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The life and times of Black-EY'd Susan: the story of an english ballad.


John Gay's nautical ballad 'Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey'd Susan', published in 1719, was soon set to music by composers including Richard Leveridge, whose setting became the established version. The song remained popular, and inspired art, literature, and numerous musical arrangements and interpretations, with a modified version of the original tune becoming standard from the mid-nineteenth century. Appropriated as a traditional song on both sides of the Atlantic, it was encountered, in different versions, by folk song collectors, including Cecil Sharp. It continues to appear in song collections and as part of the performed repertoire.

Several years ago I purchased a copy of the Daily Express Community Song Book from 1927, containing songs ranging from the well-known 'Clementine' and 'On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At' to the less familiar 'Can Ye Sew Cushions?' and '0 Willie Brewed a Peck o'Maut'. (1) On page 27 is the charming nautical ballad 'Black-Eyed Susan', credited to John Gay and Richard Leveridge, 1725?-which led me to wonder what had happened to it during the intervening two hundred years, and what has become of it since.

In this article, 1 examine the origins of 'Black-Eyed Susan' and follow its journey into the Community Song Book and beyond. The first two sections investigate the origins of John Gay's poem, and of several competing candidates for the tune. In the third section, I trace the song's eventful voyage through almost three centuries, including its transformation into a folk song. The concluding section discusses the reasons for the song's extraordinary longevity.

The Words

The Post-Man and the Historical Account of Saturday, 10 January 1719, informed Londoners that 'This day is publish'd, Sweet William's Farewel to Black Ey'd Susan. A Ballad. Printed for Bernard Lintot between the Temple Gates.' Although the author is not credited, this appears to be the first reference to John Gay's poem.

John Gay was already an established poet and a successful playwright. His satirical approach often attracted controversy and he seems to have been perpetually short of money. The list of 364 subscribers to his lavish edition of Poems on Several Occasions (1720), which included Alexander Pope, George Frideric Handel, and the Prince and Princess of Wales, is evidence both of his popularity in certain circles and of his need for cash. (2) Gay went on to invest most of the money raised by Poems on Several Occasions in stock of the South Sea Company. Within a few months, the South Sea Bubble burst and he lost most of his investment.

Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey 'd Susan. A Ballad (1719)

All in the Downs the fleet was moor'd,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-ey'd Susan came aboard.
Oh! where shall I my true love find!
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William sails among the crew.

William, who high upon the yard,
Rock'd with the billow to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sigh'd, and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands,

And, (quick as lightning) on the deck he stands.

So the sweet lark, high pois'd in air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast,
(If, chance, his mate's shrill call he hear)
And drops at once into her nest.
The noblest Captain in the British fleet,
Might envy William's lip those kisses sweet.

0 Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
My vows shall ever true remain;
Let me kiss off that falling tear,
We only part to meet again.
Change, as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be.

The faithful compass that still points to thee.

Believe not what the landmen say,
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind:
They'll tell thee, sailors, when away,
In ev'ry port a mistress find.
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present wheresoe'er I go.

If to far India's coast we sail,
Thy eyes are seen in di'monds bright,
Thy breath is Africk's spicy gale,
Thy skin is ivory, so white.
Thus ev'ry beauteous object that I view,
Wakes in my soul some charm of lovely Sue.

Though battel call me from thy arms,
Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms,
William shall to his Dear return.
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,
Lest precious tears should drop from Susan's eye.

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
The sails their swelling bosom spread,
No longer must she stay aboard:
They kiss'd, she sigh'd, he hung his head.
Her less'ning boat, unwilling rows to land:
Adieu, she cries! and way'd her lilly hand.

The sailor's farewell theme of 'Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey'd Susan' resonated at a time when seamen were playing a vital role in expanding and defending the British Empire, and facilitating Britain's international trade and communications. London was the wealthiest and most vibrant city in the world, with a sophisticated and active literary and musical life. The poem appears quickly to have become one of Gay's best-known works. In 1726, Alexander Pope wrote An Epistle from Mr Pope to Mr Gay, Occasioned by Two Stanzas in his Ballad of Black-Ey'd Susan'. in which he praises Gay's 'loftiest Poetry' and exclaims:

How does th' applauding World with Wonder view
A Nymph, or Heroine, in a Black-Ey'd Sue!
Whose Charms thy Verse has spread from Pole to Pole,
Where Winds can carry, or where Waves can roll. (3)

Dianne Dugaw describes 'Sweet William's Farewell' as surely Gay's most popular ballad', and comments that, while it observes the 'street-ballad milieu', the poem's 'literary artfulness' differentiates it from the traditional street ballad pattern, and that Gay's 'complex, nuanced. and participatory relationship to balladry, of which this is an example, was important in paving the way for his invention of the ballad opera in 1728. (4)

