A Beggar I’ll Be

A Beggar I’ll Be
A black-letter broadside ballad.

  A Beggar, a Beggar, a Beggar I’ll be,
  There’s none leads a life more jocund than he;
  A Beggar I was, and a Beggar I am,
  A Beggar I’ll be, from a Beggar I came;
  If, as it begins, our trading do fall,
  We, in the Conclusion, shall Beggars be all.
  Tradesmen are unfortunate in their Affairs,
  And few Men are thriving but Courtiers and Play’rs.


  A Craver my Father, a Maunder my Mother, 1 Notes
  A Filer my Sister, a Filcher my Brother,
  A Canter my Uncle, that car’d not for Pelf,
  A Lifter my Aunt, and a Beggar myself;
  In white wheaten Straw, when their Bellies were full,
  Then was I got between a Tinker and a Trull.
  And therefore a Beggar, a Beggar I’ll be,
  For there’s none lives a Life more jocund than he


  For such pretty Pledges, as Lullies from Hedges. 2 wet linen
  We are not in fear to be drawn upon Sledges,
  But sometimes the Whip doth make us to skip
  And then we from Tything to Tything do trip;
  But when in a poor Boozing-Can we do bib it, 3 ale-house
  We stand more in dread of the Stocks than the Gibbet
  And therefore a merry mad Beggar I’ll be
  For when it is night in the Barn tumbles he.


  We throw down no Altar, nor never do falter,
  So much as to change a Gold-chain for a Halter;
  Though some Men do flout us, and others do doubt us,
  We commonly bear forty Pieces about us;
  But many good Fellows are fine and look fiercer,
  And owe for their Cloaths to the Taylor and Mercer:
  And if from the Harmans I keep out my Feet, 4 stocks
  I fear not the Compter, King’s Bench, nor the Fleet. 5 Notes


  Sometimes I do frame myself to be lame,
  And when a Coach comes, I hop to my game;
  We seldom miscarry, or never do marry,
  By the Gown, Common-Prayer, or Cloak-Directory;
  But Simon and Susan, like Birds of a Feather
  They kiss, and they laugh, and so jumble together; 6 Notes
  Like Pigs in the Pea-straw, intangled they lie,
  Till there they beget such a bold rogue as I.


  When Boys do come to us, and their Intent is
  To follow our Calling, we ne’er bind ’em ’Prentice;
  Soon as they come to ’t, we teach them to do ’t,
  And give them a Staff and a Wallet to boot;
  We teach them their Lingua, to crave and to cant, 7 beggar’s patter
  The Devil is in them if then they can want.
  And he or she, that a Beggar will be,
  Without any Indentures they shall be made free.


  We beg for our Bread, yet sometimes it happens
  We fast it with Pig, Pullet, Coney, and Capons
  The Church’s Affairs, we are no Men-slayers,
  We have no Religion, yet live by our Prayers;
  But if when we beg, Men will not draw their Purses,
  We charge, and give Fire, with a Volley of Curses;
  The Devil confound your good Worship, we cry,
  And such a bold brazen-fac’d Beggar am I.


  We do things in Season, and have so much Reason,
  We raise no Rebellion, nor never talk Treason;
  We Bill all our Mates at very low rates,
  While some keep their Quarters as high as the fates;
  With Shinkin-ap-Morgan, with Blue-cap, or Teague, 8 Notes
  We into no Covenant enter, nor League.
  And therefore a bonny bold Beggar I’ll be,
  For none lives a life more merry than he.


This ballad is from the Bagford Collection which, formed by John Bagford (1651-1716), passed successively through the hands of James West (president of the Royal Society), Major Pearson, the Duke of Roxburghe and Mr. B. H. Bright, until in 1845 it and the more extensive Roxburghe Collection became the property of the nation.

Stanza II, line 1. Maunder = beggar. Line 2. filer = pickpocket; filcher = thief. Line 3. canter = a tramping beggar or rogue. Line 4. lifter = a shop-thief.

Stanza IV, line 8. Compter (or Counter), King’s Bench, nor the Fleet, all prisons for debtors.

Stanza V, line 6, jumble = to copulate.

Stanza VIII, line 5. With Shinkin-ap-Morgan, with Blue-cap, or Teague = With a Welshman, Scotchman, or Irishman—generic: as now are Taffy, Sandy, and Pat.

Taken from Musa Pedestris, Three Centuries of Canting Songs and Slang Rhymes [1536―1896], collected and annotated by John S. Farmer.

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. . .
The Beggar’s Curse
Towre Out Ben Morts
The Maunder’s Wooing
A Gage Of Ben Rom-Bouse
Bing Out, Bien Morts
The Song Of The Beggar
The Maunder’s Initiation
The High Pad’s Boast
The Merry Beggars
A Mort’s Drinking Song
A Beggar I’ll Be
A Budg And Snudg Song
The Maunder’s Praise Of His Strowling Mort
The Rum-Mort’s Praise Of Her Faithless Maunder
The Black Procession
Frisky Moll’s Song
The Canter’s Serenade
Retoure My Dear Dell
The Vain Dreamer
When My Dimber Dell I Courted
The Oath Of The Canting Crew
. . .