Miles Johnson and A.D. Harvey
The Electronic British Library Journal (2004)
Political verse has been part of political discourse in England since before the invention of printing. It was probably past its peak by the early nineteenth century but still played a significant role in the dissemination of ideas, and provides important evidence regarding contemporary attitudes. This annotated check-list of poems referring to the younger Pitt is prefaced by a brief survey of political verse since the Middle Ages.
During a forty-year period between 1782 and the 1820s more than fifty authors can be identified as having written verses about, or containing specific references to, William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1783-1801 and 1804-6: there are also at least thirty anonymous or pseudonymous poems about or referring to him.These poems range from lines of doggerel on hand-written bills pasted on to walls, corresponding to the manuscript pasquinate of sixteenth-century Rome, to formal odes published in slim (and sometimes not so slim) volumes of verse that the authors hoped would earn them undying literary fame; from songs sung at large public dinners to poems circulated in manuscript amongst a select audience but not published till long after the author’s death.Two hundred years later it seems inappropriate to insist too much on the distinction between the various categories, as in most cases the author’s original conception of his intentions can only be guessed at, and the details of publication usually have little connection with the quality or political interest of the composition in question.The following check-list is offered as a kind of introduction to the subject of political poetry in this period.