Molly Put the Kettle On (Polly Put the Kettle On)
DESCRIPTION: "(Molly/Polly/Kitty) put the kettle on, Sally blow the dinner horn... We'll all take tea." Often a fiddle tune with the usual sorts of verses for a fiddle tune
EARLIEST DATE: 1841 (_Barnaby Rudge_ by Charles Dickens, according to Opie-Oxford2)
KEYWORDS: nonballad floatingverses food dancetune playparty
FOUND IN: US(Ap.MW) Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (9 citations):
GreigDuncan8 1684, "Molly, Put the Kettle On" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cambiaire, p. 133, "Jennie Put the Kettle On" (1 text, which looks like a playparty based on this chorus)
Wolford, p. 83=WolfordRev, p. 230, "Polly Put the Kettle On" (again, a playparty based on this chorus)
Opie-Oxford2 420, "Polly put the kettle on" (2 texts)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #237, p. 153, "(Polly put the kettle on)"
Jack, p. 154, "Polly Put the Kettle On" (1 text)
Dolby, p. 144, "Polly Put the Kettle On" (1 tex)
Newell, #125, "Housekeeping" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, p. 256, "Molly Put the Kettle On" (1 text)
Leake County Revelers, "Molly Put the Kettle On" (Columbia 15380-D, 1929; rec. 1928)
Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers, "Molly Put The Kettle On" (Columbia 15746-D, 1932; on GoingDown)
cf. "Pakenham" (form)
Jennie's Bawbee (so Herd, according to Opie-Oxford2)
Gunpoweder Tea (File: CAFS1052)
NOTES: Opie-Oxford2 re 420: "Around 1810 the song was clearly the rage in London."
The following broadside refers to the original song and quotes it as a chorus.
Bodleian, Harding B 11(4332), "Polly Put the Kettle On" ("I am a merry, happy chap"), C. Sheard (London), 1840-1866 - BS
According to Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (combined fifth edition with dictionary and supplement, Macmillan, 1961), this was a c[atch] p[hrase] from around 1870, since become obsolescent. He attributes it to "the song of Grip, the Raven (Dickens)." Since Dickens was born 1812, the poem would appear to precede him, but he may well have added to its popularity (and is often credited with changing the girl's name from "Molly" to "Polly"; cf. Colby, p. 144).
The book involved, Barnaby Rudge, is based on the anti-Catholic riot of June 1780, but is influenced, e.g., by Sir Walter Scott, so there is no particular reason to think the catch-phrase dates from c. 1780.
Grip is the mentally deficient Barnaby's pet raven, given to phrases such as "I'm a devil," "Never say die," and "Polly, put the kettle on." The latter quote occurs in chapter 17.
According to John Baynes with John Laffin, Soldiers of Scotland, Brassey's, 1988 (I use the 1997 Barnes & Noble edition), p. 105, when arranged for pipes, is known as "Jenny's Bawbee," and is used as a "Tea Call" by several Scottish regiments. The Opies say that "Jenny's Bawbee" is mentioned by Herd.
Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien may be interested to learn that this is one of the tunes which Tolkien used when creating songs -- although in this case he did not use it for something from his Middle Earth cycle. Rather, he set the poem "'Lit' and 'Lang'" to the tune he called "Polly Put the Kettle On" (see John D. Rafeliff, The History of The Hobbit: Part One: Mr. Baggins, Houghton-Mifflin, 2007, p. 188). "'Lit' and 'Lang'" describes the conflict between philologists and literary critics in the university English departments of his time, with the philologists thinking that you needed to study language to understand literature and the rest thinking you didn't. Tolkien's solution was to develop two separate tracks to a degree, one with much more language stress than the other. Sadly, this proposal has now been largely dropped -- because no one studies philology any more. Like folk music, which Tolkien also studied. - RBW
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