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Quizzing the Anonymous
Ignoramus et ignorabimus
Old Dame Dob 
24th-Nov-2010 06:23 pm
My journal enters the 2011 season, which is likely to be its last season. By tradition, the first post of the season is on a nursery rhyme.

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Up Jack got, and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper,
To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob
With vinegar and brown paper.

In the 18th century editions, Jill was spelled Gill. The canonical explanation of this rhyme is the doomed deficit reduction experiment of Charles I:

...In 1641, Charles I tried to reform the taxes on liquid measures. He was blocked by Parliament, so subsequently ordered that the volume of a Jack (1/2 pint) be reduced, but the tax remained the same. This meant that he still received more tax, despite Parliament's veto. Hence "Jack fell down and broke his crown" (many pint glasses in the UK still have a line marking the 1/2 pint level with a crown above it) "and Gill came tumbling after". The reference to Gill (1/4 pint) is an indication that the gill dropped in volume as a consequence. A variant of this is that liquids were watered down, hence, "fetch a pail of water." (Wiki)

This explanation leaves out the rhyme ending. This ending was not in the first (1760) edition. http://eclipse.rutgers.edu/goose/rhymes/jill/vv.aspx
Old Dame Dob first appeared in print in the 1951 edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. She might be part of an invented ending, or she might be part of the oral tradition that was "officially" codified sixty years ago.

But who is she? One possibility is that "Dame Dob" is a rhyme for "nob" without any meaning. Another possibility is that Dob is for "daub:" perhaps the Dame was notorious for her sloppy medical plastering. Could it be contemporary with the first verse? One cue is brown paper and vinegar.

...The brown paper used in 18th and 19th centuries was made of old rope, canvas and other sacking, and could be very coarse, but it was found to be useful when applying a substance to the skin. Cider vinegar has been used in medicine for hundreds of years. For bruises, one method was to take six or seven sheets of brown paper and soak them in a saucepan containing vinegar. The vinegar was heated and allowed to simmer making sure the paper did not break up. The paper was then applied in layers over the affected area. Chambers Encyclopaedia of 1868 recommended that “the heat and pain commonly experienced in sprains are often relieved by the local application of brown paper soaked in diluted vinegar and changed when the feeling of heat returns.” http://quezi.com/4066

I thought that brown wrapping paper (made out of hemp as opposed to a more common gray paper made out of rags) would be anachronistic but, apparently, such paper already sold in England in 1570. An old damsel using this remedy around 1640 is possible. However, while the first verse is clearly allegorical, the second seems to take the story literally. Can it be read in the same way, as a story of Charles I?

The most obvious interpretation of "Dame Dob" is that Dob is short for Robert. Old Dame Dob is Lady Robert ...

Young Charles I was born a weakling. He was a stammering child having a bad case of rickets; he did not talk or walk until he was three. The person who taught him to talk and walk was Dame Aletta (Hogenhove) Carey, the wife of Sir Robert Carey, a busybody and the most unscrupulous social climber of his age.

Maybe Jack and Gill is not only a hint about the watered-down pint. Due to his childhood disease, Charles I was a shorty; he was only 5'4", with bowed legs. It takes little imagination to connect the smaller Jack and Gill with the diminutive stature of the monarch. Jack and Gill are Charles I and his Catholic queen. The hill and the pail of water might allude to his unsuccessful wars on Spain and his botched scheme to pay for the war with Ship Money tax. When the serious trouble began, Jack fell down and broke his crown and Gill tumbled after, hiding in Paris. Up he got and home he trot as fast as he could caper, but it ended badly the second time around. The beheaded king was dispatched to the late "old Dame Dob, who patched his nob with vinegar and brown paper" - back in those happier days when Charles was a little kid in her care.

Speaking of patching nobs, one of the legends about Charles' execution is that his head was stitched to his body before embalming. When his coffin was opened in 1813, the head was still there, loosely attached.

Who's Old Dame Dob?

29th-Nov-2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
The paleo diet guys claim that non-infectious chronic diseases like this kind of tooth decay (and diabetes, etc.,) were very rare before the modern diet became common; they say that even in the Neolithic, wheat had much more protein and less carbohydrates than that of today. Don't know how valid their logic is; guess we'll find out in 20 years when they get older, whether they have lower non-infectious chronic disease rates than their cohort.

I guess the corollary is that back in the day, people would have avoided cooked onions, cabbage, etc. throughout their lives?
29th-Nov-2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
Cabbages are very recent; even in the early antiquity "cabbages" were, actually, kyle. Boiling requires pottery, so it is Neolithic 3, which is 6500 BC in the Levant, where kyle and onions were domesticated. Eating boiled cabbages and onions is the relatively recent thing.

I do not know what was the original attraction of raw spices, especially condiments like radishes or mustard. It used to be said that condiments covered rancid meat, now they say it is antibacterial action. I had an idea that it could've worked as an equalizer: everyone eating onions, garlic, radishes, smells the same way. Maybe it was masking bad breath, putting the older folk back into the sex game. I am speculating here.
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