Tom a Bedlam (Bedlam Boys)
DESCRIPTION: The singer is determined to find her Tom. She describes (his or her) visions. Chorus: "Still I sing bonny boys, bonny mad boys, Bedlam boys are bonny. For they all go bare, and they live by the air...."
EARLIEST DATE: 1720 (Pills to Purge Melancholy); "Mad Tom of Bedlam" was in William Thackeray's broadside catalog by 1690
KEYWORDS: madness love separation
FOUND IN: Britain(England)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Logan-APedlarsPack, pp. 172-189, "Tom a Bedlam" (there are eight texts in this section; the one labelled "Mad Maudlin" on pp. 181-182 is this one)
Chappell/Wooldridge-OldEnglishPopularMusic I, pp. 175-178, "Tom a Bedlam" (7 fragmentary texts, at least one of which is this one; 1 tune; the next piece, "Gray's Inn Masque, or Mad Tom, or New Mad Tom of Bedlam," (for which see also Olson-BroadsideBalladIndex, ZN910, "Forth from my sad and darksome cell") appears to be an unrelated literary song, found also in Percy, pp. 344-347, "Old Tom of Bedlam," the first of six "Mad Songs")
Ritson-AncientSongsBalladsFromHenrySecondToTheRevolution, pp. 359-362, "Tom of Bedlam" (1 text); pp. 363-366, "Another Tom of Bedlam" (1 text, which looks as if it might be to the same tune; both texts look literary)
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #310, "Tom O'Bedlam" (1 text)
ST Log172 (Full)
cf. "Nancy's Complaint in Bedlam" (theme)
NOTES [298 words]: The Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem (Bedlam), in London, was the first hospital for insane men in England. Magdalene Hospital (Maudlin), mentioned in some versions of the song, was the first hospital for insane women. - PJS
"Bedlam songs" seem to have been a phenomenon in the eighteenth century and after. To make matters worse, they all seem to mix and match. Many of Percy's texts, e.g., resemble Logan-APedlarsPack's, which resemble Chappell's, which are like Ritson's. It's very hard to tell them apart. There is a reference one as early as 1675. Hyder E. Rollins, An Analytical Index to the Ballad-Entries (1557-1709) In the Register of the Company of Stationers of London, 1924 (I use the 1967 Tradition Press reprint with a new Foreword by Leslie Shepard), p. 229, #2656, is "Tom of Bedlam," registered March 1, 1675, and p. 164, #1878, is "A new Mad Tom of Bedlam," registered March 1, 1675 -- but I can't prove which Bedlam song it is.
Under the circumstances, I've listed the most traditional-seeming of the bunch ("Tom a Bedlam") here, and hope cross-references in the "References" field will suffice for the others.
In Aldington's The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World we find a Tom o' Bedlams Song starting
From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rages would rend ye,
And the spirit that stands
By the naked man
In the book of moons defend ye....
It's not this piece (the chorus is different), but there is undeniable dependence. Aldington attributes the piece to Giles Earle (dates unknown but early seventeenth century). Granger's Index to Poetry, however, lists the author of this as unknown -- and it has plenty of supporting evidence, since it cites 18 different references. Nor does Granger's list any other works by this alleged Earle. - RBW
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