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Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer

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BENJAMIN BOWMANEER


Related threads:
(origins) History of Benjamin Bowmaneer (18)
Tune Req: Benjamin Bowmaneer (38)
Help - Benjamin Bowmaneer: Britten arrangement? (2)
Lyr Req: Benjamin Bowmaneer (11)
Tune add: Benjamin Bowmaneer (1)


Skipper Jack 20 Oct 02 - 04:28 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 20 Oct 02 - 05:04 PM
Crane Driver 20 Oct 02 - 06:29 PM
Malcolm Douglas 20 Oct 02 - 06:47 PM
AggieD 21 Oct 02 - 01:14 PM
Don Firth 21 Oct 02 - 01:49 PM
GUEST,Laz 06 Jul 06 - 06:33 PM
GUEST,Warpy 06 Jul 06 - 07:12 PM
McGrath of Harlow 06 Jul 06 - 08:32 PM
Malcolm Douglas 07 Jul 06 - 02:10 AM
GUEST,Smiler 06 Sep 06 - 07:40 AM
GUEST,LizardQueen 29 Dec 08 - 01:43 AM
Lizzie Cornish 1 29 Dec 08 - 03:50 AM
GUEST,rude mechanical 28 Apr 09 - 04:19 PM
Fran 29 Apr 09 - 03:16 AM
GUEST,Vicki Kelsey 29 Apr 09 - 04:22 PM
Jim Dixon 11 May 09 - 02:42 PM
McGrath of Harlow 11 May 09 - 05:20 PM
Kosmo 04 Sep 09 - 08:52 AM
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Subject: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: Skipper Jack
Date: 20 Oct 02 - 04:28 PM

Does anyone know the origins of "Benjamin Bowmaneer"?
I sing the song on occasions. I seem to think that there is a maritime link here. The refrain according to The Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs is: "Castors Away"? I share the view that it could be "Cast Us Away"? as the book says; which does strengthen the theory that the song has maritime connections.

Well, my learned friends, what think ye?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 20 Oct 02 - 05:04 PM

I'm not particularly learned, but having grown up hearing/singing the song, I can safely say that I have never once made a connection between Bowmaneer and the sea. I've always thought of it as an enigmatic anti-war nonsense song. But really,... I'm sure it would make a delightful sea song in no time at all! ... change a coupla words and yer off on the high seas! ttr


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: Crane Driver
Date: 20 Oct 02 - 06:29 PM

As I heard it (I can't remember where - possibly Bert Lloyd) "Castor" is an old word for a type of hat, so "Castors away" means "hats off" or some such.

(Moments later) Ah yes, according to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, a castor is a hat made from beaver skin, "Castor" being from the Latin for "Beaver"

Isn't Mudcat educational? Every time, I go away thinking "Well, that taught ME a lesson."

Andrew


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 20 Oct 02 - 06:47 PM

There have been a few discussions of this song (and its refrain) in the past. See in particular Benjamin Bowmaneer, where two traditional sets are given which were not known to the editors of the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. The thread also contains links to other discussions.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: AggieD
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 01:14 PM

Somewhere in the back of my mind I seem to recall that I gathered the info that the song related to the Napoleonic wars, with the flea being a parody on Napoleon.

Where this gem came from I do not know. I store all sorts of useless bits of info in my brain & every so-often they just pop out.

Then again a performer may have just made this up at some point in time & I just took it to be true!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: Don Firth
Date: 21 Oct 02 - 01:49 PM

And, of course, there is the image of the tailor as it often appears in folk songs. Probably based on the idea that being a tailor is not a fit occupation for a he-man, the tailor is often portrayed as a kind of buffoon, sometimes as a trickster. Legend has it that during Lady Godiva's ride, the townspeople averted their eyes out of respect for the lady (riding naked through the streets of Coventry was her social protest against the heavy taxes her husband levied on the people) except for Thomas, the tailor—said to be the origins of the expression "peeping Tom." Tailors get a kind of a bum rap.

