The first song in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, Vaughan Williams noted this on the 22nd December 1904, from Mr Ted Baines of Lower Beeding in Sussex. That’s just down the road from Monksgate, where RVW collected many fine songs from Peter and Harriet Verrall. He had only three songs from Mr Baines, but what a find this one was – like ‘Master Kilby’ and ‘The Brisk Young Widow’, it’s a song which has been collected only once from tradition.
Unlike those two songs, a broadside version has been identified – ‘I’ll mourn for my sailor; Or, The Compulsion’, printed in Hull, Manchester and London, but not yet (as far as I can ascertain) accessible on the web.
Vaughan Williams recorded that Ted Baines was an agricultural labourer, aged “about 70”. Malcolm Douglas, in his biographical notes in Classic English Folk Songs (the revised edition of the Penguin book) identifies an Edwin Baines in the 1881 census, aged 54, so quite likely our singer – except he doesn’t seem to be in the 1901 census.
‘All things are quite silent’ is one of those songs I’ve sort of known for years – since the late 1970s in fact, having first heard it on Steeleye Span’s LP Hark! The Village Wait. I’ve tried to sing the melody as collected – it’s a very simple AABA type tune, whereas most people, following Steeleye and Shirley Collins, sing an ABCA variation. The words, however, are a sometimes misremembered mixture of those found in the Penguin book, and some which have snuck in from other people’s versions.All things are quite silent