FolkWorld-Article by Henry Mayhew (compiled by Walkin' T:-)M)

Street-Sellers, Chaunters and Minstrels

Excerpts from Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (1861)

The summer of 1849 saw a serious outbreak of cholera in London, 13,000 people dying from the disease within three months. Henry Mayhew (1812-87) suggested to the Morning Chronicle newspaper to carry out an investigation into the condition of the labouring classes, which was published in a series of 82 articles and later in volume form as London Labour and the London Poor. Chapter 11 of Volume 1 is entitled Of the Street-Sellers of Stationary, Literature, and the Fine Arts.

The street-sellers of stationery, literature, and the fine arts, however, differ from all before treated of in the general, though far from universal, education of the sect. They constitute principally the class of street-orators, known in these days as patterers, and formerly termed mountebanks, - people who, in the words of Strutt, strive to help off their wares by pompous speeches, in which little regard is paid either to truth or propriety. To patter, is a slang term, meaning to speak.

Of Long Song-Sellers

Long songs first appeared between nine and ten years ago. The long-song sellers did depend on the veritable cheapness and novel form in which they vended popular songs, printed on paper, three songs abreast, and the paper was about a yard long, which constituted the three yards of song. Long-song seller Sometimes three slips were pasted together. The vendors paraded the streets with their three yards of new and popular songs for a penny. The songs are, or were, generally fixed to the top of a long pole, and the vendor cried the different titles as he went along. This branch of the profession is confined solely to the summer; it being impossible to exhibit the three yards in wet or foggy weather. The paper songs, as they fluttered from a pole, looked at a little distance like huge much-soiled white ribbons, used as streamers to celebrate some auspicious news. The cry of one man, in a sort of recitative, or, as I heard it called by street-patterers, sing-song, was, Three yards a penny! Three yards a penny! Beautiful songs! Newest songs! Popular Songs! Three yards a penny! Song, song, songs! Others, however, were generally content to announce merely Three yards a penny!

The crying of the titles was not done with any other design than that of expressing the great number of songs purchasable for the small charge of one penny. One man told me that he had cried the following songs in his three yards, and he believed in something like the following order: I sometimes began, he said, with singing, or trying to sing, for I'm no vocalist, the first few words of any song, and them quite loud. I'd begin

The Pope he leads a happy life,
He knows no care -

`Buffalo gals, come out to-night;' `Death of Nelson;' `The gay cavalier;' `Jim along Josey;' `There's a good time coming;' `Drink to me only;' `Kate Kearney;' `Chuckaroo-choo, choo-choo-choot-lah;' `Chockala-roony-ninkaping-nang;' `Paga-daway-dusty-kanty-key;' `Hottypie-gunnypo-china-coo' (that's a Chinese song, sir); `I dreamed that I dwelt in marble halls;' `The standard bearer;' `Just like love;' `Whistle o'er the lave o't;' `Widow Mackree;' `I've been roaming;' `Oh! that kiss;' `The old English gentleman,' &c., &c. &c. I dares say they was all in the three yards, or was once, and if they wasn't there was others as good.

The chief purchasers of the long songs were boys and girls who expended 1d. or ½d. for the curiosity and novelty of the thing, as the songs were not in the most readable form. Very few were sold in the public-houses, as the vendors scrupled to expose them there, for drunken fellows would snatch them, and make belts of them for a lark.

Of the Chaunters

Minstrelsy fell gradually from its high estate, and fell so low that, in the 39th year of Elizabeth's reign the minstrels were classed in a penal statute with rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars! Putenham, in his `Arte of English Poesie' (1589), speaks of taverne minstrels that give a fit of mirth for a groat. One of the statutes enacted in Cromwell's Protectorate was directed against all persons commonly called fidlers or minstrells.

In the present day the running patterer is accompanied generally by a chaunter. The chaunter now not only sings, but fiddles. The running performer takes his stand with the chaunter in any promising place, and as the songs which are the most popular are sometimes spoken as well as sung, the performers are in their proper capacity, for the patterer not only speaks, but speaks more than is set down for him, while the chaunter fiddles and sings. I am told that there are only fifty running patterers who are regularly their own chaunters, fiddling to their songs. Two of these men are known as Brummagem Jack, and the Country Paganini.

