“The Rambling Soldier (I)”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1839 (broadside, Bodleian Johnson Ballads 256)
Keywords: rambling nonballad sailor soldier injury
Found in: US(SE) Britain(England,Scotland) Australia


Soldier (sailor) describes the joys of rambling the countryside (of England): "I once was a seaman stout and bold, Ofttimes I plowed the ocean... For honor and promotion." In some versions he brags that he has a license to ramble, granted by the king.


Sharp notes that on the older broadsides, the rambler was a soldier; in the newer ones, he is a sailor. - PJS

Sharp may be right about which version is the older. The Bodleian broadsides give no clear-cut answer; however, Harding B 16(221a), "Rambling Soldier" lists the tune as "Rambling Sailor"; it also lists the author as John Morgan. - BS

In Brown's version (which is only two stanzas), it appears that he is a sailor who later enlists in the American Revolutionary army. This may be a rewrite, but the text it too short to be sure.

Ord's text says that the sailor has been granted a license to beg *because he has lost a limb.* Ordinarily I would consider this a significant enough distinction to split the songs, but the rest is the same; the lost limb appears (or fails to appear, perhaps) in only a single line. Perhaps a mixture with something like "The Forfar Soldier," or even a case of an injured veteran adopting the piece to his own case? - RBW

Cross references




  1. BrownIII 367, "The Jolly Soldier" (1 fragment plus mention of 1 more)
  2. Sharp-100E 43, "The Rambling Sailor" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Meredith/Anderson, pp. 174-175, "The Rambling Sailor" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Ord, p. 326, "Dicky Johnston, or, The Roving Sailor" (1 short text)
  6. Roud #518
  7. BI, ShH43