“Martin Said To His Man”

Alternate titles: “Who's the Fool Now?”; “Old Blind Drunk John”; “Fooba-Wooba John”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1609 (Deuteromelia; registered as a ballad 1588)
Keywords: contest drink lullaby nonballad nonsense paradox talltale animal bug
Found in: US(Ap,SE,So) Britain(England)

Description

The singer says s/he saw various animals performing various activities, some of which are impossible or unlikely (E.g. "Saw a crow flying low"; "Saw a mule teachin' school"). In some versions, the narrator(s) are drunk, competing to tell the tallest tale.

Notes

Referred to in Dryden's 1668 play "Sir Martin Mar-all, or the Feign'd Innocence" (act IV). It seems to have been very popular in the century prior to that.

The American versions can generally be told by their narrative pattern, "(I) saw a () (doing something)," e.g. "Saw a crow flying low," "Saw a mule teaching school," "Saw a louse chase a mouse," "Saw a flea wade the sea."

The versions under the title "Kitty Alone" are sometimes a mix of this and "Frog Went A-Courting"; the first such text seems to have been in Gammer Gurton's Garland (1784), which has clearly a "Frog" plot but the form (and some of the exaggerations) of this piece.

I'm sure there are some who have argued that the ancient English "Martin Said To His Man" is not the same as the modern American texts. But there is continuity of verses, believe it or not, and the theme never changes. And there is no way to draw a dividing line. - RBW

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. Kinloch-BBook XIV, pp. 50-54, "The Man in the Moon" (1 text)
  2. Randolph 445, "Johnny Fool" (2 texts)
  3. BrownIII 114, "Kitty Alone" (1 text)
  4. Hudson 128, p. 274, "Old, Blind, Drunk John" (1 text)
  5. Wyman-Brockway I, p. 22, "The Bed-time Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Lomax-FSNA 136, "Hurrah, Lie!" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. Chappell/Wooldridge I, p. 140, "Martin Said to His Man" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. DT, HURRALIE* WHOSFOOL*
  9. Roud #473
  10. BI, WB022