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Last Farewell to the World: Semi-oral Autobiography in Seventeenth-century Broadside Ballads

  • Henk Dragstra
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)

Abstract

Seventeenth-century England saw autobiography spreading out, or trickling down, from privileged individuals to the common citizen. This development mirrored the spread of literacy, and followed in its wake, but not instantly: there can be no autobiographical writing without ‘a sense of one’s own importance as an individual’.1 Most study of seventeenth-century autobiography has concentrated on autobiographies as products of literacy, which implies that the nascent sense of autobiographical self that is encountered has crossed the threshold between the literate mindset and the oral. But what about all those masses whose literacy, whatever it may have been, stopped short of literary self-expression? Was there no such thing as a sub-literate, or semi-literate, or semi-oral sense of autobiographical self?

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Specific Tune Modern Reader Moral Lesson 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Paul Delany, British Autobiography in the Seventeenth Century (London, 1969) p. 108.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    J.A. Sharpe, ‘“Last Dying Speeches”: Religion, Ideology and Public Execution in Seventeenth-Century England’, Past & Present 107 (1985) 144–67; Thomas W. Lacqueur, ‘Crowds, Carnival and the State in English Executions, 1604–1868’, in The First Modern Society, ed. A.L. Beier et al. (Cambridge 1989) 305–55; Peter Lake, ‘Deeds against Nature: Cheap Print, Protestantism and Murder in Early Seventeenth-Century England’, in Culture and Politics in Early Stuart England, ed. Kevin Sharpe and Peter Lake (London, 1994) 257–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Margaret Spufford, Small Books and Pleasant Histories (Cambridge, 1981); and Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety 1550–1640 (Cambridge 1991).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Hyder E. Rollins, ‘The Black-Letter Broadside Ballad’, PMLA 34 (1919) 258–339; Louis B. Wright, ‘Ephemeral Reading’, in Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England (London, 1936) 418–64; Bernard Capp, ‘Popular Literature’, in Popular Culture In Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Barry Reay (London, 1985) 198–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    All ‘default’ references are to W.G. Day’s five-volume facsimile edition of The Pepys Ballads, in the series ‘Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge’ (Cambridge, 1987).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See, for instance, Edward Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554–1640 (London, 1875–94) and Narcissus Luttrell, A Brief Historical Relation of the State Affairs from September 1678 to April 1714 (Oxford, 1857).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This term was coined by Gérard Genette, in his Figures III (Paris, 1972).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See for instance The Pepys Ballads, ed. Hyder E. Rollins, 8 vols. (Cambridge, 1929–32) III, 126, 138–9; VI, 86. Hereafter abbreviated PB.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    A Pepysian Garland; Black-Letter Broadside Ballads of the Years 1595–1639, ed. Hyder E. Rollins (Cambridge, 1922) p. 288.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    James Shirley, The Court Secret, ed. W. Gifford (1833) V, 1; v. 500, quoted by Natascha Würzbach in her The Rise of the English Street Ballad, 1550–1650 (Cambridge, 1990) p. 278.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    According to Carole Rose Livingston, in Chapter 4: ‘Broadside Treasons and Ballad Treacheries’, of her British Broadside Ballads of the Sixteenth Century (New York, 1991) p. 855, ‘pleasing the crown was indeed the intention of virtually every ballad printed’ in the century covered by her study. The Commonwealth interval with its perils to royalty was not likely to make Charles II a more liberal ruler in this respect.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    The Roxburghe Ballads, 7 vols., ed. W. Chappell et al. (Ballad Society, 1872–1895; reprinted New York: AMS Press, 1966) IV, 121–9; see especially p. 127, footnote. Hereafter abbreviated RB.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and its Music (New Brunswick, N.J., 1966) p. xi.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    William Chappell, The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time (London, 1859; reprinted New York, 1965) p. 175.Google Scholar
  15. 23.
    Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (New York, 1884–98; reprinted New York, 1957).Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    Cf.: ‘In the popular ballads the Last Goodnight has the more poetic purpose of allowing a brave man to give a final display of courage. Such is the case in “Hobie Noble” (189) and in “Johnie Armstrong” (169B) where the Border hero bids a defiant goodbye to life …’; Alan Bold, The Ballad (London, 1979) p. 38.Google Scholar
  17. 28.
    See D.R. Woolf, ‘The “Common Voice”: History, Folklore, and Oral Tradition in Early Modern England’, Past & Present 120 (1988) 36–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 39.
    In his communications to Notes and Queries on the Stationer’s Registers, J.P. Collier claims the tune assigned to ‘The Lamentacon of Christofer Tomlinson’ (of 1592) is “Fortune”’; quoted by Francis Oscar Mann, The Works of Thomas Deloney (Oxford, 1912) p. 503. However, the first verses, which Collier quotes, do not fit that tune. The same objection applies to ‘A New Scotch Ballad called Bothwell-Bridge’ of 1679 (RB 4, 537–40).Google Scholar
  19. 43.
    The only exception to the rule of sadness is “A ioyful new ballad of the late victorye obtained by my Lord Mount Joy and our Maiesty’s forces in Ireland’, dated 1602 (The Shirburn Ballads, 1585–1616, ed. Andrew Clark (Oxford, 1907) XXXI, pp. 123–8).Google Scholar
  20. 44.
    The Pack of Autolycus, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins (Cambridge, Mass., 1927) 62–7.Google Scholar
  21. 50.
    Origins of the Individual Self: Autobiography and Self Identity in England, 1591–1791 (Cambridge, 1997), Chapter 7, pp. 162–201.Google Scholar
  22. 53.
    John Taylor the Water Poet, The Travels of Twelve-Pence; in All the Works of John Taylor the Water Poet (1630; reprinted facsimile London, 1973), I, 66.Google Scholar

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© Henk Dragstra 2000

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  • Henk Dragstra

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