Cavalier Ballads


Taken from: The Cavalier Songs and Ballads of England from 1642 to 1684
Edited by Charles Mackay
With special thanks to: Project Gutenberg

The Cavalier Ballads of England, like the Jacobite Ballads of England and Scotland at a later period, are mines of wealth for the student of the history and social manners of our ancestors. The rude but often beautiful political lyrics of the early days of the Stuarts were far more interesting and important to the people who heard or repeated them, than any similar compositions can be in our time.

When the printing press was the mere vehicle of polemics for the educated minority, and when the daily journal was neither a luxury of the poor, a necessity of the rich, nor an appreciable power in the formation and guidance of public opinion, the song and the ballad appealed to the passion, if not to the intellect of the masses, and instructed them in all the leading events of the time.

In our day the people need no information of the kind, for they procure it from the more readily available and more copious if not more reliable, source of the daily and weekly press. The song and ballad have ceased to deal with public affairs. No new ones of the kind are made except as miserable parodies and burlesques that may amuse sober costermongers and half-drunken men about town, who frequent music saloons at midnight, but which are offensive to every one else. Such genuine old ballads as remain in the popular memory are either fast dying out, or relate exclusively to the never-to-be-superseded topics of love, war, and wine.

The people of our day have little heart or appreciation for song, except in Scotland and Ireland. England and America are too prosaic and too busy, and the masses, notwithstanding all their supposed advantages in education, are much too vulgar to delight in either song or ballad that rises to the dignity of poetry. They appreciate the buffooneries of the "Negro Minstrelsy," and the inanities and the vapidities of sentimental love songs, but the elegance of such writers as Thomas Moore, and the force of such vigorous thinkers and tender lyrists as Robert Burns, are above their sphere, and are left to scholars in their closets and ladies in their drawing- rooms.

The case was different among our ancestors in the memorable period of the struggle for liberty that commenced in the reign of Charles I. The Puritans had the pulpit on their side, and found it a powerful instrument. The Cavaliers had the song writers on theirs, and found them equally effective. And the song and ballad writers of that day were not always illiterate versifiers. Some of them were the choicest wits and most accomplished gentlemen of the nation. As they could not reach the ears of their countrymen by the printed book, the pamphlet, or the newspaper, nor mount the pulpit and dispute with Puritanism on its own ground and in its own precincts, they found the song, the ballad, and the epigram more available among a musical and song-loving people such as the English then were, and trusted to these to keep up the spirit of loyalty in the evil days of the royal cause, to teach courage in adversity, and cheerfulness in all circumstances, and to ridicule the hypocrites whom they could not shame, and the tyrants whom they could not overthrow.

Though many thousands of these have been preserved in the King's Pamphlets in the British Museum, and in other collections which have been freely ransacked for the materials of the following pages, as many thousands more have undoubtedly perished. Originally printed as broadsides, and sold for a halfpenny at country fairs, it used to be the fashion of the peasantry to paste them up in cupboards, or on the backs of doors, and farmers' wives, as well as servant girls and farm labourers, who were able to read, would often paste them on the lids of their trunks, as the best means of preserving them.

This is one reason why so many of them have been lost without recovery. To Sir W. C. Trevelyan literature is indebted for the restoration of a few of these waifs and strays, which he found pasted in an old trunk of the days of Cromwell, and which he carefully detached and presented to the British Museum. But a sufficient number of these flying leaves of satire, sentiment, and loyalty have reached our time, to throw a curious and instructive light upon the feelings of the men who resisted the progress of the English Revolution; and who made loyalty to the person of the monarch, even when the monarch was wrong, the first of the civic virtues.

In the superabundance of the materials at command, as will be seen from the appended list of books and MSS. which have been consulted and drawn upon to form this collection, the difficulty was to keep within bounds, and to select only such specimens as merited a place in a volume necessarily limited, by their celebrity, their wit, their beauty, their historical interest, or the light they might happen to throw on the obscure biography of the most remarkable actors in the scenes which they describe. It would be too much to claim for these ballads the exalted title of poetry. They are not poetical in the highest sense of the word, and possibly would not have been so effective for the purpose which they were intended to serve, if their writers had been more fanciful and imaginative, or less intent upon what they had to say than upon the manner of saying it.

But if not extremely poetical, they are extremely national, and racy of the soil; and some of them are certain to live as long as the language which produced them. For the convenience of reference and consultation they have been arranged chronologically; beginning with the discontents that inaugurated the reign of Charles I., and following regularly to the final, though short-lived, triumph of the Cavalier cause, in the accession of James II. After his ill-omened advent to the throne, the Cavalier became the Jacobite.

In this collection no Jacobite songs, properly so called, are included, it being the intention of the publishers to issue a companion volume, of the Jacobite Ballads of England, from the accession of James II. to the battle of Culloden, should the public receive the present volume with sufficient favour to justify the venture.

The Editor cannot, in justice to previous fellow-labourers, omit to record his obligation to the interesting volume, with its learned annotations, contributed by Mr Thomas Wright to the Percy Society; or to another and equally valuable collection, edited by Mr J. O. Halliwell.

December, 1862.


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