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Broadside ballad entitled 'Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean'


Verse 1: 'Britannia, the gem of the ocean, / The star of the brave and the free, / The shrine of a patriots devotion, / Old England my homage to thee. / Thy banner makes tyranny tremble, / When liberty has cause in the view, / Thy banner makes tyranny tremble, / Whilst borne by the red, white, and blue.' This broadside was priced at one penny and published on Saturday, 6th September 1856, by the Poet's Box. The town of publication has been obscured, but it was probably Glasgow.

This is a ballad praising the British armed forces. 'Britannia' here is used as a poetic name for Great Britain rather than as a specific reference to any of the naval vessels that have been named 'Britannia'. The third verse pays tribute to someone called Napier. This could be either Naval Commander Charles Napier (1786-1860) or more likely, as the tribute appears to be posthumous, General sir Charles Napier (1782-1853), who achieved significant military victories in the Indian sub-continent.
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: 1856   shelfmark: L.C.1269(175a)
Broadside ballad entitled 'Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean'
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