b. February 21, 1825; d. September 11, 1896.
Francis James Child is best known as the compiler and editor of the 5-volume English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1894). These volumes encompass exhaustive research on 305 ballads, including text, themes, history, analysis, and a few melodies. Child's work is considered to be the "canon" of traditional English and Celtic folk music. Many of the ballads have been passed down through the centuries, and are still played today. Ballads include Tam Lin, a Robin Hood-ish tale, Twa Corbies, which tells of two crows conversing over a grave, The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, about a seal who can change into a human, and many, many more. The ballads are usually referred to by number; i.e., Tam Lin is Child #39.
Francis was the son of an impoverished Boston sail maker, and in his youth attended Boston's public schools. Eventually, the principal of the Boston Latin School, Epes Sargent Dixwell, noted the youth's high intelligence and made certain that he was able to enter Harvard. At Harvard, Child was elected class orator, and graduated at the head of his class in 1846.
Upon graduation, he accepted positions on the Harvard faculty, first in mathematics and then in history and political economy. While at Harvard, he began collecting ballads in many languages, and from 1849-51 he took a leave of absence to study drama and philology in Europe; returning to the college, he was named Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, a position he was to hold for 25 years. Continuing to collect ballads and folklore, Child acquired a sizeable library of them for the college, and was awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Gottengen, Harvard, and Columbia University.
In 1860 Child married Elizabeth Ellery Sedgwick, with whom he had three daughters and a son. Although his health kept him out of the union army during the American Civil War, he was an ardent patriot.
Child was severely injured in 1893 in a carriage accident, and his health gradually declined until he died in 1896, leaving the introduction and bibliography to the final volume of English and Scottish Popular Ballads only partially finished.
Child published many scholarly works besides English and Scottish Popular Ballads, the most important of these being The Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser (5 volumes published in 1855) and Observations on the Language of Chaucer and Gower (given as a paper in 1862 and published in 1863). He was also the general editor of a series of British Poets, begun in 1853 and eventually including one hundred and fifty volumes.
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads is in itself an extremely rare volume to collectors, a set in good quality often selling for nearly a thousand dollars.
Child's work is referenced heavily in James Michener's novel The Drifters.
Full text of many of the ballads, as well as some midi-tunes, can be found at http://www.contemplator.com/child/.