George Collins walked out one May morning,
When may was all in bloom,
And there he beheld a pretty fair maid,
A-washing her marble stone.
She whooped, she holloed, she highered her voice,
And held up her lily-white hand,
"Come hither to me, George Collins," she said,
"And thy life shall not last thee long."
George Collins stepped up to the fair water-side,
And over the water sprang he,
He clasped her round her middle so small,
And kissed her red rosy cheeks.
George Collins went home to his own father's gate,
And so loudly he did ring,
(And who should come down but his own father dear,
To let George Collins in)
"Arise, my dear father, and let me in,
Arise, dear mother and make my bed,
Arise, my dear sister and get me a napkin -
A napkin to bind round my head.
And if I should chance to die this night,
As I suppose I shall,
Bury me under that marble stone,
That's against fair Helen's wall."
Fair Helen sits in her room so fine,
A-working her silken skein,
Then she saw the finest corpse a-coming,
That ever the sun shone on.
She said unto her Irish maid,
"Whose corpse is this so fine?"
"It is George Collins' corpse a-coming,
That once was a true-lover of thine."
"You go upstairs and fetch me the sheet,
That's wove with a silver twine,
And hang it over George Collins' corpse,
To-morrow it shall hang over mine."
"Come, put him down, my six pretty lads,
And open his coffin so fine,
That I might kiss his lily-white lips,
For ten thousand times he has kissed mine."
The news was carried to fair London town,
And wrote all on fair London's gate,
That six pretty maids died all of one night,
And all for George Collins' sake.
abc | midi | pdf
Source: Purslow, F, 1968,The Wanton Seed, EFDS Publications, London
Frank Purslow wrote:
The tune from Gardiner H 1193 - Henry Blake, Bartley, Hants. The text is a collation of five versions of the same text all noted by Dr Gardiner in the Southampton/Lyndhurst area. Reference should be made to Professor Child's "English and Scottish Popular Ballads" Nos 42 Clerk Colville and 85 Lady Alice (or Giles Collins). Child treats these as two quite separate ballads but, as Barbara Cra'ster pointed out in the "Journal of the Folk Song Society" in 1910, it is possible to see in George Collins a traditional remnant (propagated by the broadside presses) of a ballad which was in all probability the original of both the Child Ballads. Certain elements are missing (mostly the supernatural one as usually happens in modern versions of old ballads), but it is possible to piece together the story as it might have been several centuries ago. Giles, or George, Collins is warned, either by his wife or more probably by his mistress, not to visit a certain locality if he values his life. He disregards the advice and meets with a fair maiden washing a silken shirt by the waterside. She is, unknown to him, a water-sprite - or a mermaid in some versions. He "sins with her fair body" - perhaps "And sinned with her fair body" was the original last line of verse three where the rhyme has been lost. He is on the point of leaving her when his head begins to ache violently. The water-sprite tells him to cut a piece from the shirt she is washing and bind it round his head. He does so and the pain becomes worse. He manages to reach home but dies. On hearing of his death his mistress dies of grief, as do five other young ladies who are presumably George Collins' paramours. It is interesting to note that it is the seventh victim of George Collins' evil attentions who is his undoing, just as, in The Outlandish Knight, "six pretty maidens thou hast drownded here, but the seventh has drownded thee." A Manx version of the story, quoted by Waldron in his "History of the Isle of Man" rationalises the cause of the headache by explaining that the mermaid's lover, suspecting that she is trying to drag him into the water, forces himself away from her embraces which so annoys her that she throws a pebble after him as he runs away. Although the pebble is too small to hurt, nevertheless he is afflicted with a headache which eventually causes his death.
Dr Gardiner noted six versions of the George Collins ballad, all from singers in a small area. The texts are so similar that they were all probably learned from a common source; all the singers could not complete the fourth verse, so I have supplied a couple of lines from an 18th century version of the story. The tune is one of the standard English ballad tunes.
Roud: 147 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six
Related Songs: Young Collins (easily confused with)