Child, Francis James, 1825-1896

Alternative names
Birth 1825-02-01
Death 1896-09-11

Biographical notes:

The materials in this bound volume were generated due to a manuscript called the "Harris manuscript." The Harris manuscript was written down by the sisters Amelia Harris (1815-1891) and Jane Harris (1823-1897). They compiled a family repertoire of Scottish ballads, mainly passed on orally to the sisters by their mother, Grace Dow Harris (Mrs. David Harris) (b.1782). This manuscript and some correspondence was purchased in 1873 by Professor Francis James Child of Harvard University who was a scholar of ballads, in order to help make these songs known. Other correspondents involved with the Harris manuscript include: William Edmondstoune Aytoune, Norval Clyne, and others.

From the guide to the Francis James Child collection of letters and papers relating to the Harris ballad manuscript, 1859-1913., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

Child was an American philologist, Harvard graduate (A.B. 1846), and Harvard professor of rhetoric, oratory, and English. George Lyman Kittredge (Harvard A.B. 1882) was Child's protégé and successor at Harvard, and he organized and described this material after Child's death in 1896.

From the description of English and Scottish popular ballad research materials, 1849-1914. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 77898550

Child, born in Boston, Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard University in 1846. He became the Harvard Boylston professor of rhetoric, oratory, and elocution in 1851 and in 1876 became professor of English. He was known for studying, collecting, and cataloging folk ballads and compiled the authoritative work, The English and Scottish popular ballads.

From the guide to the Francis James Child papers, 1842-1925., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

American author and philologist.

From the description of Papers of Francis James Child [manuscript], 1871-1893. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 647834050

Child graduated from Harvard in 1846 and taught rhetoric and oratory and English at Harvard.

From the description of Papers of Francis James Child, 1846-1916 (inclusive). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 77069248

Child graduated from Harvard University in 1846. He was an American philologist and professor of English at Harvard who studied, collected, and cataloged folk ballads.

From the description of Francis James Child papers, 1842-1925. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 612367535

Epithet: Professor of Rhetoric at Harvard College

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001393.0x000385

Francis James Child (1825-1896) was born in Boston, the third of eight children of Joseph Child and his wife Mary James Child. He was a graduate of Harvard College, A.B. 1846. After graduation he remained at Cambridge as tutor in mathematics (1846-1848) and later in history and political economy (1848-1849). From 1849 to 1851 he studied philosophy, the classics, and Germanic philology at the University of Göttingen. Upon his return to Harvard he became the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. In 1860, he married Elizabeth Ellery Sedgwick, daughter of Robert Sedgwick of New York, and they had three daughters and one son.

In 1876, Child was made professor of English and devoted himself thereafter to the teaching and study of literature. His chief works were on Spenser and Chaucer, and he is best known for his research into the history of English and Scottish ballads, first publishing English and Scottish Ballads (8 vols., 1857-1858), and later, his edition of 305 distinct English and Scottish ballads and their textual variants, English and Scottish Popular Ballads (5 vols., originally issued in 10 parts, 1882-1898). Ballad texts for this edition were culled from manuscript and printed materials extant at the end of the 19th century. This published text was planned "to include every obtainable version of every extant English or Scottish ballad, with the fullest possible discussion of related songs or stories in the popular literature of all nations." The tenth part was virtually complete, except for a general introduction to the whole work, at the time of Child's death in 1896.

At his death, Child left behind a great wealth of manuscripts, copies, letters, and other material pertaining to his study of ballads. George Lyman Kittredge (Harvard A.B. 1882), who was Child's former student, was Child's successor to the Boylston Professorship, and later was Harvard's first Gurney Professor of English (1917). It was Kittredge who spent hundreds of hours organizing this material which he referred to as the "Child MSS" or "Child Manuscripts." The 33 volumes described in this finding aid are the organized product of Kittredge's work, and reflect the order which he imposed upon it. It was Kittredge, also, who completed the last volume of Child's ballad compendium and saw it through to publication. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads is now said to be the publication that established the groundwork for English-speaking ballad scholarship in the 20th century.

From the guide to the Francis James Child English and Scottish popular ballad research materials, 1849-1914., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)


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  • Folk songs, Scots
  • Ballads, Scots
  • Folk songs, English
  • Folk literature--Study and teaching (Higher)
  • Ballads, English--Texts
  • Manuscripts
  • Ballads, English--History and criticism
  • Scots--Songs and music
  • Philologists
  • English philology--Study and teaching (Higher)--History
  • Philologists--Correspondence
  • Oral tradition
  • Ballads, Slavic
  • Ballads, Scots--Texts
  • Music
  • Ballads, English
  • Scotland--Songs and music
  • Manuscripts, Scottish
  • American literature--19th century


  • Collector


  • Scotland (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Rome (as recorded)
  • Germany (as recorded)
  • Scotland (as recorded)
  • Scotland (as recorded)
  • England (as recorded)
  • Carlisle, Cumberland (as recorded)
  • Shetland (Scotland) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)