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


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.

§ 11. Cavalier and Roundhead satires.

Other forms of popular literature were at once adapted to the factious feelings of the people. In Mercurius Melancholicus, or Newes from Westminister (1647), the old idea of “a dozen arrant fooles and knaves” is still preserved. Mock testaments were used by both parties as at the time of the reformation, 44  much like the more modern “burning in effigy,” to vilify not only persons but causes. In the new spirit of the times, they became more like allegories than mere lampoons. For instance, A True Inventory of the goods and chattels of Superstition (1642) tells how Superstition, of the parish of Blind Devotion in the county of Corrupt Doctrine and in the kingdom of Idolatry, bequeaths his goods and chattels. Puritans, especially familists, constantly resorted to their Bible to heap obloquy on the worldliness and licence of the cavaliers. In the Dammee 45  Cavaliers Warning piece (1643), they construed Obadiah’s tirade against the Idumeans into a censure of the royalist party; The Debauched Cavalier, or the English Midianite (1642) is an attempt to discover, in the lives of king Charles and his supporters, the enormities with which Israel’s enemy was credited: The Downefall of Dagon (1643) is the demolition of the cross in Cheapside. The dialogue had, for centuries, been a familiar form of discussion and satire, so now, many puritan pamphlets are modelled on the catechism. Some are serious booklets, such as The Souldiers Catechism (1644), in which a Christian’s right to take up arms in defence of religious and civil freedom and his duty as a true warrior are taught by question and answer. But there still lingered among the people the medieval tendency to travesty sacred formulas, and this love of parody led pamphleteers to vent their irony in mock catechisms as well as in mock testaments. The most abject self-incriminations are put into their opponents’ mouths. 46  A subtler and more mordant irony pervades The City Dames Petition in the behalfe of the long afflicted, but well affected cavaliers (1647). Certain wives of London tradesmen sign a letter begging the king and parliament to stop the war. The document explains that the good women—true descendants of the Wife of Bath, Maid Emlyn and Jill of Brainford—who mind their husbands’ shops, sorely miss not only the custom, but, also, the courtship of those gallant exquisites whose breath was “as sweet as amber” and whose essences made the dames’ establishments as “fragrant as the spring’s first flowers.” The royalist party met their opponents with the same weapons. They refuted puritan calumny and asserted their faith in the divine right of kings by such manifestoes as The Cavaliers Catechisme and confession of his faith (1646), while they vented their scorn and hatred of the parliament by representing it at prayer for release from its own imputed sins in The Parliaments Letanie (1647). Even amid the bitterness of defeat, the cavalier gaiety lives in these litanies; in one of them, 47  supplications to avoid such afflictions as usurers, parliamentary government and Oliver Cromwell are offered up in rollicking verses suggestive of a drinking song.   23
  Controversialists tended to ridicule their antagonists under some typical name or character. Thus, we find the presbyterian party frequently attacked under the name of Jack Presbyter or Sir John Presbyter, just as, when the republican party rallied at the time of the Rump, their opponents alluded to them by their own battle-cry “The Cause.” 48  But, more often, the Londoner’s interest in notorieties, which had already, in less troublous times, made household words of such characters as Hobson and Tarlton, 49  now created a demand for allusions to individuals. Thus, satirists were led to cultivate the heart of personal caricature and ridicule which was soon to become the chief excellence of political songs. There are sarcasms on prince Rupert’s dog, Oliver Cromwell’s nose 50  and Ireton’s effeminate chin. But many pamphleteers still utilised the decasyllabic couplet, which Hall and Marston had established as the recognised vehicle of personal invective. These satirists improved on the confused and obscure diction of their models, but they cramped themselves in a style too staid and monotonous for the whimsical vein of the true lampoonist. They were more successful in the formal epigrams and elegies which appeared in multitudes, especially to lament the death of Essex in 1646, of Charles in 1648 and of Gloucester 51  in 1660.   24
  As the civil war was, in some respects, a struggle between systems and institutions, many pamphleteers cared less about individuals than classes, and resorted to character sketches as the handiest weapon for type satire. The Theophrastians 52  had taught succeeding generations how to create a lifelike word-picture out of all that was ridiculous or objectionable in any social type. When mutual opposition made the puritan more rigidly correct and the cavalier more aggressively self-assertive, there were endless opportunities for crisp, concentrated portraiture. And yet, only a few sketches, such as the versified A Puritane set forth in his lively colours … with the Character of an Holy Sister (1642) or the trenchant study The Drunkard’s Character (1646) or T. Forde’s collection of clear-cut portraits entitled Times anatomised (1647) or John Wilson’s picture of purity and single-heartedness, A New Anatomie or character of a Christian, or a Roundhead (1645), preserved the statuesque outline of the genre. In the heat of political conflict, men cannot detach their minds from episodes and side issues; they need to argue over isolated questions, and, thus, the bulk of political character sketches digress into particulars till many of them become little else than manifestoes or “queries.” John Cleiveland, who begins his portraits with Overburian flashes of wit and fantasy, soon forgets himself and his subject in bitter criticisms of his opponents, in one character sketch 53  exclaiming: “But I have not Inke enough to cure all the Tetters and Ring-worms of the State.” So completely is the style absorbed in the heat and the haste of civil feud, that some so-called “characters” merely retain the title, presumably because of its popularity.   25