Andrew Kuntz, who has collected and researched a large number of British, Irish, and North American traditional tunes, suggests that the poem was inspired by the courtship of William Whitcraft and Susan Cole. (5) Their tale appeared several times on broadsides and in chapbooks from c.1735, as Sweet William of Plymouth or The Western Garland. (6) These publications recount the story of a sailor, William, and his betrothed, Susan, who was disowned by her family when she refused to marry her mother's preferred suitor while William was at sea; Susan then ran away and was reunited with William in Holland, whence the pair returned, after they had married, to Plymouth. (7) It seems unlikely, however, that this tale did inspire Gay's poem. Not only do the stories differ, and there is no mention in these accounts of 'black-ey'd' Susan's distinctive epithet, but the dates are also too far apart for comfort. Gay's poem, moreover, was appearing at the same time, in chapbooks titled William and Susan's Garland or Black Susan's Garland. (8) In some of these, Gay's original poem provides the first item, with extra (anonymous) pieces, in a similar style, extending the story to deal with Susan's longing, William's return, and their eventual marriage. Although there are some similarities with the narrative in The Western Garland, it is not the same story: for example, there is no mention of Susan's mother's preferred suitor, and the pair do not marry until after they return to Plymouth. Black Ey'd Susan's Garland even gives William a different surname: Lamb.

The epithets black-eyed' Susan and 'sweet' William were not new in 1719. indeed, the latter had already been paired with Susan in the chapbook The Two Loyal Lovers, Sweet William and Coy Susan at the end of the previous century. (9) This anonymous poem, to the tune of 'Let Caesar Live Long', (10) has no nautical theme and is simply a discussion between two shy lovers. Although Gay's characters appear to he original, the poem's theme of a nautical farewell is a common one and Gay was arguably simply exploiting a well-established formula. (11)

Later versions of the song, variously known as 'Sweet William's Farewell', 'Black-Ey'd Susan', or in the Downs', remain reasonably faithful to Gay's text. Apart from occasional rearrangement or omission of stanzas, changes mainly comprise the restoration of vowels to apostrophized. words, alterations to punctuation and spelling, and correcting mismatched tenses (as in the final line).

The Tunes

Eleven weeks after Lintot's first publication of Gay's poem, the 3d edition' was announced in the Daily Courant of 25 March 1719, now with the added note, 'Set to Musick by Mr Levericlge'. Leveridge's tune appeared in The Musical Miscellany (1730) (Figure 1). (12) Apart from variations in the accompaniment, this was the form in which Leveridge's setting continued to be published until the 1850s.

Richard Leveridge (1670-1758) was one of London's leading singers. Charles Burney in his General History of Music refers to Leveridge's 'deep and powerful base [sic] voice'. (13) Leveridge first came to prominence as the leading bass in a number of productions of Purcell's works during 1695, the last year of the composer's life, and he went on to become a leading figure in Italian opera in London in the first decade of the eighteenth century. (14) He sang in many operas and pantomimes, often performing other songs in the intervals and as encores, and held regular benefit concerts for himself. He also wrote many songs for the theatre, and composed music for theatrical productions, including The Island Princess (1699) and Macbeth (1702). From 1714, he worked at the New Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and also ran his own coffee shop in Tavistock Street. Around 1719, the finances of the Lincoln's Inn theatre had become precarious and his coffee house and benefit concerts provided Leveridge with an important source of additional financial security.

It is unclear whether Leveridge knew Gay personally in 1719. Gay's biographers make little mention of Leveridge other than in the context of 'Black-Ey'd Susan'. (15) Gay's Beggar's Opera was performed at the Lincoln's Inn theatre in 1728, so the two men may well have met by then. (16) It might simply be that Leveridge recognized the potential of Gay's poem and set it to music for one of his performances in early 1719. The London press of the time is frustratingly silent about Leveridge's activities, and I have been unable to identify a specific event at which 'Black-Ey'd Susan' might have been first performed.

Joseph Green observes that Leveridge's tune is similar to 'a Terzetto by Buononcini'. (17) The opening of aria no. 33, 'Se un gran piacere puo far morire', of Giovanni Battista Bononcini's serenata La nemica d'Amore fatta amante (1692) does indeed have a similar melodic contour to Leveridge's tune (although the metre is different), and the cadence note of the second phrase is also the same (Figure 2). (18)

However, the resemblance does not extend beyond the RISC few bars. Bononcini's Italian operas were popular in early eighteenth-century London, and Leveridge sang in Camilla several times between 1706 and 1717. (19) By 1719, the year Bononcini moved to London as an associate of Handel's (though the two later became arch-rivals), Leveridge would have been familiar with many of his works and he is known to have set words to some of Bononcini's instrumental pieces.

The first few bars of Leveridge's tune also resemble those of The Bishop of Bangor's Jig', published by Henry Playford in 1701 (Figure 3). (20) Several editions of the Daily Courant from around 1717 record an ongoing controversy involving the then bishop of Bangor, so it is possible that the tune had been resurrected and was popular at the time.

