Early pearly snow on the ground, the wind was bitter and cold;
A poor little beggar boy out in the snow, came knocking at the lady’s door.
The lady opened the window so wide, and looked upon the child;
“Come in, come in, my poor little child, and you shall have a warm.
Spoken: And this is the story he told.
I am a poor little beggar boy, my mother she is dead,
My father is a drunkard and sends me up to bed.
I sit beside the window to hear the organ play,
God bless my dear old mother, who’s dead and far away.
This is a traditional song
Here we have two fragments of typical Victorian tearjerkers of a common type hawked around in the streets by the ballad sellers. The first two verses form part of a longer piece that is found on broadsides under various titles, most often The Soldier’s Poor Little Boy or The lady and the Sailor Boy, and for a closer form to this see TYG127 Haley Paley.
There are numerous versions on the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads site at www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/ballads/ballads.htm . Search for Soldier’s Boy.
Similar fragments have become attached to other similar tearjerkers such as Poor Little Joe which leads us to the possibility that they were part of a medley, a series of song fragments strung together, a practice popular in Victorian times. The third verse goes to Bishop’s evergreen mournful tune Home! Sweet Home!
Eighty-five-year-old Margaret Gardham here sings the version sung in my family as a lullaby for at least four generations. It contrasts well with Haley Paley, the lively children’s house-visiting version sung by Ray Black, though the tune is recognizably the same.