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Broadside ballad entitled 'Tis Hard to Give the Hand where the Heart can Never Be'


Verse 1: 'Tho' I mingle in the throng / Of the happy and the gay, / From the mirth of dance and song / I would fain be far away; / For I love to use no wile, / And can but deem it sin, / That the brow should wear a smile / When the soul is sad within. / Tho' a parent's stern command / Claims obedience from me, / O, 'tis hard to give the hand / Where the heart can never be.' This song was published by the Poet's Box. The town or city is not specified, but it was probably published in Dundee.

This is clearly a song dissenting against something or somone, but exactly what or who is left unsaid. The title, which is also the song's refrain, emphasises that it is difficult to show loyalty to something or someone when one feels that loyalty is not merited. The song also mentions 'a parent's stern command' claiming 'obedience', but whether this refers literally to a person, or whether the 'parent' is a metaphor for a religious creed, or the government, or some other power, is again elusive. Broadside ballads expressing political or ideological dissent were quite numerous, and were often more directly critical than this song.
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: 1880-1900   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.70(86a)
Broadside ballad entitled 'Tis Hard to Give the Hand where the Heart can Never Be'
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