Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ballad: Prescription for a girl's lost virtue

© 2014 Christy K Robinson

This ballad, intended to be humorous and performed as entertainment, was published as an English broadsheet in 1624, the year that William Dyer left the family farm in Lincolnshire and apprenticed as a milliner (imported men’s accessories) in London. He was 14 going on 15.

A young man shows a prescription to the apothecary
William would have been very strictly supervised by his master, and he would have spent much of his nine years of service in studying (William must have been good at geometry and other mathematics, as he was a surveyor a few years later), as well as learning the skills and secrets of his master’s trade (imports, exports, taxes and customs, accounting, business administration, maybe a smattering of law). The master was also responsible for his apprentices’ spiritual education. They were members of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, which had Church of England ministers and was under the authority of St. Paul’s Cathedral. William would have had a half-day off each week, on Sundays after church services in the morning.

King James, and his son Charles I after him, encouraged people to play sports on Sunday, partly as a healthy outlet for their energies, and partly as a calculated persecution of the Puritans, who disapproved of sports (like the violent rugby/football/soccer and bear-baiting), and used their Sabbath afternoons for teaching and preaching—and possibly fomenting rebellion.

But though a milliner in training, William Dyer was an apprentice in the Fishmongers guild with friends who worked at the big-city docks and markets, he was a boy off the farm, and he was a normal teenager with hormones, so chances are good that he would have been knowledgeable about the birds and bees, the prostitutes and immoral girls of London, and the taverns where drinking, gambling, and singing
went on. We don’t know any details of his behavior or morals. I’m only setting the scene that he probably heard ballads like this on several occasions, especially when he was older.

The ballad reproduced below tells of a physician or apothecary who put some thought into how to “revirginate” a girl who had erred from the moral way. He described a woman of easy virtue and the remedy for restoring her maiden status. But as you read the impossible ingredients and remedies of her week-long treatment plan, you see that revirgination is impossible, but heaping shame on her might serve to change her behavior. You'll search in vain for any mention of the man who took the young woman's virginity. It's all on the woman.

The lyricist wrote on the seventh day of this eight-day remedy for spoiled maidens, “to comfort her stomach with the syrup of shame: Although she be past all hope of good name, and unto her honesty a very great stain. Let her take it to remedy the same.”

What makes the ballad funny, though, is that the treatment and pharmacological components were really not that far from established medicine of the early 17th century! At the end of this post, you’ll find related articles in this blog that list medicinal compounds made of human milk, blood from a cat’s ear, dung, insects, and mercury. At least those items were easier to obtain than the prescription below, which calls for a Spanish friar’s fart, bee brains, and three leaps of a louse.


A marvellous Medicine to cure a great paine,
If a Mayden-head be lost so get it againe.

To a pleasant new tune.

Once busy in study betwixt night and day,
with choice of inventions I had in my mind,
And many odd matters my mind did assay,
but any to please me I could not well find:
then suddenly casting the nose in the wind,
I smelt out a Medicine both precious and plain,
How to help silly Maidens that had been somewhat kind
to get by good order their Maiden-head again.

First the Maid must be brought into a sleep,
for three hours together before she awake,
And seven days after this diet must keep,
with these kind of compounds the which she must take,
She must eat neither roast-meat, sod, neither bake,
but all kind of dainties she must refrain,
save only this medicine, the which if she take,
then it will restore her Maiden-head again.

The first day give her the slime of an Eel,
blown through a Bag-pipe with the wind of a bladder,
with two or three turnings of a spinning wheel,
boiled in an Egg-shell, and strained through a ladder:
The tongue of an Urchin, the sting of an Adder,
boiled in a blanket in a shower of rain,
With seven notes of music to make her the gladder,
and it will restore her maiden-head again.

The second day give her the peeping of a Mouse,
with three drops of thunder that falls from the sky,
And temper it with three leaps of a Louse,
and put therein three skips of a Fly,
With a gallon of water of a Widow's eye,
that weeps for her husband when death hath him slain,
Let her take this medicine and drink by and by,
and it will restore her maiden-head again.

The third day give her the chattering of a Sparrow,
roasted in Mitten of untann'd Leather,
Give it her with the rumbling of a wheel-barrow,
and baste it with three yards of a black Swans feather,
The juice of a Whetstone thereto put together,
with the fart of a Friar brought hither from Spain
Let her lay all these in an ell of Louse leather,
and lay warm her belly to help her great pain.

The fourth day give her the song of a Swallow,
well tempered with Marrow wrung out of a log,
With three pound and better of Stock-fish tallow
hard fried in the left horn of a Butchers blue dog,
With the gaggling of a Goose, & the frisks of a Frog
the bill of a shovel, or a Humble-bee's brain:
Give her this tasting, with the grunting of a Hog,
and it will restore her mayden-head again.

The fifth day give her betwixt eight a clock and nine,
Some gruel of Grantum made for the nonce,
The brains of a birdbolt powdered very fine,
and beat in a Morter of Ginne-wrens bones,
Boiled in a nut-shell betwixt two mill-stones:
with the guts of a Gudgin before she be staine:
Let her be sure to drink all this at once,
and it will restore her maiden-head again.

Now mark well the sixth day what must be her trade,
she must have a Woodcock, a Snipe, or a Quaile,
Bak'd fine in an Oven before it be made,
and mingle it with the blood of a Snaile,
With four or five Inches of a Jack-an apes tail:
what though for a while it put her to paine,
Yet let her take it without any faile,
and it will restore her maiden-head again.

Musicians in a tavern scene by David Teniers
The seventh day give her a pound of Maid's moths,
braid in a basket of danger and blame,
With conserves of Coleworts bound in a box,
to comfort her stomach with the syrup of shame:
Although she be past all hope of good name,
and unto her honesty a very great stain.
Let her take it to remedy the same,
and it will restore her maiden-head again.

Lo these are our Medicines for Maidens each one,
which in their Virginity amiss somewhat fell,
Pray you if ever you hear them make moane,
and gladly would know the place where I dwell,
At the sign of the Whip and the Egg-shell,
near Pancake alley on Salisbury Plain,
There shall they find remedy using this well
or else never to recover their maiden-head again.

Related articles (17th-century health and medical remedies) within this blog:

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