Babbity Bowster 1. Wha learned you to dance Babbity Bowster, Babbity Bowster, Wha learned you to dance, Babbity Bowster brawly? My minnie learned me to dance, Babbity Bowster, Babbity Bowster, My minnie learned me to dance, Babbity Bowster brawly. Wha ga'e you the keys to keep, Babbity Bowster, Babbity Bowster, Wha ga'e you the keys to keep, Babbity Bowster brawly? My minnie ga'e me the keys to keep, Babbity Bowster, Babbity Bowster, My minnie ga'e me the keys to keep, Babbity Bowster brawly. Kneel down and kiss the ground, Kiss the ground, kiss the ground, Kneel down and kiss the ground, Kiss the bonnie wee lassie. 2. Wha learned you to dance, You to dance, you to dance, Wha learned you to dance, A country bumpkin brawly? My mither learned me when I was young, When I was young, when I was young, My mither learned me when I was young, The country bumpkin brawly. 3. Wha learned you to dance, You to dance, you to dance? Wha learned you to dance, Babbity Bowster brawly? My minnie learned me to dance, Me to dance, me to dance; My minnie learned me to dance, Babbity Bowster brawly. [similarly:] Wha ga'e you the keys to keep. . . My minnie ga'e me the keys to keep. . . One, twa, three, B, ba, Babbity, Babbity Bowster neatly; Kneel down, kiss the ground, An' kiss the bonnie lassie [or laddie]. _______________________________________________________ (1) Chambers SSPB (1862, "Babity Bowster", with music (5x4 lines); whence PRS, 1870, 36), "as sung by girls playing on the streets, in Glasgow", with last stanza from Ford CR, 61 f., who says: As for "Bab at the Bowster" (more generally pronounced "Babbity Bowster"), I am not sure but that grown people have engaged in it more than wee folks have. Indeed, it is not improbable that the young borrowed this originally from the old, by observation. Nowadays, undoubtedly, we know it exclusively as a child's play. But yet, within the memory of living men, it was the regular custom in country places nearly all over Scotland to wind up every dancing-ball with "Bab at the Bowster." No wedding dance, no Handsel Monday ball, would have been esteemed complete without it; and I have seen it performed at both, less than forty years ago. Performed by old or young, however, the mode is the same. The girls sit down on one side of the barn or square, the boys on the other. A boy takes a handkerchief--it is regularly a male who starts this play--and while dancing up and down before the girls, all sing:- [song follows]. By the time the last verse has been reached the boy has fixed on his partner, and at the command to "kneel down and kiss the ground" he spreads the handkerchief on the floor at the girl's feet, on which both immediately kneel. A kiss ensues, even though it should obtained after a struggle; then the boy marches away round and round followed by the girl, while all again sing the song. By the time the last verse is again reached, the girl in turn has selected the next boy, but does not kneel down before him. She simply throws the handkerchief in his lap, and immediately joins her own partner by taking his arm. If, however, she can be overtaken before she joins her partner, a penalty kiss may be enforced. Second boy selects second girl as tyhe first did the first gi in the same fashion until all are up and marching arm- in-arm round the room, or square, when the game is finished. At adult assemblies, I should state, even as the company paired in this dance, they departed for home. Chambers' 4 stanzas in NAE (1932), 19; Moffat 50 TSNR (1933), 13, with music; Montgomerie SNR (1946), 88 (no. 110), + music. Cf."Be Baw Babbity". Jamieson calls "Bab at the bowster, or Bab wi' the bowster, a very old Scottish dance, now almost out of use; formerly the last dance at weddings and merry-makings." Rymour Club Misc. I (1906-11), 52, has "Cocky Breeky", with stanzas 1-2, substituting "C.B." for "B.B." "Sung when girls are dancing with the back edge of their dress pulled forward between their legs, giving the effect of `breeks' to the garment." (2) from MacTaggart, Sc. Gall. Enc. (1824), 101, under Bumpkin brawly: "An old dance, the dance which always ends balls; the same with the `Cushion' almost. . . . The tune of this song is always played to the dance." He does not record the tune; however, it has to be The Country Bumpkin (f m r t, s, etc.). (3) Gomme I.9, s.v. "Babbity Bowster" from Biggar; the tune given = d d d m s m d ("Mulberry Bush"). The informant, W.H./ Ballantyne, said it took place at the end of a country ball: The lads all sat on one side and the girls on the other. It began with a boy taking a handkerchief and dancing before the girls, singing the first verse. Selecting one of the girls, he threw the handkerchief into her lap, or put it round her neck, holding both ends himself. Some spread the handkerchief on the floor at the feet of the girl. The object in either case was to secure a kiss, which, however, was not given without a struggle, the girls cheering their companion at every unsuccessful attempt which the boy made. A girl then took the handkerchief, singing the next verse, and having thrown the handkerchief to one of the boys, she went off to her own side among the girls, and was pursued by the chosen boy. When all were thus paired, they formed a line, facing each other, and danced somewhat like the country dance of Sir Roger [i.e. "Sir Roger de Coverley", in Scotland called "The Haymakers", and in the States known as "The Virginia Reel"]. Ballantyne says a bolster or pillow was at one time always used; Gomme refers to N.& Q. ii.518: it was then (1850) danced with a handkerchief instead of a cushion as formerly, and no words were used; but later correspondents contradict this; cf. also N. & Q. iii.282. Upper Clydesdale version is in Nimmo, SBC (1882), 194; for "Babbity Bowster brawly" this has "Caperin' Betsy Ben, O" (line 2); and "and that richt weel ye ken, jo" (line 4); 2 stanzas. Gomme (p. 11) adds some suggestions as to its origin and evolution: "First, that the dance was originally the indication at a marriage ceremony for the bride and bridegroom to retire with `the bowster' to the nuptial couch. Secondly, that it has degenera ordinary `Drop Handkerchief' games of kiss in the ring. The preservation of this `Bab at the Bowster' example gives the clue both to the origin of the present game in an obsolete marriage custom, and to the descent of the game to its latest form." She compares the "Cushion Dance", which see there, pp. 87-94. With the "keys to keep", cf. "Hurrah, hurrah, a ranogate". Cf. also "Lay the Cushion Doon". There are three tunes: (A) cognate with "The Country Bumpkin" ("Ninesome Reel" tune). In Maclagan, Games and Diversions of Argyleshire (1901), 57. [See the air in Scottish Studies, I (1957), 174. SSPB, 244. Also: Kerr's Merry Melodies, 49; Nelson's Scottish Song Book 1; as Country Bumpkin in Stewart, 71. Also in The Cobbler's Opera, 1729; Aird's Collection, 1782, as Bab at the Bowster.] The country dance (as "The Bumpkin") is in RSCDS Book 2, no. 2, "collected in the town of Lanark." Also described in The Companion to the Reticule, ca. 1820. Dance published in Walsh's Caledonian Country Dances 1748 to 1760. See al 90, with bibliog.; and Thurston on Ninesome Reel, Scotland's Dances (1954), 39-40. To this tune, William Watt (d. 1859) wrote "Bab at the Bowster", beginning "Lassie, whare were ye yestreen" (in Poems, 1860, 80). Other songs include "The Cooper o' Cuddy" in the Merry Muses; "Kitty Reid's House", etc. (B) the second tune, usually called Nancy Dawson, is cognate with "Here we go round the Jing-a-ring", in Gomme I.9; Scottish Studies, as above, ibid.; see "Merry ma tanzie", and note to "Eppie Marly". (C) The third tune is that of the Jacobite song "Will ye go to Sheriffmuir" (see note to "Katie Beardie"). MS
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