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“Wee happy heardsmen here”: A Newly Discovered Shepherds’ Carol Possibly Belonging to a Medieval Pageant John P. Cutts Bishop Smith’s part-song manuscript books (altus and bassus only) were first described by James Walter Brownl in 1921 and 1922, but then were lost sight of until very recently2 when they were found to be in the Carlisle Cathedral Library.3 Brown had received the manuscript part-books, compiled c.1637 by Thomas Smith, later bishop of Carlisle, from the widow of a friend with a letter saying “I found the enclosed among my husband’s books, and thought they might be of some interest to you. If so, please keep them; if not, bum them.” Brown remembered his friend claiming to have bought them from an old book stall, and realizing how narrowly they had escaped destruction determined that their proper home was the “Bodleian library in Oxford, where they were copied and ‘sowne together’ nearly 300 years ago.” There they were to have been more readily accessible to students than in the Chapter Library of Carlisle Cathedral where he had first thought of placing them, and where they might easily suffer from days of transition in which the continued existence of Deans and Chapters was itself precarious. The part-books never got to the Bodleian. Brown printed versions of some of the manuscripts’ texts (without music), and among these was what he called a carol “Wee happy heardsmen here”— the subject of this present paper. Brown’s practice was simply to give a somewhat mixed text— modernized spellings occasionally, expansion of contractions, alteration of upper and lower case— dismiss it quickly with a JOHN P. CUTTS, Professor of English at Oakland University, has published extensively on Renaissance literature and music. 265 266 Comparative Drama passing comment, and then proceed to the next. He dealt only with those texts which interested him personally. Many of the items he thus described in 1920-21 were not then known to be extant elsewhere as Brown surmised and as his consultation with E. M. W. Fellowes confirmed. Some items, including the present one under discussion, are still not known (to the best of my knowledge) to have survived in any other manuscript. It is now possible to all intents and purposes for the first time to be able to present an accurate text of any of the lyrics contained in the manuscripts and to relate individual items to the contents of the whole manuscript. The carol “Wee happy heardsmen here” is the eighth item included in both manuscripts, Altus and Bassus, and is one of the few items that is indeed scored only for altus and bassus, which is unfortunate not only because without the top line, treble or cantus, we have no real indication of what it sounded like, but also because very many of the items are actually scored for treble and bass, either with treble and bass written out separately or put together in either of the manuscripts. The text is as follows: Wee happy heardsmen here, may singe & eke reioyce; for Angells bright & cleare, wee saw, &heard their voice, wee saw & heard their voice.4 Glad tidings they vs told; Ye king of all mankind is borne & in cloathes fold; They say wee may him find, They say wee may him find. In Bethlem in a stall, & eke his mother free: Glad tidings to vs all; Yea blessed may hee bee, Yea blessed may hee bee. Come let vs all wth ioy in heart to Bethleem trudge To see yt blessed boy, wch once must bee or judge, wch once must bee or judge. All Haile 6 Christ bur kinge1: All Haile 6 virgins sonne; wee pray thee vs to bring, John P. Cutís 267 In Heauen wth yee to wonne, In Heauen wth yee to wonne. Where wee ye Father may See wth ye Holy ghost: & glorifye alway Him yt of might is most, Him yt of might is most. The carol contains within itself specific stage directions— “Come let vs all wth ioy/ in heart to Bethleem trudge”—marking off the fourth stanza from the first three which relate the singing of the angels and their instructions about the Christ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 265-273
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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