Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Arthur Sullivan: Little Buttercup's Song and H.M.S. Pinafore.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend about Little Buttercup’s song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera, H.M.S. Pinafore. He was wondering what one or two of the provisions were that Little Buttercup was trying to sell to the sailors. But let’s recap on the story, with the help of Alice B. Woodward.
'As the sailors sat and talked they were joined by a rather stout but very interesting elderly woman of striking personal appearance. She was what is called a ‘bum-boat woman’, that is to say, a person who supplied the officers and crew with little luxuries not included in the ship's bill of fare. Her real name was Poll Pineapple, but the crew nick-named her ‘Little Buttercup’, partly because it is a pretty name, but principally because she was not at all like a buttercup, or indeed anything else than a stout, quick-tempered, and rather mysterious lady, with a red face and black eyebrows like leeches, and who seemed to know something unpleasant about everybody on board. She had a habit of making quite nice people uncomfortable by hinting things in a vague way, and at the same time with so much meaning (by skilful use of her heavy black eyebrows), that they began to wonder whether they hadn't done something dreadful, at some time or other, and forgotten all about it. So Little Buttercup was not really popular with the crew, but they were much too kind-hearted to let her know it...
Little Buttercup had a song of her own which she always sang when she came on board.
Here it is:
For I'm called Little Buttercup - dear Little Buttercup,
Though I could never tell why,
But still I'm called Buttercup - poor little Buttercup,
Sweet Little Buttercup I!
I've snuff and tobaccy, and excellent jacky,
I've scissors, and watches, and knives;
I've ribbons and laces to set off the faces
Of pretty young sweethearts and wives.
I've treacle and toffee, I've tea and I've coffee,
Soft tommy and succulent chops;
I've chickens and conies, and pretty polonies,
And excellent peppermint drops.
Then buy of your Buttercup - dear Little Buttercup;
Sailors should never be shy;
So, buy of your Buttercup - poor Little Buttercup;
Come, of your Buttercup buy!
"Thank goodness, that's over!" whispered the sailors to each other with an air of relief...'

It was clear to me what ‘snuff and baccy’ is, but what about ‘jacky’? And surely ‘soft tommy’ is a delicacy that is not known these days? Finally I had to remind myself what conies were – although I do like polony!
Apparently ‘jacky’ may be bread rolls but is most likely to be a nickname for English gin! 'Conies' are usually rabbit skins of just the rabbits themselves. I wonder if the sailors liked to eat them? 'Polony' is a lovely sausage, which is still occasionally seen in England. Its name may be a corruption of the Italian town of Bologna which has a large sausage as a local delicacy. And finally ‘soft tommy’ is a kind of soft bread, which would have been very much in demand to seamen who only had the pleasure of eating hard tack whilst at sea!

Listen to Little Buttercup’s Song on YouTube

1 comment:

Constitutional Advocate said...

Jacky was a slang word for Gin.