The Frog and the Mouse

The Frog and the Mouse: Keemo-Kimo Format

One of the most widespread and long-lived songs in the English-speaking world, this song's history is generally well-documented, starting with a likely reference to it in Wedderburn's Complaynte of Scotland of 1549 right up to the present day.  It has probably been rewritten in more different formats than any other song, so that at least half-a-dozen markedly different formats and tunes have been extant since the early nineteenth century, albeit all related and telling roughly the same story of Froggie coming to court Miss Mouse, and in most versions the disasters at the wedding.  When we add in the political parodies and other uses of the various formats and tunes it all adds up to a fascinating evolutionary tale.  Such a rich and varied history would easily fill a rather large book, and that just from a literary point of view; another large book could be produced from a study of the tunes utilised.

This article looks at the evolution of just one of these formats, which would appear to have its roots in a seventeenth century camp followers song, although the Froggie song related to it has no extant versions older than mid-eighteenth century.  The camp followers song from The Bodleian Library and available to subscribers to the Eighteenth Century Collection Online (ECCO) was given the speculative date c1705 by the Bodleian based on other datable pieces printed by John Thornton of London.  However, other evidence, including the text itself, points to an earlier date for the song of around the middle of the seventeenth century.

Bullington/Burlington Green, known today as Bullingdon Green, lies to the east of the Oxford Eastern Bypass and in the seventeenth century it was the site of a well-known important army camp.  Indeed Charles I in 1644 watched his troops training there, and the reference in the penultimate verse to the 'Round-head Brat' at least confirms the writer was probably a royalist, and surely places the the song in the Civil War period.

There is further evidence to suggest the song, or at least the chorus and tune were well-known from c1700 to 1734 as another garland at the Bodleian Library, ESTC T 196997, The Frighted West-Country Man's Garland has as its second song of three The Ladies Lamentation for the downfall of the hoop-petticoats and the designated tune is Rigdum for a Little Game.  This garland was printed by J. Walter at The Golden-Ball in Pye Corner, and again the date is c1705.

In the 1730s four volumes of graffiti from taverns and similar places were published by J. Roberts in Warwick Lane, London, titled The Merry-Thought; or, The Glass-Window and Bog-House Miscellany, the collector's pseudonym being Hurlo Thrumbo.  Volume 3 has on its title page a slight variation on the rigdum chorus, so it would appear that the printed song had by then attained some oral currency.

It is worth noting that this version of the chorus with its two-syllable 'Gamey' much better fits the later Froggie tune.

Regarding the seemingly nonsense words in the chorus of our ballad, the first thought is that if they are indeed real words they are probably camp-followers' cant.  Another possible point of interest is that no less than six words in the chorus end in 'um'.  Could it be that this was in the seventeenth century a characteristic of camp followers' cant?  'Game' at that time had pretty much the same meaning as in 'on the game' in twentieth century parlance, i.e., referring to prostitution.  'Rigdum' one suspects is one of the many extensions to 'rig' meaning playing tricks, or even a synonym for 'game', as in the folksong 'Up to the rigs of London town'.  The OED Online gives one meaning for the noun 'rig' as 'a wanton or loose woman' (1575-1929) and as a verb, 'to behave in an immodest or wanton manner' (1570-1815).  There are numerous nineteenth century broadside ballads that tell of the rigs of various fairs and in these and others similar the meaning is 'tricks' or more generally fun and games.  The Rigs of the Times tells of various tricks or cheats carried out by a long list of unscrupulous traders.  Rigdum Funnidos was a plain-spoken character in Henry Carey's 1734 play Chrononhotonthologos.

'Flumerum' is a little less obvious, possibly an adaptation of 'flummery' meaning flattery, but 'flummery' was also a sweet dish made with milk, flour and eggs, etc., (1623-1827).  There is also the possibility of puzzlement as in the word 'flummox'.  As for 'bollerum' this may be related to 'ballum rancum' a dance at which harlots and all of the company dance naked (c1660).  In the chorus of The Oxford Milkmaid version we have the intriguing line 'Can you net a flumerum, a Rigdum Bolleram?' which at least presents the possibility that the milkmaid is a 'flumerum' and also a Rigdum Bolleram' as the cant expression for a milkmaid was 'Who Ball' (Whoa, Ball! See stanza 23), Ball being a common nickname for a cow at that time (later also applied to horses).

The word 'Rigdum' continued to be a popular part of choruses in the eighteenth century in seemingly unrelated songs.  Vic Gammon alerted me to a song about 'Honest Harry' which exists in various versions available in ECCO: Song 172 in Calliope: or the Musical Miscellany, 1788, with music, and another version sung by Mrs. Wilson in the comic opera, Sherwood Forest.  Here is the first stanza and chorus of the 2 stanzas from Calliope.

Although probably not intended here, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries 'jig' was the sexual act.

