Modern Street Ballads

The following, although not a ballad, was popularly sold in the streets, and will serve as a good introduction to the question of Reform. I have omitted passages which were irrelevant to the matter. I find Reform Street Ballads very scarce.


1 Now it came to pass that the land had rest for seventeen years.
2 For the Britons had subdued their enemies, even the French, and restored peace to all the Continent.
3 Nevertheless the people groaned by reason of oppression, and the multitude of taxes which was laid upon them to support the rich and the great with pensions and rewards.
4 And they cried and petitioned for redress, but their prayers were not heard.
5 And George the Fourth was gathered to his fathers, and William reigned in his stead.
6 Now there was at this time a mighty man of renown called Arthur.
7 And he gained the confidence of the King, and abused his ear with falsities respecting the people.
8 And the people were much displeased with the power of this man of war, for he ruled them as he had done his soldiers.
9 And their eyes were turned towards a certain nobleman whose possessions lieth north of the Tyne.
10 Arthur feeling that he could rule no longer, resigned his authority, and the King elected that nobleman, even Grey, whose possessions lieth north of the Tyne, to be ruler under him over the people.
11 And he stood before the King, and said, O King, live for ever, thy people have been long afflicted with heavy burdens which they cannot bear, and their cries and lamentations ascend to heaven.
12 And the King was troubled in his mind at these sayings, and he caused the records of the realm to be brought before him, and then he found that his subjects were not fairly represented; and he was in much agitation of mind, and trembled exceedingly and cried with a loud voice, Whay shall I do?
13 And the noble, even Grey, said unto him, We must endeavour to amend these things; and, oh King, if thou wilt give me permission, such a law shall be framed that all the land will rejoice.
14 And the King said, Do as it pleaseth thee best in this matter.
15 Then Grey called all the representatives of the people together, and shewed them the new law which he had framed for the people’s benefit.
16 But several of those who were interested with regard to money, lifted up their voices against it.
17 Nevertheless the thing did prevail, in that house, the Assembly of the People, called the House of Commons.
18 But when this same law was brought before the Lords, they laughed it to scorn, saying amongst themselves, Shall we be deprived of the good things we have enjoyed so long? Shall we divide the spoil amongst those we despise? And, as it were, with the voice of one man, they said, No!
19 Now the High Priests of the nation consulted amongst themselves, and said, Alas! what will become of us if this law passeth? We must then bid farewell to all that we have held so dear.
20 And the lamentation among the High Priests was very great, for every one of them lamented as if he had lost his first born.
21 And they came unto the Council of the Nation, even the House of Lords, and said, We will not have this law to pass.
22 For, although we are paid, and well paid, to teach the people, yet in our wisdom it seemeth good unto us to keep them ignorant.
23 For, be it known unto you, that, unless they are kept ignorant, and deprived of power, no man can govern them.
24 And the Lords listened to these speeches, and would not allow the good law to pass.
25 Then stood the great and good noble, even Grey, before the King, and said, thou knowest thy nobles and the high priests will not allow this law to pass.
26 Therefore I lay my commission at thy feet.
27 And the king answered and said, do as it seemeth best to thee.
28 And Grey bowed himself to the earth, and departed from the presence of the King.
29 And the King was troubled in spirit, and he sent in haste for Arthur, even the mighty man of renown.
30 And Arthur arose, and girded up his loins, and stood before the King.
31 And the King said unto him, Arthur, I know thee to be a man in whom is the spirit of wisdom and of valour, I am sorely troubled in mind respecting this affair. What shall I do?
32 Arthur answered and said, be not troubled, neither let thy spirit be cast down, for I can rule these people easily, and with a rod of iron must they be ruled: grant unto me the commission, and I will make them obedient.
33 And the King said, do as seemeth good in thine own eyes.
34 But when the people heard these things they were sorely grieved; and became exceedingly enraged.
35 And said, shall this man of war, who is an enemy to liberty, reign over us?
36 And the people from the land’s end, even unto Johnny Groat’s house, rose up, as it were with one consent; and in every village, and every city, and in every town, did they rise up and meet together in the open air to shew their hatred of Arthur, and of his oppression, and their determination to be free.
37 And the multitudes were exceeding great, that no man might number them, and they bore banners, having on them painted various devices.
38 And the cry of the people was great, and the noise of their shouting was like the sound of many waters.
39 And they cried, if Arthur is to rule us, to thy tents, O, Britons!
40 Now, the great, and the just men, and the good among the people, stood up, and spake with a loud voice, saying,
41 Be it known unto you, O, Britons, that Arthur can do nothing without money, therefore refuse you to pay taxes till you are made free.
42 And the people shouted, and cried, We will give no money till we are free; and having sung a war-like song, every man went to his own house.
43 Now, when the king heard of these things he was sore afraid, and he told Arthur to depart from his presence, and he called Grey before him.
44 And he said, thy wisdom is great, get this bill passed, else we be all dead men.
45 And the thing was done in haste, for great fear and trembling had fallen upon them.
46 And the Nobles and the high priests agreed unto the bill, for they were sore afraid, and quaked much.

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