Green’s Dictionary of Slang

busk v.

also busk it
[? naut. jargon busk, to cruise the seas, esp. as a pirate; ult. Ital. buscare, to filch, to prowl]

1. to sell obscene songs and books in the streets and public houses; thus busking n.

[[UK]Dekker Wonderfull Yeare 34: The worst players Boy stood vpon his good parts, swearing tragicall and busking oathes, that how vilainously soeuer he randed [...] he would in despite of his honest audience, be halfe a sharer (at least) at home, or else strowle (thats to say trauell) with some notorious wicked floundering company abroad].
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 14: BUSK, or busking, to sell obscene songs and books at the bars and in the tap-rooms of public houses. Sometimes implies selling any articles.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor (1968) I 216: There was formerly, also, another class, differing little from the habits of that variety of patterers of the present day who ‘busk’ it, or ‘work the public houses’.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[UK]R.T. Hopkins Life and Death at the Old Bailey 63: The following crook’s words and phrases date from the days of the old Old Bailey: [...] selling obscene songs – busking.

2. to sell goods to a retailer; thus on the busk.

[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 224/2: From a furniture-carter of this description I received some most shocking details of having to ‘busk’ it, as this taking about goods for sale is called by those in the trade. [Ibid.] 226/2: Almost every man in the trade works on his account, finds his own material, and goes ‘on the busk to the slaughter-houses’ for the chance of a customer.

3. to work as a street performer; thus busking n.

[UK]Egan Life of an Actor 212: I agreed with my clown, Tom Jeffries, who could sing a good low comedy song, Mr. Brown, a musician, and myself, to busk our way up to London.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 212/2: I now thought I’d try what is termed ‘busking;’ that is, going into public-houses and cutting likenesses of the company.
[UK]G.A. Sala Quite Alone III 88: It’s enough to make a fellow take to the busking game.
[UK]Dundee Courier 18 Aug. 7/4: I was getting on pretty well at ‘busking’ (singing) the public houses.
[UK] advert in Echo 10 May 46: Busking – A player on the harp and violin wants a mate [F&H].
[UK]G.R. Sims In London’s Heart 106: Tom Verity was ‘busking’ with a nigger troupe.
[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.] 22: BUSK, BUSKING: [...] street instrumentalists or vocalists are called buskers – the profession busking.
[UK]O.C. Malvery Soul Market 38: We had a chance of ‘busking’—that is, of giving a sort of variety entertainment in the streets.
[UK] press cutting in J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era 57/2: Hang it, I hope I shall never come down to regular busking; yes, now and again when bis. is bad, but for ever – Lord forbid.
[UK]Marvel 29 May 5: If you and me went busking on the sands at Blackpool, we’d make a pile of money!
[UK]X. Petulengro Romany Life 231: I made busking a whole-time job.
[Aus]K. Tennant Battlers 17: His track name was Duke, and he had been ‘busking’—singing his way from town to town.
[UK] (ref. to 1950s) R. Barnes Coronation Cups and Jam Jars 181: During the course of my busking career, I picked up with a banjo player from Hoxton.
[UK](con. 1950s–60s) in G. Tremlett Little Legs 45: I would be out busking or working my fruit barrows.
[UK]R. Barnard No Place of Safety 27: Many of the temporary residents begged in the centre of Leeds, or busked.
[UK]Guardian Rev. 21 Apr. 14: Dwight will [...] receive a reprimand from Stonehenge security guards for ‘busking’.
[SA]Cape Times (SA) 12 July [Internet] Six law enforcement officers [...] forcibly detained blind busker [...] Nono, 51, [who] was dragged away from the spot where he has busked since 2008.