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An Elizabethan garland; being a descriptive catalogue of seventy black-letter ballads, printed between the years 1559 and 1597

An Elizabethan Garland;





Black-Letter Ballads


In the Possession of George Daniel, of Canonbury.

"Old Songs, old tales. and and an old Jest
Our stomachs easiliest digest."


LONDON, 1856.

An Elizabethan garland - Decoration.png


If any portion of our literature be more generally interesting than another it is ancient ballad lore. How many events historical and domestic do we owe the knowledge of to this source. Battles have been fought, and heroes immortalised in its expressive and inspiring strains; and the sports, pastimes, manners, customs, and traditions of our forefathers have received from it some of their most important and curious illustrations. Scholars, critics, and antiquaries have rendered good service to literature by snatching from oblivion those precious relics of legendary poetry which would have been lost to posterity but for their well directed labours of love. They have made us familiar with the thoughts, sympathies, and language of our ancestors. We follow them to the tournament, the border foray, the public hostelrie, and the domestic hearth. We glow with their martial spirit and revel in their rude festivities!

The chief characteristics of an ancient ballad are simplicity and force. With the minstrels of the olden time the impulses of the heart were the inspirations of the muse. Yet in this absence of study and polish, thoughts of exquisite beauty, felicity of expression beyond the reach of art, and rare pathos surprise and delight us at every turn. Many ballads quoted by Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher and Samuel Rowlands ("Crew of Kind Gossips") extend not beyond a single verse, yet how suggestive are they! Many (as if to tantalise bibliographical curiosity!) are limited to a line. It was such penny broadsides that composed the marvellous "bunch" of the military mason of Coventry, and that stocked the pedlar's pack of Autolicus; and their power of fascination may be learnt from the varlet's own words when he laughingly brags how nimbly he lightened the gaping villagers of their purees while chanting to them his merry trol-my-dames!

We delight in a Fiddler's Fling full of mirth and pastime! and revel in the exhilarating perfume of those odoriferous chaplets gathered on sunshiny holidays and star-twinkling nights bewailing how beautiful maidens meet with faithless wooers, and how fond shepherds are jilted by deceitful damsels. How despairing Corydons hang, and how desponding Phillidas drown themselves. How ghosts haunt and inflict vengeance. How disappointed lovers go to sea, and how forlorn lasses follow them in jackets and trousers! Sir George Etheridge, in his comedy of "Love in a Tub," says, "Expect at night to sea the old man with his paper lantern and crack'd spectacles, singing you woeful tragedies to kitchen-maids, and cobblers' apprentices." Aubrey mentions that his nurse could repeat the history of England, from the Conquest to the time of Charles I. in ballads. In Walton's Angler, Piscator having caught a chub, conducts Venator to "an honest alehouse where they would find a cleanly room, lavender in the windows, and twenty ballads stuck about the wall." ""When I travelled," says The Spectator, "I took a particular delight in hearing the songs and fables that are come from father to son, and are most in vogue among the common people of the countries through which I passed."

Verse sweetens toil however rude the sound.

We would not part with those primitive "moralities" "Goody Two-Shoes," "Mother Bunch," and "The Cruel Uncle" that charmed our childhood for all the dry, hard, husky essays on political economy that utilitarianism ever penned!

Listen to mee, my lovely Shepherd's joye,
And thou shalt beare with mirth and muckle glee,
Some pretie tales, which, when I was a boye.
My toothlesse grandame oft hath told to mee.

In these "very proper ditties" and "pleasant posies" the ladye-love was extolled, the Popish priest lampooned, the rebel reviled, the sovereign deified, the shrew shewn up, the hen-pecked husband pilloried, and the most rare monster on two legs and on four moralised as a judgment upon the nation, and a warning to the wicked! Winding up with a prayer for the Queen! Even Tyburn's noose had its muse.

