The Old Woman Taught Wisdom

Also known as "The World Turned Upside Down"
Words by Anonymous; to the tune of "Derry Down," 1766

This song is an allegory. What does that mean? Symbolic figures are used to represent real things.

Let's try to decipher the allegory. Who is "Goody Bull"? (If students have read The Scarlet Letter, remind them that "Goody" is short for "Goodwife" or the modern "Mrs.") "Bull" comes from "John Bull," a character symbolizing Britain. If "Goody Bull" is Britain, who is her daughter? The Colonies.

This song is also known as "The World Turned Upside Down," although those words never appear in the song. How do you think it got that name? What was "upside down" about the Revolution to the writers of this song? "Daughter" America's disobedience to her "mother."

From the British point of view, what are the causes of the quarrel outlined in this song? The daughter needing to earn her own bread, being disobedient.

The next-to-last verse says the mother tried to kiss and make up. In what ways would Britain claim to have "kissed and made up"?

Using the analogy of mother and daughter, explain the relationship Britain expected with the Colonies. Now take the Colonies' point of view: what kind of relationship did they want with Britain? Look at some of the other songs in this unit: what other relationships did the Colonies use to describe their relationship with Britain? Master-slave; tyrant-peasant.


"The World Turned Upside Down" performed by Arthur F. Schrader on American Revolutionary War Songs to Cultivate the Sensations of Freedom, Folkways [05279], © 1976. Available on iTunes and Spotify.

With the harpsichord accompaniment, one can imagine this performance as it would have been heard in someone's parlor with the listeners joining in singing the well-known refrain.

View the music and lyrics for "The Old Woman Taught Wisdom."

View the published broadside.

This song originally appeared in the Gentlemen's Magazine (March, 1766) and was later published on a music-sheet to the tune of "Derry Down," which is also referenced in the chorus. Its other title, "The World Turned Upside Down," never appears in the text and was often used for other songs. The tune "Derry Down" was very well known and more popular at the time than "Yankee Doodle," with over 100 pre-revolutionary texts associated with it. It was most often used for comic texts such as this one.

This song is an allegorical plea for England ("Goody Bull") and America ("her Daughter") to settle their differences, featuring the former Cabinet Minister William Pitt (the Elder). The reference to Covent Garden or the threat to "turn common whore" implies that a life of independence (wherein the daughter "might earn her own Bread") would certainly result in a life of shame and prostitution.

Goody Bull or the Second Part of the RepealMarch 18, 1766

Goody Bull or the Second Part of the Repeal, Anonymous March 18, 1766.

 

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