Of the Experience of a Chaunter

The Pope, sir, was as one-sided to chaunt as to patter, in course. We had the Greeks (the lately-arrived Irish) down upon us more than once. In Liverpool-street, on the night of the meeting at Guildhall about the Papal Aggression, we had a regular skrimmage. One gentleman said: Really, you shouldn't sing such improper songs, my men. Then up comes another, and he was a little orusted with port wine, and he says: What, against that cove the Pope! Here, give me half a dozen of the papers. Of course we has no feeling either for or agin the Pope. We goes to it as at an election. Some of the tunes - there's no act of parliament about tunes, you know, sir - was stunners on the fiddle; as if a thousand bricks was falling out of a cart at once. I think `The Pope and Cardinal Wiseman,' one of the first of the songs, did as well as any. This werse was greatly admired: -

Now Lord John Russell did so bright,
To the Bishop of Durham a letter write
Saying while I've a hand I'll fight,
The pope and cardinal wiseman,
Lord John's ancestor as I tell,
Lord William Russell then known well
His true religion would not sell,
A martyr he in glory fell,
And now Lord John so bold and free,
Has got a rope as we may see,
To hang up on each side of a tree,
The Pope and Cardinal Wiseman.

This finishing werse, too, was effective, and out came a few browns: -

Now we don't care a fig for Rome,
Why can't they let the girls alone,
And mind their business at home,
The pope and cardinal wiseman.
With their monsical red cardinals hat,
And lots of wafers in a sack,
If they come here with all their clack,
We'll wound them fil fal la ra whack,
In England they shall not be loose,
Their hum bugging is all no use,
If they come here we'll cook their goose,
The pope and Cardinal Wiseman.
Monks and Nuns and fools afloat,
We'll have no bulls shoved down our throat
Cheer up and shout down with the Pope,
And his Bishop Cardinal Wiseman.

Then there wasn't no risk with Haynau - I told you of the Pope first, 'cause he was most chaunted. I've been threatened with dark nights about the Pope, after the Greeks has said: Fat have you to say agin the holy gintleman? To the divil wid all the likes o' ye. Haynau was a fair stage and no favour. This werse was best liked: -

The other day as you must know,
In Barclay's brewhouse he did go
And signed his bloody name `Haynau.'
The fellow that flogged the women.
Baron Rothchild did him shend,
And in the letter which he penn'd
He shaid the sheneral wash his friend,
And so good a man he could not mend.
Rumpsey bumsy - bang him well -
Make his back and sides to swell
Till he roars aloud with dreadful yell,
The fellow that flogged the women.

The women bought very free; poor women, mostly; we only worked him to any extent in the back drags. One old body at Stepney was so pleased that she said, O, the bloody-minded willain! Whenever you come this way again, sir, there's always 1d. for you. She didn't pay in advance though. Then it ended, sir, with a beautiful moral as appeals to every female bosom: -

That man who would a female harm,
Is never fit to live.

We always likes something for the ladies, bless 'em. They're our best customers. What do you think of the Great Exhibition, sir? I shall be there. Me and my mates. We are going to send in a copy of werses in letters of gold for a prize. We'll let the foreigners know what the real native melodies of England is, and no mistake.

Of the Street Pinners-Up, or Wall Song-Sellers

The pinners-up are the men and women who sell songs which they have pinned to a sort of screen or large board, or have attached them, in any convenient way, to a blank wall; and they differ from the other song-sellers, inasmuch as that they have generally been mechanics, porters, or servants, and reduced to struggle for a living as pinners-up. These street-traders, when I gave an account of them in the winter of 1849, were not 50 in number; they are now, I learn, about 30.

One of the best-known of the pinners-up was a stout old man, wearing a great-coat in all weathers, who pinned-up in an alley leading from Whitefriars-street to the Temple, but now thrown into an open street. He had old books for sale on a stall, in addition to his ballads, and every morning was seen reading the newspaper, borrowed from a neighbouring public-house which he used, for he was a keen politician. He would quarrel with any one, said a person who then resided in the neighbourhood, mostly about politics, or about the books and songs he sold. If a person came up and said, `Oh, Burn's Works, 1s.; I can't understand him,' - then the old boy would abuse him for a fool! Suppose another came and said, `Ah! Burns - he was a poet!' that didn't pass; for the jolly old pinner-up would say, `Well, now, I don't know about that.' In my opinion, he cared nothing about this side or that - this notion or the opposite - but he liked to shine. The old man was carried off in the prevalence of the cholera in 1849.

