by Piers Alexander
Young sparks that have money they thither repair:
The Affairs of the Nation they have written down,
To blow up their Noddles as light as the Air.
Stories, Stories, Lies and Stories;
There's nothing but Stories when they begin.
Pox on your News Letters, they lye both and flatters;
They are but a Trap to wheedle Men in.
From The City Cheat discovered: OR, A New Coffe-house Song.
Perswading all civil and sober Men not to frequent the Coffe-houses so much
The English vernacular is seditious, rhythmic, musical. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition, important pieces of history are set to music, to rhyming couplets: Shakespeare built on that custom. The printing press led to an explosion of creativity, with millions of “Broadside Ballads” being printed in the seventeenth century; so many that they were used as toilet paper, as kindling, to line pie tins.
Many ballads were scurrilous, gossipy, comical. Men (women were of course excluded) would meet in coffeehouses, pick up their broadsides and sing salacious rounds with complete strangers. It was a shorter-lived, more violent and diseased time; but was it less happy? To launch The Bitter Trade, we’re conducting a social experiment: booksellers, coffeehouse fanatics, readers and historical reenactors will be meeting at a coffeehouse in London and singing rounds together. They don’t know it yet, but we will crack that modern reserve and sing out in our native vernacular – wish us luck!
The Bitter Trade is available on all ebook stores and as a paperback from Amazon.
Vivien Ellis is a Grammy-nominated singer and social reformer who specializes in early, folk and new music. She is a contributor to the 100 Ballads Project.
The 100 Ballads Project is compiling the hit songs of the seventeenth century