The Carman's Whistle
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

This tune is in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and Lady Neville's Virginal Book. A broadside, The Courteous Carman and the Amorous maid: Or, The Carman's Whistle, was printed for and sold by C. Bates, in Pye-corner in 1590.* It is also in the Roxburghe Collection and was printed on many broadsides since the seventeenth century (see the Bodleian Collection). There were twelve verses in the broadside Chappell used, but he only gave five. Several other ballads were sung to the tune.

Carman refers to the men who drove carts in early England. They were known as carmen and carters. According to Chappell, the Carmen of the sixteenth and seventeenth century were famous for their musical abilities, in particular their ability to whistle tunes, which were particularly effective dealing with the horses. Their musical affinity and ability is attested to in many early texts and plays.**

As I abroad was walking
By the breaking of the day,
Into a pleasant meadow
A young man took his way;
And looking round about him,
To mark what he could see,
At length he spied a fair maid
Under a myrtle tree.

So comely was her countenance,
And winning was her air,
As tho' the goddess Venus
Herself she had been there;
And many a smirking smile she gave
Amongst the leaves so green,
Altho' she was perceived
She thought she was not seen.

At length she changed her countenance
And sung a mournful song,
Lamenting her misfortune
She stay'd a maid so long;
'Sure young men are hardhearted
and know not what they do,
Or else they look for compliments
Fair maidens for to woo.'

'Why should young virgins pine away
And loose their chiefest prime,
And all for want of sweethearts
To cheer us up in time?'
The young man heard her ditty
And could no longer stay,
But straight unto the damosel
With speed he did away.

When he had played unto her
One merry note or two,
Then was she so rejoiced
She knew not what to do;
'Oh, God a mercy, carman,
Thou art a lively lad;
Thou hast as rare a whistle
As ever carman had!'

Related Links
From One Hundred Songs of England
And **Popular Music in Olden Times
See Bibliography for full information.
*And Bruce Olsen's Roots of Folk Website