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

Broadside ballad entitled 'The Four-leaved Shamrock'


The introductory text reads: 'This is supposed to be one of Shields' productions, and the Poet in offering it to the public has every confidence that it will be a tangible treat ; the Poet is certain that it is one of the finest effusions extant, and from his long experience, he would invite all lovers of song and music to come and judge for themselves by procuring copies . . .' The first line of the song reads: 'I'll seek a four-leaved shamrock'. The sheet was published by the Poet's Box of Glasgow.

It is not clear who Shields is, but this piece was in fact written by the Irish songwriter, painter and novelist, Samuel Lover (1797-1868). The proprietor of the Glasgow Poet's Box, Matthew Leitch, was well-known for his flamboyant sales techniques, which often led to slight embellishments of the truth! With no copyright law in place at this time, publishers were free to reproduce existing works without fear of prosecution.
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.

previous pageprevious          
Probable period of publication: 1870-1890   shelfmark: RB.m.143(139)
Broadside ballad entitled 'The Four-leaved Shamrock'
View larger image

NLS home page   |   Digital gallery   |   Credits

National Library of Scotland © 2004

National Library of Scotland