  These many types of literature were employed by pamphleteers because the spirit of conflict was still that of the sixteenth century. In the Middle Ages and at the renascence, controversy appealed to men’s passions rather than to their intellect. The issues were generally so simple that combatants had not any need to argue deeply; but the cause lay so near their hearts that they could not keep from obloquy. Hence, they invented a whole literature of vituperation, so that the same insults could be repeated again and again in new ways. The seventeenth century inherited this armoury of invective and also their ancestors’ single-hearted eagerness to use it. Yet a large proportion of broadsides have no peculiarity of form or style and, so far as genre is concerned, remain street ballads. After this reversion to simplicity comes the beginning of a great change. Even before the king’s standard was raised, there were a number of level-headed democrats like the author of The present estate of Christendome (1642), who takes a statesmanlike view of the unrest pervading Europe and suggests practical remedies for each country including his own. But, when hostilities had once broken out, the sentiments of the common people also became more complex. A national controversy was an interchange of assertions; but, for the average man, the civil war was a game of chess, 54  in which not only his opinions but his sympathies, ideals and, perhaps, life and property, were the pawns. Hence, while some pamphleteers were irrevocably committed to the support of one faction, others found their partisanship distracted by all manner of calculations, conjectures and conflicting emotions, and their broadsides became reviews of the situation. 55  Parodies, epigrams, testaments and portraits were not of any service to such commentators. While Corantos, Mercuries and Diurnalls were developing into newspapers, they wrote their leading articles—for such is the character of these ballads—in the form of street verse, because the people, from force of habit, still looked to this type for an expression of their own opinions. But their work, nevertheless, is new in spirit.   26
  The comments and arguments of these broadsides are not original or profound; but they show that a large proportion of the people had become reflective. Not only ballads, but pamphlets and tracts now adopt a more thoughtful tone and we enter on the third stage in the development of flysheet literature. When bloodshed had begun, the ordinary citizen also realised that civil war was far worse than the victory of either party, and tracts began to appear such as England’s Miserie, if not prevented by the speedie remedie of a happy union between His Majestie and His Parliament (1642). Or, again, the leaders in the struggle were bitterly and unjustly satirised for preventing peace in Mr. Hampden’s Speech occasioned upon the Londoner’s Petition for Peace (1642) or in The Sense of the House (1643), which put into the mouths of orators selfish and inept reasons for continuing the war. R.W., who had already upheld the parliamentarian cause in several pamphlets, now brought the wisdom and experience of antiquity to bear on the question of actual fighting. In The Character of Warre (1643), he discusses its justification but observes “that none delight in the sound of the warlike Drums or in the Alarmes of Warr; but onely they who never tasted the bitternesse thereof.” The author of a weird fantasy entitled A Winter Dreame (1649), describes in rhythmic and harmonious prose how he seemed to visit the different countries of Europe distracted by war, ending with England, the most stricken of all. Protests are also heard on behalf of the simpler joys of peace, but none set forth this new spirit of common humanity more effectively than The Virgins Complaint for the Losse of their sweethearts occasioned by these present wars (1643). From the strenuous days of Elizabeth, the great personalities of history had appealed to men’s imagination; and now, in the excitement of war, people found themselves even more in sympathy with bygone days. The Penitent Traytor (1647), representing the confession of a Devonshire gentleman condemned for treason against Henry III, is only one of many ballads which brought the past into touch with the emotions of the present. But the middle classes were now beginning to think, and to turn to history for guidance in perplexity. 56  Thus, even at the outset of the struggle, they welcomed such pamphlets as Some wiser than Some; or A Display of the Times past and present, with some probable conjecture of the times to come (1643). A growing spirit of protest against excess runs all through this period of anarchy. In 1641, the jangle of conflicting creeds was exposed in A Discovery of 29 Sects here in London, and, again, in 1646, by Thomas Edwards’s Gangraena. But, among other such censures, none illustrates better the new temper of the times than H. B.’s The Craftsmans Craft, or the Wiles of the Discoverer (1649), which revolts not against the number of sects but against the spirit of calumny in which they carried on their controversies. As the fortune of war varied from week to week, the evil effect of mendacious and inflammatory news-sheets became only too evident. The maker of broadsides had been an object of censure since Elizabethan times, and, just before the outbreak of the war, an act suppressing unlicensed printers was made the occasion for a malicious dialogue on this needy brood. 57  In 1642, a Theophrastian character sketch describes the ballad-monger’s fiery nose and wretched drunken rimes, full of libels and lying rumours. 58  There is a mellower spirit in The Great Assizes holden in Parnassus, at which the scholars of the renascence acting as judges, the great English poets (including Drayton, Shakespeare and Massinger) as jury, with Ben Jonson as keeper of the “Trophonian Denne” and John Taylor as crier of the court, arraign these new-fledged periodicals for perverting the truth, defiling literature, seducing readers from more serious books and disseminating poisonous doctrines. The proceedings are narrated in smooth decasyllabic verse, with many sly touches of humour.   27

