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Origins: Pills of White Mercury

DigiTrad:
BARD OF ARMAGH
PILLS OF WHITE MERCURY
STREETS OF LAREDO (Cowboy's Lament)
THE DYING LUMBERMAN
THE LINEMAN'S HYMN
THE STREETS OF LOREDO
THE TROOPER CUT DOWN IN HIS PRIME
UNFORTUNATE LASS


Related threads:
Streets of Stavanger aka The Seasick Norwegian (8)
Lyr Add: Pills of White Mercury (26)
Lyr Req: Streets of Toledo (Paul Clayton) (18)
Streets of Laredo (41)
Streets of Laredo - 'Live in the Nation'?? (52)
Chords Req: Pills of White Mercury (Old Blind Dogs (16)
(origins) ...all wrapped in white linen. (65) (closed)
BUCK'S ELEGY -- A corrupt text? (65) (closed)
Lyr Add: Tom Sherman's Barroom (4)
Lyr Req: Handful of Laurel (6)
Lyr Req: Pills of White Mercury (5)
Lyr Req: The Pills of White Mercury (2)


GUEST,Eve 29 Nov 04 - 10:53 PM
GUEST 29 Nov 04 - 11:10 PM
Peace 29 Nov 04 - 11:16 PM
Q 29 Nov 04 - 11:17 PM
Q 30 Nov 04 - 01:13 AM
GUEST,John from Tarneybackle 30 Nov 04 - 07:29 AM
GUEST,Scotus 30 Nov 04 - 07:12 PM
GUEST 30 Nov 04 - 09:42 PM
Desert Dancer 30 Nov 04 - 10:04 PM
GUEST 30 Nov 04 - 10:27 PM
GUEST 30 Nov 04 - 10:30 PM
Lighter 30 Nov 04 - 11:16 PM
Lighter 30 Nov 04 - 11:31 PM
GUEST,eva 19 Jul 08 - 02:31 PM
Acorn4 19 Jul 08 - 02:38 PM
Janice in NJ 19 Jul 08 - 10:20 PM
Art Thieme 19 Jul 08 - 11:33 PM
Joe Offer 20 Jul 08 - 03:56 AM
Dave Hanson 20 Jul 08 - 04:08 AM
Acorn4 20 Jul 08 - 04:26 AM
Malcolm Douglas 20 Jul 08 - 06:55 AM
Janice in NJ 20 Jul 08 - 03:11 PM
Effsee 20 Jul 08 - 03:30 PM
GUEST,Neil D 21 Jul 08 - 12:12 PM
Rumncoke 21 Jul 08 - 05:22 PM
Janice in NJ 21 Jul 08 - 09:51 PM
GUEST,George Henderson 22 Jul 08 - 04:59 AM
pavane 22 Jul 08 - 06:06 AM
pavane 22 Jul 08 - 06:10 AM
pavane 22 Jul 08 - 06:17 AM
MartinRyan 22 Jul 08 - 06:31 AM
Malcolm Douglas 22 Jul 08 - 06:51 AM
Janice in NJ 03 Sep 08 - 05:26 PM
MartinRyan 03 Sep 08 - 05:37 PM
GUEST,Janice now in Western NY State 04 Sep 08 - 10:50 AM
MartinRyan 04 Sep 08 - 11:15 AM
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Subject: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST,Eve
Date: 29 Nov 04 - 10:53 PM

Does anyone know if the Song Pills of White Mercury sung by the Old Blind Dogs has origions that date back to before their recording? Can this song be traced back to the 19th c?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST
Date: 29 Nov 04 - 11:10 PM

Ummmm - could you perhaps?????
POST the d*&N@D lyrics????


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Peace
Date: 29 Nov 04 - 11:16 PM

'Gunning quite literally takes the traditional "Pills Of White Mercury" by the scruff of the neck and delivers a spirited rendition that makes the song his own. Geographically speaking, it's set in my native North East Scotland. The opening verse mentions the River Ugie, which sheds its waters into the North Sea on the northern outskirts of the fishing port, Peterhead. At the outset, the narrator " ...spied a dear comrade, dressed in white flannel " who had died of syphilis, a disease from which, because of his own loose social habits - and despite his parents' repeated warnings, the narrator is also suffering. When Gunning introduced this song during his Kerrville 2004 mainstage set, he commented that he had first heard it performed by a Scottish band. By way of settling his affairs, in the closing verse the narrator requests " Now get you six strong fellows to carry my coffin, Six pretty maids to bear up my pall, And give each of them a bunch of red roses, So when they pass by me they'll not know the smell ."'

from       www.davegunning.com/news.html



Also google

Pills of White Mercury

And if you google

"Pills of white mercury", history

There is stuff there that will lead you to the 'cat.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Q
Date: 29 Nov 04 - 11:17 PM

Lyrics already in the DT.
See threads on this and related songs, starting with 14941: Pills white mercury
and the other threads listed at the top of that thread.