I received the following statement from a man who at that time pinned-up by Harewood-place, Oxfordstreet: I'm forty-nine. I couldn't get any work, so nine or ten years back I went into this line. I knew a man what done well in it - but times was better then - and that put it into my head. It cost me 2l. 10s. to stock my stall, and get all together comfortable; for I started with old books as well as songs. I got leave to stand here from the landlord. I sell ballads and manuscript music, which is `transposed' from the nigger songs. They're transposed for the violin. One that does them is a musicianer, who plays outside public-houses. I sell my songs at a halfpenny, - and, when I can get it, a penny a piece. I don't yarn, one week with another, not 10s., sometimes not 5s. I am at my stall at nine in the morning, and sometimes I have walked five or six miles to buy my `pubs' before that. I stop till ten at night oft enough. The wet days is the ruin of us; and I think wet days increases. Such a day as yesterday now I didn't take what would pay for a pint of beer and a bit of bread and cheese.

Generally, these dealers know little of the songs they sell, - taking the printer's word, when they purchase, as to what was going. The most popular comic songs are not sold so abundantly as others, - because, I was told, boys soon picked them up by heart, hearing them so often, and so did not buy them. Neither was there a great demand for nigger songs, nor for flash ditties, but for such productions as `A Life on the Ocean Wave,' `I'm Afloat,' `There's a Good Time coming,' `Farewell to the Mountain,' &c., &c. Indecent songs are not sold by the pinners-up. One man of whom I made inquiries was quite indignant that I should even think it necessary to ask such questions.

Of Ancient and Modern Street Ballad Minstrelsy

In the reigns subsequent to the Norman Conquest the minstrels were permitted to perform in the rich monasteries, and in the mansions of the nobility, which they frequently visited in large parties, and especially upon occasions of festivity. They entered the castles without the least ceremony, rarely waiting for any previous invitation, and there exhibited their performances for the entertainment of the lord of the mansion and his guests. They were, it seems, admitted without any difficulty, and handsomely rewarded for the exertion of their talents. The minstrels then, indeed, constituted the theatre, the opera, and the concert of the powerful and wealthy. The themes of the minstrels were the triumphs, victories, pageants, and great events of the day; commingled with the praise, or the satire of individuals, as the humour of the patron or of the audience might be gratified. It is stated that Bishop Longchamp, the favourite and justiciary of Richard Coeur-de-lion, not only engaged poets to make songs and poems in his praise, but the best singers and minstrels to sing them in the public streets!

The large gratuities collected by these artists not only occasioned great numbers to join their fraternity, but also induced many idle and dissipated persons to assume the characters of minstrels, to the disgrace of the profession. These evils became at last so notorious, that in the reign of King Edward II. it was thought necessary to restrain them by a public edict. It states, that many indolent persons, under the colour of minstrelsy, intruded themselves into the residences of the wealthy, where they had both meat and drink, but were not contented without the addition of large gifts from the householder. To restrain this abuse, the mandate ordains, that no person should resort to the houses of prelates, earls, or barons, to eat, or to drink, who was not a professed minstrel; nor more than three or four minstrels of honour at most in one day, except they came by invitation from the lord of the house.

Those functionaries seem to have gradually fallen in the estimation of the public. A writer of the period (1589) represents the (still-styled) minstrels, singing ballads and small popular musickes for the amusement of boys and others that passe by them in the streete. It is related also that their matters were for the most part stories of old time; as the tale of Sir Topas, Street ballad Bevis of Southampton, Guy of Warwick, Adam Bell, and Clymme of the Clough, and such other old romances or historical rhymes, made purposely for the recreation of the common people at Christmas dinners and bride ales, and in tavernes and alehouses, and such other places of base resort.

From this historical sketch it appears evident that the ballad-singer and seller of to-day is the sole descendant, or remains, of the minstrel of old, as regards the business of the streets; he is, indeed, the minstrel having lost caste, and being driven to play cheap. The themes of the minstrels were wars, and victories, and revolutions; so of the modern man of street ballads. If the minstrel celebrated with harp and voice the unhorsings, the broken bones, the deaths, the dust, the blood, and all the glory and circumstance of a tournament, - so does the ballad-seller, with voice and fiddle, glorify the feelings, the broken bones, the blood, the deaths, and all the glory and circumstance of a prize-fight. The minstrel not rarely received a largesse to satirize some one obnoxious to a rival, or to a disappointed man. I was told by a clever chaunter, that he had been sent lately by a strange gentleman to sing a song - which he and his mate (a patterer) happened at the time to be working - in front of a neighbouring house. The song was on the rogueries of the turf; and the move had a doubly advantageous effect. One gentleman, you see, sir, gave us 1s. to go and sing; and afore we'd well finished the chorus, somebody sent us from the house another 1s. to go away agin.

