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'The famous rat-catcher
Pepys, i, 458, B.L., three woodcuts, four columns.
The date of this ballad is about 1615. Part I is preserved also in a MS. at Shirburn Castle, Oxfordshire, from which it is printed in Clark's Shirburn Ballads, pp. 94—95. The copyist (£.) followed the printed copy carefully, but the second part has been torn out of the MS.
The ballad is a highly interesting, if coarse, song. The rat-catcher specialized in the treatment of the so-called social diseases no less than in exterminating rats and mice by means of his "painful bag" of poisons. The ensign of his trade, a flag of several colours, is shown in the fine woodcut here reproduced from the ballad (cf. also Ebsworth's comment in the Roxburghe Ballads, vm, xxxvii***, and see a ballad dating about 1855, "The Ratcatcher's Daughter," in John Ashton's Modern Street Ballads, 1888, p. 142). King James I himself, by the way, had an official ratcatcher, to whom in 1623 he was paying Sd. a day (Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1623—25, p. 135).
The tune of The Jovial Tinker, or Joan's Ale is new, given in Chappell's Popular Music, 1, 187, does not apply here. The correct tune is, instead, derived from "A pleasant new Songe of a jovial Tinker. To a pleasant new tune called Fly Brasse" (Pepys, 1, 460), printed by John Trundle1. Fly Brass, identical with Tom of Bedlam, is in Popular Music, 1, 333, 11,
1 Later versions of this ballad, beginning "Here sits [or There was] a jovial tinker, dwelt in the town of Turvey," are printed in the pamphlet of The Tinker of Turvey (1630, pp. 2-3) and in Merry Drollery, 1661, 1, 17-18. There are many imitations of it: e.g. "Encomium of Tobacco" in Sportive Wit, 1656, sigs. F. 6V-F. 7, and "The Vagabond" in Merry Drollery, 11, 16-18.