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Broadside ballad entitled 'Betsey of Dundee'


This ballad begins: 'You sailors of the nation I pray you give attention, / It is no false invention as you may plainly see, / My parents of this nation they lived by cultivation, / In a rural habitation, near the banks of sweet Dundee.' A woodcut illustration of a young woman decorates the top of this sheet.

'Betsey of Dundee' is narrated by a sailor who returns to his native Dundee after fighting overseas. Upon his return, the young sailor meets Betsey and falls hopelessly in love with her. Whilst her father initially disapproves of the match, he eventually acquiesces and Betsey and the sailor are wed. Whilst 'Betsey of Dundee' follows a common theme found in many early ballads, mainly that of love involving a returning or departing sailor, the end is something of a surprise. In most other cases, the young couple either elope and tragically die en route or the young suitor meets a grisly end at the hands of his sweetheart's father. Here, however, Betsey and the sailor appear to live happily ever after.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

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Probable period of publication: 1830-1850   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.178.A.2(120)
Broadside ballad entitled 'Betsey of Dundee'
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