies,
        'And I will ease your griefe,
    I have found out an excellent way
        That will yeeld you reliefe.'

    He sends them to be married straight,
        And he, in her disguise,
    Hies home with all the speed he may
        To blind her uncle's eyes:
    And there he plyes his work amaine.
        Doing more in one houre,
    Such was his skill and workmanship,
        Than she could doe in foure.

    The old man wondred for to see
        The worke goe on so fast,
    And there withall more worke doth he
        Unto good Robin cast.
    Then Robin said to his old man,
        'Good uncle, if you please
    To grant me but one ten pound,
        I'll yeeld your love-suit ease.'

    'Ten pounds,' quoth he, 'I will give thee,
        Sweet neece, with all my heart,
    So thou wilt grant to me thy love,
        To ease my troubled heart.'
    'Then let me a writing have,' quoth he,
        'From your owne hand with speed,
    That I may marry my sweet-heart
        When I have done this deed.'

    The old man he did give consent
        That he these things should have,
    Thinking that it had bin his neece,
        That did this bargain crave;
    And unto Robin then quoth he,
        'My gentle n[eece, behold,
    Goe thou into [thy chamber soone,
        And I'le goe [bring the gold,

    When he into [the chamber came,
        Thinking in[deed to play,
    Straight Robin [upon him doth fall,
        And carries h[im away
    Into the chamb[er where the two
        Faire lovers [did abide,
    And gives to th[em their unkle old,
        I, and the g[old beside.

    The old man [vainly Robin sought,
        So man[y shapes he tries;
    Someti]mes he was a hare or hound,
        Som[etimes like a bird he flies.
    The [more he strove the less he sped,
        Th[e lovers all did see;
    And [thus did Robin favour them
        Full [kind and merrilie.

    [Thus Robin lived a merry life
        As any could enjoy,
    'Mongst country farms he did resort,
        And oft would folks annoy:]
    But if the maids doe call to him,
        He still away will goe
    In knavish sort, and to himselfe
        He'd laugh out hoe, hoe, hoe!

    He oft would beg and crave an almes,
        But take nought that they'd give:
    In severall shapes he'd gull the world
        Thus madly did he live.
    Sometimes a cripple he would seeme,
        Sometimes a souldier brave:
    Sometimes a fox, sometimes a hare;
        Brave pastimes would he have.

    Sometimes an owle he'd seeme to be,
        Sometimes a skipping frog;
    Sometimes a kirne, in Irish shape,
        To leape ore mire or bog:
    Sometimes he'd counterfeit a voyce,
        And travellers call astray,
    Sometimes a walking fire he'd be,
        And lead them from their way.

    Some call him Robin Good-fellow,
        Hob-goblin or mad Crisp,
    And some againe doe tearme him oft,
        By name of Will the Wispe;
    But call him by what name you list,
        I have studied on my pillow,
    I think the best name he deserves
        Is Robin the Good Fellow.

    At last upon a summer's night
        King Oberon found him out,
    And with his elves in dancing wise
        Straight circled him about.
    The fairies danc't, and little Tom Thumb
        On his bag-pipe did play,
    And thus they danc't their fairy round
        Till almost break of day.

    Then Phebus he most gloriously
        Begins to grace the aire,
    When Oberon with his fairy traine
        Begins to make repaire,
    With speed unto the fairy land,
        They swiftly tooke their way,
    And I out of my dreams awak't,
        And so 'twas perfect day.

    Thus having told my dreame at full,
        I'le bid you all farewell.
    If you applaud mad Robin's prankes,
        May be ere long I'le tell
    Some other stories to your eares,
        Which shall contentment give:
    To gaine your favours I will seeke
        The longest day I live.

    [The following is the 'additional stanza' mentioned in the Introductory Note, p. 360.

    When as my fellow elves and I
        In circled ring do trip around,
    If that our sports by any eye
        Do happen to be seen or found:
                If that they
                No words do say,
    But mum continue as they go,
                Each night I do
                Put groat in shoe,
    And wind out laughing, ho, ho, ho!]