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The earliest extant versions of this ballad from the eighteenth century are referred to as burlesques and it is not difficult to see why. A burlesque doesn’t necessarily mock a single existing ballad, but may be taking a rise out of the genre as a whole. However the various burlesqued forms, such as “Joe Muggins” lived happily alongside more serious forms in print and in oral tradition throughout the nineteenth century. It seems that one man’s burlesque was another man’s serious ballad. Be that as it may, the simple love story has held singers’ attention for many years.
This has to be one of the most popular of our ballads, with literally hundreds of versions being collected throughout the English-speaking world. Many more versions have been found in the USA than England, especially in the Appalachian mountains, and new versions are still coming to light there. It is one of the rare instances where the tunes on both sides of the Atlantic are similar.