In the persons of some of these modern street professionals are united the functions of the poet, the songster, and the musician. So in the days of yore. In one respect the analogy between the two ages of these promoters of street enjoyment does not hold. The minstrel's garb was distinctive. The king's and queen's minstrels wore the royal livery, the minstrels of the great barons also assumed their patron's liveries. The ballad-singer of the present day wears no particular dress. During the terrors of the reign of Henry VIII., and after the Reformation, a large body of the minstrels fell into meanness of attire; and in that respect the modern ballad-singer is analogous.

How long `Sir Topas' and the other old stories continued to be sung in the streets there are no means of ascertaining. But there are old songs, as I ascertained from an intelligent and experienced street-singer, still occasionally heard in the open air, but more in the country than the metropolis. Among those still heard, however rarely, are the Earl of Dorset's song, written on the night before a naval engagement with the Dutch, in 1665:

To all you ladies now on land,
We men at sea indite.

I give the titles of the others - `A Cobbler there was, and he liv'd in a Stall;' Parnell's song of `My Days have been so wond'rous Free,' now sung in the streets to the tune of Gramachree; the `Children in the Wood' and `Chevy-chase;' a song about the Cock-lane Ghost; `Gilderoy was a Bonnie Boy.' Barbara Allen's selling yet, I was told.

In Scarlet towne where I was borne,
There was a faire maid dwellin',
Made every youth crye, Well-awaye!
Her name was Barbara Allen.

Of Street Ballads on a Subject

There is a class of ballads which may with perfect propriety be called street ballads, as they are written by street authors for street singing (or chaunting) and street sale. These Ballads on a Subject are always on a political, criminal, or exciting public event, or one that has interested the public, and the celerity with which one of them is written, and then sung in the streets, is in the spirit of these railroad times. After any great event, a ballad on the subject is often enough written, printed, and sung in the street, in little more than an hour. Of course there is no time for either the correction of the rhymes or of the press; but this is regarded as of little consequence - while an early start with a new topic is of great consequence, I am assured; yes, indeed, both for the sake of meals and rents.

All the street lays quoted as popular have a sort of burthen or jingle at the end of each verse. I was corrected, however, by a street chaunter for speaking of this burthen as a jingle. It's a chorus, sir, he said. In a proper ballad on a subject, there's often twelve verses, none of them under eight lines, - and there's a four-line chorus to every verse; and, if it's the right sort, it'll sell the ballad. I was told, on all hands, that it was not the words that ever made a ballad, but the subject; and, more than the subject, - the chorus; and, far more than either, - the tune! To select a tune for a ballad, is a matter of deep deliberation. To adapt the ballad to a tune too common or popular is injudicious; for then, I was told, any one can sing it - boys and all. To select a more elaborate and less-known air, however appropriate, may not be pleasing to some of the members of the school of ballad-singers, who may feel it to be beyond their vocal powers; neither may it be relished by the critical in street song, whose approving criticism induces them to purchase as well as to admire.

They are unsparing satirists, who, with a rare impartiality, lash all classes and all creeds, as well as any individual. One man told me that, eleven years ago, he himself had worked, in town and country, 23 different songs at the same period and on the same subject - the marriage of the Queen. They all sold, - but the most profitable was one as sung by Prince Albert in character. It was to the air of the `Dusty Miller;' and it was good, said the ballad-man, because we could easily dress up to the character given to Albert.

Here I am in rags
From the land of All-dirt,
To marry England's Queen,
And my name it is Prince Albert.

Then come the elegies. The verses which bewail the `Death of H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge' begin

Oh! death, thou art severe, and never seems contented,
Prince Adolphus Frederick is summoned away,
The death of Royal Cambridge in sorrow lamented,
Like the good Sir Robert Peel, he no longer could stay;
His virtues were good, and noble was his actions,
His presence at all places caused much attraction,
Britannia for her loss is driven to distraction,
Royal Cambridge, we'll behold thee no more!

