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


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.

§ 10. The street ballad and other forms of popular literature.

Thus began the first stage in the development of the street ballad. Cavaliers brought into it their dare-devil joviality and carelessness and the wider interests of their active lives. At the same time, the simplicity of ballad metre, adapted to a catch melody, and the break between each stanza, precluded complexity of thought or accumulations of periphrases. Old types of humour 40  still survive, such as mock testaments and burlesque laudations; but they take the form of rollicking songs made up of ingenious conceits. Permanent comic characters like the miller, the tinker or the beggar reappear in the shape of lyricised monologues. 41  Drinking songs are plentiful, as in olden times. But, though we still find coarse merriment over red noses and claret-coloured complexions, though Walter Mapes’s humorous touches of ancient and ecclesiastical lore are quite discarded, and wine—generally in opposition to plebeian beer—is frankly prized for its generous heat and exhilaration, yet the cavaliers also sing of it as the spur to heroic action and a solace in trouble or captivity. Besides wine, these songs discuss women. Some recount lawless and ungallant adventures reminiscent of the Fabliaux and jestbooks; others remain frankly goliardic in their cynical invective against marriage or in their satire on female vanity, lust and caprice; some others are pervaded by the grossest sensuality. Yet, even here, the new influence is easily recognisable. Many of these effusions are full of the courtier’s cult of the fair sex, which, though fulsome and extravagant, was introducing new words and expressions into the language. Even the common paramour is sometimes encircled by a halo of poetic phraseology which hides her baseness, while other poems, in the new atmosphere of action, breathe a manly independence and contempt of uxorious servitude. But the elevation of the popular song is most noticeable when it treats, in clear, simple verse, the more serious subjects which these cavaliers understood only too well, such as the power of money, the injustice of fortune or the tyranny of the sword.   20
  Thus, the metres and diction of popular catch-pennies had risen to the level of educated and experienced men. By the third decade of the seventeenth century, these fugitive fly-sheets had also been called upon to serve the purpose of the political rancour and indignation which retarded intellectual progress and plunged England into civil war. Once again, the pamphleteers and ballad-mongers of the time had recourse to old forms of literature to convey their sarcasm and innuendo. For instance, one lampoon on Buckingham’s expedition to France, with the refrain “The cleane contrary way,” is copied from the Cujus contrarium verum est of medieval satire, 42  and two more, in imitation of Lucian or Dekker, 43  are dialogues between Charon and the murdered duke. Another pamphlet, travestying the title of a newspaper as Mercurius Diabolicus or Hell’s Intelligencer, shows us the devil, in answer to a citizen’s question, recounting the pressure of work in hell since parliament came into power; and, in 1660, when that body dissolved itself and a general desire for the restoration of the king was felt, a ballad News from Hell or the Relation of a Vision, represents the devil’s amazement and incredulity that England, lately “His sweet darling dear,” was now proving false to her allegiance to hell. Others, such as Heraclitus’ Dream (1642), representing the shepherd (i.e. the church) shorn by his sheep, are copied from medieval dream-visions.   21
  The monologue was further developed and reached a high level of satire in such pieces as Truth Flatters Not (1647), in which, after pope, priest and prelate have betrayed their worldly ambition and duplicity, each in a soliloquy, Truth censures them all in a closing speech. Or, in Three Speeches (1642), satirising the narrowness and self-satisfied philistinism of the commercial class, as exemplified by “Master Warden’s” political oration to his fellows; his wife’s comments on the discourse to her friends and the chambermaid’s views on affairs in general and especially on papistry. The old dramatic broadside is still found in A coffin for King Charles; a Crowne for Cromwell; a Pit for the People (1649).   22

Note 40. For discussion of these types see ante, Vol. III, Chap. V, pp. 95-106, and bibliography, pp. 548-556. [ back ]
Note 41. For the development of “scoundrel verse,” see Chandler, F. W., The Literature of Roguery, vol. I, chap. III, sect. IV. [ back ]
Note 42Ante, Vol. II, Chap. XVI, p. 438. [ back ]
Note 43. The idea of a visit to hell is almost continuous in literature since Homeric times, and had been used by Jacobean writers, especially by Dekker, T., in Newes from Hell, 1606; see ante, Vol. IV, Chap. XVI, pp. 403, 404 and bibliography under Dekker, T., p. 597. [ back ]

  The history of the broadside Cavalier and Roundhead satires  

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