Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Ebsworth, Joseph Woodfall

EBSWORTH, JOSEPH WOODFALL (1824–1908), editor of ballads, born on 2 Sept. 1824 at 3 Gray's Walk, Lambeth, was younger son (in the family of thirteen children) of Joseph Ebsworth [q. v.], dramatist and musician, by his wife Mary Emma Ebsworth [q. v.], writer for the stage. Thomas Woodfall of Westminster, son of Henry Sampson Woodfall [q. v.], the printer of Junius's letters, was the boy's godfather. In 1828 the family removed to Edinburgh, where the father opened a bookshop, and Joseph made good use of his opportunities of reading. At fourteen he entered the board of trustees' school of art, where he studied successively under Charles Heath Wilson, Sir William Allan, and David Scott. For the last he cherished a lifelong affection. In 1848 he went to Manchester to serve as chief artist to Faulkner Bros., lithographers, who were busy with railway plans during the railway mania, but he soon left for Glasgow, where he became a master at the school of design. In 1849 he exhibited for the first time at the Scottish Academy, sending four large water-colour views of Edinburgh. One of these pictures (the north view) he engraved privately. In 1850 he sent a picture illustrating Tennyson's 'Locksley Hall.' In July 1853 he started on a solitary pedestrian tour through central Europe and Italy. He returned to Edinburgh in 1854, and busied himself until 1860 with painting, engraving, and writing prose and verse for the press. Then his plans changed and he matriculated at St. John's College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. in 1864 and M.A. in 1867. On 31 July 1864 he was ordained deacon, and in 1868 priest. He was successively curate of Market Weighton (1864-5), of St. Stephen's, Bowling, near Bradford (1866-7), and of All Saints (1868-9) and Christ Church (1870-1), both in Bradford, In January 1871 Ebsworth became vicar of Molash near Ashford. The parishioners were few and of small means, and he raised outside the parish 1600Z. wherewith to build a vicarage. A practical and genial sort of piety and an affectionate disposition enabled Ebsworth to discharge his clerical duties efficiently, although the bohemian strain in his nature made him impatient of much clerical convention. But the chief part of his time at Molash was devoted to literary work at home or to researches which he pursued in the British Museum. He had published at Edinburgh two collections of miscellaneous prose and verse, 'Karl's Legacy' (2 vols. 1867) and 'Literary Essays and Poems' (1868). Concentrating his interest on the amatory and humorous poems and ballads of the seventeenth century, he now produced a notable series of reprints of light or popular poetic literature. In 1875 he published editions of 'The Westminster Drolleries' of 1671 and 1672, and 'The Merry Drolleries' of 1661 and 1670. 'The Choyce Drolleries' of 1656 followed next year. The 'Ballad Society,' which had been founded in 1868, soon enlisted his services, and he became its ablest and most industrious supporter. For that society he edited the 'Bagford Ballads' from the British Museum (2 pts. 1876-8), together with the 'Amanda Group of Bagford Poems' (1880). His main labour for the Ballad Society was the completion of its edition of the Roxburghe collection of ballads in the British Museum. William Chappell [q. v. Suppl. I] edited three volumes (1860-79). From 1879 onwards Ebsworth continued Chappell's work and published volumes iv. to ix. of the Roxburghe collections between 1883 and 1899. The separate pieces numbered 1400, and Ebsworth classified them under historical and other headings, bringing together, for example, 'Early Naval Ballads' (1887), 'Early Legendary Ballads' (1888), 'Robin Hood Ballads' (1896), and 'Restoration Ballads' (1899). Ebsworth, who transcribed the texts which he reprinted, supplied exhaustive introductions, notes, and indices. At the same time he interspersed his editorial contributions with original verse, and also executed with his own hand woodcuts after the original illustrations. A sturdy champion of the seventeenth century royalists, and a hearty hater of puritanism, he freely enlivened his editorial comments with the free expression of his personal prejudices, and with scornful references to current political and religious views from which he dissented. But despite editorial eccentricities his work forms a serious and invaluable contribution to the history of English ballad literature. Ebsworth was elected F.S.A. in 1881.

In 1894 he retired from Molash vicarage to live privately at Ashford. There he died on Whitsunday, 7 June 1908; he was buried in Ashford cemetery. His library was sold in 1907. On 29 May 1865 he married Margaret, eldest daughter of William Blore, rector of Goodmanham, East Yorkshire. She died on 18 April 1906, leaving no issue. A portrait in early life was painted by Thomas Duncan [q. v.] of Edinburgh. Another portrait was taken in 1873 for the collection of portraits of the Canterbury clergy formed by Mrs. Tait, wife of the archbishop.

Besides the works mentioned, Ebsworth printed in 1887, for private circulation, a hundred and fifty copies of 'Cavalier Lyrics for Church and Crown.' Many of the poems were scattered through his reprints of the 'drolleries' and ballads. All reflect the manner of Suckling or Carew, and more or less genially expound the thorough-going toryism which was part of Ebsworth's nature. He also edited Shakespeare's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' of 1600 (Furnivall's Facsimile Texts,' 1880); 'Poems by Thomas Carew' (1892); 'Poems of Robert Southwell' (1892); and Butler's 'Hudibras' (1892, 3 vols.). With Miss Julia H. L. De Vaynes he edited 'The Kentish Garland' (2 vols. 1881-2), and for the early volumes of this Dictionary he wrote lives of his father and mother and of Charles and Thomas John Dibdin.

[J. C. Francis, Notes by the Way, 1909; Notes and Queries, 27 June 1908; Crockford's Clerical Directory, 1908.]

S. L.