William Chappell comments that Leveridge's tune is 'very like another which he composed', that 'several other old songs begin in the same manner', and that Levericlge 'seems to have drawn more on memory than imagination'. (21) In fact, there is a large family of tunes with which Levericlge's could reasonably be grouped. Bertrand Bronson cites a number of examples, several of which share the melodic contour of Levericlge's Slack-Ey'd Susan', and speculates that it might be possible to use objective analysis of such families of tunes to trace their evolution over time. (22) Although it is unclear which song Chappell considered to be 'very like' Black-Ey'd Susan', a few of the forty-two examples included in Levericlge's own A Collection of Songs (1727), which, rather surprisingly, does not include 'Black-Ey'd Susan', are stylistically reminiscent of it, with predominantly stepwise minor mode melodies in regular quavers, and a Phrygian cadence ending an opening eight-bar phrase. (23) The borrowing and recycling of musical ideas was, of course, not uncommon in the eighteenth century, (24) and Leveridge seems to have drawn on established formulas for his inspiration.

Leveridge was not alone in setting Gay's poem to music. A printed music sheet of c.1720 in the British Library includes four engraved settings of 'Black-Ey'd Susan', by Henry Carey, Richard Leveridge, George Hayden, and Pietro Sancloni. (25) Henry Carey (1687-1743) was a poet, songwriter, and occasional singer, who was active in the London theatre world around 1720. There is little to link him directly with Gay, but they would have moved in the same circles. George Hayden (or Haydon) (d.1722) was organist at St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey, and composed a handful of cantatas. Little is known about him, and there is no evidence either to link him to Gay or to shed light on the circumstances of his setting of 'Black-Ey'd Susan'. Pietro Giuseppe Sandoni (1685-4748) was a harpsichordist and singer who was working with Handel in London around 1720. He went on to marry the famous soprano Francesca Cuzzoni. He may well have known Gay, who also worked with Handel around that time (Gay was one of the librettists for Handers Acis and Galatea of c.1718).

In this source, the first three bars of Leveridge's tune represent a variant of those published in 1730 (Figure 1). but otherwise the two versions are the same. The discrepancy may reflect the fact that performance of the song was apparently rather flexible. Some editions, for example, start with the word 'All' as a crotchet anacTusis, and the held note on 'mooed' may be of two or five beats. The notated score of 'Black-Ey'd Susan' was not, of course, its definitive embodiment as a musical work. This was a song intended for singing, and it was used by Leveridge and others to show .off their vocal skills. Such performances would have involved improvised melodic and rhythmic embellishments to the notated tune, as was common practice in much music before 1800, and it is unsurprising that this variety should be reflected in notated versions of the song.

The tunes by Carey. Hayden, and Sandoni, unlike Leveridge's, are all in major keys (Figure 4). These tunes are more closely related to each other than they are to Leveridge's. They have a similar phrase structure, and many of the most important melodic notes are either the same or else harmonically related. Carey's and Hayden's tunes, in particular, begin in the same way, are quite similar harmonically, and have melodic embellishments in the same places (such as bar 6). Carey's tune has a greater range (a perfect 11th, compared to a major 9th for Hayden's and an octave for Sandoni's), although none matches Leveridge's perfect 12th. There is little evidence to indicate the exact origins or chronology of these versions, but, on the face of it, they appear to be largely independent of Leveridge's setting of 'Black-Ey'd Susan', and they may well derive from one another and/or from a common source. Hayden's setting does not, as far as I can tell, appear in any other source; and Carey's reappeared only rarely. (26)

Sandoni's tune, on the other hand, went on to have a successful, if somewhat schizophrenic, existence. In 1728, Gay published his best-known work, The Beggar's Opera. In act 2, scene 13, the aria 'Thus when the swallow, seeking prey' is specified as to the tune of 'All in the Downs', and Sandoni's tune is printed in all editions of the ballad opera. Yet other ballad operas from around this time, such as Charles Johnson's The Village Opera (1729), also have arias sung to the tune of All in the Downs', but print Leveridge's tune. Sandoni's tune is included in a bound volume in the British Library, once owned by Charles Burney, that includes the following handwritten introduction: 'This volume contains most of the original songs and beautiful airs which were selected by Pepusch, Arne & Linley for "The Beggars Opera", "Love in a Village" and "Deceived".' (27) The volume also contains Leveridge's tune for the song, and it therefore looks as if Leveridge's tune was consciously rejected for the ballad opera in favour of Sandoni's. Sandoni may have been known to the team assembling The Beggar's Opera, and his tune may have achieved a degree of popularity to rival Leveridge's. Given his musical career, he would certainly have had the opportunity to have his version performed in public. After 1728, Sandoni's melody lived on in The Beggar's Opera, under the title 'All in the Downs', even though neither tune nor words were related to Leveridge's established version of the song.