The Britons, from an early period, were a ballad-loving people. The ancient English Minstrels who succeeded the Troubadours sang songs of their own composing to the sound of the harp. These were, in part, if not wholly, French or Provençal. Richard I., who was himself a minstrel, wrote verses in that tongue, some of which are extant. For many ages "trumpeters, Inters, harpers, singers, &c.," contributed to the national amusement. No state ceremony or religous festival, no castle or tavern was complete without them. The art of printing was a heavy blow to extemporaneous lyrics chanted by wandering gleemen to hum-drum tunes. Such careless compositions—though they might satisfy the ear, would not bear the critical ordeal of the press; and a better sort of ballad-mongers and ballad-singers superseded them. "The Downfall of Thomas Lord Cromwell," in 1540, is quoted by Ritson as the oldest printed ballad known. It has been reprinted by Dr. Percy, and we believe is now in the library of the Society of Antiquaries.

Itinerant vocalism had its pains and penalties. In 1537 one John Hogon was arrested for singing publickly a political ballad contrary to the proclamation of 1533 for the suppression of "fond books, ballads, rhymes, &c." And ten years afterwards, owing to their increasing circulation, the legislature passed an act against "printed ballads, plays, rhimes, songs and other fantasies." The government of Edward VI. was tolerant to this popular literature; but Queen Mary, a month after her accession to the throne, re-opened the penal fire, and "printers and stationers" with "an evil zeal for lucre, and covetous of vile gain" were warned by royal edict to abandon their unlawful calling.

Propitious to the Smithfield Muse was the reign of Elizabeth! Ballad singing was in all its glory! Then flourished Tarleton, Antony Munday, Johnson, Delony, and Elderton. The latter lyrist was wont to "arm himself with ale when he ballated," and upon him was written the following epitaph;—

Hic situs est sitiens atque ebrius Eldertonus,
Quid dico, hic situs est? hic potius sitis est.

Which is thus translated by Oldys:—

Dead drunk here Elderton doth lie:
Dead as he is, he still is dry:
So of him it may well be said.
Here he, but not his thirst is laid.

Skelton, at an earlier period, had kept the press alive with his merry ballads, but these sweet singers literally inundated it. So profitable was their calling, that Henry Chettle, in his "Kind Hart's Dreame," circa 1592, says, "There is many a tradesman of a worshipful trade, yet no stationer, who after a little bringing uppe apprentices to singing brokerie, takes into his shoppe some freshmen, & trustes his olde servantes of a two months standing with a dossen of ballads. In which, if they prove thriftie, ha makes them prety chapmen, able to speed more pamphlets by the state forbidden, than all the booksellers in Loudon."

Nicholas Breton ("Pasquil's Night-Cap," 1600) advises prosemen to take up the more thriving trade of writing penny ballads. Every London street had its vocalist; and Essex (where Dick and Wat Winibars two celebrated trebles are said to have got twenty shillings a day by singing at Braintreefair) and the adjoining counties would seem in particular to have patronised this "upstart generation of ballad-singers." This peripatetic harmony however had its jarring notes of discord, Philip Stubbes the puritan, in his "Anatomy of Abuses," denounces fiercely "Songs, filthy ballads, and scurvy rhymes." Bishop Hall (see Virgedemiarum, 1597) lashes the "drunken rimer" (probably the "peerless Elderton"!) who

Sees his handselle have such faire successe.
Sung to the wheel, and sung unto the payle.

Chettle gives no quarter to certain licentious ballads, viz., "Watkins Ale, The Carmans Whistle, Chopping Knives, and Frier Fox-taile," and Shakespeare has his satirical hit at "metre balladmongers."

The Carmen of ancient times made "the welkin dance," and "rouzed the night-owl" with their uproarious catches, which Justice Shallow, "ever in the rear-ward of the fashion," palmed upon "the over-scutcht huswives" as his own "fancies, or his good nights."

The Spinsters and the knitters in the sun,

and the milk-maids were chanters of ancient ballads. So too were the weavers. In Deloney's History of Jack of Newbery the Weavers song is thus introduced: "Then came his highness? (Henry VIII., who was upon a visit to Jack) where he saw a hundred looms standing in one room, and two men worldng in every one, who pleasantly sung in this sort," Whether its carmen of the present day are as musical as of yore we know not. But this we know that the song of the spinster, the milkmaid, and the knitter, "pillow and bobbins all her little store," is still to be heard in the remote, retired and rural village that the lailrcad has not yet invaded, and in daisy-dappled fields respited for a season from a brick-and-mortary end!

