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GUEST,Karen Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues (286* d) RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues 15 Nov 17


Hello Brian

Thank you for discussing. You say:

The other examples I've mentioned show pretty clearly that 'St James' was present in a strain of the song as sung in the field going back at least 100 years.

The earliest example I have of the use of St James found is 1918. We are not yet one hundred years from that date.

Hello Bob the Postman

Helen Crighton has found the same song found in Nova Scotia by Mackenzie, some time before 1928.

Here is a link to an online version of Mackenzie (you will see I have been collecting these old editions, as I have been fascinated to see how the story has built up over the years)

http://novastory.ca/cdm/ref/collection/picbooks/id/9222

Mackenzie says:

HE BAD GIRL'S LAMENT
The relationship between this song and "The Dying Cowboy" is obvious.
Both of them are derived from the English broadside song of "The Unfortunate Rake" or "The Unfortunate Lad." See Journal, xxiv, 341; Journal of the Folk-Song Society, iv, 325; v, 193; Cox, p. 242. A version of "The Bad Girl's Lament," from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, was contributed by Barry to Journal, xxv, 277. In the Sharp MS. of Songs from the Southern Appalachians (Harvard College Library), p. 807, there is a fragment entitled "St. James's Hospital,"
in which the bad girl is replaced by "my son":

As I have said, the song collected by Sharp was not published until after Sharp's death, but if you read his diary you find out he copied his field notes and left a set at Harvard, and it is these to which Mackenzie refers. The journal of the folk song society he refers to, well, I'll let you look that up for yourself.

I also looked up Cox, who sets up another wild goose chase relating to highwayman hanging songs, which also feature death requests.

Cox refers you back to Philips Barry (whom I have also a copy of). He is the one who started the idea that The Cowboy's lament was an Americanisation of My Jewel My Joy.

Philips Barry is quite interesting: he says the existence of the Irish cadence in Scotland tends to prove its Irish origin. Given the degree of intermixing of peoples, I have a feeling this is another one that could be discussed interminably.

Barry says basically that very few Irish songs get Americanised, but he gives The Coyboy's Lament as one example.

Barry confuses matters by quoting from the Such broadside, which is called 'The Unfortunate Lad' but asserting - and as usual - with *no reference or source* to back him up that the song is called 'The Unfortunate Rake'. I think this must just how Harvard people were taught to write articles at that time?????


Amusingly and oddly (to me) he appears to find 'the plainsman's ... weakness' for poker and whisky' less offensive than the 'coarse vices of the dissolute soldier', but you'll have to read it in context. You can find this on JSTOR and read it for nothing if you register, which is cost free..


For me, Mackenzie is collecting songs at a time when if we accept what emerges from Harwood, various versions close to the jazz one have been circulating the US. I have no problem in thinking that it got to Novia Scotia, which looks much closer on my map to the USA than the USA is to Ireland. I am happy to believe that this wording was doing the rounds in the USA, but not happy to 'infer' ie guess that it came from the British Isles.

Thank you for reading: this discussion is interesting.

One can find quite formal Victorian papers in which the phrase 'Lock hospital' was used: it was not necessarily slang.


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