There is one further setting of 'Black-Ey'd Susan' from around this period to be considered here. The British Library holds a small, and probably unique, volume of keyboard music by Alexander Stuart to accompany Allan Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany, which first appeared in 1724. (28) In the Tea-Table Miscellany, the song 'To DEUA on her drawing him to her Valantine' is given as 'To the Tune of Black Ey'd Susan'. (29) Alexander Stuart's volume accordingly prints a tune--hut it does not appear to be related to the other settings of 'Black-Ey'd Susan' discussed above, and its harmonic progressions rule it out as a keyboard accompaniment to any of them (Figure 5). Nor does it sit comfortably with Gay's words, although (without the repeats, and rewriting it in a 3/4 time signature) it is the same length as Carey's and Sandoni's tunes. Stuart might conceivably have been unfamiliar with 'Black-Ey'd Susan' and have simply transcribed the wrong tune, but I have been unable to confirm this hypothesis by finding the same tune elsewhere under another name.

Developments from 1730

By about 1730, Leveridge's tune had become established as the natural partner of Gay's poem. Carey's, Hayden's, and Stuart's versions were consigned to the archives, while Sandoni's setting was living on, in disguise, in The Beggar's Opera. Leveridge's melody probably triumphed for two main reasons: as a tune, it offered the best combination of memorability and singability; and, with London's leading bass performing it regularly, it would have been the version most frequently heard by audiences and musicians.

The tune was requisitioned for a number of ballad operas and other songs during the decades following its publication. Thus Maurice Greene, for example, appropriated Leveridge's tune, with minor modifications but without acknowledgement, for the song 'Fair Sally', which has a similar nautical theme, in 1735. Although Joseph Green argued that Leveridge stole the tune from Greene, (30) that is unlikely since Greene would have been only twenty-three in 1719 (he was organist at St Paul's Cathedral) and he seems to have published nothing before he became Master of the King's Music in the mid-1730s. Greene also had form: he had been an accomplice in the act of plagiarism that led to the exile from England of his friend Giovanni Bononcini in 1731. (31)

The British navy had seen little action since 1717, but increasing tension and subsequent war with Spain from 1739 sparked a resurgence of interest in the nautical theme. In this context, the story of William and Susan captured the imagination of artists. Among the earliest pictorial representations was a painting by Peter Monamy (1681-1749), created for the reopening of Vauxhall Gardens in 1736. The original is now believed lost, hut an engraving of 1743 by Pierre Fourdrinier shows Susan being rowed towards a ship in front of a large fleet gathered off Dover, standing in the prow with her arm outstretched; beneath the picture are reproduced stanzas 4 and 8 of Gay's poem. (32)

Such was the impact of 'Black-Ey'd Susan' that Gay and Levetidge have been credited with 'the creation [...] of the Jolly Jack Tar and sensitive maiden stereotypes of nautical song and melodrama' which lasted well into the nineteenth century. (33) Dickens uses the stereotype explicitly in Dombey and Son, where the seaman hero Walter Gay and TIorence Dombey's companion, "Black-Eyed Susan" Nipper, would have reminded many a Victorian reader of the most popular nautical song of the time, John Gay's "Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey'd Susan", and of Douglas Jerrold's enormously influential nautical melodrama based on the song'. (34)

Jerrold was a friend of Dickens's, and his melodrama Black-Ey'd Susan (1829) became hugely popular during the nineteenth century in both Britain and the United States. Despite its nautical theme, the plot has little connection with Gay's song. Indeed, Jerrold admits in his preface to the first edition that 'As to the title "Black-Ey'd Susan", the writer trusts he may be pardoned for having compelled Gay to become sponsor to the present drama; well aware that as far as any pertinence that may exist between the ballad and the piece, the latter might, with equal justice, have been called "Blue-Ey'd Kate".' (35)

Alongside these forays into painting, literature, and the theatre, 'Black-Ey'd Susan' continued to develop musically. In the twenty years following 1770, at least four new settings of Gay's poem appeared: by William Jackson (1770), Robert Broderip (1785 and 1789), and Richard Stevens (1785). (36) All are in a 'recitative and aria' style, rather than the strophic settings of earlier in the century.

The 1789 setting by Robert Broderip (c.1758-1808), an organist in Bristol in the 1780s, whose brother Francis was a partner in the Longman and Broderip publishing firm which published Robert's cantata, is entitled Black Ey'd Susan, a favorite cantata, as sung by Mr Incledon at the subscription concerts in Bristol and Bath. It differs from his 1785 setting, although they are similar in places. The first three stanzas are followed by the first two lines of stanza 4, then stanza 8, and then the remainder of stanza 4. Stanzas 5 and 7 are printed at the end in block text, although it is unclear how they should be incorporated into this through-composed setting. The mood changes from con spirito (stanza 1, lines 1-3) to andante con expresione, to recitativo (stanza 2), to largo ed amoroso (stanza 4, lines 1-2).

