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Marrow Bones: English Folk Songs from the Hammond and Gardiner Manuscripts


The Sprig of Thyme: supplementary material

The Seeds of Love on the stage

In our notes, we state: 'The song persisted in oral tradition and was introduced by the popular actress Mrs Honey to the London stage in James Robinson Planché's one-act Vaudeville The Loan of a Lover at the Olympic Theatre, 1834.'

This is potentially misleading on two counts. Firstly, the bulk of the information derives from William Chappell ('The Willow Tree' in Popular Music of the Olden Time, II, 1859, 520-522). Chappell wrote:

'I have since learned that the late Mrs. Honey, having caught the air from another ballad-singer, had introduced the ballad on the London stage, in The Loan of a Lover; and that the history of the words is given in Whittaker's History of the Parish of Whalley (p. 318, 4to., 1801.)'

In fact, the first part of that sentence refers to 'The Seeds of Love', while the second part refers to 'The Sprig of Thyme', from which it derives. Chappell did not distinguish between the two songs; but since we do, our reference should have appeared in the penultimate paragraph of the note, which deals with the former song.

Secondly, the date we give is that of the first performance of the play (29 September 1834, at the Royal Olympic Theatre). Further enquiry suggests that the song was probably not introduced until a later production. At the time of writing, a transcription of the script as published by Thomas Hailes Lacy can be seen at the website of the University of Worcester: The Loan of a Lover. The part of Gertrude was taken by Madame Vestris, and that of Peter Spyk by [Robert] Keeley; although some sung interludes are included, there is no mention of 'The Seeds of Love'. So far we have found no reference apart from Chappell's to Mrs [Laura] Honey appearing in the play at all, though it was often produced and further information may come to light.

In a later production (2 Jun 1852, at the Adelphi, London) Mr Keeley again played Spyk, while his wife Mary Anne Keeley played Gertrude. Mrs Keeley, incidentally, had sung 'Young Susan had Lovers' ('Too Many Lovers' in Marrow Bones) in the character of Penelope in the original production of Peake's 'The Middle Temple (1828 or 1829), while Mrs Honey had taken the rôle in the production of 1833. Is it perhaps possible that Chappell may have confused the two actresses?

Dixon-Bell, Songs and Ballads of the Peasantry of England (revised edition of 1857, Ballad LXXI) contains the following note:

'This very curious old song is not only a favourite with our peasantry, but, in consequence of having been introduced into the modern dramatic entertainment of The Loan of a Lover, has obtained popularity in higher circles.'

The full text can be seen in various online transcriptions of the book, one such being at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/649. The song text quoted is not taken from the play; Chappell notes that it was taken from the broadside issued by Pitts.