When Harrison Ainsworth, in his preface to Rookwood, claimed to be “the first to write a purely flash song” he was very wide of the mark. As a matter of fact, “Nix my doll, pals, fake away!” had been anticipated, in its treatment of canting phraseology, by nearly three centuries, and subsequently, by authors whose names stand high, in other respects, in English literature.

The mistake, however, was not altogether unpardonable; few, indeed, would have even guessed that the appearance of utter neglect which surrounded the use of Cant and Slang in English song, ballad, or verse—its rich and racy character notwithstanding—was anything but of the surface. The chanson d’argot of France and the romance di germania of Spain, not to mention other forms of the Musa Pedestris had long held popular sway, but there was to all appearance nothing to correspond with them on this side the silver streak.

It must be confessed, however, that the field of English slang verse and canting song, though not altogether barren, has yet small claim to the idiomatic and plastic treatment that obtains in many an Argot-song and Germania-romance; in truth, with a few notable exceptions, there is little in the present collection that can claim literary rank.

Those exceptions, however, are alone held to be ample justification for such an anthology as that here presented. Moreover these “Rhymes and Songs”, gathered from up and down the years, exhibit, en masse, points of interest to the student and scholar that, in isolation, were either wanting altogether, or were buried and lost sight of midst a mass of more (or less) valuable matter.

As regards the Vulgar Tongue itself—though exhaustive disquisition obviously lies outside the scope of necessarily brief forewords—it may be pointed out that its origin in England is confessedly obscure. Prior to the second half of the 16th century, there was little trace of that flood of unorthodox speech which, in this year of grace eighteen hundred and ninety-six, requires six quarto double-columned volumes duly to chronicle—verily a vast and motley crowd!

As to the distinction to be drawn between Cant and Slang it is somewhat difficult to speak. Cant we know; its limits and place in the world of philology are well defined. In Slang, however, we have a veritable Proteus, ever shifting, and for the most part defying exact definition and orderly derivation. Few, save scholars and such-like folk, even distinguish between the two, though the line of demarcation is sharply enough defined.

In the first place, Slang is universal, whilst Cant is restricted in usage to certain classes of the community: thieves, vagrom men, and—well, their associates. One thing, indeed, both have in common; each are derived from a correct normal use of language. There, however, all similarity ends.

Slang boasts a quasi-respectability denied to Cant, though Cant is frequently more enduring, its use continuing without variation of meaning for many generations. With Slang this is the exception; present in force to-day, it is either altogether forgotten to-morrow, or has shaded off into some new meaning—a creation of chance and circumstance. Both Cant and Slang, but Slang to a more determinate degree, are mirrors in which those who look may see reflected a picture of the age, with its failings, foibles, and idiosyncrasies. They reflect the social life of the people, the mirror rarely being held to truth so faithfully—hence the present interest, and may be future value, of these songs and rhymes. For the rest the book will speak for itself.


Rhymes Of The Canting Crew.
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
Come All You Buffers Gay
The Potato Man
A Slang Pastoral
Ye Scamps, Ye Pads, Ye Divers
The Sandman’s Wedding
The Happy Pair
The Bunter’s Christening
The Masqueraders
The Flash Man of St. Giles
A Leary Mot
The Night Before Larry was Stretched
The Song of the Young Prig
The Milling Match
Ya-Hip, My Hearties!
Sonnets For The Fancy: After The Manner Of Petrarch
The True Bottom’d Boxer
Bobby And His Mary
Flashey Joe
My Mugging Maid
Poor Luddy
The Pickpocket’s Chaunt
On the Prigging Lay
The Lag’s Lament
Nix My Doll, Pals, Fake Away
The Game Of High Toby
The Double Cross
The Thieves’ Chaunt
The House Breaker’s Song
The Faking Boy To The Crap Is Gone
The Nutty Blowen
The Faker’s New Toast
My Mother
The High-Pad’s Frolic
The Dashy, Splashy.... Little Stringer
The Bould Yeoman
The Bridle-Cull and his little Pop-Gun
Jack Flashman
Miss Dolly Trull
The By-Blow Of The Jug
The Cadger’s Ball
Dear Bill, This Stone-Jug
The Leary Man
A Hundred Stretches Hence
The Chickaleary Cove
Blooming Æsthetic
’Arry at a Political Picnic
Rum Coves that Relieve us
Villon’s Good-Night
Villon’s Straight Tip To All Cross Coves
Culture in the Slums
A Plank-Bed Ballad
The Rondeau of the Knock
The Rhyme of the Rusher
Wot Cher!
Our Little Nipper
The Coster’s Serenade