The third class of street-ballads relates to fires. The one I quote, `On the Awful Fire at B. Caunt's, in St. Martin's-lane,' is preceded by an engraving of a lady and a cavalier, the lady pointing to a column surmounted by an urn.

I will unfold a tale of sorrow,
List, you tender parents dear,
It will thrill each breast with horror,
When the dreadful tale you hear.
Early on last Wednesday morning,
A raging fire as we may see,
Did occur, most sad and awful,
Between the hours of two and three.

In a subsequent stanza are four lines, not without some rough pathos, and adapted to move the feelings of a street audience. The writer is alluding to the grief of the parents who had lost two children by a terrible death:

No more their smiles they'll be beholding,
No more their pretty faces see,
No more to their bosoms will they fold them,
Oh! what must their feelings be.

I find no difference in style between the ballads on a subject of to-day, and the oldest which I could obtain a sight of - except that these poems now begin far less frequently with what at one time was as common as an invocation to the Muse - the invitation to good Christians to attend to the singer.

Come all good Christians and give attention...

Of the Street Poets and Authors

The same street authors - now six in number - compose indiscriminately any description of ballad. When the printer has determined upon a Sorrowful Lamentation, he sends to a poet for a copy of verses, which is promptly supplied. The payment I have already mentioned - 1s.; but sometimes, if the printer (and publisher) like the verses, he throws a penny or two over; and sometimes also, in case of a great sale, there is the same over-sum. Fewer ballads, I was assured, than was the case ten or twelve years ago, are now written expressly for street sale or street minstrelsy. They come to the printer, for nothing, from the concert-room. He has only to buy a `Ross' or a `Sharp' [song-book] for 1d., and there's a lot of 'em; so, in course, a publisher ain't a-going to give a bob, if he can be served for a farthing, just by buying a song-book.

The ballads which have lately been written, and published expressly for the street sale, and have proved the most successful, are parodies or imitations of `The Gay Cavalier.' One street ballad, commencing in the following words, was, I am told, greatly admired, both in the streets and the public-houses:

Twas a dark foggy night,
And the moon gave no light,
And the stars were all put in the shade:
When leary Joe Scott,
Dealt in `Donovan's hot'
Said he'd go to court his fair maid.

A large number of ballads which I procured, and all sold and sung in the street, though not written expressly for the purpose, presented a curious study enough. They were of every class: `Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doun,' `The Merry Fiddler,' (an indecent song) - `There's a good Time coming, Boys,' `Nix, my Dolly,' `The Girls of - shire,' (which of course is available for any county) - `Widow Mahoney,' `Remember the Glories of Brian the Brave,' `Clementina Clemmins,' `Lucy Long,' `Erin Go Bragh,' `Christmas in 1850,' `The Death of Nelson,' `The Life and Adventures of Jemmy Sweet,' `The Young May Moon,' `Hail to the Tyrol,' `He was sich a Lushy Cove,' &c. &c.

Some of these ballads have an illustration always at the top of the column. `The Heart that can Feel for Another' is illustrated by a gaunt and savage-looking lion. `The Amorous Waterman of St. John's Wood,' presents a very short, obese, and bow-legged grocer, in top-boots, standing at his door, while a lady in a huge bonnet is taking a sight at him, to the evident satisfaction of a baked 'tater man. `Rosin the Beau' is heralded by the rising sun. "`he Poachers' has a cut of the Royal Exchange above the title. `The Miller's Ditty' is illustrated by a perfect dandy, of the slimmest and straightest fashion; and `When I was first Breeched,' by an engraving of a Highlander.

Of the Experience of a Street Author, or Poet

I was very fond of reading poems, in my youth, as soon as I could read and understand almost. Yes, very likely, sir; perhaps it was that put it into my head to write them afterwards. Above fourteen years ago I tried to make a shilling or two by selling my verses. The first song I ever sold was to a concert-room manager. The next I sold had great success. It was called the `Demon of the Sea,' and was to the tune of `The Brave Old Oak.' It began:

Unfurl the sails,
We've easy gales;
And helmsman steer aright,
Hoist the grim death's head -
The Pirate's head -
For a vessel heaves in sight!
That song was written for a concert-room, but it was soon in the streets, and ran a whole winter. I got only 1s. for it. I'm very sorry indeed that I can't offer you copies of some of my ballads, but I haven't a single copy myself of any of them, not one, and I dare say I've written a thousand in my time, and most of them were printed. I believe 10,000 were sold of the `Husband's Dream.' It begins:
O Dermot, you look healthy now,
Your dress is neat and clean;
I never see you drunk about,
Then tell me where you've been.
Your wife and family - are they well?
You once did use them strange:
O, are you kinder to them grown,
How came this happy change?

