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,
Which is thus translated by Oldys:—
Dead drunk here Elderton doth lie:
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