Click on arrow to hear the song performed by Derek B. Scott, Professor of Critical Musicology, University of Leeds, to his own piano accompaniment c. 1980.
Professor Scott explains that the poem was first published in the New York Mirror in 1843, and was set to music by the blackface minstrel singer Nelson Kneass in 1848. It was hugely successful at the time, but had a new lease of life as the song that Trilby O'Ferrall sings in the novel Trilby (1894) by George du Maurier. It is described in the novel as an "unsophisticated little song," but when Trilby performs it under the influence of the sinister hypnotist Svengali it reawakens a "cosmic vision of the beauty and sadness of things" in her former lover Little Billee.
Scott, Derek B. The Singing Bourgeois: Songs of the Victorian Drawing Room and Parlour. 2nd ed. Aldershot, Hampshire; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2001.
Last modified 3 September 2007