(Birmingham: Printed by Thomas Pearson for the Author, 1790). 183 x 100 mm. (6 3/8 x 4"). xvi, 196 [i.e,.200] pp. ( a reissue with two extra leaves, paginated 37*-40*). Sixth Edition.
Contemporary marbled boards, sympathetically rebacked with calf, smooth spine divided into panels with gilt rule and blind roll, gilt titling (hinges reinforced, skillfully recornered). With engraved frontispiece portrait of Freeth (trimmed a bit close at fore and tail edges, grazing background of portrait and first word of imprint). Verso of title page and tail margin of pp. xi, 11, and 111 with ink stamp of St. Peter's Priory, Hinckley. ESTC T98387; not in Sabin. Paper boards little darkened and lightly chafed, but the restored binding sound and rather pleasing. Title page and margins of portrait with minor soiling, leaves a shade less than bright (due to paper stock), isolated rust spots, trivial smudges, or corner creases, but an excellent copy, internally clean and fresh with adequate margins.
This is a scarce edition of a collection of political ballads by a man DNB deems one of the best purveyors of that genre. A radical and non-conformist in politics, Freeth (1731-1808) enjoyed writing songs about current events and performing them for patrons at his Birmingham pub, the Leicester Arms. This drew custom to his establishment, and patrons encouraged him to publish his clever creations. In 1766, "Political Songster" first appeared as a 40-page pamphlet. Up to the sixth edition, Freeth added material and released updates every few years; thereafter, only annual updates were issued, until 1805. According to DNB, "Although unsophisticated, many of his patriotic songs have a stirring lilt; on politics he wrote with indignation, rough good humour, and an effective turn of phrase that earned him the reputation of being one of the best political ballad writers in the kingdom. From 1771 until 1785 Freeth used the pen-name John Free in punning allusion to his beliefs. His songs offer a significant insight into the popular politics of the late eighteenth century." In addition to matters of more local concern, Freeth's ballads addressed the revolution in the American colonies. In addition to using the pen name "Free," Freeth indirectly supported the American cause by voicing the distaste of common soldiers forced to fight former comrades-at-arms, and by expressing contempt for the British ministers' and generals' underestimation of the colonists' determination and abilities. "Prescot's Breeches" subtly applauds the Americans' daring midnight abduction of British General Richard Prescott, one of the most important "special operations" of the American Revolution. ESTC notes three versions of our sixth edition: one ending with p. 192; this one, ending with p. 196, and a third extending to 220 pages. All have extra pages paginated 37*-40*, so our copy has a total of 200 pages. Our version also seems to be especially uncommon: ESTC and OCLC find just six copies in North American libraries. (ST15481)
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PJP Catalog: BOS19BF.034