Nancy's Complaint in Bedlam
DESCRIPTION: In Moorfields Nancy in Bedlam rattles her chains and mourns the absence of her lover, forced to sea by her unkind friends. He returns, learns she is in Bedlam, and goes to rescue her. He convinces her of his identity, rescues her, and marries her.
EARLIEST DATE: 1740 (Reeves-Circle)
LONG DESCRIPTION: In Moorfields Nancy in Bedlam rattles her chains and mourns the absence of her lover, forced to sea by her unkind friends. She wishes she were a turtle dove, swallow, or fish, to be with him. He returns, learns she is in Bedlam, and goes to rescue her. He convinces her of his identity, rescues her, "brought her to herself and married her" Chorus: "I love my dear Johnnie, And will do till I die"
KEYWORDS: madness love marriage prison rescue sailor
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South), Scotland(Aber)) US(MW)
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Sharp-100E 41, "Bedlam" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gardner/Chickering 65, "A Maid in Bedlam" (1 text, very possibly from print)
GreigDuncan6 1079, "The Maid in Bedlam" (4 texts, 2 tunes)
Greig #99, p. 1, "The Maid in Bedlam"; Greig #166, p. 2, "The Maid in Bedlam" (1 text plus 1 fragment)
Reeves-Circle 86, "The Loyal Lover" (3 texts)
Broadwood/Maitland, pp. 172-173, "The Loyal Lover" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: The Vocal Magazine (London, 1781 ("Digitized by Google")), #900 pp. 245-246, ("One morning very early, one morning in spring")
John Struthers, The Harp of Caledonia (Glasgow, 1821 ("Digitized by Google")), Vol I, pp. 312-313, "The Maid in Bedlam"
ST ShH41 (Partial)
Bodleian, Harding B 14(34)), "The Maid in Bedlam" ("One morning, very early, one morning in the spring"), Fowler (Salisbury), 1770-1800; also Firth c.18(138), Firth c.12(229), "Nancy's Complaint in Bedlam" ("As through Moorfields I walked one evening in the spring"); Firth c.18(139), "The Maid in Bedlam"
cf. "Tom a Bedlam (Bedlam Boys)" (theme)
cf. "Gramachree" (tune, according to Struthers)
cf. "William (Willie) Riley (Riley's Trial)" [Laws M10] (theme of a maid in Bedlam; see Note below)
cf. "The Fair Maid in Bedlam" (theme of a maid in Bedlam)
cf. "Bedlam City" (theme of a maid in Bedlam)
cf. "Pity a Maiden" (theme of a maid in Bedlam)
NOTES [825 words]: Bethlehem Hospital ("Bedlam") was the first hospital in London for patients with mental illnesses. It was for men, I believe; Magdalene Hospital ("Maudlin"), established somewhat later, was for women. - PJS
Opie-Oxford2: "In 1675 the Old Bethlem Hospital was moved to Moorfields."
Most Laws M10 texts that I have seen have no reference to Bedlam. For one example that does refer to Bedlam see Mary O Eddy, "William Reily's Courtship: A Nineteenth Century Broadside" in Midwest Folklore, Vol. II, No. 2 (Summer 1952 (available online by JSTOR)), pp. 116-118, "William Reily's Courtship, Trial, Answer, Releasement, and Marriage With His Fair Coolen Bawn":"Reily's Answer, Releasement, & Marriage with His Coolen Bawn" ("You tender hearted lovers attend unto my theme") (1 text)
At this point [we have located] four ballads with the main plot line having a maiden locked in Bedlam:
(I) Nancy's Complaint in Bedlam (Roud #578). If the maiden rattles her chains it is this song. If she does not at first recognize her lover it is this song. As in "The Fair Maid in Bedlam," the couple are married in spite of her parents. In many versions the plot has been lost and all that remains is the chorus (something like "I love my dear Johnnie, And will do till I die") and non-floating verses in which the maiden wishes she were a turtle dove, had swallow's wings, or was a fish, all to find her lover. It is the chorus and these "wish I were"-style verses that distinguish "Nancy's Complaint."
(II) The Fair Maid in Bedlam (Roud #605). The lover was apprenticed to the maiden's parents, who sent him to sea. He returns rich enough to bribe the Bedlam porter to let him in, free the girl, and marry her. In some versions he returns as a silk mercer.
(III) Bedlam City (Roud #968). If the song begins with the singer in Moorfields or Strawfields, it is *not* "Bedlam City." If the missing lover is killed in a war and is seen returning in the clouds with guardian angels it is "Bedlam City." There is no happy ending in "Bedlam City."
(IV) Pity a Maiden (Roud Broadside Index only; no Roud number). The sailor, Billy, has been imprest and is in the war. In Bedlam, "my lilly white hands they shall toil braiding of silver and straw" so that "in a very little time I may fit out a man of war" and "sail to my dear." He writes her a letter so that a happy ending is, at least, a possibility.
There are other "mad songs" that, as far as I can tell, have no Roud number. There are at least two such entries indexed by Bruce Olson in the Broadside Ballad Index (BBI): ZN670, "Come maidens all and pity me" ["The distracted maiden's love for the farmer's son"]; ZN3182, "Young maidens all, pray pity me, and think of my extremity" ["Distracted by love for sailor Billy, she is sent to Bedlam, and dies. Billy returns, kills her father, and ends his own life over her grave. A maid in Bedlam, or warped Romeo and Juliet"]
There are at least two "Amelia's Complaint" broadsides not yet assigned a Roud number. In the first [Bodleian, Harding B 25(41), "Amelia's Complaint for the Loss of Young Edward" ("Young lovers all awhile attend")[some words illegible], J. Jennings (London), 1790-1840], Amelia is not in Bedlam; her lover is imprest to fight in the war; she prays that the war will end; if he is slain she'll be undone forever; she'll be true. In the second [Bodleian, Harding B 25(43), "Amelia's Complaint, in Bedlam for the Loss of her Sailor" ("Young women with attention listen to what I mention"), G. Pigott (London) , n.d.], Amelia is in rattling chains because her father sent her sailor away where, she thinks, he was slain; her mind wanders as she cannot make out what approaches; she prays to die.
Broadwood-Carols: "Mad songs were the fashion in the 17th and 18th centuries. For further notes, and traditional examples, see Journal of the Folk Song Society, Vol. ii., p.326 (Subject Index, "Madness"), and Vol. iii., p. 111".
To this point every song listed is, at the earliest, late 18th century. George Carey prints a fragment from a manuscript dated no later than 1777 that does not seem to match any of ours: "A number titled 'The Maid's Lamentation in Bedlam,' which plays upon the traditional theme of the girl-gone-mad because her lover has left her, ends with: Why am I with irons loaded Why am I from my bed of down Why is my precious eyes enclosed Within these disonate walls of stone."
Reeves-Circle is a three verse song the first verse of which -- "I'll make my love a garland ...." -- belongs here (see, for example, broadside Bodleian Harding B 14(34)), and the other two verses -- "I wish I were an arrow ...." and "I wish I were a reaper ...." -- fit the pattern of this song's verses. Reeves-Circle: "Whether 'The Loyal Lover' is a detached portion of '[Nancy's Complaint in] Bedlam' or an older song incorporated in '[Nancy's Complaint in] Bedlam' by an 18th-century hand is difficult to say. It may well be the latter." - BS
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