Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A statute for swearers and drunkards, 1624

The moral of this ballad is that you shouldn't get sloppy-ass drunk and say dirty words, which is pretty standard stuff on the early-modern moral front.

I think what makes it special is that the guy, even though it's a pretty crude woodcut, really does look sloppy-ass drunk. He's got his booze and his pipe and his nagging wife, and I can't tell if that's supposed to be a fashionable kerchief or vomit running down his front (I'm going with vomit). Also, is he straddling a chamber pot? If so, that's kind of awesome.

But then that wife of his is coming in all like, "quit drinking!" and harshing his buzz and making threats. Party-pooper. She used to be cool.

Actually, the more I look at it, maybe that's not a ladle, but another pipe, and the wife's pissed because her husband smoked her stash. This is a very complicated picture.


Doug said...

Research into this has uncovered a truly bizarre twist: "When Cannons are Roaring" was written in 1662, and it is actually to the tune of "A Statute..." and not the other way around. What?
So this guy John Forbes, who is apparently the first one to print secular Scottish music, writes this song about war, hono(u)r, and (in what must have been a particularly early use of such technology) blowing up pagans with mines, and decides to set it to the tune of a song about getting too drunk and saying naughty words. Perfect.
I actually think this is somewhat unusual early modern moral stuff in that I'm not really feeling the moral outrage. I mean, this guy is hitting up the beer-wine-liquor trifecta while smoking, squatting over a chamber pot, vomiting, and still somehow managing to swear, and the stocks is the worst punishment we can come up with for him? What about, oh I don't know, ETERNAL DAMNATION.

Sarah Redmond said...

In another twist, I have actually used a picture from Forbes' songbook "Cantus, Songs and Fancies" in LOL Manuscripts before! Spooky!

Did you know that James I made the law about swearing, and you only got the stocks (for 3 hours) if you couldn't pay the 12 pence fine. Interestingly, if you didn't pay and were under 12 yrs. old, you didn't have to go to the stocks, you got a beating instead...because that's better?

Ben Jonson responded to the act in "A Masque of Owls," also from 1624:
"Who since the Act against Swearing The tale's worth your hearing
In this short time's growth
Hath at twelve pence an oath
For that I take it is the rate Sworn himself out of his estate"

And speaking of roaring cannons, did you know that there is a cannon named Roaring Meg? I think somebody just got themselves a new nickname.

(Don't try to out-research me Doug. Don't even try it.)

Elizabeth said...

As usual, this post made me laugh out loud. I love that the statute is meant to be sung.

Anonymous said...

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Sarah Redmond said...

Is the above an ad for quitting smoking? Am I being put through some search engine for disreputable behavior so advertisers can market to me?

I bet Champix would've come in handy for the guy in the picture. Although he seems to self-medicate his depression via booze

Doug said...

This is not the first time Chantix has struck. Check the 9/22 LOL Manuscript for a much more interesting Chantix ad.

David Rochester said...

My favorite part of this was the fact that it specified an appropriate tune for this cheering exhortation. I don't know about you, but when I'm planning to scold someone, I normally do it in a pretty prosaic manner.