In the succeeding reign "ballad-brokery" continued in full bearing!

Knights and dames, and goblins hairy,
Giants rude aud gentle fairy,

were as plentiful and as popular as ever. But in process of time the old metre-men passed away, and when Charles I. became King a new race succeeded to their titles, though they maintained very indifferently their honors. The most prolitic of these was Martin Parker a Grub-street scribbler, to whom our much-abused friend "fonde Elderton" was a Swan of Helicon to a Tailor's Goose And in his wake followed an inferior fry (Price, Wade, Climsel, and Guy) to whom even Martin himself was a Triton of the minnows! In fecundity they kept pace with their predecessors, and poured forth merry medicines for melancholy. Daring the Usurpation, the people who had been arbitrarily deprived of their amusements by the iron hand of treason and fanaticism, found refuge in the penny ballad, in which the cup dity, hipocriey, and cant of their oppressors were happily exposed and ridiculed. And while the stage, that had been trodden by Shakespeare and his "fellows," was steruly prohibited, the well-graced actor silent and pining in poverty, and the may-pole and its flowery garlands prostrate and withered, the dark narrow streets and low-roofed dingy hostelries and houses of ancient London rang with these mirth-moving madrigals!

The Restoration brought back with it Theatres and May-games, and England joyfully resumed her ancient title of "Merrie." But the old-fashioned minstrelsy of the million had seen its best days, and diversions more generally attractive put ballad-singing somewhat in abeyance. Old songs were now gathered into Garlands, and reprinted as Chap Bocks adorned with "new and proper sculptures," and in this more permanent shape were fortunately preserved to posterity. The Pepysian and Bodleian libraries are rich in these interesting tiny tomes, and in that of the writer there are many curious specimens. St. Bartlemy and Frost Fairs, Party Politics and Tyburn Tree still found congenial occupation for a goodly host of garretteers—

Sons of a Day! just buoyant on the flood,
Then number'd with the puppies in the mud.
Ask ye theair names? I could as soon disclose
The names of these blind puppies as of those.

And Duck Lane and its "kindred cobwebs," The Rings in Little Britain, The Three Bibles, and the Black Boy on London Bridge, and The Golden Ball in Pie Corner were the Heliconian founts whence poured their inspirations which made old London vocal and

Befring'd the walls of Bedlam and Soho.

The accomplishments of the bygone ballad-singer are graphically described by Brathwaite in his "Whimsies." "Now he counterfeits a natural base, then a perpetual treble, and ends with a counter-tenure. You shall heare him feigne an artfall straine through the nose, purposely to insinuate into the attention of the purer brotherhood." And in a rare tract, "Nimble and Quick, Pick and Chuse where you will," without date, we have a quaint specimen of his phraseology, "I love strong beer twice in the year, that is summer and winter. Ballad-singers have the most honest trade in the world for money: it is also an ancient and honorable calling, for Homer also was one." Ben Jonson, in his "Bartholomew Fair," introduces Nightingale a ballad-singer, who asks Cokes whether he shall sing his ballad to the tune of Paggington's (i.e. Packington's) "Pound."

The street ballad-singers of the present day are no improvement upon their predecessors. The elaborate blackguardism ard gin-and-fog voices of these excruciating screech-owls speak little for the boasted march of intellect.

Than old ballad lore nothig is more coveted or more rare. A bunch of broadside Elizabethan ballads is a prize that the owner of the choicest library would ride "booted to the groin" to add to his bibliographical treasures! Ritson bears testimony to their uncommon scarcity. "Very few," he remarks, "exist of an earlier date than the reigns of James, or even of Charles I. Being printed only on single sheets, which would fall chiefly into the hands of the vulgar, who had no better method of preserving their favourite compositions than by pasting them upon the wall, their destruction is easily accounted for." Is it too much to believe that the cosey spirit of Captain Cox might have hovered over the very few that are still extant, and saved them from the cook who "hissing hot!" would have pinned them to the Michaelmas Goose to keep it from singeing, or the simple sempstress who would have metamorphosed them into thread papers?