Please enter request into the Lyrics and Knowledge Search before starting a new thread. See FAQ for further instructions.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Q
Date: 30 Nov 04 - 01:13 AM

The Old Blind Dogs version is posted in thread 14941 (linked above) and 42215: Pills white Mercury
Also see "The Unfortunate Rake," a version from the 19th c. in the DT.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST,John from Tarneybackle
Date: 30 Nov 04 - 07:29 AM

These songs travelled across to the US where they became "The Streets of Laredo" or "the Dying Cowboy" and "St James Infirmary Blues"


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST,Scotus
Date: 30 Nov 04 - 07:12 PM

I first heard it sung by the late Peter Hall with the Aberdeen group 'The Gaugers'. he collected it from an old soldier in a local old folks home, I believe. More recently both Tom Spiers and myself have recorded it on our albums for the 'Tradition bearers' series.

Jack


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Nov 04 - 09:42 PM

This thread has progressed into a phenomenial posting of discovery!

Dear Mr. J. Tarneybackle

Please cite a reference (journal/webpage/thesis/book/periodical)for your statement.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

Holy, Mercuratrote!!!!!....the "id-jets have learned the reverse feeding of trolls".....posting something so preposterous....it MUST demand a responce.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 30 Nov 04 - 10:04 PM

Garg - e.g., links at top of page...


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Nov 04 - 10:27 PM

sources??????travelled across to the US where they became "The Streets of Laredo" or "the Dying Cowboy" and "St James Infirmary Blues"


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST
Date: 30 Nov 04 - 10:30 PM

Gargoyle is right.

What is the primary, original source for the fact noted. Using your own reference as a reference is not a factual, adjugicated reference.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Lighter
Date: 30 Nov 04 - 11:16 PM

The metamorphosis of a ca.1795 ballad about "pills and salts of white mercury" into The Bad Girl's Lament" and "The Streets of Laredo" is one of the best documented evolutions in Engliah ballad scholarship. ("St. James Infirmary Blues" is a stretch, however.)People, ballad printers included, evidently loved this stuff.

The late Kenneth Goldstein edited an entire Folkways album around 1960 showing examples of the sequential alterations.

I believe Philips Barry first pieced the evolution together in the 1930s. For a specific reference, see N. Howard Thorp, "Songs of the Cowboys," ed. by Fife & Fife (N.Y.: Clarkson Potter, 1966).

No, the book ain't on line.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Lighter
Date: 30 Nov 04 - 11:31 PM

An important transitional form is "St. James Hospital," sung by "Iron Head" Baker in the Texas State Penitentiary where he'd been locked up for most of his life. The Lomaxes recorded it in the '30s, and Alan did a pretty good job of singing it himself on an old Tradition LP. The original recording of Baker may now be on a Rounder CD called "Black Texicans." (I haven't double checked.)

Words and music were first printed in "Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads," rev. ed., in 1938.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST,eva
Date: 19 Jul 08 - 02:31 PM

do you know where could i find de meaning of this song, what de writter wanted to say?
eva (spain)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Acorn4
Date: 19 Jul 08 - 02:38 PM

Just on a historical note, I remember reading that the treating of syphilis with compounds of mercury was discovered by chance.

In the late Middle Ages it was thought that diseases were caused astrologically by positions of the stars and planets. I can't quite remember the details but it was something to do with the conjunction of certain planets in Scorpio, which was the sign thought to be responsible for the genitalia- someone got the idea of treating the disease with a compound on mercury, because that planet wasn't in that particular conjunction, and it was the first cure found.

I probably haven't got the technical details right as it was a long time ago, but the story is basically true.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Janice in NJ
Date: 19 Jul 08 - 10:20 PM

Pills of white mercury were probably made of mercurous chloride (Hg2Cl2), a mercury salt also known as calomel or mercury (I) chloride, and were taken as a treatment for syphillis. They might have had some beneficial effect because mercurous chloride, although moderately toxic to humans, destroyed the syphillis spirochete.

