Living History & Reenactment Music

Musical Rambles Through History © by Sara L. Johnson

Push About the Jorum

I had seen "Push about the Jorum" in one of the O'Neill's Irish collections from the turn of this century, and was asking myself, "What the heck is a jorum?" After another one of those musical rambles, I've finally had my question answered, when I found the tune in various 18th century sources.
William Chappell's The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Times, Vol. II, says: "Now generally known by the name 'Push about the jorum', it was originally known as 'Touch the thing', being a vulgar song with a good tune; Miss Catley sang other words to it in The Golden Pippin, and with great success. From that time (1773) comic songs have been written to it without number."
Robert Burns used the tune for a couple of his bawdy songs, "The Summer Morn", and "There's Hair On't". Fortunately, G. Legman's edition of "Merry Muses of Caledonia", always provides handy notes and a glossary of Scottish expurgated terms. The definition of jorum? It seems "a jorum is a chamberpot, in this case used as a mug in drinking healths and toasts."
Men's clubs frequently met in taverns to drink, eat, sing or play music, engage in conversation and philosophical debate, and especially to drink. Hamilton, founder of the loftier intellectual Tuesday Club in colonial Annapolis, found most of them deplorable "bouzing or toaping clubs" and said even local women's organizations did their share of drinking. Hamilton described his visit to the Hungarian Club of New York:
"After supper they set in for drinking, to which I was adverse and therefore sat upon nettles. They filled up bumpers at each round, but I would only drink three, which were to the King, Governour Clinton, and Governour Bladen, which last was my own. Two or three toapers in the company seemed to be of opinion that a man could not have a more sociable quality or enduement than to be able to pour down seas of liquor, and remain unconquered, while others sank under the table."
At a New York club, Hamilton says: "the most remarkable person in the whole company was one Wendal, a young gentleman from Boston. He entertained us mightily by playing on the violin the quickest tunes upon the highest keys, which he accompanied with his voice, so as even to drown out the violin....The extent of his voice is impossible to describe... the whole company was amazed that any person but a woman or eunuch could have such a pipe, and began to question his virility; but he swore that if the company pleased he would show a couple of as good witnesses as any man might wear." The performer than imitated the sounds of barnyard animals to great acclaim.
Hamilton also found, of a club in Philadelphia, that "some persons there showed a particular fondness for introducing gross, smutty expressions, which I thought did not altogether become a company of philosophers and men of sense." (Information from John Barry Talley's Secular Music in Colonial Annapolis: The Tuesday Club, 1745-56.)
Drinking from a jorum seems more like the activity of one of the "bouzing" clubs than a refined philosophical activity for men of sense. Pottery makers, take note: You should be offering chamber pots "suitable for drinking rituals". As another drinking song says, "So push, push, push the bowl, me boys, and bring it 'round to me. The longer we sit here and drink, the merrier we shall be."
The sheet music and lyrics, are here. Push About the Jorum and 49 other 18th Century tunes are in Kitchen Musician Book 16, and on the CD Pass'd Times.

The tune was used later in the 18th century in a comic song "Patents All the Rage".