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A Posy of Lullabies: Introduction

A selection of English lullabies collected by Peter A. Higham

A Posy of Lullabies


Here are collected a group of English lullabies well known to my mother and aunt in the earlier decades of the 1900s, though to my knowledge only three of the seven were published in song collections of the twentieth century. The lullaby tunes and words were passed on to me by them with the instruction that I should “make something of them”, and subsequently I transcribed the melodies to which I added my own accompaniments composed for guitar.

My aunt had sung these lullabies to her twelve-year younger sister as a comforting routine as she endured a prolonged period of illness when a young child in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Though some of the pages of the lullabies’ written-out lyrics are dated “Feb. 2nd /[19]17”, it was many years later that my mother prevailed upon her older sister to pass these words on to her before they might be forgotten. Copies of some of the lyrics appear here in my aunt’s distinctive hand. Later still, my mother sang and roughly recorded the lullabies in order that I might notate the melodies.

The original tunes and words of five of the seven lullabies are anonymous; while the guitar accompaniments to all are my own. I subsequently identified “The New moon” as music probably by H. P. Sawyer with words by a Mrs. Follen, and “The Slumber boat” as music by Jessie L. Gaynor with words by Alice C. D. Riley. Two versions of the same lullaby are included: “Baby’s boat” is my arrangement of that passed down to me, while “The Slumber boat” is a published version (Clayton F. Summy Co., c1898) in which I have replaced Jessie L. Gaynor’s keyboard accompaniment with my transcription of it for guitar. “Cradle song,” the last lullaby in this collection is, especially compared to the previous six, almost ubiquitous, appearing with many variations in several twentieth-century song collections. Also known as “Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf,” the “German lullaby” is included on page 37 in Dorothy Berliner Commins Lullabies of many lands (London: Harper & Brothers, 1941). She notes there that “this lullaby goes back to the very roots of the German people.”

 

Peter A. Higham, Librarian Emeritus

November 2020