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Broadside ballad entitled 'Robert Johnston's Ghost'


Following on from the title, the introduction continues: 'OR his last ADVICE to the Gipsies, and other Gangs of Robbers and Murderers in Scotland. The ballad itself begins: 'Plung'd in black Darkness and Eternal Night, / For Crimes committed 'gainst Almighty Light'. Unfortunately, no publication details are included on the sheet.

Often sounding like a fire and brimstone sermon from a zealous preacher, this broadside is a warning to criminals to start behaving themselves and thinking of their eternal souls. Written from the viewpoint of a lost soul who now lives a hellish existence on 'the other side', he warns sinners that they must repent now, since repentance after death is too late to save their souls. In an age when religion was one of the main tools of social control, this broadside tells us much about how powerful religion used to be in Scottish society. Writing this warning from the perspective of a ghost lends a supernatural element to the broadside, and stops it from sounding too much like a sermon.

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 date published: 1720-   shelfmark: RB.l.106(069)
Broadside ballad entitled 'Robert Johnston's Ghost'
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