Then Dermot tells how he dreamed of his wife's sudden death, and his childrens' misery as they cried about her dead body, while he was drunk in bed, and as he calls out in his misery, he wakes, and finds his wife by his side. The ballad ends:

I pressed her to my throbbing heart,
Whilst joyous tears did stream;
And ever since, I've heaven blest,
For sending me that dream.

Dermot turned teetotaller. The teetotallers were very much pleased with that song. The printer once sent me 5s. on account of it.

I have written all sorts of things. I've been asked to write indecent songs, but I refused. One man offered me 5s. for six such songs. - Why, that's less than the common price, said I, instead of something over to pay for the wickedness. - Live hard! yes, indeed, we do live hard. I hardly know the taste of meat. We live on bread and butter, and tea; no, not any fish. For the comings in, and what we have from the parish, must keep six of us - myself, my wife, and four children. It's a long, hard struggle.

If ever I am rich enough to provide for a tomb-stone, or my family is rich enough to give me one, this shall be my epitaph:

Stranger, pause, a moment stay,
Tread lightly o'er this mound of clay.
Here lies J - H - , in hopes to rise,
And meet his Saviour in the skies.
Christ his refuge, Heaven his home,
Where pain and sorrow never come.
His journey's done, his trouble's pest,
With God he sleeps in peace at last.

Of the Street-Sellers of Broad-Sheets and Song-Books

The broad-sheet known in street-sale is an unfolded sheet, varying in size, and printed on one side. The word is frequently used to signify an account of a murder or execution, but it may contain an account of a fire, an awful accident and great loss of life, a series of conundrums, as in those called Nuts to Crack, a comic or intended comic engraving, with a speech or some verses, as recently in satire of the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman, or a bill of the play.

The sale of song-books in the streets is smaller than it was two years ago. One reason that I heard assigned was that the penny song-books - styled `The Universal Songbook,' `The National,' `The Bijou,' &c. - were reputed to be so much alike (the same songs under a different title), that people who had bought one book were averse to buy another. There's the `Ross' and the `Sam Hall' song-books, said one man, the `eighteenth series,' and I don't know what; Street seller; but I don't like to venture on working them, though they're only a penny. There's lots to be seen in the shop-windows; but they might be stopped in the street, for they an't decent - 'specially the flash ones.

One of the books which a poor man had found the most saleable is entitled, `The Great Exhibition Songbook; a Collection of the Newest and Most Admired Songs. Embellished with upwards of one Hundred Toasts and Sentiments.' To show the nature of the songs in street demand, I cite those in the book: `The Gathering of the Nations,' `Bloom is on the Rye,' `Wilt thou Meet me there, Love?' `Minna's Tomb,' `I'll Love thee ever Dearly' (Arnold), `When Phoebus wakes the Rosy Hours,' `Money is your Friend,' `Julia and Caspar' (G.M. Lewis), `That pretty word, Yes' (E. Mackey), `Farewell, Forget me Not,' `The Queen and the Navy' (music published by H. White, Great Marlborough-street), `I resign Thee every Token' (music published by Duff and Co.), `Sleep, gentle Lady;' a serenade (H. J. Payne), `The Warbling Waggoner,' `The Keepsake,' `A Sequel to the Cavalier,' `There's room enough for All' (music at Mr. Davidson's), `Will you Come to the Dale?' `Larry O'Brian,' `Woman's Love,' `Afloat on the Ocean' (sung by Mr. Weiss, in the Opera of the `Heart of Mid Lothian,' music published by Jefferys, Soho-square), `Together, Dearest, let us Fly' (sung by Mr. Braham, in the Opera of the `Heart of Mid Lothian,' music published by Jefferys, Soho-square), `The Peremptory Lover' (Tune - `John Anderson, my Joe'). There are forty-seven songs in addition to those whose titles I have quoted, but they are all of the same character.

