Week 246: Sally In Our Alley, by Henry Carey

Henry Carey (1687-1743) was a prolific balladeer, playwright and satirist credited, among other things, with giving us the expression namby pamby, which he coined as a nickname for unfortunate fellow writer Ambrose Phillips. 

Robert Graves once cited ‘Sally In Our Alley’ to me as an example of that very rare thing in our language, a poem of pure happiness. Well, yes, though it could be argued that for all the jaunty defiance of its rhythms the poem has some dark social undertones, and the truth is that I had always worried about the young apprentice and his Sally. What, after all, was the most likely prognosis for their love? Poverty, toil, infant mortality, disease, premature ageing, the workhouse… I suspect that the poem’s enduring appeal has had much to do with how well it has accorded with the slightly desperate cheerfulness of the working classes still very much in evidence in my childhood – that philosophy of making the best of things and having a lot to be thankful for, sitting uneasily alongside dreams of a better life, and above all that heroic faith in the power of human love to redeem the misery of circumstance. 

Sally In Our Alley

Of all the girls that are so smart
There’s none like pretty Sally;
She is the darling of my heart,
And she lives in our alley.
There is no lady in the land
Is half so sweet as Sally;
She is the darling of my heart,
And she lives in our alley.

Her father he makes cabbage-nets,
And through the streets does cry ‘em;
Her mother she sells laces long
To such as please to buy ‘em:
But sure such folks could ne’er beget
So sweet a girl as Sally!
She is the darling of my heart,
And she lives in my alley.

When she is by, I leave my work,
I love her so sincerely;
My master comes like any Turk,
And bangs me most severely:
But let him bang his bellyful,
I’ll bear it all for Sally;
She is the darling of my heart,
And she lives in our alley.

Of all the days that’s in the week
I dearly love but one day–
And that’s the day that comes betwixt
A Saturday and Monday;
For then I’m drest all in my best
To walk abroad with Sally;
She is the darling of my heart,
And she lives in our alley.

My master carries me to church,
And often am I blamed
Because I leave him in the lurch
As soon as text is namèd;
I leave the church in sermon-time
And slink away to Sally;
She is the darling of my heart,
And she lives in our alley.

My master and the neighbours all
Make game of me and Sally,
And, but for her, I’d better be
A slave and row a galley;
But when my seven long years are out,
O, then I’ll marry Sally;
O, then we’ll wed, and then we’ll bed–
But not in our alley! 

Henry Carey

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