Popular Literature

   Many people are familiar with the classics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but lets take a look at the other forms of literature that were made available to the masses.  Despite the belief that literature was only available to the wealthy and well educated, there were many forms of writing available to those who did not have the money for classics of the time.  The rise of the popular press and of literacy meant that writing reached a wider audience than ever before.  Writing was now available to upper class women and to the middle-class in the form of chapbooks, and ballads.

   The term Grub Street was used for many of the writers of the popular press.  The new demand for writers meant that not all of them were talented writers; most of them were very poorly paid and lived in poor conditions.  Grub Street was a place of filth, clutter and noise, and home to thieves and beggars.  It was also the place where printing presses based themselves along with aspiring writers. 1

   Chapbooks (cheap books) were the first form of popular publishing (for the people and not for large publishing companies).  These chapbooks allowed people to communicate, share and preserve their own ideas without the approval of a publisher.  Ballads also became very popular.  Broadside Ballads were printed forms of folk music, while traditional ballads were oral songs.

"Who makes a ballet for an ale-house doore, Shall live in future times for ever more." Anonymously written between 1597 and 1601 in Würzbacu.  2

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Did you know: Chapbooks  were the 18th century's version of pulp fiction?

Chapmen traveled between towns selling ballads and chapbooks.