Choruses with 'um' endings continued well into the nineteenth century if not later.  The Irish Pedlar at page 432 in the first volume of the Universal Songster has the nonsense chorus 'goosetrum foodle, niggety, tragedy, rum. Diderum doodle, niggety, figgety, fum.

The Frog and the Mouse

Precisely when the format and chorus were adopted by the Froggie song we do not yet know.  Only a few versions of this format from the eighteenth century are extant, the earliest reference being from Notes and Queries, 1876, which quotes a version of the chorus from a music book of c1750:

But this can hardly be the original adaptation as one of the later versions retains the 'rigdum' in the last line of the chorus instead of 'ringcan'.

Perhaps closer to the original adaptation is song 2 in The Buck's Delight, sold at the Printing office, Little Russell-Court, Drury Lane, London (British Library 11621 e 2, item 20).  The volume of garlands it is to be found in was bound together in 1830.

The following version was reproduced in Leslie Shepard's The Broadside Ballad at page 174, from his own collection.  It is a music sheet from the late eighteenth century published in Dublin.  Unfortunately he gives no further information and the full sheet was not reproduced, lacking stanzas 5, 6, 10 and 11.  His collection was auctioned off after he died and where this sheet ended up we currently do not know.  Although we can have an estimate as to what the missing stanzas were, using the above version which is quite close, it would be more helpful to have access to the original.  The tune is very close to those of this format collected later from oral tradition. Although the format has been retained from the earlier piece, and with it probably the tune, the only word that survives in the new chorus is 'rigdum' and even that is beginning to change, as a result of oral tradition presumably.  Do any of the new words have any meaning?  Perhaps.  We have possible musical/rhythm terms in 'strim stram' and 'pammadiddle', the strumming of a stringed instrument and a phrase in drumming, or perhaps even slang words for guitar and drum.  All sorts of far-fetched interpretations could be postulated, but I will restrain myself. 

The chorus survives pretty well intact into the nineteenth century.  In Notes and Queries For August 17th, 1850, p188, is given a verse and chorus from the correspondent 'A' who when a boy heard an old aunt repeatedly sing.

Though none of the eighteenth century versions here are precisely dated there is an American version of 1795 published in The Skylark: or, Gentleman and Ladies' Complete Songster, being a collection of the most Modern and Celebrated American, English and Scotch Songs.  Worcester, from the press of Isaiah Thomas, Jnr., sold at his Bookstore and by the Booksellers in Boston. Page 107. Here then is a much extended version, meant to be read not sung one presumes.  The basic story is the same and the beginning and end have detail close to the British versions, but there is much superfluous material in between.  This version has had very little influence on oral versions on either side of the Atlantic, but curiously the 'buying of the wedding dress' stanza occurs in a Scottish oral version, as well as five American ones.  By 1800 songs were flying back and forth across the Atlantic, both in print and in oral tradition.  Very likely this stanza was introduced at some point before this long version appeared.  The reference to 'satire on Italian plays' is of interest.  The advent of comic opera in England c1730 was a direct response to the preponderance of Italian opera and satirised that heavily.  One presumes the same response occurred in America soon after, when the comic operas were all the rage.

By the late eighteenth century the format, chorus and tune were being appropriated, as many popular tunes were then, for musicals such as Panglosi's musical comedy The Baron of 1781.  The following song from it The Old English Baron was printed on a broadside by Fowler of Salisbury (ESTC T10891) and this actually designates the tune The Frog and Mouse. Following is the first of four stanzas.

The refrain and part of the chorus alter in the other three stanzas but the last two lines still form a consistent chorus.  Notice in this parody the word 'coin' is actually given meaning whereas in the Froggie refrains the word doesn't appear to have any meaning.
Further proof of the popularity of the format is evidenced by the use of it by John O'Keefe in his song Amo Amas, I loved a Lass of the same year, from The Agreeable Surprise, which has the chorus: In 1790 The Modern Syren, a songbook printed in Newcastle by S. Hodgson (ESTC T300935), has at page 181 a medley of stanzas from popular songs (utilising also the even-more-popular tune Derry Down) including the first stanza of Froggie introduced in the following way: Although no doubt becoming widespread in oral tradition on both sides of the pond after 1800, the format seems to disappear from popular publications for a while in Britain. Perhaps the appearance of Liston's new format for Froggie (the 'Heigh ho says Rowley' ecotype), popularised by him and others in the early years of the century, replaced the older format.  The 3-volume Universal Songster for 1825-1826 has a great number of songs that utilise existing tunes and formats and the only appearances of the 'rigdum' format come in the shape of three parodies of O'Keefe's Amo Amas (see above), whereas there are many parodies of the 'Heigh ho says Rowley' format. 

No doubt heavily influenced by oral tradition the 'rigdum' format resurfaced with a bang in 1854 when it was used for a highly popular Minstrel song Keemo Kimo described as 'George Christy and Wood's celebrated banjo song' published in New York, arranged by A. Sedgwick and sung by P.H. Keenan.  It has four stanzas, only the third of which relates vaguely to Froggie.  The other stanzas are the usual Minstrel nonsense. (see appendix for full version.) Here is that stanza with chorus.

