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Folklore: Auctioning Off Wives

Related threads:
does anyone know a wife-selling song? (48)
Wife selling - songs, poems etc (12)

Alan of Australia 05 Jun 97 - 11:59 AM
dick greenhaus 04 Jun 97 - 11:24 PM
catfeet 04 Jun 97 - 11:14 PM
LaMarca 04 Jun 97 - 10:12 AM
rich r 02 Jun 97 - 11:44 PM
dick greenhaus 02 Jun 97 - 07:56 PM
Peter Timmerman 01 Jun 97 - 03:40 PM
rich r 31 May 97 - 11:08 PM
Peter Timmerman 29 May 97 - 11:05 AM
Sheye 29 May 97 - 10:13 AM
Peter Timmerman 29 May 97 - 09:55 AM
Martin Ryan 29 May 97 - 05:16 AM
Peter Timmerman 28 May 97 - 06:18 PM
Les Blank 28 May 97 - 06:04 PM
Peter Timmerman 28 May 97 - 03:00 PM
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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: Alan of Australia
Date: 05 Jun 97 - 11:59 AM

Not quite to the point but check out "The Farmer's Curst Wife"(in the DT as "The Devil And The Farmer's Wife") and "I Wish I Was Single Again" (In the DT).



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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 04 Jun 97 - 11:24 PM

Now, THIS is what I call a thread! Thanx to everyone
And keep 'em coming!

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From: catfeet
Date: 04 Jun 97 - 11:14 PM

Here's one that doesn't seem to be in the database.
It's done by Boys of the Lough, and it's called


For I sing in praise of John Magee who was auctioning his wife.
She was a hard working woman but the divil all her life.
Neither peace nor contentment this poor man could find,
So a way to get rid of her come into his mind.

Chorus: Diddle dee eye dee dum diddle dee um dee dum di diddle doh.

It was on a Thursday morning that she give him some old jaw,
So he says, "I can auction you according to the law."
So he printed on her forehead that the auction she would go,
And the more were the buyers the better she'd be sold.


Now a farmer from Kilkenny to the auction he did whit
With his mouth hanging open like a nine-foot gate.
He says, "Such a pretty woman I'd never seen before,"
And the more that they bid for her he bid a shilling more.


Nor a farmer from Kilarney who had just been passing by,
He bought this old geezer at shillings twenty-five.
Oh, he'd been a widower and a neighbor of her own,
And she hopped on the cart and they both drove home.


Now, to conclude and finish on to end upon me strife,
This poor John Magee he's gone home without his wife.
"May the divil follow after her," the auctioneer did say,
And "Amen" said the women and they all joined to pray.


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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: LaMarca
Date: 04 Jun 97 - 10:12 AM

Roy Harris, Tony Fraser and Michael O'Leary Johns did a house concert in our area last night, and sang "The Ship Carpenter's Wife". They prefaced it with the comment that the auction frequently was used when there was a third party already involved, so to speak; the cuckolded husband could then "sell" his wife to her lover, the lovers could go off together and the husband at least could get a cash settlement, and everyone gets a share... Since divorce was unavailable to working class folks (as mentioned above), this provided a somewhat satisfactory end to a dicey social problem.

By the way, Roy Harris and his friends are performing at Mystic this weekend, too - they're great, and well worth a listen! Wish we could get up there for the festival...

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Subject: Lyr Add: SALE OF A WIFE
From: rich r
Date: 02 Jun 97 - 11:44 PM

There is a tune, but it appears to have been "written." The song, JOHN HOBBS, comes from the book "The Rigs of the Fair" by Roy Palmer and Jon Raven (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1976, ISBN 0-521-20908-0). The footnotes at the end of the book indicate that Jon Raven wrote the tune. The book also lists a related recording "Wife for sale: Songs of a changing world" (Leader LER 2083). I know nothing about the recording or its availability. Finally, the same book contains a second song on the same topic. There is no music and it is not written in verse form, so I did not immediately recognize it as a song. The words are listed below.

SALE OF A WIFE (In This Neighborhood--Mrs. You-Know-Who)
19th century street ballad

Come all you lads and lasses gay, and banish care and strife,
In the market place, a mason did by auction sell his wife;
Thirteen shilling and a penny for the lady was the sum,
And to see the curious spree, some thousands soon did run;
In the market place, I do declare, it's true upon my life,
A mason did the other day, by auction sell his wife.

This man and wife, good lack-a-day, did often disagree;
For she often pawned her husband's clothes to go upon the spree.
So he led her to the market, with a halter, I am told,
And there she was, so help my Bob, by public auction sold.

When the auctioneer began the sale, a jolly farmer cried,
Here's five and fourpence half-penny for the mason's lushy bride;
A tanner cried out seven and six, and then the butcher said,
I'll give you ten and sevenpence, besides a bullock's head.
She's going cried the auctioneer, she's going, upon my life.
Tinkers, cobblers, sailors, will you buy a charming wife?

Such fighting, scratching, tearing too, before no one did see;
Such roaring, bawling, swearing, O! blow me, it was a spree.
At length a rum old cobbler did give a dreadful bawl,
Here's thirteen and a penny, with my lapstone and my awl.
Thirteen and a penny, when down the hammer dropt,
With whiskers, apron, bustle, shawl, stays, petticoat, and smock.

A lushy mason's lady was this blooming damsel gay,
She did unto the hammer come upon a market day;
Bakers, butchers, masons, did bid for her, we hear,
While a lot of rum old women pitched into the auctioneer.
Young men and maids did halloa, while married folks did sneer
They frightened the old cobbler and knocked down the auctioneer.

