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Noyses, Sounds, and Sweet Aires
Street Music

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"Songs for Man, or Woman, of All Sizes"



Street Music



Francesco Villamena. Io son quel Geminian caldorostaro. Engraving, ca. 1600

There was no shortage of noise on the streets of early modern England. Amidst the sounds of bells ringing from steeples a pedestrian would hear street vendors shouting "cries" to hawk their wares; workmen calling out what services they offered; and everywhere ballad singers singing about the latest scandals and news. Vendors' voices needed to be loud and forceful to compete with other sounds of city life: the clop of horses' hooves, the creaking of carts, and the ringing of bells.

 

It’s hard to imagine a picture more clearly evoking the sound of a street crier than this engraving of roast chestnut seller. He flings one arm back, throws his body forward, and bellows a cry. In the poem, he claims his cry is unmatched—his voice shaking Pluto in the underworld. 

 

 

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  Additional Information

Chestnuts were just one of the items sold on the streets of London by vendors. Large engravings of hawkers in books such as  The Cryes of the City of London give today's readers a glimpse of some of the other common and unusual wares peddled: pins, baskets, singing glasses (a long glass cylinder fitted with reeds and a mouthpiece used as a horn), wigs, artichokes, brooms, knives, and combs. 

 

Books containing engraved portraits of street criers, such as The Cryes of the City of London, become popular in the late seventeenth century; they evolved from individual broadsides filled with tiny figures in rows to publications of large individual portraits in book form. The brainchild of printseller Pierce Tempest, The Cryes of the City of London first appeared in 1687. This bestseller was expanded and reprinted many times until 1821.





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