(Trivia time)

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: GUEST,Laz
Date: 06 Jul 06 - 06:33 PM

English Civil War.
The tailor was no one in particular. Just a euphemism for someone that didn't fight or was cowardly. Bit like Italy and the 2nd world war.
Point was that the 'New Model Army' had to have uniforms. Who makes uniforms?.......... Tailors!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: GUEST,Warpy
Date: 06 Jul 06 - 07:12 PM

I too have always thought this song was from the English Civil war.I thought the Tailor was a reference to Oliver Cromwell.The lyrics "when England fought to a man " would perhaps suggest it.It was a very popular sons in the beer tents of the Sealed Knot at one time.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 06 Jul 06 - 08:32 PM

The structure of the song and the tune always sounds French to me, maybe Breton - the kind of thing that might have been picked up and Anglicised in Napoleonic times maybe.

Anyone know enough about French songs of the period to be able to explore that possibility?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 07 Jul 06 - 02:10 AM

There's no particular evidence that the song has any allegorical content, so I'd think any connection with Napoleon or Cromwell is no more than speculation. The Penguin example (see link above) was learned from an itinerant tailor "some time between 1804 and 1807", and that is the earliest date we have for it, though it was presumably at least a bit older than that. When you get back to the 18th century, the form of the melody isn't so very different from a lot of other songs of the period; a French connection is perfectly possible, but unnecessary to explain the way it sounds. The scholar Anne Gilchrist thought that it was related to the 'Spanish Ladies' tune.

The song seems unlikely to date back as far as the Civil War, but it appears to borrow elements from older songs such as 'A Bloody Battle Between a Taylor and a Louse' and the earlier 'A Dreadful Battle Between a Taylor and a Louse' which was printed c1655; so that may give it the air of greater age.

For the 'Dreadful Battle' (and a link to 'The War-like Taylor,' a slightly later re-working of it) see  http://www.folk-network.com/miscellany/penguin/bowmaneer.html


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: GUEST,Smiler
Date: 06 Sep 06 - 07:40 AM

I'm surprised you still talk of Italians as cowardly, because of WWII. It just proves you don't know what you're talking about, just repeating what you heard. What about the Italian Resistance movement, who actually fought against the Germans? Were they cowards? The plain fact is, the bulk of the Italian people had no interest in that war - particularly against Britain and America. Their soldiers surrendered in droves, then joined us in fighting the Germans! (No I am not Italian - nor is any member of my family).


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: GUEST,LizardQueen
Date: 29 Dec 08 - 01:43 AM

Always loved this rather eerie song, and figured it had some meaning that escaped me. Fascinating discussion as to possible Napoleonic connections or Civil War provenance, though.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: Lizzie Cornish 1
Date: 29 Dec 08 - 03:50 AM

I don't know where it came from, but I know that until you've heard The Duncan McFarlane Band sing it at top volume with the full electric treatment, you've not lived! :0)

The song's not actually on here, but the others will give you an idea of the life that Duncan and his band manage to get into songs. (They do acoustic versions too, by the way, for anyone who hasn't yet seen them)

DMcFee Band - Myspace


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: GUEST,rude mechanical
Date: 28 Apr 09 - 04:19 PM

How can a tailor make a horse? Answer, he makes a foam-steed, ie, a ship. It must be an elaborate kenning based on sails, shear-board/ steerboard, bell/ 6 bells, etc.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: Fran
Date: 29 Apr 09 - 03:16 AM

I love this version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2FYo6zPpbE


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: GUEST,Vicki Kelsey
Date: 29 Apr 09 - 04:22 PM

Retired Smithsonian folk archivist Joe Hickerson does the song on a Golden Ring album. I imagine he will be able to provide information on its origins.


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE PRANCING TAILOR WENT PROUDLY BY
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 11 May 09 - 02:42 PM

From Notes and Queries, 4th Series, Volume 8, Sept 2, 1871, page 186:

Song.—Can any one help me to the words of a song popular some forty years ago, the refrain of which was—"The prancing tailor went proudly by"?
PELAGIUS.


