Digital Tradition Mirror

Babbity Bowster

Babbity Bowster

     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.

     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.

     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.


     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

     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
     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").


Thanks to Mudcat for the Digital Tradition!

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