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Broadside ballad entitled 'White Spuall'


This ballad begins: 'The sea was bright, and the bark wore well / The breeze bore the tone of the vasper bell. / 'Twas a gallant bark. with a crew as brave / As ever launch'd on the heaving wave.' A 'bark' is a small sailing ship, usually one with three masts and a square-sized stern. Below the title, a note states that 'Copies of this song can always be had at the Poets BOX BOX 190 192 Overgate DUNDEE'. Unfortunately, no date of publication is included on the sheet.

This sad ballad employs poetic imagery to tell the story of a small ship that was engulfed by a massive ocean wave, just as it was about to reach the safe haven of a nearby port. The language used to describe the temperamental sea conjures up an image of some almighty deity. This image is supported by the writer's earlier reference to 'the Grecian isles', a setting which fires the imagination with thoughts of Neptune and Proteus. The ballad is very much about man's helplessness and insignificance, when confronted with elements far more powerful than himself.
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: RB.m.143(155)
Broadside ballad entitled 'White Spuall'
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