The World Turned Upside Down

The theme of paternity was heavily exploited by the English in the years before the revolution to describe the alleged natural relationship between the colonies and the mother country. No doubt King George found the Rebels’ apparent ingratitude as sharp as a serpent’s tooth, but his ministers often raised the allegory to the level of policy. George Grenville held that the colonies were obedience-bound in return for England’s protection, and simply expected the “lubberly young fellows who had always enjoyed the benefits of their father’s house” to pitch in and shoulder the burden of the Stamp Act in the Empire’s time of need. Colonists also thought and spoke in terms of protection, obedience, nurturing, and gratitude. None other than Benjamin Franklin penned the words to “The Mother Country” (c. 1771), complaining that “She snubs us like children that scarce walk alone / She forgets we’re grown up and have Sense of our own.” In the end his song manages to aver loyally that “she’s still our Pride” and promises to protect her against her foes. But as events progressed and familial duties multiplied, patriots quickly changed their tune.

In response to the Boston Tea Party, for example, an anonymous broadside sang of “The Rich Lady Over the Sea” whose daughter dumps a package of tea into “the dark and the boiling tide” to defy the silly notion that “it’s only proper that daughter should pay / Her mother a tax on the tea.” Action, not dumb obedience, was fast becoming the order of the day. It took Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to attack the theme head-on. He scorned the notion of familial duty as a “jesuitical” adoption by the King and his parasites “with the low papistical design of gaining an unfair bias on the credulous weakness of our minds.” Europe, not England, is the true mother country, he pointed out resoundingly in 1776, and only an unnaturally brutish mother would devour her children anyway. Once and for all he disposed of the familial connection and repudiated “the phrase of parent or mother country applied to England only, as being false, selfish, narrow, and ungenerous.” That he would wield the common-sense club so roundly on this head measures the vitality of the idea.

When the Townshend Acts took effect in 1867, “a peace-maker to Britain and her colonies” published in Gentleman’s Magazine his “humble attempt to reconcile the parent and her children.” “The World Turned Upside Down, or, The Old Woman Taught Wisdom” narrates the conflict between an old woman and her daughter on the subject of earning one’s own bread, the question settled only after the intervention of a neighbor. It is an allegory of William Pitt’s defense of the colonies’ response to the Stamp Act before the House of Commons on January 14, 1766. “I rejoice that America has resisted,” Pitt proclaimed, and to justify the colonies’ behavior and mollify the nettled motherland he quotes a Matthew Prior ballad about a man’s behavior to his wife: “Be to her faults a little blind / Be to her virtues very kind.” Pitt’s attitude matches the absolute farmer’s, who insists the Old Woman and her daughter kiss and make up. Notable for its employment of the parent-child theme in the interests of reconciliation, the song is even more famous as the march Cornwallis’ defeated troops played at the surrender of Yorktown.

The terms of capitulation of this decisive battle reflect an earlier and, to the Continental Army, unforgivable breech of military etiquette. On May 12, 1780, Major General Benjamin Lincoln’s five thousand troops were overwhelmed at Charleston by General Henry Clinton’s fourteen thousand. Refused the privilege of playing a British march in surrendering their arms– a convention allowed a defeated army as a show of courtesy to their conquerors and as proof they were not utterly humiliated–Lincoln’s men saved face by piping “The Turk’s March” instead. But the Yankees did not forget the insult. Delivering the articles of surrender to Cornwallis’ aides, Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens, a capitulant at Charlestown, reminded them of this dishonor and insisted that the British surrender their arms “with colors cased, and drums not beating a British or a German March.” Washington upheld the article, and instead of “Yankee Doodle” the Redcoats ground their arms on the glacis to “The World Turned Upside Down.”

Lord Cornwallis’ troops must have felt the world was topsy-turvy indeed. Surrender to Doodles? Absurd! The song faultlessly describes both the conditions of the surrender and the sentiments of the defeated. But there is no hard evidence that it was played that day, despite Alexander Garden’s report in 1828 that “the British army marched out with colors cased, and drums not beating a British or German March. The march they chose was The World Turned Upside Down.” Eyewitnesses record only that the British marched through the lines of victorious American and French troops with their drums beating a slow march. As Raoul Camus points out, “Derry Down” is metrically fitter for a quick march. A more likely choice is “The World Turned Upside Down, or, When the King Enjoys His Own Again.” This Jacobite song dates from the Battle of Naseby in 1645 and was well known to Highland pipers and British regulars. Thematically and metrically, it captures more accurately the combined dismay and jubilation of the surrender of Yorktown.