Note 44. Cf. The Wyll of the Devyll, ante, Vol. III, Chap. V, p. 97. [ back ]
Note 45. As the puritan strictly excluded oaths from his conversation, the cava’ier cultivated them. His “Damn” was almost proverbial and is the theme of the vindictive ballad A total Rout, or a brief discovery of a Pack of Knaves and Drabs (1653). [ back ]
Note 46Cavaliers’ Catechisme, or the Reformed Protestant catechising the anti-christian Papist, 1643. [ back ]
Note 47The Cavaliers Letanie lately composed by a well willer to his Majesty’s person and all his most Loyall Subjects, 1648. [ back ]
Note 48E.g. Prynne’s The Republican and others spurious good Old Cause briefly and truely anatomised, 1659. [ back ]
Note 49. See ante, Vol. IV, Chap. XVI, p. 411. [ back ]
Note 50E.g. A Case for Nol Cromwells Nose and the Cure of Tim Fairfax’s Gout, 1648, and The Blazing-Star, or, Nolls Nose Newly Revived and taken out of his Tomb. By Collonel Baker, 1660. [ back ]
Note 51. See Catalogue of the Thomason Tracts, 1908, B.M. [ back ]
Note 52Ante, Vol. IV, Chap. XVI, pp. 383, 391. [ back ]
Note 53The Character of a London Diurnall, 1644. [ back ]
Note 54The Game of Chesse, a metaphoricall Discourse showing the present estate of This Kingdome (1643). [ back ]
Note 55. See many of the pieces in Rump: or an exact collection of the choycest Poems and Songs relating to the Late Times. By the most Eminent Wits, from anno 1639 to anno 1662. Facsimile rpt. n.d. [ back ]
Note 56. Cf. Morall Discourses and Essayes by T. C., 1655. See, also, Expedients for Publique Peace, 1660. [ back ]
Note 57The Downefall of temporizing poets, unlicensed printers, upstart booksellers, trotting Mercuries and bawling Hawkers, 1641. [ back ]
Note 58A True description of the Pot-Companion Poet, Who is the Founder of all the Base and libelous Pamphlets lately spread abroad. [ back ]

  The street ballad and other forms of popular literature Social pamphlets  

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