The cobbler took the lady up just like a Scotchman's pack,
And the funny mason's lady rode upon the cobbler's back.
Some laughed till they bursted, while others were perplexed,
But the cobbler bristled up his wife with two big balls of wax;
The cobbler sat her on his knee, and joyfully did bawl,
While the lady knocked about the seat the lapstone and the awl.

Then the mason he did sell his wife, as you shall understand,
And thirteen and a penny was popt into his hand;
He whistled and capered, for to banish care and strife,
He went into a gin-shop, singing, I have sold my wife;
So the divorced mason he may go, to banish care and strife,
Unto the market place again and buy another wife.

Now the cobbler and the lady are both in a stall,
While the cobbler works the bristle, and the lady works the awl.
And they upon the lapstone do so merry play together,
Singing heel and toe, gee up, gee woe, big balls of wax and leather.
And day and night in sweet delight, they banish care and strife,
The merry little cobbler and his thirteen shilling wife.

rich r

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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 02 Jun 97 - 07:56 PM

Rich- thanx for the words. Do you have the tune?

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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: Peter Timmerman
Date: 01 Jun 97 - 03:40 PM

Dear Rich, Thanks for your diligence. How interesting. yours, Peter

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Subject: ADD: John Hobbs
From: rich r
Date: 31 May 97 - 11:08 PM

Peter, your wishes come true. I found this little nugget.


A jolly shoemaker John Hobbs, John Hobbs,
A jolly shoemaker was he.
He married Jane Carter,
No damsel looked smarter,
But He's caught a tartar,
Yes, he's caught a tarter, John Hobbs, did he.

He tied a rope to her, John Hobbs, John Hobbs
He tied a rope to her did he,
To scape from hot water
To Smithfield he brought her,
But nobody bought her
They all were afraid of Jane Hobbs, were they

"Oh who'll buy a wife?" says Hobbs, John Hobbs
"A sweet pretty wife," says he.
But somehow they tell us,
The wife dealing fellows
Were all of them sellers
And none of them wanted Jane, did they

"Oh where is the rope?" says Hobbs, John Hobbs
"Come give me the rope" says he;
"I won't stand to wrangel,
Myself I will strangle,
And hang dingle dangle;"
He died in a tangle, John Hobbs did he.

Below is the extra verse and alternate end to 4th verse in happy ending version.

.... And hang dingle dangle"
He hung dingle dangle, John Hobbs did he.

But down his wife cut him, John Hobbs, John Hobbs,
But down his wife cut him, John Hobbs;
With a few hubble bubbles
They settled their troubles,
Like most married couples,
Oh happy shoemaker, John Hobbs, is he.

By the way, auctioning wives was not uncommon as recently as the 19th century. Divorce was only available by and Act of Parliament prior to 1857. And even after that was very expensive, so available only to the monied and connected. Thus wife auctioning became the poor man's (and woman's) release. They were usually prearranged by mutual consent and the ordinary people considered them legal, even though they were not.

rich r

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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: Peter Timmerman
Date: 29 May 97 - 11:05 AM

A1: I saw "Jude the Obscure" the other night, and when I read the thread about the Hiring Fair, it popped out! Alternatively, I could say I was working on a thesis on the intrusion of the cash nexus into folkoric practices of Victorian England with reference to the works of Thomas Hardy and Foucault's History of Sexuality. A2: If I had either would I be sitting here strumming "Lemon Tree" (another hot new candidate for exorcism)? Sheesh. Can't get away with anything around here. Yours, Peter

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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: Sheye
Date: 29 May 97 - 10:13 AM

Q1: How does auctioning off one's wife just "come to mind"? Q2: Did you manage to keep love and/or money without the wife?

What about paying someone to take the wife? Ransome of Red Cheif at a different level.

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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: Peter Timmerman
Date: 29 May 97 - 09:55 AM

Dear Martin, Thanks for the tip. The DT strikes again. Yours, Peter

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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: Martin Ryan
Date: 29 May 97 - 05:16 AM

Ship Carpenter's Wife, of which there is a version in the DT, is the usual example Still sung, certainly.

Not sure what the commission is these days!


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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: Peter Timmerman
Date: 28 May 97 - 06:18 PM

Good to hear from you Les. I appreciate the sentiments but I haven't got a wife (for love or money (sob)). I figure if I could only learn Greenfields, some lady might sashay over to the guitar/piano one night.... Of course, as I am learning from the other thread, she would likely ask for "Honey" by Bobbie Goldsboro (a new candidate for top pop horror). Such is my sad story -- reminds me of a song.... Yours, Peter

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Subject: RE: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: Les Blank
Date: 28 May 97 - 06:04 PM

Geez, Pete !! First you initiate a cathartic cleansing of

tradition and now you want to auction off your wife !!

I sincerely hope things go better for you in the new

century !! I will contemplate you situation(s) and try to

offer some solace from time to time.

P.S. I still have not worked out the break for Greenfields,

that doesn't mean I haven't worked on it -- it just means I'm

worse at accompaniment than you are.


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Subject: Query: Auctioning off Wives
From: Peter Timmerman
Date: 28 May 97 - 03:00 PM

The thread about "The Hiring Fair" raised a question in my mind. Are there any folk songs about auctioning off wives at fairs, a practice that if my mind doesn't fail me was described in Hardy's 19th century novel, "The Mayor of Casterbridge"? Just curious. Yours, Peter

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