The Word on the Street
home | background | illustrations | distribution | highlights | search & browse | resources | contact us

Broaside ballad entitled 'The Burntisland Catechisme'


This ballad begins: 'Ques. WHy must our Councellors be fools? / Ans. 'Cause then they're fittest to be tools. / Q. And what supplies their want of sense? / A. Their want of bread and Conscience.' The broadside carries no date or place of publication.

A catechism is a collection of questions and answers pertaining to the Bible. It was intended to ensure that churchgoers were versed in the moral teachings of the Bible even if they had difficulty remembering long passages of scripture. The Shorter Catechism, created in 1648, is still used today in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In this poem, the question and answer structure of the Catechism is adopted to satirise civic corruption in the royal burgh of Burntisland, Fife. Among various charges, councillors are accused of accepting bribes, and the priest of being a puppet of the local landowner.

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.

previous pageprevious          
Probable date of publication: 1720-   shelfmark: RB.I.106(109)
Broaside ballad entitled 'The Burntisland Catechisme'
View larger image

NLS home page   |   Digital gallery   |   Credits

National Library of Scotland © 2004

National Library of Scotland