This ballad begins: 'An Eton stripling, training for the law, / A dunce at syntax - but a dab at taw, / One happy Chirtmas laid upion the shelf, / His cap and gown and store of learned pelf'. 'Taw' is a game of marbles and 'pelf' means 'riches' or 'booty'. The publisher of the broadside was the Poet's Box, (probably Glasgow) but the town of publication has been obscured. The sheet was published on Saturday, 28th January 1871, and was priced at one penny.
'A Horse Chestnut and a Chestnut Horse' is a comic ballad satirising the philosophy of logic, and also, to an extent, satirising the English public school system. The author's point is that while the arguments of logic assume language to be fixed and rigid in meaning, in reality the same words can take on different meanings or implications according to the context they are placed in. He suggests this by making the Uncle in the ballad 'prove' to his cocky, Eton-educated nephew, that according to the arguments of logic, a horse chestnut and a chestnut horse are the same thing.
The Poet?s Box in Glasgow operated from 1849 to 1911. Matthew Leitch was the proprietor at 6 St. Andrew Lane?s, a narrow street on the south side of Gallowgate, from 1850 to 1858. His son William Munsie Leitch worked at the same address from 1859 to 1865 and at varous addresses in London Street until 1911. Many of the broadsides published by the Glasgow Poet?s Box were dated and some carried advertisements, not just for printed items but also for shoe blacking and ?soap for lovers?! Like the other ?boxes? in Dundee and Edinburgh, the Glasgow one sold love songs, sea shanties, parodies and dialogues. It is not clear what the connection between the different Poet?s Boxes were. They almost certainly sold each other?s sheets. It is known that John Sanderson in Edinburgh often wrote to the Leitches in Glasgow for songs and that later his brother Charles obtained copies of songs from the Dundee Poet?s Box. There was also a Poet?s Box in Belfast from 1846 to 1856 at the address of the printer James Moore, and one in Paisley in the early 1850s owned by William Anderson.
Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.
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Date of publication:
1871 shelfmark: L.C.1269(172a)
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