Old Rosin the Beau

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"Old Rosin the Beau"
GenreIrish waltz

"Old Rosin the Beau" (or "Rosin the Bow") is an American folk song popular in the 19th century, probably of British or Irish origin, first published in Philadelphia during 1838.

An earlier version, "Rosin the Bow" (not "Beau") refers to rosin with the bow of a violin, but both cover the same general subject (see below: Full lyrics). There are many variations of the song(s), and the tune has been re-used in other songs for political campaign jingles, slave songs, comedy songs, or other folk songs.

Early versions of "Old Rosin the Beau" relate the story of a man who was popular in his youth, then in late life, the ladies refer to him as "Old Rosin, the beau", as he prepares for the grave. As a drinking song, the chorus chimes, "Take a drink for Old Rosin the Beau" and uses dark comedy, with jests about his grave or tombstone, taken in stride while repeating the sing-song melody. The song is structured where soloists can sing a verse, and then the group can join the chorus/refrain portion after each verse.

Partial lyrics[edit]

The lyrics depend on which version of the song is considered. The 1838 version of "Old Rosin the Beau" begins with the following verse:[1] The lyrics, as arranged by J. C. Beckell in 1838, are as follows:

I have travell'd this wide world over,
And now to another I'll go.
I know that good quarters are waiting,
To welcome old Rosin the beau.

To welcome old Rosin the beau...
To welcome old Rosin the beau
I know that good quarters are waiting
To welcome old Rosin the beau.

The original folk song, "Rosin the Bow" begins as follows:[1]

I've always been cheerful and easy,
And scarce have I needed a foe.
While some after money run crazy,
I merrily Rosin'd the Bow.

Some youngsters were panting for fashions,
Some new kick seemed now all the go,
But having no turbulent passions,
My motto was "Rosin the Bow."

Early history[edit]

Both the tune and early lyrics for "Rosin the Bow" are traditional (with no known author). In 1838, the variation "Old Rosin the Beau" was published as a "Comic Song Dedicated to the Members of the Falcon Club by the Publisher" (Ld. Meignen & Co.), arranged by J. C. Beckell.[1][2]

Versions as campaign songs[edit]

Several US presidential campaign songs were set to the tune of "Old Rosin the Beau",[2] including for William Henry Harrison ("The Hero of Tippecanoe"),[3] Henry Clay ("Harry, the Honest and True")[4] and Abraham Lincoln ("Lincoln and Liberty").[5]

Other versions[edit]

Since 1850, a three-part arrangement (melody in the middle, tenor line) attributed to John Massengale has been sung in the Sacred Harp tradition, with a text similar to, though more pious than, "Old Rosin the Beau". It is on page 338 in the 1991 Denson edition of the Sacred Harp[6], and in that edition's ancestors going back to its first appearance in 1850[7]. Note that the Cooper tradition of the Sacred Harp, which diverged in 1902, has a version of the same hymn text at page 338, but a tune, "Rise to the Mansions of Glory", not closely if at all related to the tune for "Old Rosin the Beau".[8]

The melody tune has been used in "Acres of Clams" (aka "Old Settler's Song"). It is also the melody to "Down in the Willow Garden" (aka "Rose Connolly").[9]

The melody was also used in several Irish rebel songs including "The Boys of Kilmichael", "The Men of the West" and "The Soldiers of Cumann na mBan".

On his album The Irish-American's Song, David Kincaid used the tune as the setting for a Confederate version of "Kelly's Irish Brigade",[10] a song from the American Civil War, earlier set to "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean".[11]

Full lyrics[edit]

The full lyrics for the original, traditional folk song "Rosin the Bow" also develop into dark comedy.

         "Rosin the Bow"
Words and music: Anonymous[1]
I've always been cheerful and easy,
     And scarce have I needed a foe.
While some after money run crazy,
     I merrily Rosin'd the Bow.
Some youngsters were panting for fashions,
     Some new kick seemed now all the go,
But having no turbulent passions,
     My motto was "Rosin the Bow."
So kindly my parents besought me,
     No longer a roving to go,
And friends whom I thought had forgot me,
     With gladness met Rosin the Bow.
My young day I spent all in roving,
     But never was vicious, no, no;
But somehow I loved to keep moving,
     And cheerfully Rosin'd the Bow.
In country or city, no matter,
     Too often I never could go,
My presence all sadness would scatter,
     So cheerful was Rosin the Bow.
The old people always grew merry,
     Young faces with pleasure did glow,
While lips with the red of cherry,
     Sipped "bliss to old Rosin the Bow."
While sweetly I played on my viol,
     In measures so soft and so slow,
Old Time stopped the shade on the dial,
     To listen to Rosin the Bow.
And peacefully now I am sinking,
     From all this sweet world can bestow,
But Heaven's kind mercy I'm thinking,
     Provides for old Rosin the Bow.
Now soon some still Sunday morning,
     The first thing the neighbors will know,
Their ears will be met with the warning,
     To bury old Rosin the Bow.
My friends will then so neatly dress me,
     In linen as white as the snow,
And in my new coffin they'll press me,
     And whisper "poor Rosin the Bow."
Then lone with my head on the pillow,
     In peace I'll be sleeping below,
The grass and the breeze shaken willow,
     That waves over Rosin the Bow.

So, "Rosin the Bow" ends with talk of the grave, similar to "Old Rosin the Beau".


  1. ^ a b c d "anonymous - Public Domain Music", pdmusic.org, 2010, web: PDM-38or.
  2. ^ a b Ray Broadus Browne (January 1979). The Alabama Folk Lyric: A Study in Origins and Media of Dissemination. Popular Press. p. 404. ISBN 978-0-87972-129-9.
  3. ^ Anthony Banning Norton (1888). Tippecanoe Songs of the Log Cabin Boys and Girls of 1840. A. B. Norton & Company. p. 51.
  4. ^ George Hood (1843). The National Clay Minstrel: And True Whig's Pocket Companion, for the Presidential Canvass of 1844. G. Hood. p. 77.
  5. ^ George Washington Bungay (1860). Hutchinson's Republican songster, for the campaign of 1860. O. Hutchinson, Publisher, 67 Nassau Street. p. 71.
  6. ^ 338 at fasola.org
  7. ^ Shaping the Values of Youth: Sunday School Books in 19th Century America (UMiss website)
  8. ^ 338 at texasfasola.org
  9. ^ Wilgus, D.K. (Apr–Jun 1979). "'Rose Connoley': An Irish Ballad". The Journal of American Folklore. American Folklore Society. 92 (364): 173. JSTOR 539387.
  10. ^ Kincaid, David (January 19, 2013). "The Stories Behind the Songs: 'Kelly's Irish Brigade'". The Wild Geese Today. GAR Media.
  11. ^ "Kelly's Irish Brigade". Big Canoe Records. 1995. Archived from the original on 2012-06-17.

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