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Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Ballad of Long Thomas

It is thought that this epic ballad was written sometime during the 1880's in London  (or, at a stretch, the Home Counties) England.  Despite repeated attempts by many dedicated researchers to discover the identity of the author, we are still very much in the dark as to who it may have been.  Of the many names that have been put forward over the years, each candidate presents similar problems.  When a stylistic match is found it has been difficult, if not impossible, to show a connection with London during the critical time frame. The candidates with this London connection all have problems when it comes to modern stylistic analysis.

For example, it has been claimed, many times, in the popular press that the hand that penned the ballad resembles that of the presumed Jack the Ripper communication known as the "From Hell" or "Lusk Letter".  Although there is some similarity in the script itself, the spelling and punctuation are completely different.  The counter argument usually put forward is that the From Hell letter was deliberately written to mislead the Whitechapel Vigilante Committee. However, with no way of knowing if the now missing letter really was from the killer, it seems a somewhat moot point.  It may be possible that the Ballads author sent the Lusk Letter as a hoax for their own, unknown purposes.

One of the other "popular suspects" has been the First Earl of Beaconsfield, KG, PC, FRS, more commonly known as the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (21 December 1804 - 19 April 1881).  Although the literary style is certainly similar, especially if we assume that the last stanza was a later addition, the date of Disraeli's death does pose a real problem.  We can be reasonably certain that the first publication of this work was during the latter half of 1885.  It seems difficult to believe that such an important work, by such a well known individual could have remained in private hands for so long.  There also seems no good reason for Benjamin to have written this piece anonymously.  Even if, as some have claimed, the Ballad is a heavily disguised attack on the Corn Law Affair of the mid 1940s, it still seems highly unlikely that he would have withheld his name from such an important work.

What about the claim that the real author was none other than Sir Joseph Bazalgette?  Today he is probably best known for his design and work on the London sewers following the Great Stink of 1858.  Whilst it is true that his surviving correspondence has the same form and metre as the Ballad, the lack of any other traceable works does cast considerable doubt on this theory.  It is true however that Bazalgette did spend some time in China, which is the main reason he is still considered as a possible candidate.

The last of the Big Four, as they have become known amongst Long Thomas theorists, is Matthew Lazenby, cuckold and purveyor of fine fudge and fudge related confectionery to the well heeled of 19th century London. It has been argued that the Ballad contains echos of Lazenbys dismay over loosing both his hair and virility at such a young age. In his diary, Matthew claims that he first started to loose his hair at the tender age of 7. Lazenby may have also felt excluded from the upper echelons of society due to his flame red hair. Superstition of the day held that such displays of strawberry blonde was the mark of the Devil himself. Whilst the upper classes were happy to consume his fudge by the pound, he may well have found it impossible to gain full acceptance, even after he made his fortune in the fudge trade. He was self taught, shunning formal education (although how someone who knows nothing is able to teach themselves anything remains a mystery) and it is also said that he held the Church of the day in deep distain.  Despite his simple minded, almost oafish approach to life, it is the case that the themes of the Ballad do provide a good fit to Matthews life.  Of course, the Ballad famously contains almost 100 references of either hats or wigs.

From this distance it will probably prove impossible to prove beyond doubt who the author of this great work was.  As with so many mysteries, the lack of certainty has led to fertile grounds for speculation. My own favourite candidate? I would argue that the mysterious genius Mr C. Ride is the most likely author. But that is, as they say, quite another story.....

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