Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > The Advent of Modern Thought in Popular Literature > The history of the broadside
  Rosicrucianism The street ballad and other forms of popular literature  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XVI. The Advent of Modern Thought in Popular Literature.

§ 9. The history of the broadside.

The history of this mental awakening is the history of the broadside. Ever since Tudor times, the people had been accustomed to see their thoughts and feelings reflected in penny flysheets. 36  But, despite its universality of range and immense popularity, 37  this fugitive literature was still an undeveloped genre. The effusions which caught the passing attention of ’prentices, housewives and tradesmen, at street corners and in city squares, were addressed to narrow, preoccupied intelligences and could never rise to the level of literature. But London was swarming with young men 38  of wealth or birth who, as an outcome of feudalism, believed that only the king had a right to rule and that gentlemen should be above every profession except that of fighting for him. These “Hotspurres of the Time,” as a puritan writer calls them, amid the disorder and dissipation of London life, claimed an interest in the literature of the moment. Even the scapegoat of the Gull’s Horne-booke 39  was fashionable enough to compose poems and criticise plays. But, though these “roaring boys,” “hectors” and “cavaliers” cultivated the clinches and conceits then in vogue, much as they did extravagance of dress, they found that the recognised vehicles of preciousness, such as character sketches and epigrams, were too restricted, and, at the same time, too laboured a field, to suit their full-blooded, though desultory, attention to the arts. They required a genre which would give full vent to their recklessness and animal spirits, and they found this mode of expression partly in jest-books, but much more in street ballads, which breathed the very essence of old London and, almost imperceptibly, had blended with their revels through the city.   19

Note 36Ante, Vol. III, Chap. V, p. 107. [ back ]
Note 37Ante, Vol. IV, Chap. XVI, pp. 414-415. [ back ]
Note 38Ante, Vol. IV, p. 405. [ back ]
Note 39Ante, Vol. IV, p. 406. [ back ]

  Rosicrucianism The street ballad and other forms of popular literature  

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