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immortal, and after ages forget altogether its earthly defeat in its spiritual triumph. Aristophanes seems to live and triumph, after 2000 years, in his irresistible exposure of the arts of demagogues; but those demagogues triumphed in their day, and swayed the fates of his Republic. Pasquin and Marforio have pelted the Vatican for many a century, without knocking down a single abuse. All the exquisite poetry, and humour, and invective, of the Jacobite muse were shot in vain point-blank into the massive earthworks of prosaic solidity which walled about the Whig monarchy. In the fierce encounter of wits which heralded the French Revolution, the royalist punsters and rhymesters had incomparably the best of it: but their heads fell one by one under the guillotine, with the smartest epigrams still trembling on their lips. It is a mistake to suppose, as is sometimes supposed, that Church and State have had a decided preponderance of sarcasm on their side in the English political satires. The notion is in reality only based on the fact that Church and State (in the old sense of the words) have been on the whole more frequently in opposition than in power, since the great Rebellion. It was otherwise during the intervals of Tory triumph ; when Andrew Marvell showed up the Court of the Restoration when Lillibullero raised a host of Orangemen—and again in the later campaigns of the authors of the • Rolliad,' and of Tom Moore. The much more general statement is the true one—that the satirical muse thrives only in opposition, to whatever party she may attach herself
. Power, with its responsibilities, restraints, and decencies, speedily reduces her to dulness. The usual exceptions to this rule arise on those rare occasions when Opposition, deserting her station of vantage, descends into the field on equal terms, and exposes a weak side to attack—some favourite delusion, or pet prophet. Then the Government wit may well exclaim, that the Lord bath delivered his enemy into his hands : and may compensate himself for his prudential reserve by such stinging discharges as assailed the contrivers of the Popish Plot, or the Anglo-Jacobin sympathisers, or the forlorn knights-errant of Queen Caroline of Brunswick,
Of all the subsidiary sources of information, therefore, to which a historical inquirer must occasionally resort, satires and caricatures are perhaps the most misleading. They represent the ephemeral feeling, not of the public, as is commonly said, but of a section of the public; generally of a minority. And even this they do, subject to all that exaggeration and distortion which is in truth their
very essence. For what would be the
value of a lampoon which stuck to the truth? Voltaire, himself so great a proficient in all the arts of the political and literary partisan, was well aware of this. • Il y a encore,' he says, Sune grande source d'erreurs publiques parmi nous, et qui est particulière à notre nation. (It was so when he wrote; for the French noëls' and similar ballads had a literary vogue long preceding that attained by English political songs, and far surpassing it.) C'est le goût des vaudevilles. On en fait chaque jour
sur les personnes les plus respectables; et on entend tous les ‘jours calomnier les vivans et les morts sur ces beaux fondemens. Ce fait (dit-on) est vrai, c'est une chanson qui l'atteste.' We cannot but set this true judgment of their value, by the man of all others best qualified to pronounce one, against such undiscriminating admiration as that of Mr. Wilkins, in his preface:
* The real value and importance' (says he) of such ephemeral productions may be best discerned in the volumes of the late Lord Macaulay, the only native historian who has thought them worthy of his particular study and use. It is no disparagement to the literary fame of that distinguished writer to affirm that they have imparted to his pages a vitality which the profoundest knowledge of the principles of human action, combined with the greatest erudition and the highest descriptive powers, could never have effected without them.'
• To these despised and inexhaustible sources of information he was principally indebted for his life-like delineations of character ; for his descriptions of popular commotions; and, not unfrequently, for his knowledge of the motives by which public men were actuated, in particular conjunctures, in their conduct.
The incautious reader, who might suppose from this passage, that Lord Macaulay had composed a kind of ballad-history of Great Britain, would be surprised to find how few such pieces he really quotes, and on how far fewer he 'relies' for any purpose at all, except the amusement of his readers and himself-stored with them as was his extraordinary memory. But carefully as his judgment kept his fondness for the broadside and the flying sheet in its proper place, still we can scarcely deny that this fondness contributed to, or arose from, his principal fault,-a tendency to substitute what Mr. Wilkins calls • vitality,' what the French term colour,' and we effect,' for literal prosaic truth. But that which was a mere defect in him, is unhappily the engrossing sin of the popular and effective' historians whose names are now most frequently in the mouth of the public. The pleasant temptation to wander in quest of adventures, rather than of solid conquests, in the bye-roads of history, is one of those which that rare personage, a real lover of truth, must keep in very careful control. To quote Voltaire again, · Il faut
s'accoûtumer à chercher le vrai dans les plus petites choses ; sans cela on est bien trompé dans les grandes.'