The penny song-books (which are partly indecent), and entitled the `Sam Hall' and `Ross' Songsters, are seldom or never sold in the streets. Many of those vended in the shops outrage all decency. Some of these are styled the `Coal-Hole Companion,' `Cider-Cellar Songs,' `Captain Morris's Songs,' &c. The titles of some of the songs in these works are sufficient to indicate their character. `The Muff,' `The Two Miss Thys,' `George Robins's Auction,' `The Woman that studied the Stars,' `A Rummy Chaunt,' `The Amiable Family,' `Joe Buggins' Wedding,' `Stop the Cart,' `The Mot that can feel for another,' `The Irish Giant,' `Taylor Tim,' `The Squire and Patty.' Some titles are unprintable.

Of the Street-Sellers of Manuscript and Other Music

This trade used to be more extensively carried on in the streets than it is at present. The reasons I heard assigned for the decadence were the greater cheapness of musical productions generally, and the present fondness for lithographic embellishments to every polka, waltz, quadrille, ballad, &c., &c. People now hates, I do believe, a `bare' music-sheet, one street-seller remarked.

The street manuscript-music trade was, certainly, and principally, piratical. An air became popular perhaps on a sudden, as it was pointed out to me, in the case, of `Jump, Jim Crow.' At a musical publisher's, such an affair in the first bloom of its popularity, would have been charged from 2s. to 3s. 6d., twenty-five years ago, and the street-seller at that time, often also a book-stall keeper, would employ, or buy of those who offered them for sale, and who copied them for the purpose, a manuscript of the demanded music, which he could sell cheap in comparison.

A man who kept a second-hand book-stall, in a sort of arched passage in the New Cut, Lambeth, sold manuscript-music, and was often sadly bothered, he said, at one time by the musical propensities of a man who looked like a journeyman tailor. This man, whenever he had laid out a trifle at the book-stall, looked over the music, and often pulled a small flute from his pocket, and began to play a few bars from one of the manuscripts, and this he continued doing, to the displeasure of the stall-keeper, until a crowd began to assemble, thinking, perhaps, that the flute-player was a street-musician; he was then obliged to desist. Of the kind of music he sold, or of its mode of production, this street-bookseller knew nothing. He purchased it of a man who carried it to his stall, and as he found it sell tolerably well, he gave himself no further trouble concerning it. The supplier of the manuscript pencilled on each sheet the price it was to be offered at, allowing the stall-keeper from 50 to 150 per cent. profit, if the price marked was obtained. I haven't seen anything of him, sir, said the street-bookseller, for a long while. I dare say he was some poor musicianer, or singer, or a reduced gentleman, perhaps, for he always came after dusk, or else on bad dark days.

Although but partially connected with street-art, I may mention as a sample of the music sometimes offered in street-sale, that a book-stall keeper, three weeks ago showed me a pile of music which he had purchased from a waste collector, about eight months before, at 2½d. the pound. Among this was some MS. music. The music had, as regards three-fourths of it, evidently been bound, and had been torn from the boards of the book, as only the paper portion is purchased for waste. Some, however, were loose sheets, which had evidently never been subjected to the process of stitching. I now cite some of the titles of this street-sale: `Le Petit Tambour. Sujet d'un Grand Rondeau pour le Piano Forte. Composé par L. Zerbini,' `Di Tanti Palpiti. The Celebrated Cavatina, by Rossini, &c.' `Twenty Short Lessons, or Preludes in the most Convenient Keys for the Harp. Composed and Respectfully Dedicated to Lady Ann Collins. By John Baptist Meyer. Price 5s.' `An Cota Caol (given in the ancient Irish character). The Slender Coat,' `Cailin beog chruite na mbo (also in Irish). The Pretty Girl Milking the Cow.'

There are now no persons regularly employed in preparing MS. music for the streets. But occasionally a person skilled in music writing will, when he or she, I was told, had nothing better in hand, do a little for the street sale, disposing of the MSS. to any street-stationer or bookseller.


On Henry Mayhew
London Labour and the London Poor

Back to the content of FolkWorld Features
To the content of FolkWorld No. 26

© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 10/2003

All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission. Although any external links from FolkWorld are chosen with greatest care, FolkWorld and its editors do not take any responsibility for the content of the linked external websites.

FolkWorld - Home of European Music
FolkWorld Home
Layout & Idea of FolkWorld © The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld