This essay considers our response to printed ephemera, analyzing British examples of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, specifically elegies, broadside ballads, and the life story and advertised theatrical performing of the eighteenth-century female soldier Hannah Snell, using methods from folklore, musicology, and literary study. The formats of the ephemera, and their performative modes seemingly identify these expressions as impermanent; at the same time, examining them collectively, we recognize an ironic gesture for lasting universal human sentiment and meaning. The ubiquitousness of these recurring forms, conjoined with resistance to scholarly theorizing of expression popular across social ranks, leaves their conventions and parameters understudied and deserving of more exploration and analysis. As the psalmist observed, humans feel ourselves to be walking on a fleeting path. Ephemera speak to and from this experience of precarious temporality with a paradoxical coupling between representations of topical particularities on the one hand, and, on the other, oft-repeated patterns that invoke and formulaically echo a collective past.

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