“Flash girls” as a phrase is first found in “The Pills of White Mercury,” the pitiful lamentation of a dying man done wrong by some disease-ridden flash girls. The text of this song was taken from Thomas D’Urfey’s Wit and Mirth: or, Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20). D’Urfey is also the author of “Blowzabella My Bouncing Doxie” — the origin of the name of the English group, Blowzabella.
The Pills of Mercury
(Recorded on ‘Half Ower, Half Ower tae Aberdour’ by Jack Beck. The Tradition Bearers – Scots Songs and Ballads Series LTCD1006)
As I was a walking by the banks of the Ugie,
listen, dear friends, what I have to relate,
who should I spy there but one of my comrades,
wrapped up in white linen, and hard was his fate.
O the mercury was beating and the limestone was reeking,
his tongue all in flames hanging over his chin,
a hole in his bosom, his teeth were a closing,
bad luck to the girlie that ga’ed him the glim
chorus: And had she but told me when she disordered me,
had she but told me of it in time,
I might have been cured by the pills of white mercury,
but now I am a young man cut down in his prime
Down at the street corner, those flash girls were talking,
and one to the other these words she did say,
O there goes that young man who once was so jolly,
but now for his sins his poor body it must pay.
O my parents they warned me, and oft times they chided,
with those young lassies do not sport and play,
but I never heeded and scarce ever listened,
but just carried on in my own wicked way.
O doctor dear doctor, before your departure,
you’ll throw all these bottles of mercury away,
you’ll send for the minister to say a prayer over me,
before that they lower my poor body to the clay.
You’ll get six fine young fellows to carry my coffin,
and six pretty fair maids to bear up my pall,
and you will give each one a bunch of red roses,
so that as they pass by me, they won’t know the smell.