My Wife Went Away and Left Me
DESCRIPTION: Abandoned by his wife, the singer appeals to her to come back. She replies that she will come back "When the grocery man puts sand in the sugar, The milkman makes milk out of chalk, Boys stay home with their mothers...."
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (recording, Kelly Harrell)
KEYWORDS: love abandonment humorous husband wife
FOUND IN: US(MW,SE,So)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Peters, pp. 176-177, "Of Late I've Been Driven Near Crazy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Morris, #77, "Then I'll Come Back to You" (1 text)
Rorrer, p. 78, "My Wife Went Away and Left Me" (1 text)
Browne 85, "My Wife's Gone Off and Left Me" (1 text plus mention of 1 more, 1 tune)
Kelly Harrell, "My Wife Went Away and Left Me" (Victor 21520, 1927; on KHarrell02)
Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers, "My Wife Went Away and Left Me" (Columbia 15584-D, 1930; rec. 1928; on CPoole03)
cf. "Things Impossible" (lyrics)
NOTES [371 words]: Rorrer reports that this song bears similarities to a song by Charles D. Vann called "Then My Darling I'll Come Back to Thee." It is not clear whether they are the same song, though, or whether that song merely influenced this.
There are several sourthern versions of this song, and there is an English song with common lyrics, "Things Impossible." These two are surely derived from the same original, but the setting is different; the English song is an appeal to marry, the American a plea to a woman to reunite with her ex-love. Possibly Vann rewrote the English text and created the popular American version. I separate them; Roud lumps them.
There are several references in the Peters version which might be used for dating: The singer's wife runs off with a "Chinee," there was a recent bank robbery in Canada, Jay Gould is in a contest with the Knights of Labor, and the K.C.'s [Knights of Columbus?], Eagles, and Masons are feuding.
Jameson, p. 334, reports that Uriah S. Stevens organized the Knights of Labor in 1869, and that it was formally organized in 1871 -- but only abandoned secrecy in 1881. In 1886 it organized the strike against the Missouri Pacific railroad, which failed. By the 1890s, it was dying out (Hofstadter, p. 99); the strikes it had organized had brought much bitterness but little help to the workers.
Jay Gould (1836-1892, according to CDAB) was involved with the Missouri Pacific in the 1870s, and "By 1890 he owned half the railroad mileage in the southwest" (CDAB, p. 358).
Protests against Chinese immigration to California had become widespread by 1880, when the census showed more than 100,000 Americans of Chinese origin (Jameson, p. 131). The first attempt at a Chinese Exclusion Act was vetoed by President Hayes in 1879, and another by President Arthur (Karabell, ppp. 84-85), but when Arthur was burned in effigy and he realized that a new law would be passed over his veto, he allows a new law to take effect (Karabell, p. 85). Another strenuous law was passed in 1888 (and largely repealed in 1893 due to its ineffectiveness)
Taking all this into account, the song must have been put into the form found in Peters between 1881 and 1892, and probably between 1886 and 1892. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- CDAB: Concise Dictionary of American Biography, based on the Dictionary of American Bibliography, Charles Scribners' Sons, 1964
- Hofstadter: Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform, Vintage, 1955
- Jameson: J. Franklin Jameson's Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894
- Karabell: Zachary Karabell, Chester Alan Arthur [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2004
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