“Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1792
Keywords: love separation nonballad
Found in: Britain US(SE) Canada(Mar)


"Oh dear, what can the matter be? (x3), Johnny's so long at the fair." Johnny had promised to bring the singer various gifts, such as "blue ribbons... to tie up my bonny brown hair," but he is long in coming


Fuld reports this song appearing, almost as if by magic, in sundry editions and manuscripts between 1770 and 1792. None list authors, and few can be dated exactly. The origin of this song, clearly more popular for its tune than its banal lyrics, must therefore remain a mystery. - RBW

Broadside LOCSinging sb10024a: H. De Marsan dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS

Same tune

Cross references



  1. BrownIII 122, "Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?" (1 text plus mention of 1 more)
  2. Creighton-SNewBrunswick 85, "Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be?" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Opie-Oxford2 280, "Johnny shall have a new bonnet" (3 texts)
  4. Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #158, p. 118, "(Johnny shall have a new bonnet)"
  5. Silber-FSWB, p. 150, "Oh, Dear! What Can the Matter Be"" (1 text)
  6. Fuld-FFM, pp. 398-399, "Oh! Dear, What Can the Matter Be?"
  8. ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #78, "Oh! Dear1" (1 text)
  9. Roud #1279
  10. BI, FSWB150B