Philobiblon: Remember: be nice to your sister or else...

Friday, March 24, 2006

Remember: be nice to your sister or else...

Deep in early modern ballads today, I came across an account of a beauty of a morality tale. It is the story of a rich woman who mocked her poor sister who had just given birth to twins. (There was a belief around at the time that twins had to have been begotten by different fathers.)

But the rich woman got her comuppance. Immediately. She gave birth, all in one go, to 365 children - one, of course, for each day of the year.

It is called The Lamenting Lady, a broadside (the "newspapers" of the day) printed for Henry Gosson about 1620.

Of course it raises the question of how gullible people were then? Did they read it in the way we read stories about Elvis being alive? Or did they read this as "fact"? Probably a bit of both really - just like today. Ihear these faint sounds of "Blue suede shoes..."

UPDATE: (Really shouldn't do "half-asleep blogging") Sorry, forgot the reference: This is from Shaaber, M.A. Some Forerunners of the Newspaper in England 1476-1622, Frank Cass and Co., London, 1966, p. 150, which surprisingly enough is the best source I've found on the subject, even if hardly a recent one.


Blogger Ahistoricality said...

There were lots of magical tales in the folk tradition, though, that don't really tell us anything about the "gullibility" of people then. Was this done in the form of a song (and if so, I'd not give it much credence as anything but musical fun) or in the form of "straight" reportage?

3/24/2006 01:20:00 am  
Blogger clanger said...

ahistoricality is being ahistorical.

Ballads usually rhymed, although there were plenty of prose broadsheets. The use of rhyme did not make them simply 'musical fun'. It was a formal genre, just as satirical verse was used as a serious political weapon, or a hymn as a statement of faith.

News was often presented in the ballad form, although ballads also exist that are pure entertainment, moral and religious examples of bad conduct leading to a bad end, and stories of weird stuff happening, that some folk would have believed, others half believed, and some dismissed.

3/24/2006 11:17:00 am  
Anonymous Sharon said...

Clanger beat me to it.

(And here's one I blogged earlier.)

3/24/2006 01:46:00 pm  
Blogger clanger said...

Much fun here:

"The battle of the frogs and Fairford's flies: miracles and the pulp press during the English Revolution" by Jerome Friedman. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

But considerably more here:

"The wonders of the little world, or, a general history of man" by Nathaniel Wanley (1634-1680).

A huge number of short bits on everything under the sun. Still just as much fun to curl up with as it always was.

Numerous editions from 1673 (COPAC) or 1678 (Wing). In print in 1806. Should still be. Anyone know anybody at Penguin Classics?

Note. By 'man' they mean (hu)mankind: there are a lot of women in it too. Some editions were sold as partworks, the 18thC equivalents of those currently on sale today.

3/24/2006 07:33:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Yes, some of those partworks can be brilliant. I've got a couple of 19th-century ones - history of london sort of stuff - that have great pics in them. Although of course being Victorian they are much more sober on the "freaks and wonders" front...

3/24/2006 11:13:00 pm  
Anonymous Sharon said...

A bit late, but by coincidence I came across this online essay which refers to another version of your morality tale - in these, with a Countess who's punished for mocking a beggar woman.

3/27/2006 02:27:00 pm  

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