The five volumes of old ballads bequeathed by the locomotive inquisitive, sight-seeing Samuel Pepys to the University of Cambridge are chiefly of the reigns of Charles I. and II. They are thus classed in the precise and perpendicular caligraphy of the collector. "Heroic, Romantic, Hunting, Love pleasant, Love unfortunate." A few are very ancient, and were put forth by the well-beloved Richard Lant, of black-letter memory, and that "courteous dame" the celebrated Widow Toye, The Roxburghe collection in three large volumes folio (now in the British Museum) contain some ballads printed before 1600; but the far greater number are of a more recent date. In the year 1820, when the last part of Mr. Bindley's wonderful library was sold, four lots of old ballads and broadsides printed between 1640 and 1688, and collected by Narcissus Luttrell, produced the startling sum of Seven hundred and eighty-one pounds! The Rawlinson collection, a considerable one, is worthy of its far-famed depository, the Bodleian library. The society of Antiquaries possess a goodly number, garnished with a few of the sixteenth century. The Rev. Dr. Bandinel of Oxford, Sir Frederic Madden of the British Museum, Mr. J. P. Collier and Mr. Halliwell have a covetable sprinkling. The late Mr. Heber rejoiced in the largest number of Elizabethan broadsides that were ever sold by public auction. They formed part of that bunch which came into the possession of the writer through a private source, and who disposed of them to the late eminent bookseller Mr. Thorpe for a very large sum. They are chiefly of a religious aud moral character and insufferably tedious and dull. Mr. Thorpe sold them to Mr. Heber, at whose death Mr. Miller (now also no more!) purchased them; and they "stick fiery off indeed" in his magnificent library, which we understand is destined one day to become the property of some national institution. . . . .

The following collection consists of Seventy Elizabethan Black-Letter Ballads published between the years 1559 and 1597, all of which editions are presumed to be unique. But a very few of them have been reprinted, and these with important variations, consequently they are as rare as manuscript. Among them are "The Crow sits upon the wall." written by Tarleton the Court Jester who "undumpished" Queen Elizabeth. It is quoted by Malvolio in "Twelfth Night." The first and second parts of "The faire Widow of Watling Street," upon which is founded the play attributed to Shakespeare—"A New Ballade of a Lover Extollinge his Lady," 1568, with the music. "Mother Watkins ale" anathematised by Henry Chettle! "The true discription of a marvellous straunge Fishe" that formed one of the multifarious items in the pack of Autolicus—and "The Daunce and Song of Death" particularly referred to by Mr. Francis Douce in his last beautiful edition of The Dance of Death. That eminent antiquary in sumnmer days when leaves were green would take a trip to Canonbury and discourse most eloquently upon these marvels of the muse, which, from their perfect and spotless condition would seem to have been carefully rolled up and looked up for more than two hundred years! To those who can appreciate them it would be superfluous to enlarge upon their curiosity and value; while to those who have no taste for such recondite and rare relics it would be useless. To the writer they are precious indeed! Ancient Ballad lore was his early, constant, most delightful study. And now

Age cannot wither it, nor custom stale
Its infinite variety.

The writer cannot conclude this brief introduction without acknowledging how much he is indebted to two literary friends, Mr. Staunton and Dr Rimbault, for their kind assistance in ascertaining the dates of many of the Ballads, by the printer's name. To them this laborious task has, in truth, been a labour of love.

Canonbury, June 14, 1856.





Seventy Black-Letter Ballads



A Newe Ballade.

Finis.Quod. R.M.1559.

The "metre-ballad-monger" warns Elizabeth against the "forked cap" (the Pope); bringing before her the example of her "Proginitours." The burden of the song is very ancient, viz., "Lady, Lady, moste dere Lady."

(A copy of this "newe ballade," is preserved among the broadsides in the library of the Society of Antiquaries. Query— Was "R. M." Richard Mulcaster?)


The Wonders of England.

1559.Finis.Q.I. A.

Imprinted at London by John Awdeley.

Alluding to the death of Edward VI.; the accession of Mary to the throne; the restoration of the Roman Catholic religion in England; and its fall, on the accession of Queen Elizabeth.

(One of the numerous productions, in "ballad lore." of the rhyming printer John Awdeley.)

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.