Marrowbones [Laws Q2]

DESCRIPTION: An old wife goes to the doctor for a potion to blind her husband. The doctor suggests (eggs and) marrowbones. He says he wishes to die and asks her to push him off a cliff. As she runs to do so, he steps aside. She drowns; he says he cannot see to help
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1874 (quoted in Mark Twain, _Life on the Mississippi_)
KEYWORDS: suicide trick drugs death
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,Ro,SE,So) Britain(England(Lond,South),Scotland) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland
REFERENCES (47 citations):
Laws Q2, "The Old Wife of Slapsadam (The Wily Auld Carle; The Old Woman in Dover; etc.)"
Greig #13, p. 1, "The Wily Auld Carle" (1 text)
GreigDuncan2 318, "The Wife o' Kelso" (11 texts, 7 tunes)
Belden, pp. 237-239, "Johnny Sands" (2 texts, but only the second, with no letter, is this piece)
Randolph 754, "Johnny Sands" (2 texts, 2 tunes, but the "A" text goes with "Johnny Sands" [Laws Q3] while the "B" text belongs with this piece)
Lomax-Singing, pp. 176-178, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 239-240, "A Cruel Wife" (1 text)
Eddy 30, "An Old Woman's Story" (1 text)
Neely, pp. 151-152, "The Old Woman from Slab CIty" (1 text)
Wolford, pp. 93-94=WolfordRev, p. 232, "There Was An Old Woman in Ireland" (1 text, 1 tune, a short text, converted into a playparty, with only a few words of this song)
Flanders/Olney, pp. 13-14, "The Drowning Lady (The Witch Song)" (1 fragment, 1 tune, which might be either "Marrowbones" or "Johnnie Sands")
Linscott, pp. 255-258, "The Old Woman in Dover" (1 text, 1 tune)
FSCatskills 141, "The Old Woman from Boston" (1 text, 1 tune)
SharpAp 55, "The Rich Old Lady" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
Peacock, pp. 261-264, "Eggs and Marrow-Bones" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Leach-Labrador 113, "A Cruel Wife" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-Newfoundland 39, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton-Maritime, p. 122, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton-SNewBrunswick 73, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ives-DullCare, pp. 109-110,243, "Cheese and Marrowbones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ives-PEI, pp. 75-77,84, "There Was an Old Woman in Our Town" (1 text, 1 tune)
BrownII 182, "The Old Woman's Blind Husband" (2 texts)
BrownSchinhanIV 182, "The Old Woman's Blind Husband" (2 excerpts, 2 tunes)
Chappell-FSRA 44, "The Old Woman" (1 text, 1 tune)
Moore-Southwest 103, "She Loved Her Husband Dearly" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-1ed, pp. 207-209, "The Old Woman From Ireland" (1 text, 1 tune)
Brewster 60, "An Old Woman's Story" (1 text)
Peters, p. 172, "There Was an Old Woman in London" (1 text, 1 tune)
Carey-MarylandFolkLegends, pp. 101, "Old Woman from Ireland" (1 text)
Doerflinger, p. 281, "The Wife of Kelso (The Wily Auld Carle)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 51, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
Reeves-Sharp 99, "There Was an Old Woman" (2 texts)
Lomax-FSNA 274, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chase, pp. 130-131, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune -- with a second verse created by Chase)
Hubbard, #121, "The Old Woman of Clinton" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
SHenry H174, p. 507, "The Auld Man and the Churnstaff" (1 text, 1 tune)
OCroinin-Cronin 88, "Marrowbones" (1 text, 1 tune)
McBride 70, "The Wee Woman in Our Town" (1 text, 1 tune)
Morton-Maguire 35, pp. 89-90,121,170, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kennedy 208, "The Old Woman of Blighter Town" (1 text, 1 tune)
Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 417, "Old Woman of Hyslop Town" (1 text)
RoudBishop #82, "Marrowbones" (1 text, 1 tune)
JHCox 157, "An Old Woman's Story" (1 text)
Darling-NAS, pp. 144-145, "There Was an Old Lady" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 173, "Eggs And Marrowbones" (1 text)
DT 344, MARBONES* MARBONE2* MARBONE3* MARBONE4 MARBON5 MARBON6*
ADDITIONAL: Katherine Briggs, _A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language_, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2), volume A.2, pp. 78-79, "The False Old Mawkin" (1 text)

Roud #183
RECORDINGS:
Horton Barker, "There Was an Old Lady" (on Barker01)
Harry Cox, "Marrowbones" (on HCox01)
Betty Garland, "Love My Darlin' O" (on BGarland01)
Leonard Hulan, "Eggs and Marrow-Bones" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Jimmy Knights, "Marrowbones" (on Voice06)
A. L. Lloyd, "Tigery Orum" (on Lloyd1)
John Maguire, "Marrowbones" (on IRJMaguire01)
Red Mick McDermott, "Marrowbones" (on IRHardySons)
Lawrence Older, "Woman from Yorkshire" (on LOlder01)
Ken Peacock, "Woman from Dover" (on NFKPeacock)
Wesley Smith, "Cheese and Marrowbones" (on MREIves01)

CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Johnny Sands" [Laws Q3]
cf. "The Keach in the Creel" (tune,according to GreigDuncan2)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
Eggs and Marrowbones
Old Woman from Wexford
Dover
NOTES: At one time witches were killed by drowning, and Flanders and Olney connect their fragmentary text (which mentions only the drowning and the husband pushing the wife in) with this phenomenon.
Mark Twain quotes a fragment of this piece in Life on the Mississippi.
The Catskills version has a peculiar ending in which the lady swims to the other shore and survives. Much as we would like this to be a feminist touch, it seems more likely that it was a lapse of memory.
Sam Henry had a text in which the man eventually rescued her. Perhaps there was an onlooker around somewhere?
Captain Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, edited (and expanded) by Eric Partridge, 1931 (I use the 1992 Dorset edition), p. 229, notes that "marrow bones" are a nickname for the knees, and mentions a folk derivation from "Mary's bones." Partridge adds a mention of the "marquess of marrowbones" as a lackey. I don't know if any of these have any significance to the song.
A number of editors confuse "Johnny Sands" [Laws Q3] and "Marrowbones" [Laws Q2]. They obviously have thematic similarity, and probably have exchanged parts. But the "gimmick" is different in each case; there seems no doubt that they are now separate songs. - RBW
Ives-DullCare and Ives-PEI are the same July 15, 1963 performance. - BS
Last updated in version 4.1
File: LQ02

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