Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Song for the Young Women

Don Shelton’s JRSM article and e-book make a case, based partly on suspicions voiced at the time, partly on quasi-statistical inference, that the Hunters, and the obstetrician William Smellie, were instrumental in procuring the deaths of 35-40 young, pregnant women, in rivalrous pursuit of their anatomical and obstetrical reputations. On the sceptical side, few readers (including myself) find this case anything like fully convincing. But it does have an argument, degrees of evidence (albeit well short of a smoking pistol), hence a plausibility by no means yet refuted.

The song below is composed on the entirely conditional premise that Shelton ’s argument is correct. This would mean that the projected images from William Hunter’s Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus, which we saw in the Irish Giant performance, have their human source in the being and bodies of numerous, anonymous young women, a truly grievous history. Also a dreadfully dramatic history, one requiring separate treatment rather than intrusion into the Irish Giant narrative, where it would likely overwhelm Charles Byrne’s story. That said, the song below (pastiche ‘trad Eng. Folk-Song Anon.’) might be envisaged as sung during the Gravid Anatomy projections. I imagine it as sung by a motherly-yet-sinister Hogarthian woman (think of the Hogarthian aesthetic here as counterposed to the da Vincian aesthetic source of Rymsdyk’s engravings for the Gravid Anatomy). Musically the song has a metrical bounce to it, so have a relatively cheerful, tonic major, well-paced first two verses; then slow the pace noticeably, and introduce heavy minor dominant for the last verse.




Come Milly, come Mary, come Molly my dearie,

Up from the country, and bound to be weary,

You’re standing outside now, you’re cold and you shiver,

Come in and be warm now, lie down and deliver.


Come Hannah, come Janet, come Dilly my darling,

Carrying, heavy, sure now you’re starving,

You’re sitting alone now, your stomach a-quiver,

Come in and be safe now, lie down and deliver.


Come Dora, come Betty, come Susan my sweeting,

Near now you feel now your two hearts a-beating,

Go not so near now, so near to the river,

Come in to the light now, lie down and deliver.


 JRRC. 01.06.2011. (John Christie - Associate Centre Member)