Folk in print : Scotland's chapbook heritage, 1750-1850 / Edward J. Cowan and Mike Paterson
The people's print has not so far attracted a serious modern study. In 1874 John Fraser wrote that it was impossible to understand the history of Scotland or the character of her people during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries without studying these 'vulgar, but graphic and intensely Scottish productions', which, in his opinion, could be ranked with such masterpieces as the humorous narratives in The Canterbury Tales. Though not all chapbooks were necessarily humorous, as this selection will demonstrate.
This collection aims to present a user-friendly introduction to the genre, a sampling of the attractions and possibilities, set, where appropriate, in the relevant cultural and historical contexts. The idea is to listen to the voices of the past, not often heard, which yet should be screaming for attention.
The chapbooks are gloriously diverse in content, pointing to an irresistible cacophony of social discourse ranging from the flippant to the portentous, the swooningly romantic to the bluntly pejorative; they are brash and banal, fun, fresh and revealing, often reflecting the sort of flair, wit, insight, sensitivity - and mindlessness - that these days are responsible for so much of our television programming and tabloid newspaper content.
Chapbooks are sometimes loosely themed, but others are collations, with naive romanticism, virulent jingoism, pastoral reverie, love-songs, temperance diatribes, clumsy humour, political satire, ribaldry, misogyny, indecency, comic drinking songs, folktales, superstition and the occult, and a body of vibrant Scots poetry and song from the oral and literary traditions, all available for the mix. This selection is drawn from the period, roughly 1750 to 1850, when the form was at its most prolific and most populist, and literacy was as exciting and undiscriminating as Internet use has become today.
A small, inexpensive stitched book or pamphlet formerly sold by itinerant dealers, or chapmen, in western Europe and in North America. Most chapbooks were 5 1/2 by 4 1/4 inches (14 by 11 cm) in size and were made up of four pages (or multiples of four), illustrated with woodcuts.
They contained tales of popular heroes, legend and folklore, jests, reports of notorious crimes, ballads, almanacs, nursery rhymes, school lessons, farces, biblical tales, dream lore, and other popular matter. The texts were mostly crude and anonymous, but they formed the major part of secular reading and now serve as a guide to the manners and morals of their times.
View the full article in the Gale Literature Resource Center