Charles Incledon (1763-1826) moved to Bath in 1785 and sang with the Bath--Bristol theatre company. His local concerts, for which Broderip wrote his settings of 'Black-Ey'd Susan', made Incledon's reputation and he went on to become England's leading stage tenor. The song would have shown off his high tenor voice. Francis Cunningham Woods observed: 'Black-eyed Susan as sung by Mr. Incledon lies so high that the publishers give an alternative reading so as to avoid the top A's which are well-nigh incessant.' (37) Incledon would probably also have known William Jackson's 1770 cantata-style setting of 'Black-Ey'd Susan', since Incledon was a chorister (and occasional soloist) under Jackson at Exeter Cathedral, before joining the navy. Sydney Northcote remarks that Incledon [...] was a "rough diamond", uncommonly good in sea songs [...] but very self-opinionated.' (38) Incledon also sang the settings of 'Black-Ey'd Susan' by Leveridge and Carey, which were republished in 1800. The former is described on the title page as 'sung by Mr Incledon with uncommon applause'.

Throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, 'Black-Ey'd Susan' was regularly published as a broadside, and Leveridge's setting appeared in numerous collections of popular songs. In 1868, the London magazine described 'Black-Ey'd Susan' as 'still a favourite' among street singers.39 Around the midclle of the nineteenth century came three significant developments. Firstly, Albert Emerick recognized that, by 1848, 'Black-Ey'd Susan' had been appropriated as 'emphatically [a song] for the American people'. (40) Emerick acknowledged that he had selected 'from the music of all nations the most beautiful, simple and popular airs', but his was just one of several North American collections linking the song to the east coast. 'Black-Ey'd Susan' was probably taken across the Atlantic by British sailors and settlers, and over time it became established as a 'traditional' North American song.

Secondly. in 1849, 'Black-Ey'd Susan' joined the fashionable world of the virtuoso pianist. Alexander Dreyschock (1818-69) was a Czech virtuoso whose party piece was to play the left-hand arpeggios of Chopin's Revolutionary Etude (Op. 10, no. 12) in octaves. Dreyschock's mazurka on 'Black-Ey'd Susan', after an opening entrada, consists of several increasingly virtuosic variations on Leveridge's melody, with plenty of leaps, hand-crossings, and rapid left-hand octaves. (41) Dreyschock visited London in 1843 and 1849, and the mazurka was perhaps written for the second of these visits. Unfortunately, the piece is not mentioned in any of the enthusiastic concert reviews in The Times, although on 25 April 1843 the newspaper announced Dreyschock's first arrival in London, calling him 'one of the most original players that has ever appeared [...] with execution equal to that of Thalberg or Liszt'. (42)

The third development was a transformation of Leveridge's tune. William Chappell in Popular Music of the Olden Time gives a brief history and then reproduces the song 'as it is now sung' (Figure 6). (43) The shape of the melody is largely the same, but the note lengths have been halved within the same 3/4 time signature, and Leveridge's regular beats have been replaced, at least in the first half of the tune, with alternating dotted crotchets and groups of three quavers, over a clear 3/4 accompaniment. This is a significant change in the pattern of stressed words and notes compared with Leveridge's version. The harmony is also slightly different (partly because of the changed stress patterns): Chappell holds tonic harmony up to the word 'mooed', for example. I have not found an earlier publication of this version than Chappell's. but it is impossible to say for how long the tune had been performed in this way. There were certainly different interpretations of the tune, and one might reasonably doubt whether the notated steady crotchets had ever accurately represented a melody intended as a showpiece for a singer such as Leveridge. Chappell's version might represent the way the song had always been performed, or it might reflect the recent practice of singers such as Charles Incledon, John Braham, or Miss Hobbs. (44) In any case, Chappell's version is found in most subsequent collections.

Concert advertisements and reviews in Mc Times reveal that 'Black-Ey'd Susan' continued to be performed regularly, and enthusiastically received by audiences and critics, well into the twentieth century. The Times broadcast listings also frequently include the song until the late 1920s. This continued popularity (reinforced by the success of Jerrold's play) seems to have turned 'Black-Ey'd Susan' into something of a 'national treasure'.

It is no surprise, then, that 'Black-Ey'd Susan' should have been selected for inclusion in the Daily Express Community Song Book. It had recently appeared as the first song in Harold Scott's English Song Book (1925), perhaps an obvious source for the Daily Express compilers. (45) Community singing was not a new phenomenon, but in 1925 it became established as a 'movement', Dave Russell describes how the Community Singers' Association was established to spread The practice of community singing in clubs, factories and social organisations in cities, towns and villages throughout the Empire'. (46) After several successful and well-attended events, the Daily Express saw the advantages of being associated with the movement and adopted it wholeheartedly, making extravagant claims for its originality and its social benefits. The Daily Express Community Song Book contained over two hundred songs, although the repertoire at community singing events was rather smaller, consisting of a handful of hymns, songs from the Great War, sea shanties, and a few others. The movement had declined, and the Daily Express had lost interest in it, by the end of 1927. Nevertheless, the practice of community singing continued, as evidenced by regular announcements in The Times until the late 1940s. Many of these events were broadcast by the BBC. The Daily Express continued to sponsor community singing at the FA Cup Final until 1971. 'Black-Ey'd Susan' was not one of the songs regularly performed in community singing, however. It had always been a soloist's showpiece and was not necessarily suitable for singing by a large crowd. It would have been much less familiar than, for example, 'All through the Night', 'Loch Lomond', 'Keep the Home Fires Burning', or 'Abide with Me', and less evocative of 'Merrie England', the theme that linked much of the community repertoire.

