Page:An Elizabethan garland; being a descriptive catalogue of seventy black-letter ballads, printed between the years 1559 and 1597.djvu/11

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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the ear, would not bear the critical ordeal of the press; and a better sort of ballad-mongers and ballad-singers superseded them.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