Ibid, Sept 9, 1871, page 214:

THE PRANCING TAILOR WENT PROUDLY BY
So far as my memory serves me, the first line of this song runs somewhat thus:—

"A tailor he sat at work,
Benjamin Birmingham;
A tailor he sat at work,
Right fol de ray—
And he found a louse on his shirt.
Benjamin Birmingham;
He found a louse on his shirt,
Right fol de ray,
Right fol de ray,
And so the proud tailor went prancing away."

The lyric goes on to relate how the valiant and indignant tailor converted his shears into a sword, his needle into a gun, and his thread into a halter, and "hung the louse by the ears," and shot him, and sliced him; but always in his pride (at the end of each stanza), "went prancing away." It strikes me that this song is nearly seventy years old, and was intended as a satire on the volunteers of 1802. If I am not very much mistaken, also, Mr. Charles Dickens, junior, could "oblige"—as they used to say at the harmonic meetings—with a complete copy of the verses sought for by PELAGIUS.
G. A. SALA.
The Reform Club.


Ibid, Sept 16, 1871, page 231:

THE PRANCING TAILOR.

Though the burden of the song was not exactly that given by PELAGIUS, I suspect he means one which I remember almost twice forty years ago; but the following is all that I can now recall of it:—

"I'll tell you how the world began,
Benjamin Bowman;
I'll tell you how the world began,
Cast threads away!
I'll tell you how the world began,
Nine tailors make a man:
So the proud tailor rode prancing away.

"Of his shears he made bridle-bits,
Benjamin Bowman;
Of his shears he made bridle-bits,
Cast threads away!
Of his shears he made bridle-bits,
Rode his horse into fits,
So the proud tailor rode prancing away.

"Of his bodkin he made a gun,
Benjamin Bowman;
Of his bodkin he made a gun,
Cast threads away!
Of his bodkin he made a gun,
Shot a louse out of fun,
So the proud tailor rode prancing away.

"Of his needle he made a sword,
Benjamin Bowman;
Of his needle he made a sword,
Cast threads away!
Of his needle he made a sword,
Stuck a louse on the board,
So the proud tailor rode prancing away."

Caetera desunt!....

F. C. H.

[Another reply to the same query:]

I think MR. SALA is mistaken in attributing any political meaning to this song, which is a mere piece of nonsensical doggrel in ridicule of tailors, who have ever been the butt of small wits. More than forty years ago, when at school, I had an unusually extensive repertoire of vulgar, indecent, and silly songs; and among them was the song inquired after by PELAGIUS. The tune was the best part of it. Our version began thus:—

"When the wars first began,
Benjamin Bobbletail;
When the wars first began,
(Cast knots away).
When the wars first began,
Nine tailors made a man;
So the proud tailor went prancing away."

And then it went on to say how—

"Of his needle he made a spear,
Stuck a louse through the ear;"

"Of his bodkin he made a gun,
Shot a louse as he run," &c. &c.

There is always an antagonism between schoolboys and any surrounding population whom they may regard as snobs or cads. One of our boys, from the cloth districts of Gloucestershire, had the following lines on the weavers, who were regarded by him and his fellows as natural enemies. There is a touch of humour in it:—

"Four-and-twenty weavers went out to kill a snail,
The bravest man among them trod upon his tail;
The snail turned round, with horns like a cow—
'God bless us!' said the weavers, 'we're dead men now.'"

J.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 May 09 - 05:20 PM

Nineteenth Century Mudcatters, brilliant!!

Thanks for that, Jim. Perhaps a couple of centuries down the line there'll be a similar minded bunch of people who'll be bringing this thread back to life...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Benjamin Bowmaneer
From: Kosmo
Date: 04 Sep 09 - 08:52 AM

Ok, I was way off, I figured because plague was started by a tailor with a flea that's what it was about! See how misleading songs can be.
I always thought that the wars and england fought to a man bit was just about sort of struggling!
(The version I know has a flea)
Thanks for the info :)


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