Song or Story

The Cambric Shirt

Artist

Jennie Gray

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Download P681: Mail delivery on Route 9 in East Eddington (where Jennie Gray lived); Davis Pond is visible in the background, taken c1890. (155 KB)

Download P886: A large, elaborate Victorian house in East Eddington; taken c1890. (311 KB)

Location

Eddington, ME

Document Type

Song

Collector

Evelyn Huckins

Date

1961

NA

183

CD

24

Child

2

Roud

12

Abstract

"The Cambric Shirt" is one of the many British ballads chronicled by Francis James Child in the late nineteenth century. The song is titled "The Elfin Knight" in Child's collection, and "The Cambric Shirt" is one of many names of the many variations on the song.

Description

“The Cambric Shirt” is one of the many British ballads chronicled by Francis James Child in the late nineteenth century. The song is titled “The Elfin Knight” in Child’s collection, and “The Cambric Shirt” is one of many names of the many variations on the song. As Tristam P. Coffin noted, there are a few basic story types within the variations of the song. The first version contains an actual story in which a man imposes tasks upon a woman, who will be acquitted of them and get her lover if she can answer with tasks of equal difficulty. The second version, which is one heard here, does not contain the story, but clearly sets forth the challenges and answers. A third major variation further degenerates into nonsense with only the order to make a cambric shirt remaining. Three versions of the song (again labeled as “The Elfin Knight”) collected in Maine appeared in British Ballads from Maine by Barry, Eckstorm, and Smyth. Of the three, the “A” version, collected in Brewer (Eddington’s neighbor to the southwest) and known to the singer as “Redio-Tedio,” was the most similar to Mrs. Gray’s version. Barry et al noted “Redio-Tedio” as a “most unusual version” of the song and a “distinct addition to the many variants” of the song. “The Cambric Shirt” was not a popular woods song, and the version sung here by Mrs. Jennie Gray was likely passed down to her through family tradition. It was not popular in the woods because of the song’s long history: it is one of the great ballads to come from Europe and over time it developed into a children’s song, as it was known to Jennie Gray and her contemporaries.

P681: Mail delivery on Route 9 in East Eddington (where Jennie Gray lived); Davis Pond is visible in the background, taken c1890.

What, then, is a cambric shirt? Cambric is a type of finely woven cotton or linen cloth that is specially treated to create a glossy, stiff appearance. It was popular from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, especially for fine embroidery, but does not stand up to extended wear and is thus now difficult to find. However, a type of cambric known as chambray is still widely used for shirts.

P886: A large, elaborate Victorian house in East Eddington; taken c1890.

Transcription

1. “Say, young man, are you going to the fair? Fum a lum a lye fum a lye lo lee And if you see my true love there, Timmy hiddle-o a diddle-o, fum a dum a diddle-o Fum a lum a lye fum a lye lo lee.

2. “Tell her to make me a cambric shirt Without a stitch of needle work.

3. “Tell her to wash it in a dry well Where never a drop of water fell.

4. “Tell her to hang it to dry on a thorn That never had a thorn since Adam was born.”

5. “Say, young lady, are you going to the fair? And if you see my true love there,

6. “Tell him to buy me an acre of land Between salt water and sea sand.

7. “Tell him to plow it with a ram’s horn And seed it down with a peck of corn.

8. “Tell him to cut it with a peacock’s feather, And bind it up with the sting of an adder.

9. “Haul it in on the back of a snail And thrash it out with a mouse’s tail.

10. “Tell this fool when he’s done with his work To come and get his cambric shirt.”

Keywords

Jennie Gray, Evelyn Huckins, Eddington, Maine, The Cambric Shirt, The Elfin Knight, Redio-Tedio, ballad, Francis James Child, Roud

References

Ives, Edward D., ed. “Folksongs from Maine,” Northeast Folklore, VII (1965), 87-89; Child, Francis James, ed. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Vol. I. New York: Dover Publications, 1965, 6-19 (C2); Peacock, Kenneth. Songs of the Newfoundland Outports. Vol. I. Ottawa: National Museum of Canada, 6-8; and Coffin, Tristam P. The British Traditional Ballad in North America. Philadelphia: The American Folklore Society, 23-24.

Disciplines

Folklore | Oral History

The Cambric Shirt

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