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Broadside ballad entitled 'Friendship's But A Shadow'


This ballad begins: 'As we journey on through life we meet with many ups and downs, / And often wish that we had ne'er been born; / When poverty o'ertakes us in our humble happy home, / Our best friends are apt to turn on us with scorn . . . ' A note below the title states that this ballad was 'Written and sung by Mr J. Macguire, with the greatest succese', and that 'This popular song can be had at 190 and 192 Overgate, Dundee'. The note further states that the ballad was sung to the air, 'English, Welsh and Scotch'.

This somewhat saturnine ballad ponders the nature of friendship, and arrives at some rather gloomy conclusions on the subject. The writer invents some dark episodes that show the concept of friendship at its most mercenary. Despite this, however, the writer concludes on a positive note, by stating that there are still some good people in the world, and that folk should have faith in a person until that individual behaves in a manner that betrays their confidence. A peculiar ballad, it could be argued that this song is a good illustration of Scottish 'canniness', and the accompanying attitude of not confiding your business in a stranger.
The Dundee Poets? Box was in operation from about 1880 to 1945, though it is possible that some material was printed as early as the 1850s. Most of the time it had premises at various addresses in Overgate. In 1885 the proprietor J.G. Scott (at 182 Overgate) had published a catalogue of 2,000 titles consisting of included humorous recitations, dialogues, temperance songs, medleys, parodies, love songs, Jacobite songs. Another proprietor in the 1880s was William Shepherd, but little is known about him. Poets? Box was particularly busy on market days and feeing days when country folk were in town in large numbers. Macartney specialised in local songs and bothy ballads. Many Irish songs were published by the Poets? Box ? many Irishmen worked seasonally harvesting potatoes and also in the jute mills. In 1906 John Lowden Macartney took over as proprietor of the Poet?s Box, initially working from 181 Overgate and later from no.203 and 207.

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 at 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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Probable period of publication: 1880-1885   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.70(70b)
Broadside ballad entitled 'Friendship's But A Shadow'
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