Of the direct historical value of such records as ballads and metrical lampoons, we therefore entertain a very moderate opinion. Indirectly they have their uses; but chiefly for those who are most familiar with the more authentic sources of knowledge, to which this may serve as a corrective. The origin of some received article of popular belief, or some report affecting the character of an individual, may often be curiously traced back from the history or the memoir through a series of squibs, each improving on its predecessor. The relative amount of popularity or unpopularity, notoriety or obscurity, of particular personages, is singularly illustrated by their prominence in the political ballads of the day. A ballad-history of the Great Rebellion would but slightly touch on Strafford, and would omit nearly all notice of Selden, Falkland, Hyde, Fairfax, Ireton. Its heroes would be Laud, Pym, St. John, Pride, Lambert, and the like; characters which exposed, more or less, a weak side to raillery. So of events. It is not the great and decisive, but the picturesque, the grotesque, the fabulous, which suit the purpose of the street rhymer. Monarchies may fall or rise, and provoke far less of his commentary than the Popish Plot, or the South Sea Bubble, the Warming-pan, or Jenkins's
The ballad muse, therefore, duly studied, presents us with two important truths, or rather two faces of the same truth; the one, that really great events by no means produce, in their own day, and among the multitude, an effect at all proportioned to the space they occupy in after history; the other that events, really small in themselves, derive a secondary importance from the space which they occupy in cotemporary imagination.
But whatever may be the real amount of the value of these ballads to the historical inquirer, it is plain enough that they can serve little
if laid before him without verification; without citing the authorities from whence the compiler has derived them. The originality of pieces of this description is often so very questionable—there has been so much of interpolation and falsification in their copying and editing—that readers will inevitably and rightly entertain a doubt respecting all that comes before them without such evidence. Many of them appear also in several versions, and it is often of some little importance to know which we have under our eyes. Nor must we forget the wants of that class of readers to whom the references constitute really the most valuable part of such a collection, and whose pleasure or occupation consists in tracing
them out. This is so obvious, that we cannot conceal our
• They have been gleaned,' he tells us, 'from exceedingly rare
Now the fact is, that a considerable proportion have been printed before, and in very common books, too; though whether Mr. Wilkins is aware of this, or has gone back to originals without being aware that other collectors had anticipated him, we cannot tell. We are far from quarrelling with him for including many well-known pieces in his selection. The value of a ballad does not consist in its obscurity; on the contrary, the best are probably the best known. But we do complain that he has thrown an air of very unnecessary mystery about his proceedings, and are satisfied that he has considerably impaired the value of his book by doing so.
The existing repertories of political ballads for the period which he has chosen, 1640–1760, are pretty well known. He under-values the four volumes entitled - State Poems,' when he says that they contain few political ballads, properly
so-called; but consist almost entirely of long and insipid
damning vice of their contents, and of the great mass of MS. political satires, from Charles II. to George I., inclusive, their coarseness and indecency are so inexpressibly vile that far greater merit than they possess would not authorise their publication, and so pervading as to render the task of making extracts one of extreme difficulty; and the coarsest, unhappily, are by far the wittiest. The utter depravation of the English stage and street literature, for nearly a century, forms one of the most degrading facts in our national history. Even France-corrupt as we are accustomed to call her—is comparatively guiltless; her obscenity lurked in the dark, ours walked abroad, for some generations, with an effrontery certainly without parallel in the literature of Christendom. If we add to the above authorities Tom Durfey's • Pills to Purge Melancholy, and the Whig collection called * Political Merriment,' we have before us the principal repositories of this kind of matter, at least down to the period of the Hanover Succession; but there are of course abundant subsidiary stores.
It need scarcely be said that Mr. Wilkins's volumes, extending over more than 100 years of history, contain only a very small portion of the riches accumulated in these reservoirs. Nor do we at all perceive on what principle his selection has been made. Very few of his ballads have any particular celebrity attached to them. The remainder are neither better nor worse than the ordinary average of their kind. His proceedings have no doubt been very seriously hampered by the utter impossibility of reprinting for modern readers a vast proportion of them. In one respect, at all events, his choice appears to us judicious. Considering the small space which he had at his disposal, he has succeeded very well in giving some specimens of the minstrelsy of almost every successive party and period. The satires against Laud, against the Long Parliament, against the Court of Charles II., the Popish Plot, the Dutch William and German George, the Pretender, and the Hanover Succession, the South Sea swindlers, and Sir Robert Walpole, all find their representatives in these impartial volumes: and it is chiefly in this way (as a kind of epitome of a very long story) that we think them likely to prove attractive to a good many readers. We have, however, derived from their perusal only a confirmation of the opinion we had previously entertained, of the extreme inferiority, taken as a whole, of this class of English literature. It will not stand a moment's comparison with the French for wit, with the Scotch for poetry or for vernacular vigour. Great insipidity -- now that the allusions have lost their temporary pungency is its too general characteristic. Of poetical fire there is not