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I am a poor lad and my fortune is bad,
And if ever I gets rich 'tis a wonder,
I've spent all my money on girls and strong beer,
And what riches I had are all plundered.
Field after field to market I sent,
Till my land was all gone and my money all spent,
My heart was so hard that I never could repent,
And 'twas that that brought me to Limbo.

Once I could run whilst other did lie,
And strut like a crow in the gutter,
The people all said that saw me pass by,
There goes Mr. Fop in a flutter;
To the top and top-gallant I hoisted my sails,
With a fine fringy cravat and a wig with three tails,
And now I am ready to gnaw my own nails,
And drink the cold water of Limbo.

I had an old Uncle lived down in the West,
And he heard of my sad disaster,
Poor soul! after that he could never take no rest,
For his troubles came faster and faster;
He came to the gaol to view my sad case,
And as soon as I saw him I knew his old face,
I stood gazing on him like one in amaze,
I wished myself safe out of Limbo.

Jack, if I should set you once more on your legs,
And put you in credit and fashion,
Oh! will you leave off those old rakish ways,
And try for to govern your passion?
Yes Uncle, says I, if you will set me free,
I surely will always be ruled by thee,
And I'll labour my bones for the good of my soul,
And I'll pay them for laying me in Limbo.

He pulled out his purse with three thousand pounds,
And he counted it out in bright guineas,
And when I was free from the prison gates,
I went to see Peggy and Jeannie;
In my old ragged clothes they knew nought of my gold,
They turned me all out in the wet and the cold,
You'd a-laughed for to hear how those hussies did scold,
How they jawed me for laying in Limbo.

I'd only been there a very short time,
Before my pockets they then fell to picking,
I banged them as long as my cane I could hold,
Until they fell coughing and kicking,
The one bawled out, Murder! the other did scold,
I banged them as long as my cane I could hold,
I banged their old bodies for the good of their souls,
And I paid them for laying me in Limbo.

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Source: Frank Purslow, Marrowbones, EFDSS 1965


Noted by George Gardiner from James Brooman, Upper Faringdon, Hampshire, 1908
Quoted from Frank Purslow, Marrowbones, EFDSS 1965.
This has also been published in Roy Palmer's Everyman's Book of British Ballads (1980, reprinted in 1998 by Llanerch Press as The Book of British Ballads).

The song appeared on broadsides during the 19th century, and there are examples at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads. The most legible seems to be:

The rakes complaint in limbo Printed between 1819 and 1844 by J. Pitts, Printer, and Toy Warehouse, 6, Great st. Andrew Street, 7 Dials [London]. Harding B 11(3214)

Limbo was the old debtors' prison in London. The song hasn't been widely found in tradition; the Roud Folk Song Index lists only four English sets, and one from Nova Scotia.

The song usually begins "Once I was great, but little I'm grown" or variations thereon; the first half of Mr. Brooman's first verse seems to have been borrowed from another broadside song, The Unfortunate Lad; see, for example, The unfortunate lad [Harding B
22(313), Bodleian Library].

This is copied from a Mudcat thread and entries within by Malcolm Douglas.

Roud: 969 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six

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