Born in 1825, this son of a sailmaker* went to Harvard on scholarship and later put his passion into studying and collecting the folk songs of Scotland and England. Starting in 1882, he published ten volumes of English and Scottish Ballads with notes and side-by-side commentary about multiple versions of 305 songs.
He categorized the ballads by theme ("Supernatural Beings," "Tragic Other than Love," "Humor," etc.) and numbered them. For example, Child #26 is "The Twa Corries" also "The Three Ravens," a song from before 1600 about carrion birds discussing their future meal of the body of a fallen knight.
Child #39 is "Tam Lin," which has a dozen versions of the story in which a spunky maiden must save the handsome human knight she loves from his doom as a prisoner of the court of Elfland. Some may remember Sandy Dennys of Fairport Convention singing it. The story of Janet (or Margaret, depending on the version) and her knight has inspired a handful of recent novels, including two that I like very much:
Tam-Lin by Pamela Dean is a novel about being an English major. The main character, Janet, goes to a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, where she does a lot of reading before noticing that her boyfriend is in thrall to the Queen of Elfland and only she can rescue him.
It's not a book for everyone. It's a story that idealizes the undergrad experience and luxuriates in literary references, so for certain nerdy bookworms, it's intoxicating.
Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones is a novel for younger readers (think Harry Potter rather than, say Beezus and Ramona) that sets the Tam Lin story in suburban Britain. It begins when Polly, home from college, is looking through her childhood things and suddenly begins to remember a second set of memories.
It's a race against time as she tries to understand what happened to a musician named Tom Lynn who was very important to her as a kid -- before the rather awful and mesmerizing Laurel, who holds court next door and who has a penchant for young musicians, sends him to his doom.
Chosen simply because it was published by Greenwillow Books, which was then run by one of my publishing idols, Susan Hirschman, it has been a happy find and a great bargain.
A sort of literary child of Child.
(* No, really...
Which make these also the grandkids of a sailmaker.)