By this time, 'Black-Ey'd Susan' was well on its way to becoming a folk song. In fact, the transition had already begun by the middle of the nineteenth century. 'Black-Ey'd Susan' was collected as an Irish folk tune, based on Leveridge's melody, by George Petrie, although he did not include it in his Ancient Music of Ireland (1855), and it was only published in 1905 when his collected papers were edited by Charles Villiers Stanford. (47) In October 1908, Cecil Sharp collected 'Black-Ey'cl Susan' from Walter Wilcock in the Marylebone Workhouse (Figure 7). (48) Although the melodic shape is close to the tune published by Chappell (Figure 6), the rhythm is altered in places, apparently to enable Wilcock to fit in his alternative version of some of the words. Note that, in the final line, he asks if 'my Sweet Susan' sails among the crew!

The song was collected a number of times and included in several folk song collections, on both Sides of the Atlantic, during the twentieth century, and today it is categorized as 'folk' in a majority of recordings and online resources. On 3 August 1978, it was collected from Walter Pardon of Knapton, Norfolk (Figure 8). (49) Walter Pardon is accurate with Gay's words and the shape of his tune is clearly based on Leveridge's, albeit in the major mode, and sticking to tonic harmony except for the perfect cadences at the end of phrases. The tune is in regular quavers in 3/4, resulting in different accents from those in Leveridge's setting. Nevertheless, these regular quavers are more reminiscent of Leveridge's regular crotchets than of Chappell's rhythmically altered version, suggesting that the heritage of Pardon's 'Black-Ey'd Susan', unlike that of Walter Wilcock, might predate the modification of the standard tune in the mid-nineteenth century.

'Black-Ey'd Susan continues to be played, and occasionally collected, as a folk rune in Britain and North America. After the Dully Express Community Song Book, it appeared in a handful of collections, hut new appearances have become increasingly rare.' (50)

The Secrets of Susan's Longevity

'Black-Ey'd Susan' is a survivor. Although, like most songs of the period, there is no manuscript source, we can be reasonably confident about her parentage and her birth early in 1719. Vier continued presence and popularity are evidenced by regular publication, but it is through the performances now largely muted by history that she asserted her ident ity, created her brand, and carved out her role through almost three hundred years of social and musical change. The British Library and other collections contain huge numbers of British songs from the early eighteenth century, the vast majority of which quickly faded into obscurity. The same is true of the popular songs of any age, and it is interesting to speculate on the factors that might have contributed to the unusual longevity of 'Black-Ey'd Susan'.

Firstly, there is quality. This is, of course, highly subjective, hut both the words and the tune of 'Black-Ey'd Susan' are simple, yet well constructed, and result in a song that is interesting, performable, and memorable, with appeal for both performers and listeners. Gay's literary artfulness' applied to the popular street ballad format made the poem, and thus the song, stand out from the crowd.

Secondly, and more objectively, 'Black-Ey'd Susan' benefited from both Gay and Leveridge being already well-known and popular figures, with an established audience for their work. Gay, in particular, became more celebrated following the success of The Beggar's Opera. Leveridge was able to give the song plenty of exposure, so that many people would have quickly had the opportunity to hear it and become familiar with it. The same could perhaps he said of Sandoni's version, but not of those of Carey or Hayden.

The third factor, important for sustaining the song's popularity, is its cultural resonance. It formed part of an established tradition of sailor's farewell songs, which tapped into the importance of seamen to the growth and prosperity of Britain and its empire. This tradition extended well into the twentieth century and must have helped sustain the song's cultural relevance. Leveridge's melody, partly rooted in traditional English folk tunes, also contributes to the song's cultural resonance. 'Black-Ey'd Susan' was particularly fortunate in receiving an extra boost from the popularity of Jerrold's play, as well as paintings and literary references, which both exploited and reinforced the song's nautical associations.

Finally, the flexibility of the song enabled it to move with the times and to gain exposure in different settings and new arrangements. This was partly due to its loose ontological definition, and the fact that nobody seems to have claimed ownership of it as a piece of intellectual property. It was also partly the result of the quality of Gay's verse and of Leveridge's melody, which enabled 'Black-Ey'd Susan' to appear in many different contexts: for example, as a street ballad, a vocal showpiece, a community song, the basis for a virtuoso piano work, and as a folk song appropriated by communities on both sides of the Atlantic. It proved able to maintain its identity despite changes of words, melody, context, and performance practice.

Whilst 'Black-Ey'd Susan' is not alone, the group of songs fortunate enough to satisfy all of these criteria is small. Every stage in the life of a song presents an opportunity either to survive or to fade away. Libraries, record collections, and the internet are littered with the dormant remains of songs that will never again see the light of day. In this context, it is extraordinary that 'Black-Ey'd Susan' continues to have a small but active existence in the crowded digital music marketplace of the early twenty-first century--almost three centuries after she was born into the bustling and cut-throat musical world of early Georgian London.


