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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: July 2019

3 - Gothic Beginnings: Dead Lovers Return


AS WE SAW IN THE PREVIOUS chapter, the antiquarianism and medievalism of Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry fed into the emergence of the literary gothic, and by the end of the century dead lovers were starting to return with a vengeance: among others, Matthew Lewis's ‘Alonzo the Brave and Fair Imogine’, or the English versions of Gottfried August Bürger's Lenore. Child included ‘The Suffolk Miracle’ from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century broadsides in the English and Scottish Popular Ballads because of its status as an English counterpart of the ‘spectre bridegroom’ story of European tales and of Bürger's poem, but he passed over other revenant ballads from English broadsides. For reasons that apparently lie in matters of style and authorship, he chose to include ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’, but not its counterpart, ‘William and Margaret’, both of which were in print in the 1720s. But the ballad gothic did not spring from nowhere, and ‘William and Margaret’ represents an important signpost for the direction, or at least for one of the directions, the ballad would take during the course of the century.

‘In came Margarets grimely Ghost’

In the Beaumont and Fletcher play The Knight of the Burning Pestle (c.1607), Old Merrythought, perhaps best described as a burlesque character whose life is given over to song and mirth, sings the following lines:

When it was growne to darke midnight,

And all were fast asleepe,

In came Margarets grimely Ghost,

And stood at Williams feete.

In Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, Percy identified this snatch of song with lines in the ballad ‘Fair Margaret and Sweet William’.2 That identification was endorsed by Child and has been generally accepted.3 In particular, Merrythought's stanza equates to the fifth stanza of Child's A text, quoted here directly from its broadside source, Fair Margaret's Misfortune:

When Day was gone, and Night was come,

and all Men fast asleep,

There came the Spirit of fair Margaret,

which caus'd him for to Weep.

Later, Merrythought sings again, ‘You are no loue for me Margret, I am no loue for you.’ This second snatch of song finds a very rough equivalent in the first half of the second stanza of Fair Margaret's Misfortune: ‘I see no harm by you Margaret; / nor you see none by me’.