A copy of the 'Burntisland Catechism'
The Burntisland Catechism
Probable date of publication - 1720. The broadside carries no date or place of publication.
A catechism is generally a collection of questions and answers pertaining to the Bible. It was intended to ensure that churchgoers were versed in the moral teachings of the Bible, even if they had difficulty remembering long passages of scripture. The Shorter Catechism, created in 1648, is still used today in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In this particular poem, the question and answer structure of the Catechism is adopted to satirise civic corruption in the royal burgh of Burntisland, Fife. Among various charges, councillors are accused of accepting bribes, and the priest of being a puppet of the local landowner.
Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.
The ballad reads:
Ques. Why must our Councellors be fools?
Ans. 'Cause then they're fittest to be tools.
Q. And what supplies their want of sense?
A. Their want of bread and Conscience.
Q. Why is it fitt they shou'd be poor?
A. 'Cause then a Bribe prevails the more.
Q. And why is Conscience laid aside?
A. Least it officiously upbraid.
Q. Yet dont they still pretend to have it?
A. Yes, but in vain, for none belive it.
Q. Why fancy they their Smith is wise?
A. Because they know not what he says.
Q. How palliats he his ignorance?
A. With bold insulting arrogance.
Q. What qualifies him for his trust?
A. An extraordinary thrist.
Q. How is't that thrist do'th make him fit?
A. It makes him drinke with appetite.
Q. Doth drinking then advance their cause?
A. More than a thousand useless laws.
Q. Why are the Laws by them despis'd?
A. 'Cause Troop their Lawier so advis'd.
Q. How do'th our learned Clerk behave?
A. Like a religious Crafty knave.
Q. What makes his speech a mistery?
A. Bombast, pedantick sophistry.
Q. What service hath he done the Town?
A. He's made its Credite like his own.
Q. Why is our Priest a politician?
A. 'Cause he came here on that condition.
Q. Who sent him here, and to what end?
A. Rothes, his stubborn foes to bend.
Q. How Combates he his Lordships foes?
A. With wrested texts, instead of blows.
Q. How do'th he discipline his friends?
A. He teaches them to serve his ends.
Q. Hath he for that a Gospel licence?
A. No, but he says he's one from Conscience.
Q. What's his reward, for all this toil?
A. His stipend, and my Lord's good will.
Q. How gratifies my Lord, the rest?
A. With a few Guineas and a feast.
Q. How do'th he warm their Cooling zeal?
A. With sowr wine, punch and bottled ale.
Q. Why do'th his Lordship court them so?
A. For's use, as men their misses do.
Q. What must they then at last expect?
A. Their neighbour's scorn, and Lords neglect.