Whilst the tune had marked differences there are obvious similarities with the earlier pieces.  The format was also tweaked in that the stanzas had been doubled and an extra phrase in the chorus added.  This version was published in Britain within a year and not only taken up by the British Minstrel troupes, but Sam Cowell included it in his repertoire in almost the same version.
Other versions soon appeared and by 1860 a version 'composed and arranged by Charles White and sung nightly by Old Dan Emmett at White's Melodeon at 53 Bowery, New York', was published.  This has three stanzas in common with the George Christy set (See appendix) with a fresh stanza, and here the Froggie stanza appears first: In England yet another version, Kemo Kimo, was published (and no doubt others) with no reference to Froggie and indeed it had nothing but the format and chorus in common with the others.  (See appendix)

Further developments of the format appear to be quite scarce, possibly due to the enormous success of the Minstrel versions, but in 1993 a reader of the Evergreen magazine sent in the following fragment which his parents used to sing sixty years previously.

The repeated refrain line puts it firmly in our remit here, but the whole appears to be part of a medley of bits from various Minstrel songs.  The 'Juby' lines come from an early (c1848) Minstrel song called Juba, again by George Christy of Christy and Woods Minstrels:
Rigdum 'Froggie' in oral tradition.

In Britain the song survived to be collected largely in fragmentary form with only a couple of stanzas and the chorus, barring a five-stanza version in the Grieg-Duncan Collection.  In America, where more versions were found, widely dispersed, a similar pattern existed in that most versions consisted of a single stanza and chorus.  Whilst a few of the stanzas from the Thomas broadside survived, as one might expect with such a song several new stanzas had appeared and some of these had been collected in more than one state.  Longer versions were found in Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri and Arizona. (See appendix for a selective list of oral versions).

Of the British oral versions extant I strongly recommend the Peter Kennedy recording of Adolphus Le Ruez of Jersey (see appendix).  My first introduction to the song was in the 60s when a collated version based on Le Ruez's version was sung by Jim Eldon at my local folk club. Here is the Le Ruez text. It is a great pity that, although we have some useful studies of the Frog and Mouse family of songs, no-one has yet produced a full Bronsonian-type study of all the ecotypes.  I hope to continue at some point to do a comparative study of the texts, but I lack the necessary skills to compare the different tune types.  Only a few folksongs come anywhere near the fascinating evolution and divergence of the different ecotypes in the family, and the other songs they have inspired.  For this reason a comprehensive study of all the ecotypes is long overdue.


Keemo Kimo Kitty Kimo Kemo Kimo! Select List of Published Oral Versions of 'Rigdum' Chorus Ecotype of The Frog and the Mouse.

(There are probably many other examples to be had but without seeing the actual text it is not possible to say which ecotype it is.) One stanza and chorus unless otherwise stated.

British Examples:

North American Examples:
    Belden, H. M., Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society (Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1973) p.495, version 1A, 6 stanzas; p496, version 1B.

    Creighton, Helen, Maritime Folk Songs (Toronto, Breakwater, 1979) p152.
    ______________ and Doreen Senior, Traditional Songs from Nova Scotia (Toronto, The Ryerson Press, 1950) p.254, one Liston ecotype stanza.

    Eddy, Mary O., Ballads and Songs from Ohio (New York, J. J. Augustin, 1939) p.143, version B (version A is Keemo Kimo).

    Morris, Alton C., Folksongs of Florida (Gainesville, University of Florida Press, 1990) p.411, version D.

    Owens, William A., Texas Folk Songs (Denton, University of North Texas Press, 2000) p.138, version B, 8 stanzas.

    Peters, Harry B., Folk Songs out of Wisconsin (Madison, The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1977) P.272, 6 stanzas.

    Sharp, Cecil J., English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, Vol. 2 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2nd edn., 1952) p.312, versions A, 7 stanzas; C, 12 stanzas; p.320, version A, 4 stanzas, hybridised with Kemo Kimo.

    Shoemaker, Henry W., Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Newman F. McGirr, 1931) p.268, 4 stanzas from the Liston ecotype.

    Sturgis, Edith B., Songs from the Hills of Vermont (New York and Boston, G. Schirmer, 1919) p.18, 6 stanzas.

    White, Newman Ivey, The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, Vol. 5 (Durham, N.C., Duke University Press, 1962) p.85, versions A, B, B1, BB, DD, the last with 4 stanzas.

    Wolf, John Quincy, Jr., The John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection, 1952-1970, Lyon College, Arkansas. Https:// p.42, 3 stanzas; p.43; p.46, 8 stanzas; p.47, 14 stanzas; p.48; p.49, chorus only.

    Wyman, Loraine, and Howard Brockway, Lonesome Tunes (Folk Songs from the Kentucky Mountains (New York, The H. W. Gray Company, 1916) p.25, 15 stanzas.

Select Bibliography.

Dungbeetle - 4.12.22