minstrel: Re:Tom O'Bedlam

Dick Eney dickeney at access.digex.net
Mon Feb 10 11:24:02 PST 1997


On Mon, 10 Feb 1997, Bill Hodghead wrote:

> There are two different period (pre-1600) songs that go by a name like
> Tom O'Bedlam. They are both mentioned in various sources of the time (I
> don't have my docs at work to quote them, sorry). 
> 
> However, I've been unable to find any words earlier then the filks
> printed in Le Prince de Amor (1666). 

I have just received email from a friend in England that the earliest
words she knows of are "in the common book inscribed 'Giles Earle his book
1615' which is in the British Museum."  I have asked her to send me the
version she has. 

> Several of the filks are to the Bedlam Boys song we know better, 

Is this the tune used by Tom Gilfellon for "Mad Maudlin's Search" (which
apparently he called Tom of Bedlam)?

> the other is to the second (quite
> different) tune. I've been unable to find any printed tune before the on
> in Pills to Purge Melancholy (1717 or so). This tune is similar to the
> one sung today in around here in the SCA although the actual source of
> the tune we sing is from an album by Steeleye Span. Most people 
> Warning - Dates on the calendar are closer than they appear.

You seem to have had a premature-send command.

The tune I have (and the information that it came from Tom Gilfellon's
performance) is from the Dark Ships In The Forest LP by John Roberts and
Tony Barrand.  I am unfamiliar with the Steeleye Span tune; what album is
it on?  (I haven't got the one in Pills to Purge Melancholy, either;
is there a book I could look for to get it?)

I have copied some information out of the OED about the date of use of the
term, "Bedlam" for a madman, which follow here.

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

Bedlam references in the OED:

     Bedlam as a short or common form of Bethlehem dates from at least
the 15th century;  ca. 1440 _Lay-folks Mass-book_ refers to: "Ihesu,
that was in bedlem borne."
     The Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem was founded as a priory in
1247.... In 1330 it is mentioned as "an hospital" and _in 1402 as a
hospital for lunatics_ (Timbs).  In 1547 it was incorporated as a
Royal Foundation for the reception of lunatics.  It was rebuilt near
the city wall in 1676.  In 1815 it was transferred to Lambeth.  Jack
or Tom Bedlam: a madman.
     Bedlam: definition #5. An inmate of a lunatic asylum, or one of
the discharged patients (often only half-cured) who were licensed to
beg, wearing as a badge a tin plate on their left hand or arm.
     1522: Skelton, _Why Not To Courte_: "such a madde bedleme for to
rewle this reame"
     1525: Tindale, _N.T._ prologue: "so bedlem madde to affyrm that
good is the naturall cause of yfell"
     1528: Tindale: Things which they of Bedlam may see that they are
but madmen.
     1541 Barnes: _Wks_: "a scorge to tame those bedlams with."
     1545 Coverdale: "to be mad bedlames"
     1556 Heywood: "Beetil blind and bedlem mad."
     1562 Heywood: "Lyke lacke of Bedlem in and out whipping."
     1572 "Bedleme houses where madde and frantike men are kept."
     1576 Newton, _Lemnie's Complex_: "Many being angered...will
Bedlam-like run upon their enemies"
     1589 Pappew w. Hatchett: "could sute them in no place but in
Bedlam"
     1593 Shakespeare, _Henry VI_: "To Bedlem with him! Is the man
grown mad?"
     1594 T.B., _La Primaud.Fr.Acad._: "the veriest bedlems."
     1598 Marston _Pygmalion_: "Bedlame, Frenzie, Madnes, Lunacie"
     1605 Shakespeare, _King Lear_: "with a sighe like Tom
O'Bedlam".... "the country gives me proof and president of bedlam
beggars."
     1611 Cotg.: "A hungry Boore is halfe a bedlam."  ["boore" =
peasant, countryman]

     So, though the hospital became a madhouse by 1402, the earliest
surviving _written_ reference using "Bedlam" as a commonly understood
term for a madman seems to be found in 1522.  Possibly it took eighty
or so years for the Bethlehem madhouse to become famous.  No doubt its
incorporation in 1547 helped to spread that fame.  Shakespeare's
reference appears to have been the earliest reference in print to Tom
O'Bedlam, and being used in a simile is expected to be understood by
the average playgoer in 1605.  (The OED doesn't give any references to
Jack O'Bedlam under this definition, nor under "Jack".)

*** end of quotes from OED ***



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