In the early 20th century, organic arsenic compounds such as arsphenamine (trade name Salvarsan) began to replace mercurous chloride in the treatment of syphillis. These in turn were replaced by antibiotics such as penicillin after World War II.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Art Thieme
Date: 19 Jul 08 - 11:33 PM

Sources!
We don't need no stinkin' sources!!!


(Not, at least, when everything is called folk music. ;-)


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Jul 08 - 03:56 AM

OK, so there's a song called Pills of White Mercury in the Digital Tradition, but it doesn't have sources cited, and it doesn't sound traditional. Is THAT the "White Mercury" song they talk about, or what?
I'm confused.
-Joe Hopeless-


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 20 Jul 08 - 04:08 AM

Thats the one Joe, it's a variant of ' The Unfortunate Rake ' aka ' The Young Sailor Cut Down In His Prime '

eric


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Acorn4
Date: 20 Jul 08 - 04:26 AM

I really love the Doc Watson interpretation of the song.

Anyone else heard that?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 20 Jul 08 - 06:55 AM

There are a lot of discussions here concerning this particular form of the song. It seems to be the only one some people have heard (apart, presumably, from 'Streets of Laredo'), but that doesn't reflect its traditional distribution; it's because of the popular commercial arrangement by the Old Blind Dogs, which a lot of other revival performers (particularly in the US and Canada?) have subsequently taken up, perhaps because of the grotesque nature of the second verse.

'GUEST, eva (spain)' should read the other discussions linked to at the top of the page, many of which contain more useful information than this rather redundant one from 2004 that she happened to came across. So far as this particular form of the song is concerned, OBD got it from Peter Hall of the Gaugers, who in turn seems to have found it in the Grieg-Duncan song collection as sung by Alexander Robb of New Deer, Aberdeenshire, March 1906. In the printed collection it appears as 'Disordered' (vol VII, number 1404a, page 252). If that is the traditional source, then some fairly minor changes in wording have been made by Hall and/or Ian Benzie, together with the substitution of a new first line: Robb himself sang

One night as I walked thro' Caperally

The second verse is exactly as Mr Robb sang it. So far as I can tell in the time I can spare, that verse occurs in no other extant traditional example of the song.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Janice in NJ
Date: 20 Jul 08 - 03:11 PM

From the Wikipedia:

Arsphenamine was marketed under the trade name Salvarsan in 1910. It was also called 606,[1] because it was the 606th compound synthesized for testing [In Germany it was the trend to designate compounds by their development number. Another compound known commonly in Germany by its number is Parathion, which was the 605th compound to be developed in search for insecticide. It is commonly known as E605 (E stands for Entwicklungsnummer (German for "development number")]. Salvarsan was the first organic anti-syphillitic, and a great improvement over the inorganic mercury compounds that had been used previously. A more soluble (but slightly less effective) arsenical compound, Neosalvarsan, (neoarsphenamine), became available in 1912. These arsenical compounds came with considerable risk of side effects, and they were supplanted as treatments for syphilis in the 1940s by penicillin.

Note the reference to inorganic mercury compounds. Pills of white mercury, no doubt. I am still pretty sure they were mercurous chloride (Hg2Cl2), not to be confused with its very deadly cousin, mercuric chloride (HgCl2), also known as bichloride of mercury. Both will kill the spirochete, but the mercuric chloride will kill the host as well. With mercurous chloride, you have a fighting chance of finding a dose that will kill the little corkscrew buggers but not do you in at the same time.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Effsee
Date: 20 Jul 08 - 03:30 PM

As Peter Hall used to say in his intro to this song...
"It was far more respectable to die of Mercury poisoning than it was to die of syphillus."
And..
"It gave rise to the saying "A night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury."


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST,Neil D
Date: 21 Jul 08 - 12:12 PM

Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia provided several boxes of Mercury pills to the Lewis and Clark Expedition for the treatment of syphillis. Some historians have speculated that the aleged madness that drove Meriwether Lewis to a horrible end may have been caused by Mercury poisoning. I personally don't buy it.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Rumncoke
Date: 21 Jul 08 - 05:22 PM

Surely Mercurous Chloride is HgCl?


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Janice in NJ
Date: 21 Jul 08 - 09:51 PM

HgCl is the so-called "empirical" formula, not the structural formala, and many old chemistry textbooks give HgCl. But modern techniques of crystal analysis show that the metallic ion is actually two mercury atoms bonded together as a single unit and giving up two electrons between them. The mercurous ion, also called the mercury (I) ion, is in reality Hg2++ rather than Hg+ as earlier believed.

