Faithless Sally Brown by Thomas Hood

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"They Went And Told The Sexton, And The Sexton Tolled The Bell"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Thomas Hood, a very minor figure in the Romantic Movement and in the transition to the Victorian era, was a prolific writer. He is remembered today, if at all, for his humanitarian poems, the best known of which are "The Song of the Shirt" (1843) and "The Bridge of Sighs" (1844). These rather sentimental effusions have been termed by critics social documents rather than poems. Yet Hunt was genuinely sincere in his concern for the terrible conditions of the London poor during the first half of the nineteenth century. "Faithless Sally Brown" represents another side of his work. Hunt was the author of a large amount of comic verse, almost all of which has long since been forgotten. His humor is, to modern readers, extremely heavy-handed; it depends for its effect entirely on elaborate plays upon words. Since the pun is no longer favored as a comic device, such poems as those of Hunt are not likely to amuse. However, Hunt must be given credit for his ability to extend the punning through stanza after stanza. "Faithless Sally Brown" is also a parody of the traditional ballad of the cruel sweetheart type as well as of the sentimental popular ballads of the late eighteenth century. The ballad tells of the love of Ben, a carpenter, for Sally, a lady's maid. Ben becomes the victim of a press gang and is taken to a naval tender ship which Sally decides is a hardship. He serves in the Royal Navy for two years and returns to find his Sally married to another. Says Ben:

"O Sally Brown, O sally Brown,
How could you serve me so?
I've met with many a breeze before,
But never such a blow!"
. . .
And then he tried to sing "All's Well,"
But could not though he tried;
His head was turned, and so he chew'd
His pigtail till he died.
His death, which happen'd in his berth,
At forty-odd befell;
They went and told the sexton, and
The sexton toll'd the bell.