(1.) John Goss, ed., Daily Express Community Song Book (London: Daily Express, 1927).

(2.) John Gay, Poems on Several Occasions, 2 vols (London: Jacob Tonson and Bernard Lintot, 1720). 'Black-Ey'd Susan' appears in vol. 2, p. 405.

(3.) Alexander Pope, Mr Pope's Literary Correspondence, vol. 2nd edn (London: E Curll, 1735), p. 104.

(4.) Dianne Dugaw, Deep Play: John Gay and the Invention of Modernity (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2001), pp. 86-88.

(5.) Andrew Kuntz, The Fiddler's Companion <> [accessed 5 February 2012].

(6.) Sweet William of Plymouth (London: William Dicey, [1735?] (ESTC N22081]. Some of the later chapbooks make explicit reference to William Whitcraft (or Whitecraft) and Susan Cole. See, for example, The Western Garland ([Newcastle upon Tyne?, 1775?]) [ESTC T52340].

(7.) Despite searching books and periodicals from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, consulting genealogical records, and seeking help from the Plymouth and West Devon Records Office, I have been unable to confirm whether or not, and if so when, William Whitcraft and Susan Cole were alive, and whether these events did actually take place.

(8.) See, for example William and Susan's Garland (Warrington: Eyres. [1760?](ESTC T182469]; B[lack Ey'd Sutsan's Garland] (Hull: (John Ferraby, 1790?]) [ESTC T22869]; Black-Ey'd Susan's Garland (Edinbrngh [sic] Morren, [1800?]) (ESTC N32819].

(9.) The Two Loyal Lovers, Sweet William and Coy Susan ([London]: J. Blare, [1685?]) [ESTC R228626].

(10.) 'Let Caesar Live Long appears to be unrelated to any of the 'Black-Ey'd Susan' tunes discussed here. See Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and its Musk- (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1966), pp, 434-37.

(11.) The Pepys Ballads, comprising around 1,800 ballads dating mainly from the century before 'Black-Ey'd Susan', include 110 with 'farewell' in the title and 133 marked with the keyword 'maritime' in the English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA); thirteen fall into both categories <>.

(12.) The Musical Miscellany, 6 vols (London: John Watts, 1729-31), iv, 148-51 (ESTC T118842].

(13.) Charles Burney, A General History of Music. from the Enarliest Ages to the Present Period, ed. Frank Mercer, 2 vols (New York: Dover, 1935 117891), II, 667.

(14.) Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson. 'Richard Leveridge, 1670-1758', Musical Times, 111 (1970), 59294, 891-93, 988-90; Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson, 'Leveridge, Richard (1670-1758)', Oxford Dictionary cy. National Biography, online edn (January 2008) < 16536> (accessed 8 March 2013].

(15.) See, for example, William H. Irving, John Gay, Favorite of the Wits (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962).

(16.) Mary F. Klinger, 'Music and Theater in Hogarth', Quarterly, 57 (1971), 409-26 (p. 414).

(17.) Joseph Green, reply to W. J. Lowenberg, 'The Celtic Element in English Music',Times and Singing Class Circular, 19 (1 March 1878),10,3.

(18.) The title of Bononcini's serenata translates as 'The enemy of Love has become a loven aria no. 33 begins 'If a great pleasure can cause death, my happiness will kill me'. The libretto is by Silvio Stampiglia. The transcription is from Ensemble 415, La nemica d'Amore fattta cmante, by Giovanni Bononcini, CD (Zig-Zug Territoires ZZT030801, 2005) (author's trnscription).

(19.) Robert D. Hume, 'The Sponsorship of Opera in London, 1704-1720', Modern Philology, 85 (1988), 420-32.

(20.) Henry Playford, The Dancing-Master, 11th edn (London: H. Playford, 1701), p. 200.

(21.) William Chappell. Popular Music of the Olden Time, 2 vols (London: Chappell, 18591), It, 640.

(22.) Bertrand Harris Bronson, 'Some Observations about Melodic Variation in British-American Folk Tunes', Journal of the American Musicological Society, 3 (1950), 120-34.

(23.) [Richard Leveridge], A Collection of Songs, with the musick by Mr Leveridge, 2 vols (London, 1727).

(24.) See, for example, J. Peter Burkholder. 'Borrowing', Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online <> [accessed 8 March 2013].

(25.) Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey'd Susan. The Tune by Mr. Carey. Mr. Leveridge's Tune. Mr. Haydon's Tune. Signr. Sandoni's Tune. ([London, 1720]) [London, British Library, H.1601.(24.)].

(26.) It is included in The Works of Mr Henry Carey, 2 vols (London, 1728), 1, 37. It is also found later in All in the Downs the Fleet Was Moored: Black Ey'd Susan, a favorite sea song. as sung by Mr Incledon (London: A. Bland & Weller's Music Warehouse, [c.1800]).

