The fan, song

Eddie Butcher, singing in English
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In sweet Argyle there lived a lady
Worth ten thousand pounds a year
And for her wit and her mild behaviour
Few with this lady there could compare.
This lady she made a resolution
That she would wed with none but he
Who would prove himself brave by valour
At the war by land or sea.

There were two brothers, they became lovers,
They envied other both night and day;
To see which of them would gain this lady
Great protestations unto her made.
The youngest brother was a bold sea captain
Sailed on the brave Tiger man-o’-war,
The other he was a bold lieutenant
He being head barrister of O’Connor’s law.

The youngest brother being a bold sea captain
Great protestations to her did make
That he would venture both life and fortune,
Both life and fortune all for her sake.
This lady soon found a way to try him,
She ordered her coachman for to prepare
Saying, – I’ll be there bytimes tomorrow
And all those nobles I will meet there.

She arose the next morning
Early by the break of day,
She ordered the coachman for to get ready,
To the Tower of London they drove away.
And when she came to the Tower of London
She threw her fan in the lions’ den
Saying, – Whoever wants now to gain a lady
They will bring to me back my fan again.

Then out bespeaks the bold sea captain
Just like a man was distressed in mind
Saying, – In the war I was ne’er a coward,
For to face the foe I was well inclined,
But to venture in through wild beasts and tigers
My life would be at an endless cost,
So there when I will not venture my life
Some other champion must gain your love.

Then out bespeaks the bold lieutenant
With voice like thunder both loud and high
Saying, – Here am I that will manlie venture
For to bring you back your fan or die.
He pulled scabbard from off his rapier
And he manly ventured those lions all,
With valiant action and mild behaviour
Two of those lions he soon made fall.

And when the rest they saw him so daring
Down at the conqueror’s feet they lay;
He stoopéd down – he was quick on motion –
Gathered up his fan and made no delay.
This young lady she stood trembling
And not one word unto them could say
For she was waiting there every moment
To see him becoming the lions’ prey.

And when this lady she saw him coming
And unto him was no harm done
With open arms she did embrace him
Saying, – Take the prize, love, that you have won.
She raised him up then from third lieutenant
And she made him admiral o’er the Blue;
That very same night those two got married,
See what the power of love can do!


This story circulated in European literature from the sixteenth century, though in most literary versions the hero sharply rejects the lady for putting his life ‘at an endless cost’ – needlessly in danger. The popular ballad had no room for such a conclusion, and attributed the reproach to a faint-hearted rival evidently invented for the purpose. It thus achieved a narrative the amazing popularity of which is due partly to its ‘self-parodying’ character. Dating from the eighteenth century, it first appears in that period in an eccentric version of no less than 55 verses which enhance the lieutenant’s valour by having him previously lose a leg in the wars! – Harvard no 780.

The conclusion has variations distributed on an approximately national basis. The full text survives well in Scotland and to some extent in Ireland: it describes the lieutenant’s promotion by the king, who shows no chagrin at the slaying of his lions (FGHL). Eddie, like his brother Robert, shortens this narrative in an unusual way by means of an abridgement which still shows in the melodic treatment of v. 7–8: see Notes. To explain the lady’s power to promote the lieutenant himself, Eddie commented after one of his renditions ‘She be tae be a big heifer.’ In English versions, and also in J, on the other hand, a more abrupt truncation of the story is made at an earlier point (= 8.4), reflecting popular printed editions like A which cut the text to save space. This curtailment has been attenuated by American versions; most of these add to the truncated text a lyric verse in which the unsuccessful suitor retires expressing grief.