When hunting through broadside ballad and folk song collections on a regular basis for links, one of the more obvious links one finds is the way some of the longer ballads of the 17th and 18th centuries have come down to us, having been rewritten for different audiences and changing fashions over the centuries, until we end up with the relatively short songs found in oral tradition in more recent years, often remnants of what were ballads with 50 stanzas.
However, sometimes it's not a recognizable set of lines or stanzas that have evolved over the centuries, but certain themes instead. One such theme, which very likely goes back to pre-print days, is the 'false parts' theme. It usually consists of the following sequence of events: The lusty wooer or wedding-night bridegroom follows the object of his desire up to her boudoir where the expectant male is shocked to observe his intended victim or newly wed bride take off a series of false body parts, i.e. wig, glass eye, false teeth, false leg, etc. before hopping into bed.
The earliest ballad on this theme in my collection dates from about 1660. It is titled News from Hide Park in the Roxburghe Collection (Ballad Society printing, Vol 6, p496), but versions can be found in all the other main collections of the period. It is too long to quote in full here so the relevant stanzas 7 to 11 will suffice. In stanzas 1 to 6 the narrator describes the fashionable beauties on parade in Hyde Park. Eventually he singles one out and they talk until dark when he offers to see her home. On reaching her abode he presses his suit and:
'With many denials she yielded at last,|
Her chamber being wondrous privee;
That I all the night there might have my repast,
To run at the Ring tan-tivee.
I put off my cloathes, and I tumbled to bed;
She went to her closet to dress up her head,
But I peep'd in the key-hole to see what she did,
Which put me quite beside my Tan-tivee,
She took off her head-tire, and show'd her bald pate,
Her cunning did very much grieve me,
Thought I to myself, “If it were not so late,
I would home to my lodgings, believe me!”
Her hair being gone, she seem'd like a hagg,
Her bald-pate did look like an Estritche's egg,
“This lady” thought I “Is as right as my leg,
She hath been too much at Tan-tivee.”
The more I did peep, the more I did spy,
Which did to amazement drive me;
She put up her finger, and out dropt her eye,
I pray'd that some power would relieve me;
But now my resolve was never to trouble her,
Or venture my carkis with such a blind hobbler.
She look'd with one eye just like Hewson the Cobler,
When he us'd to ride Tan-tivee.
I peept, and was still more perplex'd therewith;
Thought I, “Tho't be midnight I'le leave thee;
She fetcht a yawn, and out fell her teeth,
This quean had intents to deceive me;
She drew out her handkerchief, as I suppose,
To wipe her high fore-head, and off dropt her nose,
Which made me run quickly and put on my hose,
“The Devil is in my Tan-tivee!”
She washt all the paint from her visage, and then
She look'd just (if you will believe me)
Like a Lancashire Witch of four-score and ten,
And as if the devil did drive me
I put on my cloathes and cry'd, “Witches and whores!”
I tumbl'd down stairs, broke open the doors,
And down to my country again to my Boors
Next morning I rid Tan-tivee.'
Also in the Roxburghe Collection (Ballad Society printing, Vol 3, p224) is a ballad in two parts there titled The Husband who Met with his Match c.1680. A bachelor in his thirties woos and marries a wealthy widow who soon dies and leaves him in riches. He repeats the exercise, but after marrying the third widow she reveals herself to him in the following way…
'Two rowes of white teeth she took out of her mouth,|
And put 'em straight into a little round boxe;
A glasse eye likewise she pull'd out of her head,
Which made the man fear that his wife had got knocks.
Her pouldred curl'd locks, that so faire did appeare,
Came off with more ease than a new scalded pigge.
I wonder her husband could laughing forbeare,
When he saw his wife looke like an ostridge egge.
Then strait way down stoop'd this comely sweet bride,
Unlac't and ungirded her neat woodden legge:
The bridegroome was like to run out of his wits,
For his eyes ne'r before did behold such a hagge.'
He is satisfied, however, when she throws him the keys of her treasure house.
The most widespread variant of the theme to be found on 19th century broadsides is the ballad usually titled The Virgin only Nineteen Years Old, Roud 4792, (See for example, Bodleian ballad website, Harding Collection B11(3991). Here the narrator meets the 'virgin' near The Strand. In three weeks he marries her and on their wedding night she removes a whole catalogue of false parts and turns out to be ninety-nine years old.
The Music Hall period produced The Belle of the Ball, 1873, sung by George Leybourne, written and composed by G W Hunt. I have a copy of the original sheet music with an engraving of Leybourne on the cover. By the 1870s the Music Hall had become a much more upmarket affair patronized by the middle classes, therefore Leybourne couldn't afford to sing anything too risqué, so instead of in the bedroom the beauty reveals her false parts on the dance floor. In one verse she swallows her false teeth, in the next her false eye becomes apparent when one eye looks at the ceiling and the other at the floor, and in the final verse off comes her wig to expose her head as bald as an egg.
In an American variant The Old Maid and the Burglar, Roud 658, (See A P Hudson's Folk Songs of the Mississippi, p249) the theme has been adapted. A burglar enters the old maid's house and when disturbed hides under the bed. He sees the old maid go through the usual routine and has 99 fits. She reaches for her gun and threatens to shoot him if he won't marry her, to which he replies, “Woman, for the Lord's sake shoot”. This last idea is very close to a parody my grandfather used to sing.
Another American variant is The Warranty Deed, Roud 2188, in Songs from the Hills of Vermont by Elizabeth B Sturgis, 1919, p26. This one goes to the Villikins tune and is about a lawyer reduced to poverty (highly imaginative) who decides to marry a wealthy old maid but forgets to apply for a warranty deed, and runs for his life when the teeth come out and the wig comes off.
Late 19th century variants tend to be parodies on popular songs of the period, the most popular at the present day being the After the Ball parody, Roud 4859, which just employs the removal of the false parts and is sung to the After the Ball chorus. According to Spaeth's Read 'em and Weep p.192, it was also the most popular parody on After the Ball in its own time.
Two well-known songs from 1927 inspired parodies on the theme. Among my Souvenirs, Roud 1758, appears on the Vic Legg CD as part of his Dockyard Medley. Geoff Ling, according to Songs Sung in Suffolk by John Howson, p.78, not only sings the parody but claims to have written it in 1947.
I finish with my favourite, a parody on Side by Side, Roud 12788, different versions supplied by friends on the local folk scene, but this one from Rick Wastling of The White Horse Ceilidh Band:
We got married on Friday,|
Everyone said it was my day,
Then they buggered off home
And left us alone, Side by side.
We got ready for bed then,
Oh, I nearly dropped dead, when
Her teeth and her hair
She threw on the chair, Side by side
Well I nearly fainted
When her glass eye she let fall,
First an arm, and then a leg,
She leaned against the wall.
I was near broken hearted,
From most of me wife I'd been parted,
So I slept on the chair,
There was more of her there, Side by side.
A lot shorter than the 17th century variants, but a vast improvement, 300 years or more in the making.