(27.) The volume in question is London, British Library, G.305. Sandoni's All in the Downs', catalogued as G.305.(176.), is found at p. 209.

(28.) [Alexander Stuart], Musick for Allan Ramsay's Collection of Scots Songs (Edinburgh: Allan Ramsay, (1725?]).

(29.) [Allan Ramsay], The Tea-Table Miscellany (Edinburgh: Thomas Ruddiman, 1724), pp. 19-20 [ESTC N45927].

(30.) See n. 17 above.

(31.) Harry Diack. Johnstone, 'Greene, Maurice', Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online <www.oxford> [accessed 8 March 2013].

(32.) Fourdrinier's engraving is reproduced at <> [accessed 13 March 2013].

(33.) William Axton, 'Dombey and Son: From Stereotype to Archetype', English Literary History, 31 (1964), 301-17 (p. 310), citing Maurice Willson Disher, Victorian Song: From Dive to Drawing Room (London: Phoenix House, 1955), P. 48.

(34.) Axton, Domber and Son', p. 310.

(35.) Douglas W. Jerrold, Black-Ey'd Susan, A Drama, dedicated to the Duke of Clarence (London: Thomas Richardson, 1829). p. viii.

(36.) Twelve Songs set to music by William Jackson of Exeter, Opera settima (London: printed for the author. [1770?]D, pp. .8-12; Robert Broderip, Sweet William's Farewell to Black Ey'd Susan. a favorite cantata (London: Longman and Broderip, [1785?]); Robert Broderip, Black Ey'd Susan, a favorite cantata, as sung by Mr Incledon (London: Longman and Broderip, [1789]; Richard J. S. Stevens, All in the Downs, a favorite song, by Mr Gay [...] sung by Mr Percy (London: S., A., & P. Thompson, [1785?]).

(37.) Francis Cunningham Woods, 'A Consideration of the Various Types of Songs Popular in England during the Eighteenth Century', Proceedings of the Musical Association, 23 (1897), 37-55 (p. 47).

(38.) Sydney Northcote, Byrd to Britten: A Survey of English Song (London: Baker. 1966), p. 74.

(39.) 'Street Songs and their Singers', The London: A First-Class Magazine, 3 (1868), 226-38 (p. 232).

(40.) Albert G. Emerick, Songs for the People (Philadelphia: [n. pub.]. 1848), p. 7.

(41.) Alexander Dreyschock, Mazurka sur la melodie 'Black Eyed Susan', pour le piano fine, Op. 65 (London: Robert Cocks, 1849).

(42.) The Times, 25 April 1843, p. 5.

(43.) Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time, ii, 640.

(44.) The mites, 23 September 1836, p. 3, reporting on the Norwich Festival, noted that Miss Hobbs sang 'Black-Ey'd Susan' 'with great pathos and sweetness'. The Tunes, 20 October 1843, p. 2, advertised John Braham's performance at the Queen's Concert Rooms, Hanover Square, and The Times, 27 October 1843, p. 3, gave the concert a positive review.

(45.) H. Scott, ed., English Song Book (London: Chapman 8t Hall, 1925).

(46.) Dave Russell, 'Abiding Memories: The Community singing Movement and English Social Life in the 1920s', Popidar Music, 27 (2008), 117-33 (p. 119), quoting from The Times, 9 May 1925.

(47.) Charles Villiers Stanford, ed., The Complete Collection of Irish Music as noted hr George Petrie, 3 parts (London: Boosey, 1902-05), pt II, p.183 (no. 729).

(48.) Cambridge, Clare College Archives, CCPP/SHA, Cecil Sharp Collection of Folk Song Manuscripts; Folk Tunes '1959.

(49.) Transcribed from Mike Yates, The Ballad of "Black-Eyed Susan" (Laws 028)., English Dance & Song, 42.1 (1980), 5-6. There is a recording on Walter Pardon, Put a Bit of Powder on It, Father, 2 CDs (Musical Traditions CD 305-6, 2000), CD 1, track 10.

(50.) Sheet music website <> currently stocks just two items containing the song, a collection of American folk songs and one of slow Irish airs [accessed 20 July 20121 Music download site iTunes lists many tracks entitled 'Black-Eyed Susan', but most of these are unrelated [accessed 20 July 2012]. Just three are the Gay-Leveridge original, all in the Chappell version: Shirley Collins, The Power of the True Love Knot (Fledg'ling Records FLED 3028, 2000 [1968]), track 6; Ian King, Panic Grass and Fever Few (Fledgling Records FLED 3082, 2009), track 3; and Redhill Rats, Some Heroes (CD Baby 634479854637,2008), track 3. In addition, William 'Copley, All hz the Downs (Cl) Baby 00941393, 1997), track 10, a song called 'Sweet William'. is--true to tradition--Gay's poem set to a different tune.
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Author:Gustar, Andrew
Publication:Folk Music Journal
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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