Modern Street Ballads

About Modern Street Ballads

This collection of ballads was edited by John Ashton, whose own Introduction is worth reading. The material in the book dates from the first half of the 19th century.

When we think of folk ballads, we tend to think of familiar classics like those found in the Child collection: songs that have been adapted, performed, and memorized for centuries, handed down through the generations. But as browsing through Modern Street Ballads will remind you, for every timeless “Barbara Allen” there were dozens of topical ditties hastily composed and soon forgotten. And for good reason. Many of the ballads you’ll find here feature awkward diction, clumsy rhyme, and dubious scansion. Others deal with highly specific and ephemeral events or trends. And yet, tossed-off hack jobs though some of these pieces may be, all of them provide a fascinating glimpse into the daily concerns of the average British citizen of the period.

If you’re in a hurry, I recommend Social, Humorous, and Miscellaneous as the categories with the highest percentage of compelling stuff.

A few points about this online rendering of the text:

  • All the editorial notes and comments on the ballads are Ashton’s. The category groupings correspond to the sections of the book, and are listed in the same order.
  • In converting each ballad from multiple printed pages to a single web page, I’ve changed the book’s numbered footnotes into asterisked endnotes.
  • In the book, a handful of the ballads are accompanied by illustrations. Since, as Ashton points out, such drawings were usually placed onto ballad sheets “without the slightest regard to the subject of the ballad,” it didn’t seem worth attempting to reproduce these online.

The End As I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety, by proprietor Kevin Shay, is now available in paperback.

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