Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: A Political Christmas Carol

Political Carol 1
Political Carol 2

This is another tune from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. As I said, I’m afraid I didn’t note down the words while I was copying the sheet music. I thus don’t have any more on this than it’s title. This suggests that it’s a song about working class discontent, and the lack of generosity and humanity by the upper classes at a time of seasonal hardship. I’ve written it down following a ballad tune on the Battle of Waterloo, which suggests that it was also written in the years of political reaction and oppression for the working class following the Napoleonic Wars. This was the time when the aristocracy tried to crack down on trade unions and other forms of working class organisation from a fear that a revolution would also break out over here.

So although it’s spring, it’s also relevant to the current political climate, where the Tories and Lib Dems are also doing their level best to grind working people down, the economy is in tatters, poverty is rising and there is precious little generosity or help from the authorities in the form of unemployment benefit. And the government is also trying its best to ban trade unions, while Boris Johnson shows his fear of the great unwashed by trying to purchase three second hand water cannons from the Germans.

So it’s another one to hum and whistle on the way to the Jobcentre or Work Related Activity.

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One Response to “Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: A Political Christmas Carol”

  1. jess Says:

    You are almost certainly referring to this piece by William Hone, published, with an illustration by George Cruikshank, in 1820

    “God rest you, merry Gentlemen,
    Let nothing you dismay,
    Remember we were left alive,
    Upon last Christmas day,
    With both our lips at liberty
    To praise Lord C———h
    With his ‘practical’ comfort and joy!

    He ‘turn’d his back upon himself’
    And straight to ‘Lunnun’ came,
    To two two-sided Lawyers
    With tidings of the same,
    That our own land must ‘prostrate stand’
    Unless we praise his name –
    For his ‘practical’ comfort and joy!
    ‘Go fear not’ said his L——p
    ‘Let nothing you affright
    ‘Go draw your quills, and draw five Bills,
    ‘Put out yon blaze of light;
    ‘I’m able to advance you,
    ‘Go stamp it out then quite –
    ‘And give me some “features” of joy!’

    The Lawyers at those tidings
    Rejoiced much in mind,
    And left their friends a staring
    To go and raise the wind,
    And straight went to the Taxing-men
    And said ‘the Bills come find –
    ‘For “fundamental” comfort and joy!’

    The Lawyers found majorities
    To do as they did say,
    They found them at their mangers
    Like oxens at their hay,
    Some lying, and some kneeling down,
    All to L—d C———h
    For his ‘practical’ comfort and joy!

    With sudden joy and gladness
    Rat G-ff—d was beguiled,
    They each sat at his L——p’s side,
    He patted them and smiled;
    Yet C-pl-y on his nether end,
    Sat like a new born Child, ­-
    But without either comfort or joy!

    He thought upon his Father,
    His virtues, and his fame,
    And how that father hoped from him
    From glory to his name,
    And, as his chin dropp’d on his breast,
    His pale cheeks burn’d with shame: –
    He’ll never more know comfort or joy!

    Lord C———h doth rule yon House,
    And all who there do reign;
    They’ve let us live this Christmas time –
    D’ye think they will again?
    They say they are our masters –
    That’s neither here, nor there:
    God send us all a happy new year!”

    Also cited here
    From Roy’s book

    It is directed against Castlereagh, the target of Shelley’s ‘I ‘Mask of Anarchy’, and the butt of countless contemporary radical poets.

    “The Mask of Anarchy
    (Written on the occasion of the massacre at Manchester.)
    “As I lay asleep in Italy
    There came a voice from over the Sea,
    And with great power it forth led me
    To walk in the visions of Poesy.

    I met Murder on the way—
    He had a mask like Castlereagh—
    Very smooth he looked, yet grim ;
    Seven blood-hounds followed him :

    All were fat ; and well they might
    Be in admirable plight,
    For one by one, and two by two,
    He tossed them human hearts to chew
    Which from his wide cloak he drew.

    Next came Fraud, and he had on,
    Like Lord Eldon, an ermined gown ;
    His big tears, for he wept well,
    Turned to mill-stones as they fell.”

    Castlereagh’s part in Lord Liverpool’s administration, along with Sidmouth, made him universally loathed.

    Twenty years later Chartists would denounce the regime that gave the country Peterloo and Oliver the Spy,. So hated was the government of the time that several armed insurrections were attempted, Spa Fields in 1817, Scotland’s Radical Rising of 1820 (and associated attempts in Lancashire and Yorkshire) along with Cato Street the same year

    Shelley, incidentally, was an occasional customer of Clio Rickman, bookseller, printer, radical and close friend of Paine mentioned elsewhere.

    Hone and Rickman frequented similar circles, though Rickman was also closer to the various Spenceans in his neighbourhood, forming business partnerships with them occasionally to publish radical ditties.

    I might also add that Rickman printed and edited the second, expanded edition, of the first identifiably radical songbook.in 1798.

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