The Song of the Young Prig

The Song of the Young Prig
c. 1819
Author unknown; attributed to Little Arthur Chambers; see notes.

My mother she dwelt in Dyot’s Isle, 1 Notes
  One of the canting crew, sirs; 2 beggars
And if you’d know my father’s style,
  He was the Lord-knows-who, sirs!
I first held horses in the street,
  But being found defaulter,
Turned rumbler’s flunkey for my meat, 3 hackney-coach
  So was brought up to the halter.
    Frisk the cly, and fork the rag, 4 pick a pocket; lay hold of notes or money
      Draw the fogies plummy, 5 steal handkerchiefs dextrously
    Speak to the rattles, bag the swag, 6 steal a watch, pocket the plunder
      And finely hunt the dummy. 7 steal pocket-books


My name they say is young Birdlime,
  My fingers are fish-hooks, sirs;
And I my reading learnt betime, 8 Notes
  From studying pocket-books, sirs;
I have a sweet eye for a plant, 9 an intended robbery
   And graceful as I amble,
  Finedraw a coat-tail sure I can’t
   So kiddy is my famble. 10 skilful is my hand
    Chorus. Frisk the cly, etc.


  A night bird oft I’m in the cage, 11 lock-up
    But my rum-chants ne’er fail, sirs;
  The dubsman’s senses to engage, 12 gaoler
    While I tip him leg-bail, sirs; 13 run away
  There’s not, for picking, to be had,
    A lad so light and larky, 14 frolicsome
  The cleanest angler on the pad 15 expert pickpocket
    In daylight or the darkey. 16 night
  Chorus. Frisk the cly, etc.


  And though I don’t work capital, 17 Notes
    And do not weigh my weight, sirs;
  Who knows but that in time I shall,
    For there’s no queering fate, sirs. 18 getting the better of
  If I’m not lagged to Virgin-nee, 19 transported [Notes]
    I may a Tyburn show be, 20 be hanged
  Perhaps a tip-top cracksman be, 21 housebreaker
    Or go on the high toby. 22 become a highwayman
  Chorus. Frisk the cly, etc.


Said to have been written by Little Arthur Chambers, the Prince of Prigs, who was one of the most expert thieves of his time. He began to steal when he was in petticoats, and died a short time before Jack Sheppard came into notice. Internal evidence, however, renders this attributed authorship very improbable.

Stanza I, line 1. Dyots Isle, i.e., Dyot St., St. Giles, afterwards called George St. Bloomsbury, was a well-known rookery where thieves and their associates congregated.

Stanza II, line 3. And I my reading learnt betime From studying pocket-books. “Pocket-book” = reader.

Stanza IV, line 1. To work capital = to commit a crime punishable with death. Previous to 1829 many offences, now thought comparatively trivial, were deemed to merit the extreme penalty of the law.

Taken from Musa Pedestris, Three Centuries of Canting Songs and Slang Rhymes [1536―1896], collected and annotated by John S. Farmer.

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. . .
The Potato Man
A Slang Pastoral
Ye Scamps, Ye Pads, Ye Divers
The Sandman’s Wedding
The Happy Pair
The Bunter’s Christening
The Masqueraders
The Flash Man of St. Giles
A Leary Mot
The Night Before Larry was Stretched
The Song of the Young Prig
The Milling Match
Ya-Hip, My Hearties!
Sonnets For The Fancy: After The Manner Of Petrarch
The True Bottom’d Boxer
Bobby And His Mary
Flashey Joe
My Mugging Maid
Poor Luddy
The Pickpocket’s Chaunt
On the Prigging Lay
. . .