Have you ever wondered where the saying As bold as brass comes from? Well, it’s not known for certain if these are the people we can thank directly for its use, but Brass Crosby and William Shakespeare are two people connected with the word brass as it is used in the context of the phrase.
As a metal, brass has a visual likeness to gold but is of lesser value and considered a cheaper substitute. A person who is impudent or even shameless, would have been viewed as brazen in the sixteenth century and with having a brass face in the seventeenth century. Shakespeare may have been the first author to use it in his writing; ‘Brassy bosoms and rough hearts of flint’ (The Merchant of Venice).
I came across Brass Crosby while doing some research into a riot that took place in Stockton in the nineteenth century. He was born there in 1725 and worked in Sunderland as a solicitor before moving to London, where he eventually became Sheriff of the City. In 1770, Brass was elected as Lord Mayor of London and Chief Magistrate. On the occasion of his being sworn in, he promised that even under threat, he would protect his fellow citizens in their rights and privileges. A year later that oath was put to the test, when a printer by the name of Miller published an article on Parliament’s proceedings and used the Members’ real names, while describing the debates they had participated in. As this was considered breaking the law, the printer was arrested and ended up before Brass Crosby, who was Chief Magistrate, to be sentenced.
Crosby, true to his word, refused to sentence the man. He believed that those who represented the people should be accountable to them and whatever they had to say in Parliament should be made known to the public. Brass Crosby ended up before Parliament, arguing that it was his first duty to protect the people’s rights. Well, they certainly weren’t having that and poor old Brass ended up in the Tower for his insolence.
During his six week detainment in the Tower of London, rallies were held in the city and throughout the country in support of Brass. Upon his release, bonfires were lit and he received a twenty-one gun salute, while his carriage was escorted by as many as fifty three others in a show of solidarity.
From that time on, the right to publish verbatim reports from debates within the House of Commons has been freely carried out. Brass Crosby certainly lived up to his unusual name.