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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

III. Political and Ecclesiastical Satire

§ 13. Lilliburlero

All these, however, are outdone in importance by Purcell’s Lilliburlero, which conferred an instant and extraordinary success on Thomas lord Wharton’s doggerel rimes, and was, of course, employed for still poorer effusions afterwards. Here, we reach the highwater mark of the ballad’s effectiveness, and, fortunately, know to whom both music and words are due.

With regard to most ballads, however, we are left in the dark as to their authorship. Who was the reasoning tory humourist who wrote the first two parts of A Narrative of the Popish Plot (1679–80), or the “lady of quality” who continued his work? What whig wrote the wrathful Tories Confession (1682), the disgusted Satyr on Old Rowley (1680–1), or the scornful Lamentable Lory (1684?) (against Laurence Hyde), or the drily humorous Sir T. Jenner’s Speech to his Wife and Children (1688–9)? Nocte premuntur. And along with the writers of these are forgotten their tory antagonists, the authors of the gay invective of A New Presbyterian Ballad (1681), or the fiery Dagon’s Fall (1682) against Shaftesbury, the exulting Tories’ Triumph (1685) or the witty lampoon on bishop Burnet, The Brawny Bishop’s Complaint (c. 1698). Yet the names of the ballad-makers, even when known, are rather disappointing. It was Charles Blount, the deist, who is responsible for the clever and haughty Sale of Esau’s Birthright on the Buckingham election of 1679. William Wharton, a son of Philip, fourth lord Wharton, although reputed dull, was the author of A New Song of the Times (1683), one of the most brilliant of whig squibs. Walter Pope, a physician and astronomer, wrote The Catholic Ballad (1674), which displays genial pleasantry. Another physician, Archibald Pitcairne, translated and improved the Jacobite De Juramento illicito (1689). The “protestant joiner,” Stephen College, perpetrated some yapping pasquinades. And we find some professionals. There was Thomas Jordan the city poet, who shows a fine lyrical feeling in The Plotting Papists’ Litany (1680), which stands quite apart in structure from the Which nobody can deny series. His successor as city poet, Matthew Taubman, edited a volume of tory compositions, of some of which he was presumably author. Finally, the courtier, song-writer and dramatist, Tom D’Urfey, composed several tory songs, all of them facile and tuneful, and one, The Trimmer (c. 1690), sardonically witty. D’Urfey furnishes us with a sidelight on the audience of these ballads, when he tells how he sang one, in 1682, “with King Charles at Windsor; he holding one part of the paper with me.” On one side or another, they appealed to all the nation, and their comparative popularity was the best gauge of public opinion.

But there were good reasons for the anonymity of this political literature, poems, ballads, and tracts. If the censorship had lapsed or was inefficient, the law of libel gave the government ample means for punishing the publishers and authors of anything tending to civil division, and, naturally, while the whigs had most present reason to fear, the tories did not forget the possibility of a turn of the wheel. The last four years of Charles II saw a number of prosecutions of booksellers like Nathaniel Thompson, Richard Janeway, Benjamin Harris and others, and, although these cases do not seem to have been very efficient deterrents, they tended to make anonymity advisable as an obvious and easy precaution.