The World Turned Upside Down, or
The Old Woman Taught Wisdom (1767)

Goody Bull and her daughter together fell out,
Both squabbled and wrangled and made a great rout.
But the cause of the quarrel remains to be told,
Then lend both your ears and a tale I’ll unfold.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.
Then lend both your ears and a tale I’ll unfold.
The old lady, it seems took a freak in her head,
That her daughter, grown woman, might earn her own bread.
Self-applauding her scheme, she was ready to dance.
But we’re often too sanguine in what we advance.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.”
We’re often too sanguine in what we advance.

For mark the event, thus for fortune we’re crossed,
Nor should people reckon without their good host.
The daughter was sulky and wouldn’t come to,
And pray what in this case could the old woman do?
Derry down, down, hey derry down.
And pray what in this case could the old woman do?

“Zounds, neighbor,” quoth Pitt, “what the devil’s the matter?
A man cannot rest in his home for your clatter.”
“Alas,” cries the daughter, “here’s dainty fine work.
The old woman grows harder than Jew or than Turk.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.
The old woman grows harder than Jew or than Turk.”

“She be damned!” says the farmer, and to her he goes.
First roars in her ears, then tweaks her old nose.
“Hello Goody, what ails you? Wake, woman, I say.
I am come to make peace in this desperate fray.
Derry down, down, hey derry down.
I am come to make peace in this desperate fray.”

“Alas,” cries the old woman, “and must I comply?
But I’d rather submit than the hussy should die.”
“Pooh, prithee, be quiet, be friends and agree.
You must surely be right if you’re guided by me.
Derry down, down, hey derry down,
You must surely be right if you’re guided by me.

Unwillingly awkward, the mother knelt down
While her absolute farmer went on with a frown,
“Come, kiss the poor child, here come kiss and be friends,
There, kiss you poor daughter and make her amends.”
Derry down, down, hey derry down,
There, kiss your poor daughter and make her amends.”

* * * * *

The World Turned Upside Down (Buttercups)

If buttercups buzz’d after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches on sea,
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows,
And cats should be chased in to holes by the mouse,
If the mamas sold their babies
To the gypsies for half a crown;
If summer were spring and the other way round,
Then all the world would be upside down.

The World Turned Upside Down
or When the King Enjoys His Own Again
(from The Scottish students handbook, Song of the Cavaliers)

Let rogues and cheats prognosticate
Concerning king’s or kingdom’s fate.
I think myself to be as wise
As he that gazeth on the skies.
My sight goes beyond the depth of a pond
Or rivers in the greatest rain
Whereby I can tell that all will be well
When the King enjoys his own again.

Yes, this I can tell
That all will be well
When the King enjoys his own again.

There’s neither swallow, dove, or dade
Can soar more high or deeper wade
Nor show a reason from the stars
What causeth peace or civil wars.
That man in the moon may wear out his shoon
By running after Charles his wain
But all’s to no end, for the times will not mend
Till the King enjoys his own again.

Full forty years this royal crown
Hath been his father’s and his own
And is there anyone but he
That in the same should sharer be?
For better may the scepter sway
Then he that hath such right to reign?
Then let’s hope for a peace, for the wars will not cease
Till the King enjoys his own again.

Though for a time we see Whitehall
With cobwebs hanging on the wall
Instead of gold and silver brave
Which formerly was wont to have
With rich perfume in every room
Delight to that princely train
Yet the old again shall be when the time you see
That the King enjoys his own again.

Then fears avaunt, upon the hill
My hope shall cast her anchor still
Until I see some peaceful dove
Ring home the branch I dearly love.
Then will I wait till the waters abate
Which now disturb my troubled brain,
Then forever rejoice, when I’ve heard the voice
That the King enjoys his own again.