minstrel: Tom O'Bedlam

Dick Eney dickeney at access.digex.net
Sat Feb 8 23:11:02 PST 1997

On Fri, 7 Feb 1997, Katherine Penney wrote:

>Tamar the Gypsy (sharing account dickeney at access.digex.net) wrote:
>      <snip>
>> However, I feel certain that it was something reasonably scholarly, and 
>> that the version I collected was attested to be an in-period version
>> and the one to which Shakespeare referred.  I wish I could be more
>> specific, but I can't.

>      Shakespeare and Pepys both referred to Barbara Allen, is that proper 
>      documentation for the versions available to me?  I've heard "Twa 
>      Corbies is period because there was a broadside published in 1611 with 
>      a similar storyline called Three Ravens"....  *sigh*

What I said, milady, is that according to my long-ago source, _the
_version _I _collected_ was attested to be the one from Shakespeare's
time.  I certainly didn't copy it off a record album.

>> PS the tune commonly used for Mad Maudlin is modern, not the one
>> published in D'Urfey's _Pills to Purge Melancholy_.

>      I don't think D'Urfey should be used to document "PERIOD" music since 
>      many of the tunes in D'Urfey (several versions published around 1700, 
>      earliest 1698?)

Milady, what I intended by my words was merely what I said, the tune
commonly used by people singing Mad Maudlin's Song is a modern tune.  To
the best of my knowledge, it was given by Tom Gilfellon, and his tune was
not the one published by D'Urfey.  I did not attempt to use D'Urfey to
document anything period, since he is manifestly oop.  I merely said that
the modern tune isn't _even_ as old as the one in D'Urfey.

>      I've pasted the lyrics you contributed that someone verified as 
>      being from Tom O'Bedlam (this makes me more suspicious...
>      that Tom O'Bedlam was mixed with the latter version's                 
>      verses...  I've added comments with a C: in the verses below.

The version you comment on below is the one the other poster (Will Wen?) 
gave, which he admitted, in a posting a short time later, was a modern
folkie's mixture of the two songs.  There are several differences in the
wording due to folk process. 

> Of your five sound senses,
> You'll never be forsaken,
> Nor wander from yourself with Tom,
> Abroad to beg your bacon.
>         C:  Hey, notice that the rhyme patterns are 
>         different between this first verse and all the others?  The 
>         "second" verse with the internal rhyme in 
>         the third line feels much more modern than the first.

The first verse also has the internal rhyme in the third line.  Here it is

>From the hagg and hungrie goblin
That into raggs would rend ye,
And the spirit that _stands_ by the naked _man_
In the Book of Moones - defend ye!
That of your five sound senses
You never be forsaken,
Nor wander _from_ your selves with _Tom_
Abroad to beg your bacon.

> The night's my constant mistress,
> And the lonely owl my marrow,
> The flamin' drake, and the night-crow make,
>         C:  Both of these animals sound pretty supernatural,
>         which makes me suspect it isn't the original version.
>         It is very rare that a supernatural being will
>         be found in a DOCUMENTABLY period British Isles song or story.
>         Ghosts, maybe.  Unicorns, ok.  Fiends?  Not that I've seen.
> Me music to their sorrow.

This verse has suffered greatly from folk transmission.  In the version I
have, these lines are (spelling as it was in the book): 

The moon's my constant Mistrisse,
And the lowly owl my morrowe,
The flaming Drake and the Nightcrow make
Me music to my sorrow.

The flaming Drake is a flaming dragon.  ISTR Some feel this is an
astronomical reference to the constellation Draco; it may merely be a

The "morrowe" may be the Morrow-Priest, the priest who says the first Mass
of the day.  The Nightcrow is a bird (appropriately dressed in priestly
black) that wakes Tom and is the closest he gets to a midnight or dawn

I don't see anything that could be called a "fiend" in this verse.

> I know more than Appollo,
> Far off when he lies sleepin'
>         C: this isn't so arguable, in Shakespeare's time, Greek 
>         poets (SENECA ESPECIALLY) were very influential...
>         (course, I don't know if Apollo is greek, he's oop as far
>         as I care!!!!)
> I see the stars of mortal wars,
>         C: I suspect this phrase, too *mystic*....
> And the wounded welkin weeping.
>         C: A Welkin is a fiend of some sort, again suspicion.

More folkie confusion.  The verse as I have it:

I know more than Apollo,
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars at bloody wars
In the wounded welkin weeping,
The moone embrace her shepherd
And the queen of Love her warrior,
While the first doth horne the star of morne,
And the next the heavenly Farrier.

This is a classical allusion.  Apollo is the Graeco-Roman sun god; Tom
knows more than the sun, for he is awake during the night, when the sun
doesn't see what the stars and planets are up to.  In mythology, the moon
goddess is married to the morning star but embraces a shepherd boy, and
Venus embraces Mars yet she is married to Vulcan.  Thus both put "horns"
of cuckoldry on their husbands.  The "welkin" is an archaic word for the
arch of the sky.  Tom is hallucinating the acts of the gods of mythology, 
indicating that the author of this lyric was certainly educated.

> With a host of furious fancies, 
>         C:  Is a fancy a fiend?  I don't get this line... :)

"Fancy" is still a British synonym for "fantasy" in the sense of a
non-rational idea.  It survives mostly as a term for a whim, as in "I
fancy I'll have a cup of tea" but is more common in older books in the
sense of an imaginative conceit, as in "she is full of fancies, she is
fanciful."  Tom has many non-rational ideas, thus he has a host of
(many) furious (mad, insane) fancies (irrational ideas).

> Whereof I am commander,
> With a flaming spear, and a horse of air,
>         C: Hmm...another supernatural animal...
> Through the wilderness I wander

The horse of air could be a fantasy horse;  Tom could be pretending to
"ride" an invisible horse, even as teenagers a while back were playing
"air guitar" (or the actors in Monty Python and the Holy Grail were miming
horse-riding).  Or he may be being described as thinking he is riding the

> A knight of ghosts and shadows,
>         C: Here is a word play that I don't see to be pre 17th century.
> I summoned am to tourney,
> Ten leagues beyond the wide world's en
> oops.  I guess I didn't copy the whole thing...but you see what I mean?
> I'd date THESE lyrics (I'm not saying that Tom O Bedlam or its tune is 
> oop!) around 1700 too...too much mysticism and supernatural reference...

I doubt that mysticism and supernatural references are necessarily oop.
There were plenty of mystics in period, after all.  

I am working on finding the documentation again; Mistress Dorigen says she
has some and will send it to me (she does not have email, so it will have
to wait until she can get to a copier and snail-mail it).  She has only
recently begun to study this particular song, so could not quote me
chapter and verse from memory.

=Tamar the Gypsy (sharing account dickeney at access.digex.net)

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