The chloride ion in either case is simply a chlorine atom which has captured a single electron, shown as Cl-. The crystal lattice for mercurous chloride has an Hg2++ ion in the center and a Cl- ion at either side. The crystal lattice for mercuric chloride, also called mercury (II) chloride, has an Hg++ ion in the center and a Cl- ion at either side.

Hg2Cl2 is now the accepted formula for mercurous chloride. HgCl2 is and has always been the formula for mercuric chloride.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST,George Henderson
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 04:59 AM

According to A. L. Lloyd, the song St James's Hospital was first collected in Dublin. Not sure what publicatin that statement is in but Luke Cheevers of the Goilin singers club in dublin sings this magnificent version.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: pavane
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 06:06 AM

I wonder whether 'Caperally' as quoted by Malcolm, (One night as I walked thro' Caperally) is connected to another song on the same theme, White Copper Alley (recorded by Nic Jones). Nic claimed that White Copper was an old name for mercury.

Or maybe just a coincidence


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: pavane
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 06:10 AM

Doesn't look as if White Copper Alley is in the DT yet. I think Nic said he got it from a broadside, but don't have the details to hand


As I was a walking up White Copper Alley

As I was a walking on one fine day

A lass neat and pretty from fair London City

Her cheeks were like roses, her colour was gay


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: pavane
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 06:17 AM

Already in the DT as Lass of London City


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: MartinRyan
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 06:31 AM

Pavane

"white copper" was an alloy of copper with arsenic, IIRC.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 06:51 AM

Bert Lloyd's notes on 'St James Hospital' etc are worded in a way that is easily misleading. See my comments in another discussion of the song group here for some useful explanation.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: Janice in NJ
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 05:26 PM

"White copper" is a term generally used to describe various alloys of copper and nickel in which there is enough nickel present for the distinct reddish copper color to be lost. It doesn't take much nickel for that to happen. For example, since 1866, US five-cent pieces, commonly called "nickels," have been made from a white copper alloy comprising three parts copper and one part nickel by weight. US three-cent pieces were made from the same alloy from 1865 to 1889. Both coins, copper-nickel five-cent and three-cent pieces, have a silvery appearance, and neither looks like it is made mostly of copper.

Please take note: Since US nickels are three-quarters copper, they are not attracted to a magnet, at least not noticibly attracted to an ordinary household magnet. Canadian nickels, on the other hand, are made from unalloyed pure nickel, and are thus readily attracted to a magnet.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: MartinRyan
Date: 03 Sep 08 - 05:37 PM

Also used for the copper/arsenic alloy mentioned earlier

Regards


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: GUEST,Janice now in Western NY State
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 10:50 AM

I cannot find any metallurgic, industrial, or chemical references to "white copper" being used as a term for copper-arsenic alloys. The closest I came was this section from Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas Recipes Processes by Norman W. Henley and others.

Copper Arsenic Alloys

Arsenic imparts to copper a very fine white color, and makes it very hard and brittle. Before German silver was known, these alloys were sometimes used for the manufacture of such cast articles as were not to come in contact with iron. When exposed to the air, they soon lose their whiteness and take on a brownish shade. On account of this, as well as the poisonous character of the arsenic, they are very little used at the present time. Alloys of copper and arsenic are best prepared by pressing firmly into a crucible a mixture of 70 parts of copper and 30 of arsenic (the copper to be used in the form of fine shavings) and fusing this mixture in a furnace with a good draught, under a cover of glass.


Note that such alloys start out as white, but quickly turn brown. In fact, some very early bronzes were copper-arsenic alloys instead of the copper-tin alloys that are used today. Like all bronzes, they are brown in color.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Pills of White Mercury
From: MartinRyan
Date: 04 Sep 08 - 11:15 AM

As a retired chemist, my original recollection was of its use in the context of alchemy. Google turns up an example from Sherwood Taylor's book on alchemy - which I read many years ago. Quite a few 19 C. industrial chemistry/mineralogy references also. The term was vague enough to have several meanings.

Either way, I'm curious about the "White Copper Alley" reference! Wonder what went on there? Was there a "Mint Lane" in the area?! Or a brothel?

Regards


    Thread closed temporarily because it's been a target for a heavy barrage of Spam. If you have something to add to the discussion, contact me and I'll reopen it.
    -Joe Offer-


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